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Psychotherapy At Rome

Galen.--Galen, whom we are prone to think of as a Latin because so
much of his work was done at Rome, but whose works have come to us in
Greek, and who was a disciple of the Greek school of medicine, brought
up under Greek influence in his native town of Pergamos, re-echoed
Hippocrates' expressions as to the necessity for securing the
patient's confidence and setting his mind at ease. The story in the
"Arabian Nights" of his experience with the quack, which is known to
most people, shows clearly how the place of mental influence in the
relief of human ills must have been brought home to him. For nearly
fifteen centuries his works continued to be the most read of medical
documents. Nine tenths of all the physicians of education and
influence, confidently looking to him as their master, kept copies of
his works constantly near them, and turned to them for medical
guidance as they would to the Bible for spiritual aid.

The book of Galen which is usually placed first among his collected
works shows how much more important is the mind than the body for
human happiness, and insists on mental interests as making life worth
while. In it he describes the good physician, and says that to be a
good physician a man must also be a good philosopher. When he comes to
talk of the different sects in medicine--for even in his time there
were groups of men who founded their medical practice on very
different principles--he points out that the members of the different
medical sects, while all employing practically the same remedies, do
so on quite different principles, and yet get about the same
results. This concept comes as near to being a conscious reflection as
to the place that the patient's mental reaction had in therapeutics as
might well be expected at that early date.

Alexander of Tralles.--After Galen, medicine suffered an eclipse
because the Romans became too devoted to luxury to permit of its
development, and later the descent of the barbarians from the North
disturbed silence and culture. In spite of the disturbance, however,
there is evidence during the succeeding centuries of the deliberate
use of mental influence and even of direct suggestion in the cure of

Alexander of Tralles (sixth century A. D.) was not judiciously
critical in his selection of remedies. Often he has quite ridiculous
therapeutic suggestions, and yet we have at least two stories with
regard to him which clearly indicate his employment of mental
influence. One of his patients is said to have been suffering from the
delusion that his head had been cut off by order of the tyrant, but he
was cured as soon as the doctor hit on the interesting expedient of
making him wear a leaden hat, which eradicated his delusion and made
him think his head had been restored.

It is also in Alexander Trallianus, as he is sometimes called, that we
have the original of the story which has been often told, many writers
giving it as an experience of their own. A woman was sure that she had
swallowed a snake, and that it continued to exist in her stomach,
devouring much of her food and causing acute pain whenever large
quantities of food were not provided for it. All sorts of remedies had
been tried without result. At last Alexander gave her an emetic and
then slipped into the basin into which she was vomiting a snake
resembling as closely as possible that which she thought she had
swallowed. The ruse effected a complete cure. Usually in latter-day
variants of this story the cure is only temporary, for the patient
after a time has the same symptoms as before and then is sure that
during the time of its residence in the stomach the snake has given
birth to young.

Paul of AEgina.--In the seventh century Paul of AEgina collected all
that had been written on insanity by physicians of olden times, and
many of his directions and prescriptions for treatment show that he
appreciated the value of mental influence. He recommends that those
who are suffering from mental disease should be placed in a quiet
institution, should be given baths, and that an important portion of
the treatment should consist of mental recreations.

Next: Arabian Mental Medicine

Previous: Alexandrian Psychotherapy

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