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.

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