THE GENERAL METHODS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY
The psychological work of the physician does not begin with his curative efforts. Therapy is always only the last step. Diagnosis and observation have to precede, and an inquiry into the causes of the disease is essential, and in every one of these steps psychology may play its rôle. The means of psychodiagnostic are not less manifold than those of psychotherapy. Moreover there the technique may be more complex and subtle. The whole equipment of the modern laboratory ought to be put at its disposal. Perceptions and associations, reactions and expressions ought to be examined with the same carefulness with which the conscientious physician examines the blood and the urine.
A particular difficulty of the task more or less foreign to every other medical inquiry is the intentional or unintentional effort of the patient to hide the sources of the trouble and to mislead as to their true character. Too often he is entirely unconscious of the sources of trouble or else he has social reasons to deceive the world and himself, and ultimately the physician. And yet no psychical treatment can start successfully so long as the patient is brooding on secret thoughts at the bottom of his mind. The desire to hide them may often be itself a part of the disease. It is surprising how often unsuspected vistas of thoughts and impulses and emotions are opened by an inquiring analysis where the direct report of the patient does not awaken the least suspicion. In the field of insanity, naturally the physician at once goes to an examination on his own account, but in the borderland regions of the psychasthenics and hysterics and neurasthenics, the intellectual clearness of the patient too easily tempts one into trusting the sincerity of his story; and yet the most important ideas clustering perhaps about love or ambition, about vice or crime, about business failure or family secrets, about inherited or acquired diseases may be cunningly withheld and may frustrate every psychotherapeutic influence. Where suspicion is awake and mere confidential talk and persuasion seem insufficient, the physician may feel justified in the interest of his patient in drawing the thoughts out of their hiding-place by artificial means. Skill, tact, and experience are needed there.
As a matter of course, in the overwhelming mass of cases the frankness and the good will of the patient himself will support the physician and accordingly his examination is not obliged to trap the patient but simply to guide him to important points. But then begins the most essential study of diagnostical differentiation. With all the means not only of psychology but of neurology and internal medicine, he has to separate the particular case from similar ones and to examine whether he deals with, for instance, a hysteric or with a paranoiac, with a neurasthenic or with a case of dementia præcox; and he will not forget that there exist almost no symptoms of serious diseases which the nervous system of the hysteric may not imitate for a time. Not ours is the task of analyzing special methods of neurological and mental differential diagnosis such as are used in the psychiatric clinic and in the office of the nerve specialist. There the family history with reference to nervous and other diseases, the history of the patient himself, the infectious diseases which he has passed through, his habits and anomalies, his use of alcohol and of drugs, his experiences in social life, the demands of his profession, his recent troubles and their first origin are to be recorded carefully. Then begins the physical examination, the study of his sense organs and his nerves, of the motor inabilities, the pains, the local anæsthesias and paræsthesias, the disturbances of the reflexes, of the spasms, tremors, convulsions, and incoördinations, of the vasomotor and trophic disorders, and so on. In a similar way the psychical examination tests the hallucinations and illusions, the variations and defects of memory and attention, of judgment and reasoning, of orientation and self-consciousness, of emotions and volitions, of intellectual capacities and organized actions. But we do not have to enter here into a discussion of such diagnostic means; our chief interest belongs to the therapy.
The variety of the psychotherapeutic methods is great and only some types are to be characterized here. But one rule is common to all of them: never use psychotherapeutic methods in a schematic way like a rigid pattern. Schematic treatment is a poor treatment in every department of medicine, but in psychotherapeutics it is disastrous. There are no two cases alike and not only the easily recognizable differences of sex and age, and occupation and education, and financial means, and temperament and capacity are decisive, but all the subtle variations of prejudices and beliefs, preferences and dislikes, family life and social surroundings, ambitions and prospects, memories and fancies, diet and habits must carefully be considered. Every element of a man’s life history, impressions of early childhood, his love and his successes, his diseases and his distresses, his acquaintances and his reading, his talent, his character, his sincerity, his energy, his intelligence—everything—ought to determine the choice of the psychotherapeutic steps. As it is entirely impossible to determine all those factors by any sufficient inquiry, most of the adjustment of method must be left to the instinct of the physician, in which wide experience, solid knowledge, tact, and sympathy ought to be blended. Even the way in which the patient reacts on the method will often guide the instinct of the well-trained psychotherapist.
It is therefore certainly not enough that the knowledge of the physician simply decide beforehand on a definite course of psychical treatment and leave the carrying out to a well-meaning minister or any other medical amateur who schematically follows the indicated path. The finest adjustment has to come in during the treatment itself and the response of the patient often has to suggest entirely new lines of procedure. More than in any other field of medicine, the physician himself has to extend his influence far beyond the office hours and the strictly medical relations. And yet, on the other hand, there is no department of medicine in which the treatment might not profit by the psychotherapeutic influence. With a few vague words of encouragement mechanically uttered, or with a routine of tricks of suggestion by bread pills and colored water and tuning forks, not much will be gained even in the ordinary physician’s practice. Subtle adjustment to the personal needs and to the individual conditions is necessary in every case where the psychical factor is to play an important rôle. It cannot be denied that the one great obstacle in the work of the routine physician is the lack of time and patience which is needed for successful treatment. To prescribe drugs is always quicker than to influence the mind; to cure a morphinist by hyoscine needs less effort than to cure him by suggestion.
The first method to bring back the psychophysical equilibrium is of course the one which is also demanded by common-sense, namely, to remove the external sources of the disturbance. External indicates there not only the outer world but also the own body outside the conscious parts of the brain. If we take it in the widest meaning, this would evidently include every possible medical task from filling a painful tooth to operating on a painful appendix, as in every case where pain results, the mental equilibrium is disturbed by it and the normal mental life of the patient reduced in its efficiency. But in the narrower sense of the word, we shall rather think of those sources of trouble in the organism itself which interfere directly with the mental functions. The examination of any public school quickly leads to the discovery that much which is taken for impaired mental activity, for lack of attention, for stupidity, or laziness may be the result of defective hearing or sight or abnormal growth of the adenoids. Growths in the nose may be operated upon, the astigmatic or the short-sighted eye may be corrected by glasses, the child who is hard of hearing may at least be seated near the teacher; and the backward children quickly reach the average level. No doubt in the life of the adult as well, often almost insignificant and from a strictly physical point of view unimportant abnormities in the bodily system, especially in the digestive and sexual spheres, are sources of irritation which slowly influence the whole personality. To be sure, the brain disturbance may have reached a point where the mere removal of the original affliction is not sufficient to reinstate the normal balance of mental energies, but wherever such a bodily irritation goes on, it is never too late to abolish it in the interests of psychotherapy.
The less evident and yet even more important source of the painful intrusions may lie outside of the organism in the social surroundings and conditions of life. Most of that has to be accepted. The physician cannot bring back the friend who died or the fortune which was lost in speculation or the man who married another girl. He will even avoid suggesting far-reaching social changes in the private life of the patient, changes like divorce in an unhappy marriage or the breaking of the home ties, however often he may get the impression that such a liberation would stop the source of the mental trouble. He will be the more careful not to overstep his medical rights as he seldom has the possibility to judge fairly on the basis of the one-sided complaint, and the probability is great that the character and temperament of the complainant may be a more essential factor of the ailment than the personalities which surround him. Yet even the conservative physician will find abundant opportunities for advice which will remove disturbing energies from the social surroundings of the sufferer. Even a short release from the burdening duties, a short vacation from the incessant needs of the nursery, a break in the monotony of the office, may often do wonders with a neurasthenic. Often within a surprisingly short time the brain gathers the energies to overcome the frictions with unavoidable surroundings.
Yet here the physician has to adjust the prescribed dose of outing very carefully to the special case. We may be guided by the psychological experiments which have been made in the interest of testing the fatigue induced by mental work. If perhaps four hours of concentrated work are done without pauses, experiment shows that the quality of the work deteriorates, measured for instance by the number of mistakes in quick calculation. If certain relatively long pauses are introduced, the standard of work can be kept high all through. But if frequent pauses are made, and each short, the result is with many individuals the opposite. The experiment indicates that these frequent pauses are working as interruptions which hinder the perfect adjustment to the work in hand. That is suggestive. Our neurasthenic may complain about the life which he has to live and yet after all he is frequently so completely adjusted to it that it may not be in his interest to remove him far away from the conditions which cannot ultimately be changed but to which he has to return. The instinct of the physician has to find the middle way between a temporary removal of irritation which really allows a development of new energies and a mere interruption which simply damages the acquired relative adjustment. Every cause of friction which can be permanently annihilated for the patient certainly should be removed.
This negative remedy demands its positive supplement. The patient must be brought under conditions and influences which give fair chances for the recuperation of his energies. Too often from the standpoint of the psychologist, the prescription is simply rest. As far as rest involves sleep, it is certainly the ideal prescription. There is no other influence which builds up the injured central nervous system as safely as sound natural sleep, and loss of sleep is certainly one of the most pernicious conditions for the brain. Again rest is a great factor in those systematic rest cures which for a long while were almost the fashion with the neurologist. Experience has shown that their stereotyped use is often unsuccessful, and moreover that the advantage gained by those months spent in bed completely isolated and overfed is perhaps due to the separation and changed nutrition more than to the overlong absolute rest. Yet used with discrimination, the physiological and the psychical effect of lying in bed for a few weeks has certainly often been a marked improvement, especially with young women. But more often the idea of rest in bed during daytime is not meant at all when the nerve specialist recommends rest to his over-strained patient. It is simply meant that he give up his fatiguing daily work, even if that work is made up of a round of entertainments and calls and social engagements. The neurasthenic and all similar varieties are sent away from the noise of the city, away from the rush of their busy life, away from telephones and street cars, away from the hustling business and politics.
Indeed it is the dogma of most official and unofficial doctors that the restlessness and hurry and noise which all are characteristic of the technical conditions of our time are the chief sources of the prevailing nervousness. There was no time in the history of civilization in which the average man was overwhelmed by so many demands on his nerve energy, no time which asked such an abundance of interests even from the school child. The wild chase for luxury in the higher classes, reënforced by the commercialism of our time, the hard and monotonous labor in our modern mills and mines for the lower classes, the over-excitement brought to everybody by the sensationalism of our newspapers and of our public life all injure the brain cells and damage the equilibrium. That is a story which we hear a thousand times nowadays. Yet it is doubtful whether there is really much truth in such a claim and whether much wise psychotherapy can be deduced from it.
We may begin even with the very justifiable doubt whether nervousness really has increased in our time. Earlier periods had not so many names for those symptoms and were not able to discriminate them with the same clearness. Above all, the milder forms of abnormities were not looked on as pathological disturbances. If a man has a pessimistic temperament, or has fits of temper, or cannot get rid of a sad memory idea, or imagines that he feels an illness which he does not have, or has no energy to work, even today most people are still without suspicion that a neurasthenic or a psychasthenic or a hysteric disturbance of the nervous system may be in its beginning. Earlier times surely may have treated even the stronger varieties of this kind as troublesome variations in the sphere of the normal. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that, for instance, the Middle Ages developed severe diseases of the nervous system in an almost epidemic way which is nearly unknown to our time.
As to the conditions of life itself, there are certainly many factors at work which secure favorable influences for our cerebral activity. The progress of scientific hygiene has brought everyone much nearer to a harmonious functioning of the organism, and the progress of technique has removed innumerable difficulties from the play of life. Of course, we stand today before a much more complex surrounding than our ancestors but still more quickly than the complexity have grown the means to master it. We have to know more: yet the effort has not become greater since it has become easier to acquire knowledge. We have to endure much disturbing noise, and yet we forget how the sense organs of our forefathers must have been maltreated, for instance, by flickering light. We are in a rush of work and stand in thousandfold connections; and yet the neural energy which is demanded is not large because a thousand devices of our technical life have become our obedient servants. There is no nation on earth which is more proud of its rush and its hurry than the American people; and yet what an abundance of time is leisurely wasted that would have to be used for work if the country could not live from its richness. Moreover our life has probably become cooler, there is less emotionalism, less sentimentality, more business-like attitude, and that all means less inner friction and excitement; in public life too, less fear of war and less religious struggle. All has become a question of administration and efficiency. Our time is certainly not worse off on the score of neurasthenia than its predecessors.
Above all the intensity of mental stimuli is always relative. The psychologist knows the experiments which determine that we perceive the difference of impressions as alike when the stimuli are proportional. If I have a ten-pound weight in one hand, I may find that I must have one pound more in the other hand to discriminate the difference. Now if I take twenty pounds in the one hand, then it is not sufficient to have one pound more in the other, but I must have twenty-two pounds in the other to feel a difference, and if I take thirty pounds, the other weight must be thirty-three. We feel equal differences when the weights stand in the same relation. The man who owns a hundred dollars will enjoy the gain of five and regret the loss of five just as much as the owner of a hundred thousand dollars would feel the gain or loss of five thousand. This fundamental law of the relativity of psychical impressions controls our whole life. The rush of stimuli which might mean a source of nervous disturbance for the villager whose quiet country life has brought about an adjustment to faint impressions may cause very slight stimulation for the metropolitan accustomed for a lifetime to the rhythm of the surroundings. Yet that quiet countryman may react in his narrow system not less when the modest changes in his surroundings provoke him. The gossip of his neighbor may undermine his nervous system just as much as a political fight or the struggles of the exchange that of the city man.
The same holds true for the purely intellectual engagements. The work which the scholar undertakes should not be measured by the effect which the same appeal to concentrated attention would make on the average man of practical life. There, too, an adjustment to the demand has resulted during the whole period of training and professional work. Every effort should be estimated with reference to the standard of the particular case. This relativity of the mental reaction on the demands of life must always be in the foreground of the psychotherapeutic régime. Even the best physicians too often sin against this principle and accuse the life which a man or woman leads as too exhausting and overstraining simply because it would be overstraining and exhausting to others who are not adjusted to that special standard. Simply to withdraw a patient from the one kind of life and to force on him a new kind with new standards may not be a gain at all. A new adjustment begins and smaller differences from the standard may bring about the same strong intensities of reaction as the large differences brought before. Complete rest, for instance, for a hard brain-worker hardly ought to be recommended unless a high degree of exhaustion has come on. If routine prescriptions are to be admitted at all, they should not be complete rest or complete change of life for any length of time but a continuation of the life for which adjustment has been learned with a reasonable reduction of the demands and stimulations. The intellectual worker ought to decrease his work, the overbusy society woman ought to stay in bed one day in the week, the man in the midst of the rush of life ought to cut down his obligations, but probably each of them does better to go on than simply to swear off altogether.
Their rest ought to have the character of vacation; that means interruptions without the usual activity ought to be short periods spent with the distinct feeling that they are interruptions of that which must last and that they are not themselves to become lasting states. Thus the inner adjustment to the work ought to be kept up and ought not to be substituted by a new adjustment to a less exacting life. In this way the episode of the vacation rest ought to be in a way included in the strenuous life almost as a part of its programme. Strenuosity must not mean an external rush with the gestures of overbusy excitement, but certainly the doctrine of the lazy life is wretched psychotherapy, as long as no serious illness is in question. By far the best alteration is, therefore, even in the periods of interruption, not simply rest but new engagements which awaken new interests and stimulate neglected mental factors, disburdening the over-strained elements of mental life. The most effective agency for this task is contact with beauty, beauty in nature and life, beauty in art and literature and music. To enjoy a landscape ought to be not merely a negative rest for the man of the office building, and good literature or music absorbs the mental energies and harmonizes them. In the second place come games and sport, which may enter into their right if fatigue can be avoided. Harmonious joyful company, as different as possible from the depressing company of the sanitariums, will add its pleasantness.
While the advice of the physician ought thus to emphasize the positive elements which work, not towards rest, but toward a harmonious mental activity, we must not forget some essential negative prescriptions. Everything is to be avoided which interferes with the night’s sleep. Furthermore, in the first place, alcohol must be avoided. There cannot be any doubt that alcoholic intemperance is one of the chief sources of brain disturbances and that the fight against intemperance, which in this country is essentially the fight against the disgusting saloon, is a duty of everyone who wants to prevent nervous disaster. There may and must be divergence of opinion as to the safest way to overcome intemperance. The conservative physician will feel grave doubt whether the hasty recommendation of complete prohibition is such a safe way, whether it does not contain many conditions of evil, and whether the fight against the misuse of alcohol will not be more successful if a true education for temperance is accepted as the next goal. But for the man of neurasthenic constitution and for any brain of weak resistance, the limit for permissible alcoholic beverages ought to be drawn very narrow and in such cases temporary abstinence is usually the safest advice. Individual cases must indicate where a glass of light beer with the meal or a glass of a mild wine may be permissible. Strong drinks like cocktails are absolutely to be excluded. In the same way a strong reduction is advisable in tobacco, tea, and especially coffee. A complete withdrawal of all stimulations to which a nervous system has been accustomed for years is not wise, or at least mild substitutes ought to be suggested, but if coffee can be ruled out at once, often much is gained. In the same way all passionate excitements are to be eliminated and sexual life to be wisely regulated. An especial warning signal is to be posted before all strong emotions, and if the patient cannot be asked to leave his worry at home, he can at least be asked to avoid situations which will necessarily lead to excitement and quarrel and possible disappointment.
It is one of the surest tests of psychotherapeutic skill to discriminate wisely whether one or the other of these features of general treatment ought to be emphasized. They usually demand more insight than specific forms of psychotherapy like hypnotic suggestions. These general efforts are also much more directed against the disease itself where the specific methods are merely directed against the symptoms. The separation from disturbing surroundings, the reduction of engagements and work, the complete rest, the suppression of artificial stimulants, the enjoyment of art, of nature, of sport, the distractions of social life, each might be in one case a decisive help and indifferent, perhaps even harmful in another. All is a matter of choice and adjustment to the particular needs in which all the personal factors of inherited constitution, acquired adjustments, social surroundings, temperament, and education, and the probable later development have to be most tactfully weighed. Yet this general treatment may take and very often ought to take the opposite direction, not towards rest but towards work, not towards light distraction but towards serious effort, not towards reduction of engagements but towards energetic regulation. We said that it was an exaggeration to blame the external conditions of our life, the technical manifoldness of our surroundings as the source of the widespread nervousness. The mere complexity of the life, the rapidity of the demands, the amount of intellectual effort is in itself not dangerous and our time is not more pernicious than the past has been; but it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that our time is by many of its features more than the past tending towards an unsound inner attitude of man.
Much of the present civilization leads the average man and woman to a superficiality and inner hastiness which undermines sound mental life much more than the external factors. We look with a condescending smile at the old-fashioned periods in which the demands of authority and discipline controlled the education of the child and after all the education of the adult to his last days. We have substituted for it the demand of freedom with all its blessings, but instead of the blessings we too often get all its vices. A go-as-you-please method characterizes our whole society from the kindergarten to the height of life. We eulogize the principle of following the paths of own true interest and mean by that too often paths of least resistance. Study becomes play, the child learns a hundred things but does not learn the most important one, to do his duty and to do it accurately and with submission to a general purpose. The power of attention thus never becomes trained, the energy to concentrate on that which is not interesting by its own appeal is slowly lost, a flabby superficiality must set in which is moved by nothing but the personal advantage and the zigzag impulses of the chance surroundings. He who has never learned obedience can never become his own master, and whoever is not his own master through all his life lacks the mental soundness and mental balance which a harmonious life demands. Flippancy and carelessness, haphazard interests and recklessness must result, mediocrity wins the day, cheap aims pervade the social life, hasty judgments, superficial emotions, trivial problems, sensational excitements, and vulgar pleasures appeal to the masses. Yellow papers and vaudeville shows—vaudeville shows on the stage, in the courtroom, on the political platform, in the pulpit of the church—are welcome, and of all the results, one is the most immediate, the disorganization of the brain energies.
A sound mind is a well-organized mind in which a controlling idea is able to inhibit the opposites and is in no danger of being overrun by any chance intrusion into the mind. This power is the act of attention. An attention which is trained and disciplined can hold its ideas against chance impulses. An untrained attention is attracted by everything which is loud and shining, big and amusing. The trouble is not with the rush and hurry of the impressions which demand our attention; the trouble is with our attention which seeks a quick change of new and ever new impressions because it is not disciplined to hold firmly to one important interest. We want the hundred short-cut superficial magazines because we lack the energy to study one large volume; we want the thousand engagements because we are not concentrated enough to devote ourselves fully to one ideal task. The strong mind may find its sound adjustment even without such training for concentrated attention through obedience and discipline but the weak mind has to pay the penalty. For not a few it will mean social disaster. Yet our society is sufficiently adapted to this state so that it gives some good social chances to the superficial too, and this not only to the rich, but to those on every level. Only the nervous system cannot so easily be adjusted to the new régime. The loose interplay of the brain cells without the serious training of discipline must involve disorganization of the mind-brain system which may count often most powerfully in those spheres in which the mere needs of life are felt the least. There is only one great remedy: discipline, training for concentrated attention, for a work in submission of will to a steady purpose. And psychotherapeutic effort will often demand such a training for work rather than a reduction of work and rest.
The most alarming product of the neglect in training is found in many of those retarded children who at fifteen show the intelligence of a boy of eight. They are not imbeciles and do not belong in the psychiatric domain; their development has simply been suspended by a mistaken education. Of course no neglect would have led to it without a constitutional, inherited weakness of the central nervous system, but the weakness would never have led to the retardation if perhaps a mistaken parental indulgence had not allowed a life without forced effort and, therefore, without progress. Even such extreme cases may not show on the surface. The boy may pass as all right if we meet him at a ball; only his tutor knows the whole misery. Still less does the surface view of many a grown-up neurasthenic alarm us who seems to live a well-ordered, perhaps an enviable life, and yet who suffers the penalty of a life without concentrated effort, really without anything to do in spite of a thousand engagements. Moreover this lack of important activity may often be forced on our patients. Married women without children, without household responsibilities, and without interests of their own and without strong nervous constitution will soon lose the power of effort and their brain will succumb. A dreary monotony is dangerous even for the worker; for the non-worker it may be ruinous.
Yet mere flippant excitement and superficial entertainment is nothing but a cheap counterfeit of what is needed. Voluntary effort is needed, and this is the field where the psychotherapist must put in his most intelligent effort. There is no one for whom there is not a chance for work in our social fabric. The prescription of work has not only to be adjusted to the abilities, the knowledge, and social condition, but has to be chosen in such a way that it is full of associations and ultimately of joyful emotions. Useless work can never confer the greatest benefits; mere physical exercises are therefore psychophysically not as valuable as real sport while physically, of course, the regulated exercises may be far superior to the haphazard work in sport. To solve picture puzzles, even if they absorb the attention for a week, can never have the same effect as a real interest in a human puzzle. There is a chance for social work for every woman and every man, work which can well be chosen in full adjustment to the personal preference and likings. Not everybody is fit for charity work, and those who are may be entirely unfitted for work in the interest of the beautification of the town. Only it has to be work; mere automobiling to charity places or talking in meetings on problems which have not been studied will, of course, be merely another form of the disorganizing superficiality. The hysterical lady on Fifth Avenue and the psychasthenic old maid in the New England country town both simply have to learn to do useful work with a concentrated effort and a high purpose. From a long experience I have to confess that I have seen that this unsentimental remedy is the safest and most important prescription in the prescription book of the psychotherapist.
There is one more feature of general treatment which seems almost a matter of course, and yet which is perhaps the most difficult to apply because it cannot simply be prescribed: the sympathy of the psychotherapist. The feelings with which an operation is performed or drugs given do not determine success, but when we build up a mental life, the feelings are a decisive factor. To be sure, we must not forget that we have to deal here with a causal and not with a purposive point of view. Our sympathy is therefore not in question in its moral value but only as a cause of a desired effect. It is therefore not really our sympathy which counts but the appearance of sympathy, the impression which secures the belief of the patient that sympathy for him exists. The physician who, although full of real sympathy, does not understand how to express it and make it felt will thus be less successful than his colleague who may at heart remain entirely indifferent but has a skillful routine of going through the symptoms of sympathy. The sympathetic vibration of the voice and skillful words and suggestive movements may be all that is needed, but without some power of awakening this feeling of personal relation, almost of intimacy, the wisest psychotherapeutic treatment may remain ineffective. That reaches its extreme in those frequent cases in which social conditions have brought about an emotional isolation of the patient and have filled him with an instinctive longing to break his mental loneliness, or in the still more frequent cases where the patient’s psychical sufferings are misunderstood or ridiculed as mere fancies or misjudged as merely imaginary evils. Again everything depends upon the experience and tact of the physician. His sympathy may easily overdo the intention and further reënforce the patient’s feeling of misery or make him an hypochondriac. It ought to be sympathy with authority and sympathy which always at the same time shows the way to discipline. Under special conditions it is even advisable to group patients with similar diseases together and to give them strength through the natural mutual sympathy; yet this too can be in question only where this community becomes a starting point for common action and common effort, not for mere common depression. In this way a certain psychical value must be acknowledged for the social classes of tuberculosis as they have recently been instituted.
From sympathy it is only one step to encouragement, which indeed is effective only where sympathy or at least belief in sympathy exists. He who builds up a new confidence in a happy future most easily brings to the patient also that self-control and energy which is the greatest of helping agencies. The physical and mental efforts of the physician are alike deprived of their best efficiency if they are checked by worry and fear that the developments of the disease will be disastrous. As soon as new faith in life is given, and given even where a sincere prognosis must be a sad one, a great and not seldom unexpected improvement is secured. There is no doubt that the routine physician is doing by far too little in these respects. His instinctive feeling that disease is a causal process, and that he should therefore keep away from the purposive attitude, leads him too easily to a dangerous narrowness. He treats disease as if it were an isolated process and overlooks the thousandfold connections in which the nervous system stands with the patient’s whole life experience in past and future. The physician is thus too easily inclined to underestimate the good which may come in the fight against disease from the ideas and emotions which form the background of the mind of the patient. Even if the disease cannot be vanquished, the mental disturbances which result from it, the pains and discomforts, may be inhibited, as soon as hopes and joyful purposes gain a dominating control of the mind. The nervous patient often needs a larger hold upon life, while the routine prescriptions may too easily reduce that hold by fixing the attention on the symptoms.
Here then is the right place for the moral appeal and the religious stimulation. How psychotherapy is related to the church will interest us later. At this moment morality and religion are for us not inspirations but medicines. But from such a causal point of view, we should not underestimate the manifold good which can come from the causal effect of religious and ethical ideas. Those faith curists who bring mutual help by impressing each other with the beauty and goodness of the world really bring new strength to the wavering mind; and the most natural channel for religious help remains, of course, the word of the minister and the own prayer. Religion may work there causally in a double way. The own personality is submerging into a larger all-embracing hold and thus inhibits the small cares and troubles of merely personal origin. The consciousness sinks into God, a mental process which reaches its maximum in mysticism. The haphazard pains of the personality disappear and are suppressed by the joy and glory of the whole. This submission of will under a higher will and its inhibitory effect for suppression of disturbing symptoms must be wonderfully reënforced by the attitude of prayer. Even the physiological conditions of it, the clasping of the hands, the kneeling, and monotonous sounds reënforce this inhibition of the insignificant dissatisfactions. On the other hand, contact with the greater will must open the whole reservoir of suppressed energies, and this outbreak of hidden forces may work towards the regeneration of the whole psychophysical system. Neglected functions of the brain become released and give to the mind an energy and discipline and self-control and mastery of difficulties which restitutes the whole equilibrium, and with the equilibrium comes a new calmness and serenity which may react almost miraculously on the entire nervous system and through it on the whole organism and its metabolism.
Seen from a causal point of view, however, there is no miracle in it at all. On the contrary, it is a natural psychophysical process which demands careful supervision not to become dangerous. It is not the value of the religion which determines the improvement, and it is not God who makes the cure; or to speak less irreligiously, the physician ought to say that if it is God who cures through the prayer, it is not less God who cures in other cases through bromide and morphine, and on the other side just as God often refuses to cure through the prescribed drugs of the drug store, God not less often refuses to cure through prayer and church influence. But the real standpoint of the physician will be to consider both the drugs and the religious ideas merely as causal agencies and to try to understand the conditions of their efficiency and the limits which are set for them. From such a point of view, he will certainly acknowledge that submission to a greater power is a splendid effect of inhibition and at the same time a powerful effect for the stimulation of unused energies; but he will recognize also that the use of those silent energies is not without dangers.
Certainly nature has supplied us with a reservoir of normally unused psychophysical strength, to which we may resort just as the tissues of our body may nourish us for a few days when we are deprived of food, but such supply, which in exceptional cases may become the last refuge, cannot be used without a serious intrusion and interference with the normal household of mind and body. To extract these lowest layers of energies may mean for the psychophysical system a most exhausting effort which may soon bring a reaction of physical and nervous weakness. The chances are great that such a religious excitement, if it is really to have a deep effect, may go over into a mystic fascination which leads to hysteria or into an exhausting eruption of energies which ends in neurasthenic after-effects. The immediate successes of the strong religious influence on the weakened nervous system, especially on the nervous system of a weak inherited constitution, are too often stage effects which do not last. From a mere purposive point of view, they may be complete successes. They may have turned the immoral man into a moral man, the skeptic into a believer, but the physician cannot overlook that the result may be a moral man with a crippled nervous system, a believer with psychasthenic symptoms. From the point of view of the church, there cannot be too much religion; from a therapeutic point of view, religion works there like any other nervous remedy of which five grains may help and fifty grains may be ruinous.
Moreover this power of inhibiting the little troubles of the body and of bringing to work and effectiveness the deepest powers of the mind belongs not less to any other important idea and overpowering purpose. The soldier in battle does not feel the pain of his wound, and in an emergency everybody develops powers of which he was not aware. The same effect which religion produces may thus be secured by any other deep interest: service for a great human cause, enthusiasm for a gigantic plan, even the prospect of a great personal success. Thus in a psychotherapeutic system, religion has only to take its place in line with many other efforts to inhibit the feeling of misery and to reënforce will and self-control by submission under a greater will. That in the case of religion this submission, from an entirely different purposive point of view, also has a moral and religious value, has in itself no relation to the question of its therapeutic character. It ought not to lead to any one-sided preference, inasmuch as religiously indifferent agencies may be in the particular case a more reliable means of improvement. Moreover the psychological symptoms are, after all, only a fraction of the disease and very different bodily factors, digestion and nutrition, heart and lungs and sexual organs may be most intimately connected with the disturbance of the equilibrium. Medicine today no longer believes that hysteria originates in the diseases of the uterus or that neurasthenia necessarily results from insufficiencies of the stomach, but it would be a graver mistake to believe that mental factors alone decide the progress of the disease, however prominent the mental symptoms may be in it.
From the physician’s encouragement and the minister’s influence towards new faith in life, a short way leads to the influence of suggestion. It is on the whole the way which leads from the general psychotherapeutic treatment to the specific one directed against particular symptoms.