Mind Healing In Greece

When Greece awoke to the great literary and scientific discussion of

human thought that gave us such philosophic and scientific thinkers as

Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle, then psychotherapy, in the formal

sense of caring for the mind of the patient as well as for his body,

came to be explicitly recognized as having therapeutic value.

Hippocrates insisted that medicine was an art rather than a science,

that personality had much to do with it, and that the patient must be

optimistically influenced in every way. The first of his aphorisms is

well known, but few realize all of its significance. Hippocrates

declares that "life is short and art long, the occasion fleeting,

experience fallacious and judgment difficult. The physician must not

only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the

patient, the attendants and externals cooperate." No one emphasized

more than he the necessity for differentiating the individual patient,

and to him we owe, in foundation at least, the aphorism that it is

more important to know what sort of an individual has a disease than

what sort of a disease the individual has, for the chances of cure

greatly depend on favorable individuality.

Perhaps Hippocrates' most striking direct contribution to

psychotherapy is his aphorism with regard to pain. He said: "Of two

pains occurring together in different parts of the body, the stronger

weakens the other." When the attention is distracted from pain,

then it is lessened. Of two pains, then, only the one that attracts

the most attention is much felt, and, if a slight pain is succeeded by

a severe pain in another part of the body, the lesser pain will

apparently become trivial, or, indeed, not be felt at all.

In Plato we find the direct philosophic expression of the value of

psychotherapy. There had been during the preceding century a great

increase in information with regard to the facts of physical nature,

and especially the sciences relating to the human body, and so men had

come, as they are prone to at such eras--our own, for instance--to

think too much of the body and too little of the mind that rules it.

Accordingly, we have from Plato a deliberate, emphatic assertion of

this great truth under circumstances which make us realize how keenly

he appreciated its significance for the art of medicine and for


Professor Osier, in his address, "Physic and Physicians as Depicted in

Plato," tells a story which shows clearly how much the

great Greek philosopher appreciated the place of psychotherapy.

Charmides had been complaining of a headache, and Critias had asked

Socrates to make believe that he could cure him of it. Socrates said

that he had a charm which he had learnt, when serving with the army,

of one of the physicians of the Thracian king. Zamolxis. This

physician had told Socrates that the cure of a part should not be

attempted without treatment of the whole, and, also, that no attempt

should be made to cure the body without the soul, "and, therefore, if

the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the mind;

that is the first thing. And he who taught me the cure and the charm

added a special direction. 'Let no one,' he said, 'persuade you to

cure the head until he has first given you his soul to be cured. For

this,' he said, 'is the great error of our day in the treatment of

the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.'"

Because it anticipates so much that is thought to be recent in the

treatment of certain affections this paragraph is interesting from

many standpoints. Headache is typically one of the ills that in the

modern time has often been cured by suggestion. Critias knew how much

confidence Charmides had in Socrates, whom he looked upon as his

master, and that, therefore, Socrates' declaration of his power to

cure would probably be sufficient to relieve his disciple. Critias

shrewdly suggests, however, that Socrates possessed a charm which he

had learned from a distinguished royal physician. Cures in the modern

time of any kind are likely to be much more effective if they come

from a distance and, above all, if they have some connection with

royalty, or have been tried with favorable results upon distinguished


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