Unconscious and paranormal factors in healing and recovery
Society for Psychical Research 1963

The fact that some problems connected with healing should be examined by a psychoanalyst rather than by an internist or a pathologist may cause a certain amount of surprise. The truth is, as we shall see, that the global process of healing a human being involves certain values and sets certain questions that are not strictly in the general physician’s domain and whose roots lie deeper down in the patient’s personality, namely in the psychologist’s and psychoanalyst’s – perhaps also the parapsychologist’s-domain. I should like to add that I shall refrain here from passing judgment on any technical problems relating to one strictly medical cure or another, and this not only for reasons of specific competence, but because such problems are outside the scope of this talk.
In a big city somewhere in Europe-and not, as one might suppose, in the depth of Africa or in Polynesia-two doorplates of much the same shape and size are to be found not far from each other. One belongs to an extremely up-to-date clinic, equipped with all that is required for even the most highly specialized diagnoses and treatments. The other bears the name and status of a well-known local ‘magician ‘-who is able among other things (so he claims and many of his clients bear him out) to identify and cure a remarkable number of diseases.
This may perhaps be considered typical of what has now been happening for some decades in modern science and culture, particularly in the field of therapy. On the one hand, amazing progress has been made in biology, hygiene, surgery, biochemistry and laboratory-techniques with the introduction of highly perfected instruments and powerful drugs and the neutralization of serious diseases. On the other hand, almost as if through an apparently mysterious polarity, we have witnessed and continue to witness not a corresponding decline-as might logically be expected-but an ever increasing growth of trends, activities and concepts that have nothing, or practically nothing, scientific or rational about them. Limiting our attention to the therapeutic field only, we find ‘spiritual’ or ‘divine’ cures, ointments or balsams believed to have supernatural powers (recently we had a clamorous case of this kind in a town up in the north of Italy) and, last but not least, the various kinds of’ healers’, the range of whose activity is vast. All this is accompanied by other manifestations not directly connected with the therapeutic problem: a growing interest in various forms of occultism, new religious sects, miracle-working, horoscopes, fortune-telling, popular astrology and so on.
This bipolarity-that is to say this contrast of scientific progress and expansion of magical and pre-logical thought-is certainly not due to chance and cannot be ignored or passed over with a shrug of the shoulders. In fact, whereas we may provisionally lump together many occult and thaumaturgical claims under the random heading of superstitions’, we find that-in addition to the aforesaid rather crude and primitive forms of belief or activity-other phenomena, trends and methods, which cannot merely be shoved aside without discussing them, have become manifest and are developing in scientifically very advanced cultural areas. The intelligent psychologist, the broad-minded physician and the student of social problems cannot possibly ignore the great mystic therapeutic epopee of Lourdes which is now one hundred years old. Nor can they ignore the fact that Christian Science and ‘ spiritual cures ‘ are still widely believed in the North American continent or the fact that the psychological and psychotherapeutic revolution started by FREUD has given rise to widespread therapeutic activity which-no longer limited to neuroses or to what are generally referred to as functional diseases-now extends to states and syndromes that would once have been considered the exclusive domain of internists or surgeons …. We are therefore faced by a profound revision of methods and concepts. Some criteria that still seemed fundamental a few decades ago are now questioned by high-ranking scientific and medical personalities. Men of study are nowadays compelled to ask themselves why it is that so many people turn-at levels that go from the most legitimate to the least justifiable-to psychological or even magic cures and treatments. They are amazed to see that even intelligent and educated people may show greater trust in the hypothetical ‘Z rays’ of a healer than in the X-rays or ultrasonic waves of a clinic. And at a certain point, they end up by suspecting that ‘there may be something in it’. These remarks do not refer to psychotherapy (which has already stood the test) but to certain mystical or completely heterodox cures. In short, the man of today, who reflects a little on certain contemporary happenings, finds himself faced, mutatis mutandis, by the age-old queries: What is illness? What does healing mean? How and why does one recover?
The truth is that we must now discard the positivistic attitude that came into being in the nineteenth century and might be referred to as scientific ‘fetichism’. On the other hand we can hardly go to the opposite extreme of believing uncritically in miracles and blindly placing our faith in magicians, thaumaturgists or what are claimed to be supernatural cures. However if, at this point, we seek a moderi theory of healing in the most reliable official texts, we quite simply do not find any! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the situation at the present moment. There is, as you all know, a science of illness-pathology; but there is no science of healing, not even as a chapter or sub-chapter in the treatises on general or special pathology. And yet there would obviously seem just as much reason to study the healing of an illness as to study its etiopathogeny, diagnosis and prognosis. Nor is it possible to say that the study of healing and the study of cures is one and the same thing, for we all know very well that in certain cases patients recover. . . without any cure! And this perhaps is precisely one of the reasons why no rational theory of healing exists. Very seldom in fact-and this is understandable-can the medical practitioner he induced to show an interest in recoveries that occur without any treatment of his or of other doctors.
It is not my intention-nor could I if I wished-to provide you here with a ‘theory of healing’ to be inserted into some text or recommended to some professor of pathology. What I wish to do is to promote some thought concerning the new meanings that the concepts of illness and healing are assuming so that some general conclusions may if nossihle he drawn.
Before directly considering the problem of unorthodox cures and healers, let us stop for a moment to consider certain implications of psychosomatic medicine. I think I may say that, starting from the studies of Von BERGMANN and GRODDECK, it has been ascertained-after many years of medical and psycho-analytical work-that certain emotions and psychic factors are present not only in disturbances of hysterical origin such as tachycardia, muscular spasms, pseudo-paresis or dermographism, but also cause or prepare the way to real and permanent organic affections of the respiratory apparatus, the digestive tube, the skin or the articulations. About thirty years ago-at the 1934 International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Lucerne-I heard FRANZ ALEXANDER himself read his first report on ‘ Psychogenetic Factors in the Etiology of the Peptic Ulcer’, the novelty and daring of which caused widespread astonishment at the time. In studying a number of ulcer cases, ALEXANDER and his co-workers had recognized the existence, in a number of subjects, of deeplying psychic conflicts between their self-esteem-which urged them to make good-and the unconscious desire to remain in an infantile state of submission and passivity. The close link existing in infantile psycho-physiology between the notion of ‘love’ and that of ‘nourishment’ is well known. The latent desires and worries oppressing the subjects had unconsciously become located in the digestive tube where they resulted in gastric hypersecretion, which eventually caused the ulcer. The treatment recommended and used by ALEXANDER consisted, therefore, in identifying and solving the psychic conflict, thus interrupting the pathogenetic process at its very root.
Many years have elapsed since then and it is now widely recognized that certain illnesses can be healed with purely psychic means, identifying and solving the unconscious psychological conflicts and problems of which the illness is merely the manifestation at an organic and somatic level. With very broad approximation, ALEXANDER and his school have defined the various psychological profiles of persons apt to suffer from a gastric ulcer rather than from rheumatoid arthritis or from essential hypertension rather than from neuro-dermatitis. As you see, therefore, the very concept of illness has changed- at least as far as a certain group of affections having a clear organic aspect are concerned-and much of what was thought and done regarding their treatment and healing has obviously changed too.
Needless to say the fact that the psychosomatic angle of a given illness and of the related healing process is taken into account and treated does not mean that the patient may not avail himself-as in fact he often must-of somatic cures and be visited by a general practitioner or by a specialist. ALEXANDER himself severely admonishes those who are inclined to think that once the emotional origin of an illness has been discovered, all that remains to be done is to pass the patient on to the psychiatrist, the psychologist or the psychoanalyst!
Psychosomatic medicine strikes me as being the most ‘orthodox’ approach at present to the general problem of the influence of psychic and emotional factors on the outbreak of certain diseases, also of an organic nature, and their healing. But what about the vast fields already mentioned in which-with or without medical controls and studies-we find a spiritual, mystical or thaumaturgical approach to both illness and healing?
I think I have devoted sufficient time to the study of texts on the great problem of Lourdes, although I have never had an opportunity of going into it more thoroughly on the spot. The late lamented Dr. LEURET, who was the Head of the Bureau Médical in Lourdes, allowed me to examine some files and complete processes relating to what were held to be cases of supernatural healing and this I did with care. Naturally it is not my place to express an opinion on the prime causes of what happens and may happen at Lourdes, however I do think that any serious-minded and cautious student, who has carefully examined and investigated this matter, must admit that cases have occurred there that prove the intervention and action of ideo-affective factors x also in the healing process of serious organic diseases. And once this has been admitted, ladies and gentlemen, we find ourselves faced by another coordinate that will have to be taken into account in the future compilation of a treatise or chapter on healing. The writer will have to recognize–even if he is at present unable to explain why-that in the cure of, let us say, tubercular peritonitis, the healing processes may be released and reinforced by a factor that is not material and that may act-and even act rapidly-on the diseased tissues and organs. Even a scientist as severe as Dr. WEST, who raised subtle doubts and ingenious contestations of a medical nature concerning eleven of the most famous and recent of the Lourdes ‘cases ‘-even WEST, I say, declared at the end of his critical study that he believed that swift and far-reaching physiological changes sometimes occur at Lourdes.
When I was in the United States in 1959 I had an opportunity of visiting a well-known Centre for the study and development of what are referred to as ‘ spiritual cures ‘-a Centre situated in a delightful spot not far from New York. Doctors, clergymen, physicists and free students took part in the conference I attended and methods, cases and experiences were discussed. I must say that, although I wondered more than once how much reasonable foundation there could be, for instance, in relating So-and-So’s recovery to the prayers said on his behalf or to other mystical practices resorted to by the Reverend X’s group or by Dr. Y’s school of spiritual medicine, my general impression was that those were normal-minded, well-balanced people of quite a high cultural level-in addition, of course, to being fully convinced of the rightness of their ideas. In any case they were certainly not fanatics and definitely not charlatans. Of course this does not mean that in the United States-as in so many other countries-there is any lack of impostors, pseudo-thaumaturgical paranoiacs, ‘inspired’ members of one sect or another and people who sell anti-cancer vials containing nothing but water!
In America, at the conference I have just mentioned, I had an opportunity of saying something about some research work I did several years ago, together with the ethnologist Professor DE MARTINO and other Italian scholars, concerning the so-called magician-healers in Lucania, a depressed area in Southern Italy. Some of the elements collected have already been published by DE MARTINO, myself and others, but the whole of the vast material may provide food for many more scientific publications. Here I will merely mention the position occupied, according to me, by the figure of the healer in the cultural coordinates of Lucania and its population. After drawing your attention to the fact that this is an economically depressed and culturally backward area, I should like to say that it seemed clear to me that in country places in Lucania illness and diseases often assume aspects and connotations that only partly tally with those to be met with in our more advanced areas. There is a whole range of pathological or psychopathological phenomena that are evidently, though quite unconsciously, lived from inside as an ‘ill’ more in a moral than in a university medical sense. The widest variety of origins are attributed to’ ills ‘ of this kind, which are sometimes ascribed to witchcraft or the evil eye, at other times viewed as a sort of punishment for bad thoughts or for actions that should not have been committed and, at other times still, may be put down to the influence of evil spirits operating on their own or let loose by sorcerers or witches. In view of the above psychological features and components of the terrain in which this or that ‘ ill’ arises, it is clear that in a number of cases the magician or the thaumaturgist are resorted to in preference to the doctor. And the magician may act with authority in processes or situations of sickness in which it is hard to say what the psychological components are, when they give rise to situations responding to a crude sort of psychotherapy, and when they turn into psychosomatic syndromes causing and feeding real organic diseases. In any case the healer’s action at this point, as already mentioned, provides a sort of psychological and psychotherapeutical ‘first aid’ for individuals going through a crisis and makes itself felt in the field he knows, where his magic enables him to oppose the dark forces of evil. Lastly, the healer is able to ‘release ‘ his patient from the burden that is oppressing him, taking the sense of responsibility and of guilt upon himself. I have seen one of the most famous Lucanian magicians at work and I shall always remember the words he spoke to his client after the latter had described his complaint and after he had given him amulets or recited some special magic formulas: ‘ Go home,’ he said, ‘ and unload your thoughts from it all!’ One had the impression that he almost wished in this way to ‘ absolve’ the patient, metaphorically relieving him of a psychological and moral ‘weight ‘-of Dante’s incarco, i.e. ‘heavy burden’ of evil and suffering.
Perhaps the most important result of this ethnological and psychological expedition to Lucania was precisely that it prepared the ground for a new theoretical and methodological approach to the problem of the ‘country healer’, who differs from the ‘city healer’ although both have many points in common.
In the Lucanian countryside-and the situation is probably the same in other areas like this-a client goes to the healer whenever he feels that what has happened to him or to one of his dear ones belongs to the type of phenomena about which ‘outside’ persons-even the greatest doctor alive-understand nothing or less than nothing. These phenomena range from the evil eye to witchcraft, from a headache of dubious origin to sterility and lack of milk in women, from objects that unexplainably change places in the house to cattle that are wasting away.
Sometimes the boundaries expand and the magician’s help is called for in a case of acute nephritis or of osteomyelitis. However in such cases the magician nearly always sends his client to the doctor or declares himself powerless.
But as far as the Lucanian peasant is concerned the doctor is an almost incomprehensible being-and the cleverer the doctor the more incomprehensible he is-whereas the language and systems of the magician do not cause him any surprise. Here we have exactly the contrary of what a town-dweller would feel if he were to be told, with an air of authority, that all the medical systems to which he is accustomed have been outclassed by an infallible healer!
Within certain limits, therefore, the magician may be said to be the countryman’s doctor and his attitude towards the doctor is much the same as ours towards the magician.
This being so, it is easy to understand that the vast material we collected in Lucania has compelled us to revise many concepts. In considering this material, the psychologist and the doctor cannot avoid referring continually to an ideological picture in which the notion of ‘illness ‘ is different from ours and in which also the diagnostic instrument must consequently be altered and adapted. A picture in which certain strange happenings must be judged, not according to our usual criteria of what is normal and what is pathological or psychosomatic or maybe paranormal, but in conformity with the criteria of people who know that a certain ‘prayer’ has the power to dispel illness-an ‘ illness ‘ that, as I have already said, is largely moral, spiritual and unmaterial!
An area like Lucania is certainly one of the most suitable for studying the problem of’ healers ‘ which-in our big cities-is so often overburdened and complicated by cultural elaborations of a scientific or pseudo-scientific nature. In the Lucaniari peasant this different feeling as well as certain psychological, mystical and moral aspects that illness often assumes for the sufferer are frequently at almost conscious levels. This hardly ever happens in the case of the more or less educated ‘ citydweller’ who goes to a magician with a brass-plate outside his door to ask for advice concerning arthritis or paresis. In my opinion, however, there can be no doubt that more or less the same psychological conflicts, dramas and processes take place unconsciously in the university graduate living in the city as in the illiterate Lucanian peasant who is able to express aspects and figurations far closer to the related essential contents.
In this approach to the problem of healers I am, as you see, devoting far more attention to the position and personality of the client and to what goes on inside him than to the real or presumed qualities or faculties of the ‘ magician ‘. It is in fact my opinion that the traditional approach to this question has nearly always been one-sided and mistaken-rather like when people thought they could learn to understand something about mesmerism or hypnosis by seeking to measure the so-called ‘magnetic’ fluid or to discover what made up the hypnotist’s presumptive qualities of fascination. Today we all know that hypnosis is a psycho-physiological problem of a subject who allows himself to be hypnotized and that the hypnotizer is merely a figure more or less well suited to incarnate an interior -and largely unconscious-image belonging to the subject’s own psyche-an image that the latter can ‘project’ upon the former. Similarly, it seems to me that we must ask ourselves first of all what stirs deep down in people who go to healers- taking for granted that the latter are endowed with some particular traits of authority, self-confidence and rapid contact with those who resort to them, but for the present leaving in the sphere of hypothesis the idea that physical energies as yet unknown to science may-as some people believe-exude from them.
I am of course perfectly aware of the fact that several experiments in the last century, and quite a few also in this century up to our present days, have given indications that some sort of physical energy may also be emanated by alleged men of power or healers. Leaving aside many so-called ‘instruments ‘ which were intended to measure the’ psychic force’ but whose design was scientifically faulty, I shall also neglect several alleged ‘irradiations’ of photographic plates, because of the only too easy interference of unpredictable factors-such as heat, dampness, leakage, etc.-in the various stages of manipulation. A more promising way has been followed recently by Drs. Bernard Grad, Remi Cadoret and G. I. Paul, when they tested if a certain ‘ Mr. E.’ could actually treat wounded mice by the only alleged ‘power’ of his hands. Although the results were encouraging, there is still a long way between this sort of experiment on animals, and the assumption that healers actually emanate a special form of energy which has a therapeutic influence on a large variety of diseases. I think therefore that for the time being, we should keep this particular issue quite apart from the main problem which we are facing.
What actually happens between the sick person and the healer is merely a quantitative enlargement of what always happens -unconsciously and in small doses-between patient and doctor, namely the ‘projection’ on the person of the therapeutist of the archaic image of the thaumaturgist and the magician-in other words an almost omnipotent paternal image. We must not forget that it was only in times that are not so remote that medicine became separated from magic and that even today the doctor and the magician are still one and the same person in vast cultural areas. Although it is true that, in western culture and at a conscious level, the distinction is for the most part clearly accepted, nevertheless we still find vestiges of this approach to the patient-doctor relationship in many of the emotional attitudes even of grown-up and educated people, who often expect from their doctor-or even invoke-not a cure in the concrete scientific sense of the term, but actually a miracle!
In dealing with the power of’ faith ‘-in all its aspects-in the mechanisms of recovery, a French scholar, Professor TOCQJET, writes very truly that the fact that the primitive faith has been forgotten (and we may take ‘faith’ to mean a primitive attitude of trust, removed from consciousness, and not necessarily a religious ‘ belief’) ‘ is of no importance. It survives deep down in the unconscious where the recovery processes take place …..
But honesty now compels us to recognize that this need, this emotional ‘charge’ that tends-even if only unconsciously in most cases – to invest the figure of the therapeutist, is often given but scant satisfaction in modern medicine. We have extreme examples of this ‘ depersonalization ‘ of the doctor-patient relationship in certain clinics on the other side of the ocean where the patient is considered as little more than the object of a series of laboratory tests and eventually receives a neatly printed sheet of cardboard containing diagnosis, prognosis and prescriptions. As Dr. PIERRE WINTER, a well-known French doctor, writes, ‘an excessive specialization and mechanization of therapy often “isolates” the sick man from the rest of the cosmos and an organ from the rest of the body; the patient is, so to say, cut into pieces under the impression that this makes it easier to study and cure him’. The unconscious need to ‘project’ upon the doctor the image of the all-powerful parent, the magician, the thaumaturgist, thus remains completely unsatisfied.

In the modern relationship between doctors and patients there consequently exists a vast zone of’ emotional void ‘- and the more uneducated and primitive the patients are, the more mechanical and frozen the doctor’s role tends to become, the vaster and deeper is this void. And it is into this void that the healer steps, often in response to an authentic even if unrational need of the human soul. Thus-according to the keen-sighted definition of COLINON, a French investigator-healers are ‘the present-day depositaries of the mystic interpretation of illness ‘.

At this point we must once again ask ourselves: Can we exclude the possibility that the personal, emotionally ‘charged’ relationship between patient and therapist may have a real and concrete impact on the mechanisms presiding over the process of recovery? It seems to me unfair to accept an idea as valid and then shove it aside when it becomes a nuisance. Consequently it is unfair to recognize the efficacy of a psychological-or in any case unorganic and unmaterial-component in the psychosomatic, hypno-suggestive or spiritual treatment also of organic diseases and, at the same time, to reject a priori the idea that drug x or treatmenty may achieve quite different results if they are administered not by an automat or a robot, but by a human being or anyhow in an atmosphere of warm interpersonal relationship capable of arousing and galvanizing man’s latent psycho-biological energies at a deeper level.

Dr. OSMOND and Dr. SMYTHIES do not hesitate to say that there is an abysmal difference between a patient being cured by a doctor who feels that he has a spiritual personality before him with a transcendental destiny to fulfil or by a doctor who thinks that human beings are merely the outer wrapping of physico-chemical automatisms and that the patient has come to consult him because these automatisms are not in good working order…

Personally I nourish no doubts in this connection, just like many other doctors who are ready to admit-maybe in camera caritatis – that they have witnessed phenomena connected with the relief or disappearance of organic diseases that can only be explained by the release of a psychosomatic process of recovery stimulated far more by unconscious psychic factors than by pharmacological remedies, sometimes administered merely pro forma.

That is why – as I have had opportunity to point out on other occasions, the problem of healers cannot simply be solved by ostracizing them or by taking legal action against them for the illegal practice of medicine. Before judgment is passed, campaigns organized or measures adopted, the matter should be examined by doctors, sociologists and law-makers with the assistance of well-informed psychologists and psychoanalysts. It would then be realized that the first query to be answeredand not answered superficially or in a hurry-is why so many people, even in the upper classes and having had a good education, turn to healers. As we have seen, this question cannot be answered either with ready-made definitions-superstitiousness, unreasonable enthusiasm, etc.-which do not explain anything at all, or by merely admitting-although in the case of certain people this is already an important admission-that the healer has a power of suggestion that sometimes acts on his client’s state of mind or on slight symptoms of non-organic disturbances. Suggestion? Certainly, and to a very great extent! But what is suggestion if not a – mainly unconscious -search for, and acceptance of, something or someone that acts powerfully on a problem that is inside us and yet inaccessible to us? And why, a priori, lay down strict boundaries delimiting this action – whatever name we wish to call it by – after all we have learnt and seen in institutes of psychosomatic medicine, in some famous sanctuaries and in the weird hovels of the Lucanian healers? And why, at a certain point, is the parent-magician image projected more on the healer than on the doctor? These are the questions that should be answered first of all, and if the answers are those I have attempted to outline, the conclusion can only be that the problem of healers is the self-same problem of healing. Until the principle gains ground in modern therapy that healing cannot be reduced to a simple material and biochemical process, there will continue to be, in addition to the doctor – homo sapiens -the healer in whom people wish to see, need to see the homo divinans, the original magician, the witch doctor of the tribe. I am therefore of the opinion that it is primarily up to the intelligent doctor to endeavour somehow – through authentic psychic operations of reabsorption and not through pretences and stage-settings – to recover some of the traits of the’ man who heals ‘ – a figure just as important to the human unconscious as that of the man who diagnosticates or prescribes patent medicines. In the long run, the healers would find themselves ousted by superior and far more complete nersonalities for do not let us forget that, though it is true that the figure of the healer fits, with a well defined function, into an historical and psychological context which to a certain extent explains and justifies his existence, it is no less true that there is, alas, far too much room in the class and practice of healers for error, superficial behaviour, ignorance, theatricalness, therapeutic imprudence and only too often, as we know, for cheating and swindling. As far as these unfortunate practical and concrete aspects of the problem are concerned, there can of course be no other judgment than open and severe condemnation.

But what deserves to be stressed even more than the cultural, professional and legal differences is the marked psychological and psychodynamic difference existing between the healer and the therapist who has somehow managed to recover and reabsorb the traditional and deep-seated aspects of the’ complete doctor’. The former is inclined to keep his patient at a magic level and to draw him permanently away from rationality; the latter sets in communication and in osmosis levels of the personality that were formerly disconnected, but that do not exclude each other-like someone opening up irrigation canals, well aware that the final result to be achieved is the fertilization and not the flooding of the land!

However we must admit that a thorough study-along psychological, psychodynamic and psychosomatic lines-of the so-called unorthodox cures is still at the very beginning. Research workers and groups of students, armed with good intentions, have attempted to submit patients of the most different kinds to treatment by one healer or another in order to see if and to what extent such treatment actually helps. According to me, this research work is of no practical use at all unless it is accompanied by a close study of the psychological situation and types of the patients on whom these experiments are carried out and of the binomial healer-patient relationships that come into being. A first attempt in this direction was recently made in Germany, under the sponsorship of the Freiburg University Poly-clinic. Not satisfied with submitting no less than 650 subjects to treatment by a well-known healer in an investigation that lasted i months, the German research workers introduced into their research a first classification of the psychological types and attitudes of the patients who took part in the experiment. In my opinion the introduction of this criterion is of far greater scientific importance than the simple statistical conclusion according to which, at the close of the experiment, 51 % of the patients showed improvements that were recognized as being only temporary and subjective, while there was only a very small percentage (11%) of objective improvements. These figures, or others, do not prove and will never be able to prove anything unless they are related to sufficiently reliable and accurate psychological parameters referring to the specific interpersonal relationship involved. In this respect, the Freiburg investigation has been undoubtedly a very good start.

All that has been seen and said so far shows clearly that, in considering both the origin and the healing process of all and any illnesses, it is not possible to exclude a psychological component. Man in his entirety is a ‘psychosomatic unit’, and a priest and doctor, the illustrious Jesuit Father ORAI50N, has written that ‘ though they are very different in reality, the soul and the body are not separate, and cannot be separated, in an objective study of man as a whole’. Following the same line of thought, we may say that dynamic continuity in psyche-soma relations (let us leave aside the ‘soul’ in the theological sense) makes human beings react far more than animals to what is neither mechanical nor rational and may, according to the case, be called mental, emotional or spiritual; but it must never be forgotten that when we say ‘mental’ we do not mean ‘conscious ‘. For the most part all the influences, all the processes of which we have spoken so far take place, not in the bright light of the psychism described in classical psychology, but in the dark zone or in the penumbra of the unconscious-that unconscious that FREUD was the first to study systematically and which cannot be described according to the coordinates of Cartesian thought. In order, therefore, to alter his essential attitude towards illness, the modern therapist must first of all go deep down inside himself so as to succeed in at least partly changing the spontaneous a priori ‘ Cartesian ‘ and rationalistic attitude he usually assumes towards his patients. One example will be sufficient. Not many years ago, in the presence of a gastric ulcer, any doctor would have prescribed medicines or, in certain cases, have suggested an operation, without the slightest hesitation. Today it is no longer so infrequent to see an internist or a specialist for diseases of the digestive apparatus take the trouble to find out first of all-maybe calling in a psychologist or a psychoanalyst for this purpose-if some unconscious anxiety originating from a failure to solve the psychic conflicts of childhood or adolescence or from an existential situation of the moment may have caused the disease. The alternative in such cases no longer lies between patent medicines and the surgeon’s knife; there are also other forms of treatment to be taken into consideration such as sleep cures, simple psychotherapy or psychoanalysis-with results that are often better, more solid and permanent.

Consequently it is not merely a question of adopting a human’ attitude towards patients or ‘showing psychology’ as people say nowadays. As Father ORAISON also says, it is a question of’ the very conception of illness ‘-of illness as the exponent of individual and collective psychological coordinates and of healing as the reinsertion of the whole individual into the system of coordinates to which he belongs by means of an action that-in one way or another-will always be, directly or indirectly, also unphysical, unmaterial and unrational, namely psycho-therapeutical in a broad sense.

I have just mentioned collective – or cultural – psychological coordinates. Once we have recognized the psychological-emotional component – particularly when it is unconsciousin the pattern of illness and once we have admitted that healing consists of a readjustment of the patient’s whole personality, with the compulsory inclusion also of that component, we can no longer ignore the fact that an individual’s personality is at least partly the result and product of the cultural area in which he was born and has been living. If the deeper meaning of what illness is and what healing is varies according to the types of human being one is dealing with, there are just as conspicuous variations between one zone and another, one latitude and another, one continent and another. This in itself is certainly nothing new, for we all know that the incidence and percentage of certain diseases varies enormously according to whether we are considering Europe or India, for instance, or America or China. The truth is that those who deal with problems of world health and different diseases in different countries are generally inclined to consider them solely in terms of hygiene, prophylaxis, alimentation and epidemiology. The mere idea that factors other than those of a hygienic, sanitary or epidemiological nature may also have an influence on the predominance of infectious diseases in Eastern countries or on psychosomatic and neuropsychic stress disturbances in the West is enough to arouse feelings of incredulity and almost of disdain in a number of responsible circles. An outspoken book written by the wellknown British doctor, ARTHUR GUIRDHAM, A Theory of Disease (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1957), was needed to call the attention of a number of doctors, hygienists, psychologists and sociologists to this fascinating aspect of olJr subject: illness and healing considered from the point of view of cultural, philosophical and religious influences.

Actually, GUIRDHAM may be said to start from the point we have now reached in this talk, namely from a thesis according to which it is indispensable to adopt a more up-to-date view towards illness-to consider the psychological parameters of the entire personality. It is clear, therefore, that the final configuration of the pathological pattern is bound to vary according to the individual’s conscious and unconscious psychological attitude towards himself, his body, his life relationships and his existential position. According to GUIRDHAM, the more concerned with and worried about himself an individual is-namely the more ‘ conscious’ he is, not in a philosophical and superior sense, but in the sense of frequently and anxiously ‘watching himself live’, keeping an eye on himself-the more marked is his predisposition to the diseases that are typical of the ‘ modern man’: nervous, mental and psychosomatic disorders. These, in short, are ‘unnatural’ diseases due to a special conformation of the human personality endowed with a specular conscience in which the individual’s excessive interest in himself may take on distorted and hypertrophic forms. More ‘ natural ‘ instead are infectious diseases and the diseases referred to as ‘terminal’ inasmuch as they are proper to all that is, at one and the same time, alive and perishable. On the basis of this premise, it is fairly obvious that the over-all position assumed by the individual towards himself may be defined and classified, far better than within the boundaries of one and the same culture, by comparing extensive and different human areas and taking into consideration their attitudes-particularly their spontaneous attitudes-towards religion or philosophy in general. Thus we find conspicuous differences-though along very general lines-in the global position towards themselves and towards life of Hindus, for instance, as compared with Christians, and of the latter as compared with Buddhists. There can be no doubt that in vast areas in the East the degree and type of ‘self-consciousness’ are far less marked than in the West and this is a fact that must be taken into account in any assessment that is not purely materialistic of the incidence of the respective dominant diseases. At the risk of generalizing, but for the sake of truth, one might say that in the East ‘communication’ with the elementary forces of the bios is more immediate and direct; it is therefore more exposed, in time and in space, to the simpler forms of ‘ anti-bios ‘ such as infectious diseases. But, on the other hand, it is more resistant to neuropsychic and psychosomatic stress disturbances and, in general, to those illnesses, also of an organic nature, in which the etiopathogenetic role played by the psychic apparatus and the nervous system is most salient. One cannot but agree with GUIRDHAM that it is certainly no mere chance that among infectious diseases, only infections connected with the nervous system represent a serious problem for Western medicine nowadays. The other infectious diseases cause us far less concern, but we cannot, unfortunately, say the same of ever so many neurological forms relating to the psycho-physical personality, which are fought by modern man with means that are not always adequate and, as we have seen, that are often unilateral and incomplete. It is a fact that if we examine certain states or conditions in which, for one reason or another, the absence of that form of’ self-consciousness ‘-of that concern with oneself that I have mentioned-is typical, we find that these states are seldom accompanied by a situation of illness. In the prenatal period, the child to be born lives in the closest symbiosis with its mother, sharing her blood and temperature – but without in any way sharing her consciousness, her ‘sense of self’ . Is it not suggestive that, just because of this, cases of the foetus dying in the womb are comparatively very rare – unless they occur as the result of traumas – and that cases of babies showing progressive signs of intrauterine diseases at birth are equally rare? At the other extreme of life we find – and this is another acute observation of Guirdhars’s – a remarkable ‘simplification’ of the causes of illness, which the illustrious British doctor attributes to the reduced potentiality of self-observation, greater resignation and, frequently, a gradual adaptation to the idea of extinction and immobility. Old people are to a large extent immune from several diseases-unless they have contracted them at an earlier age. And the seraphic melancholy often met with in old age has nothing whatever in common with the melancholic psychosis of the younger man, tortured by self-accusatios and by a sense of total failure.

As is nearly always the case, the introduction and application in therapy of some of the ideas we have been examining has already been partly undertaken in a perfectly conscious form, while partly it takes indirect and unconscious forms which, however, are very suggestive to anyone who is capable of assessing them properly. Two factors strike me as particularly interesting: the fact that drugs are now shedding the once highly desirable qualification of ‘specific ‘-nowadays, for instance, the same antibiotic is prescribed for the widest range of diseases-and the increasingly extensive use of tranquilizers, not only for obvious cases such as states of anxiety or psychic stress, but also for headaches, various forms of dispepsia, asthma, certain forms of dermatosis, etc. Are not these signs that a certain part of active medicine, perhaps without fully recognizing it, is beginning to accept the idea of stimulating the mechanisms of recovery and healing by concentrating-far more than would have been done twenty years ago, say, or thirty-on the neuropsychic centres?

Be this as it may, the paths of healing look rather obscure to us at the present moment as – whether one is dealing with neurosis or functional disturbances, with an ordinary cold or with cardiopathy – they call in any case for a readjustment of the whole personality at all levels. This means that the unconscious is always involved, with its infinite negative or positive possibilities of being influenced or of influencing and, in certain cases, of being triggered almost more than is conceivable by energies and actions that are in no way material. When we psychoanalysts say that a considerable number of personality disturbances may be solved by means of integration and self-realization, we do not mean in the least that when the psychoanalytical treatment is completed the individual will assume an attitude of greater conscious supervision towards himself, his psychic acts and his relationship experiences. On the contrary! The person who has emerged successfully from psychoanalysis has, in a certain sense, a less marked consciousness of himself, he blends and syntonizes better with life itself, he allows himself to be permeated and carried along by forces and motions towards which he formerly adopted an attitude of excessive suspicion, anxiety and stiffness. It is substantially towards this kind of vital harmonization that everything militating to heal must tend. For, in the last analysis, the process of healing might be defined as ‘finding oneself again’, just because one loses oneself.

I should be obtuse and dogmatic if I failed to admit that this essential experience, which consists in renouncing certain current values of the personality can also take place without the limits and coordinates of Freudian psychoanalysis. Human experience transcends and reabsorbs all formulas; we must therefore hold it to be expedient for those who are convinced of the fundamental validity of analytical psychodynamics to realize the many forms that may be assumed by the loosening of certain structures, the contacting of the deeper dimensions of the being, and the respective values of this variety of experiences in therapy and in healing processes. GUIRDHAM, forinstance, has no doubt as to those phenomena of interpersonal communion of psychic contents-better known by the name of telepathic communication or extra-sensory perception-being able to take place at certain psychic levels where the very concept of separate individualities seems to dissolve. This is a concept that I myself have stressed for many years already, in a whole series of works, and that I only draw attention to here because more consideration may have to be accorded it in the future, not only in the psychotherapy as is already being done, but also in respect of that famous integral theory of healing that someone will have to decide to formulate and write one day!

It is very conceivable that in certain forms of healing, and particularly in the frame of reference of the healer-patient situation, some parapsychological (telepathic) element should play a definite role. In my opening address to the International Conference on Unorthodox Healing (St. Paul de Vence, 1954), I reminded the participants that the findings of psychoanalysis and psychosomatic medicine had shown that so-called illness is brought about by a variety of factors, also related to the conscious and unconscious mental processes of the patient. Further studies of paranormal occurrences in the psychoanalytic situation have convinced me that the ‘ Psi ‘ factor is a sort of constant possibility in the analyst-patient relationship, and that many Psi phenomena during psychotherapeutic treatmentdo indeed occur, but escape our attention. The analyst-patient relationship, however, is not to be conceived as a rara avis, or as a human encounter of a unique kind. I am of the opinion that what we psychoanalysts call the transference-countertransference situation – which can be so dramatically apparent and prominent in the analytic process – is only an enlargement or an intensification of something that goes on constantly in human relations, provided these are close enough to give rise to a strong need for communication, to unavoidable psychological regressions towards more irrational-emotional psychological levels, to frustrations and obstacles that one strives to overcome, etc. – It seems quite apparent that a real therapeutic situation, where both patient and therapist (in different degrees of course) are apt to feel linked by a particular bond (reproducing at times an archaic couple in which we may see the ‘powerful and protective parent ‘ and the’ distressed and helpless child ‘) presents us with an example of a very favourable terrain for the occurrence of extra-sensory phenomena. Several doctors are nowadays quite aware that what goes on between them and their patients (or at least, some of their patients) shows at times phenomena of immediate understanding, ‘hunches’, sudden and curious variations in the course of the illness following alterations in contacting and ‘communing’, etc., which cannot easily be explained away in rational and medically orthodox terms. A closer study of the underlying conditions of their own work would probably convince them that what happens is perfectly justified by the particular situation in which they find themselves. A real doctor, as well as a real psychotherapist, is always personally involved with his patients in a psychological situation – a true Gestalt – of a very complex and subtle nature; and here in turn, as pointed out, one finds the suitable premises of extra-sensory communications.

Another interesting point would be of course to see if and how these possible ESP occurrences in the therapeutic practice are instrumental in influencing healing processes. My opinion is, that everything that fosters contact and communication between doctor and patient (permitting those phenomena of projection, empathy, identification, etc. which I have previously described) must have a definite influence on the healing process-although it is obviously impossible to weigh such influence or to quantify its particular results. And surely, among these fostering agencies, extra-sensory communications would be most relevant, as they occur unconsciously, i.e. near the levels where are located the processes which can lead to disease or to recovery.

It is growing increasingly clear today, I believe, that even parapsychological phenomena are a part of that collective reservoir of ancestral energies upon which the individual seems to draw-in different ways and degrees-when he ‘lives’ the experience of his recovery.

I think that the conclusion that may be reached as a result of the foregoing remarks is that the very way in which we experiment the categories of illness and healing is slowly changing. If what we partly see and partly anticipate is true, we shall witness a progressive ‘ large-scale re-integration ‘ of psychological and spiritual dimensions in therapy and return-with another mentality and a much richer store of knowledge-to the concept expressed by St. Augustine when he said that, after all, to be ill means ‘to be incomplete’ and that the highest form of recovery consists in reacquiring perfect unity.

Emilio Servadio

Potrebbe anche interessarti...

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *

Translate »
error: Content is protected !!