Mental Health

views updated May 21 2018

Mental Health

One of the most studied and, at times, most misunderstood phenomena of biology (study of living organisms) and psychology (study of the mind) is how people develop mentally: how do people become who they are? How do individuals develop the capacity for learning, memory, intelligence, and personality? Why do two or more individuals, born to and reared by the same parents (and therefore possessing similar genetic makeup to their siblings), often turn out to be individuals with such different likes and dislikes, different strengths and weaknesses? Why do some people develop mental illness while their brothers or sisters do not?

As with most studies pertaining to the mind, there are not many hard and fast answers. Scientists, doctors, and mental health professionals have different theories as to how people develop and grow mentally. Some theorists believe that the environment in which a person is raised contributes not only to one's personality but also to overall intelligence, and can even foster or prevent the development of certain mental illness. Still other scientists propose that biology plays a bigger role than environment and people develop as they are genetically programmed to do. For the most part, those in the field of mental health and development research take into account both biological and environmental factors as equally important in the development and growth of the mind.

This chapter will discuss the different areas of development that contribute to the whole of mental health, including identity and personality, memory, learning, intelligence, creativity, and self-esteem. Together, these areas are the things that make people who they are.


The nature vs. nurture debate revolves around the following question: what factors contribute to the mental development of an individual: nature (that is, the biological or genetic makeup of a person) or nurture (that is, how a person is raised, by whom, and in what environment)? Just as human beings inherit certain physical traits from their biological parents (such as height, eye color, and even predisposition to physical ailments), human beings can also inherit certain mental characteristics and traits from their parents, such as a propensity for certain mental disorders. What else is inherited and what traits and characteristics develop as a result of the environment in which an individual is raised? Some researchers believe that things such

Mental Health: Words to Know

Alzheimer's disease:
A degenerative disease of the brain that causes people to forget things, including the people in their lives, and which eventually leads to death.
Being in charge of oneself; independent.
Classical conditioning:
Learning involving an automatic response to a certain stimulus that is acquired and reinforced through association.
Convergent thinking:
Thinking that is driven by knowledge and logic (opposite of divergent thinking).
One's capacity to think and solve problems in a unique way.
Divergent thinking:
Thinking driven by creativity (opposite of convergent thinking).
Eidetic memory:
Also known as photographic memory; the ability to take a mental picture of information and use that picture later to retrieve the information.
Being outgoing and social.
Identical twins:
Also called monozygotic twins; twins born from the same egg and sperm.
Inborn; something (a characteristic) a person is born with.
The ability and capacity to understand.
Intelligence Quotient (IQ):
The measure of intelligence as based on intelligence tests and the intelligence of the general population.
Being quiet and soft-spoken.
Modifying behavior and acquiring new information or skills.
The ability to acquire, store, and retrieve information.
Learning based on modeling one's behavior on that of another person with whom an individual strongly identifies.
The biological or genetic makeup of a person.
Nerve cells that receive chemicalelectrical impulses from the brain.
How a person is raised, by whom, and in what environment.
Observational learning:
Learning from the examples of others.
Operant conditioning:
Learning involving voluntary response to a certain stimuli based on positive or negative consequences resulting from the response.
All the traits and characteristics that make people unique.
Making something stronger by adding extra support.
How an individual feels about her or himself.
Something that causes action or activity.
Gaps between nerves; the connections between neurons that allow people to make mental connections.
How people behave.

as alcoholism or even intelligence are biologically inherited while other people support the theory that many of these things are a product of the environment in which an individual is raised.

Many studies in the nature versus nurture conflict center on identical twins. Researchers look not only at twins raised together but those raised apart to determine whether or not a certain trait is biologically programmed or if it evolves as a result of the environment in which one twin was raised. However, a flaw in research of this type is that, often times, the twins who had been separated by adoption were raised in very similar environments.


The most controversial area in the nature vs. nurture debate is intelligence. The reason for this may be that intelligence (which is a person's capacity to think rationally and deal with challenges effectively) is closely related to achievement, both scholastic and in other situations. While most researchers agree that intelligence is influenced by genetics to a great degree, studies show that twins of all kinds and biological siblings are more likely to possess similar intelligence. In fact, the closer the biological link, the stronger the similarity in intelligence. However, there are also similarities in intelligence between unrelated children raised together in the same household, though these similarities are not as great as those between biological siblings and, especially, twins.

What this and other similar research says is that no one definitive factor solely affects intelligence. The manner in which an individual is raised greatly influences one's intelligence. While one researcher, psychologist Arthur Jensen, put forth that intelligence is 80 percent determined by biological factors, other researchers have settled upon figures

ranging between 50 and 70 percent. This means that whatever an individual's natural intelligence, it can always be improved or obstructed by his or her environment.


In addition to physical characteristics and intelligence, researchers have also tried to determine whether genetics or the environment influences an individual's personality. If a really outgoing, social individual has a child, will that child also be outgoing? Some researchers say yes. In fact, scientists have been able to prove that there is a biological relationship in terms of personality where extroversion (being outgoing and social) and neuroticism (being touchy, moody, or overly sensitive) are concerned.

How can this be proven? Through studies involving twins living apart. In fact, similar studies have found that many things seem to be inheritedfrom values and political attitudes to the amount of time people spend watching television! This may sound silly and, of course, no one is suggesting that a specific gene has evolved that directly influences a person's preference for watching television. Rather, what researchers are focusing on is that the act of watching television is usually a solitary, passive one. This could be something that is tied to whether or not a person is extroverted. Findings of this type are also confirmed by the fact that scientists have identified a gene that affects brain chemistry and may be the reason that certain individuals engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as bungee jumping or extreme sports, while others do not.

Mental Disorders

As discussed in Chapter 12 on Mental Illness, schizophrenia (a serious psychological disorder marked by scattered thoughts, confusion, and delusions) has been found to have a high genetic correlation, meaning that if one family member has schizophrenia, there is an increased likelihood that another family member (or future offspring) may also develop it. Of course, while an individual may be predisposed to schizophrenia because of genetics, that is not to say that he will ever develop the disorder. Other psychological disorders that may be hereditary include alcoholism and major depression. [See Chapter 12: Mental Illness.]

Most researchers now agree to some extent that both biology and environment play important roles in shaping people. Just as children may share traits with biological parents, adopted children may also share many traits and habits with their adoptive parents. What this information serves to do is help mental health professionals, teachers, and researchers help all people realize their potential for growth and accomplishment in their lives.


All people have completely unique behavioral traits, likes and dislikes, and habits that make them who they are. This uniqueness comes not only from biological factors, such as temperament, but is also developed from experiences, such as a person's sense of individuality, or a combination of both environmental and biological factors, such as personality.


Personality refers to all of the traits and characteristics individuals show the world, and which make them different from others. In fact, the word personality comes from a Latin term meaning "mask." As stated in Chapter 12 on Mental Illness, people who have extreme personalities often have personality disorders. However, most people have a personality type that does not prevent them from functioning effectively within society. For example,

some people may be naturally more self-involved than others. These people may have a narcissistic personality type, meaning they are driven more by their own needs and desires than others are; however, this does not mean that they are dysfunctional in any way. Some people may desire close relationships with others and base much of what they do on the opinions of those other people. These individuals may have a dependent personality type; again, though, this is not necessarily an indication of dysfunction.

Some people are extroverted (outgoing) while others are introverted (shy, reserved). Some people are optimistic (positive) while others tend to be more negative, seeing the downside of situations rather than the upside. The type of personality a person has can, according to certain mental health professionals, cause him or her to seek out certain situations that agree with his view of the world and personality. This results in a certain consistency, in which the personality drives decisions that reinforce a person's personality.


As personality begins to develop, it is reinforced and solidified during adolescence when young people begin to ask the question, "Who am I?". This quest for and achievement of individuality is perhaps best illustrated by looking at the work of renowned psychoanalytic theorist Erik Erikson (19021994), who mapped out an eight-stage process that covered all stages of development, with the stages in adolescence focusing on identity and individuality.

Erikson's stages include stage one, "basic trust versus mistrust," which takes place in infancy and usually centers on an infant learning trust through being cared for properly. In the toddler years, stage two, the "autonomy (independence) versus shame and doubt" stage, is resolved by allowing a child to assert independence and not feel bad for misbehaving or failing at his attempts at independence (toilet training, etc.). Stage three consists of a conflict related to "initiative versus guilt" in early childhood; at this time children begin to act on curiosities and explore new things, and the conflict is resolved if children are encouraged in their new interests and curiosities. In middle childhood stage four emerges, involving "industry versus inferiority"; and during this stage a child must achieve things (do homework, acquire skills) in order to avoid feeling inferior (less worthy than others).


People often make statements about others such as, "He was born happy," or "She's always been moody; she's been that way since birth." This may seem like an exaggeration, but, according to many theorists, this is explained by temperament. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, pioneers in the field of temperament, describe temperament as how people behave. How active is a child naturally? How does the child adapt to change? How energetic is a child? How responsive? All of these things, according to researchers, are genetically programmed for the most part.

Temperament could account for the dramatic differences in siblings' behaviors from infancy. Some infants are naturally "easy babies," with positive dispositions and who adapt and adjust easily, while other infants are categorized as "difficult babies" who are moody and easily irritated.

Researchers have put forth that, generally, temperament remains constant throughout the span of an individual's life.

Stage five, a pivotal stage in terms of this discussion, involves "identity versus role confusion" in the teen years. During this time, adolescents attempt to form their own personal identity based on who they were in childhood and where they wish to go personally and professionally in the future. What can happen at this stage, though, is that a teen who prematurely sets himself in a certain identity is at risk for having grasped onto a persona that is based on the approval of friends. Thus, this teen may be less autonomous (independent) and inquisitive (eager to learn) than others. All of this can lead to the formation of an individual who is not open to change and new experiences.

Another problem that can arise in Erikson's fifth stage of development is identity confusion. Erikson is referring to teens who simply are never certain of who they are. When this happens, a young person runs the risk of being unable to forge meaningful relationships and possibly alienating others with immature behavior and reasoning.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that children and young adults be encouraged to figure out their likes and dislikes, talents and natural inclinations, and to try new things during the development process so that they will develop a sense of identity.

Stage six is concerned with the conflict of "intimacy versus isolation" stage during early adulthood. During this time, people seek out deep, meaningful intimate relationships or choose to isolate themselves, possibly with

very negative consequences later in life. Stage seven presents itself in a conflict of "generativity versus stagnation," meaning that people should feel that they have contributed to the development of other people, particularly young people, or they will be left feeling the effects of stagnation (not changing or growing), which is the opposite of generativity (growth or creativity).

The last stage, stage eight, plays out in late adulthood in the way of "ego integrity versus despair." At this stage, adults reflect on the lives they have led, evaluating whether they have accomplished something with their lives and choices and whether they have contributed to the betterment of society.


Memory is one of the most important functions of the brain. Whether people realize it or not, their memories define who they are. Without them,


Self-esteem refers to how an individual feels about him- or herself. Does someone view himself as a good person, worthy of good things? If he does, he probably has healthy selfesteem. If an individual views himself as flawed and unworthy of praise or the respect of others, he probably has low self-esteem.

Self-esteem motivates people's actions as well as the decisions they make. Individuals with positive self-esteem are likely to believe that they measure up to others sufficiently. They are more likely to have the confidence to pursue different accomplishments, whether it is trying to do well on a test, trying out for a sports team, answering a question in class, or applying for a job. These individuals are not overly afraid of failure; they realize that failure is a natural part of life and whether they fail or succeed at something does not indicate their overall worth and ability as a person.

People with low self-esteem, however, are less likely to try their best at anything. They are so certain they will fail that they approach tasks and challenges with so much anxiety (worry or fear) that they are unable to concentrate. They are so afraid of failure (which, in their eyes, will only serve to confirm their lack of worth and ability) that they may not even try at all, finding it easier to believe that they may have succeeded had they really tried.

A strong sense of self and positive self-esteem can help prevent people from engaging in risky behavior or putting themselves in dangerous situations. These people know that, like all people, they deserve good things and that, regardless of one failure, success will come in the future in some way, shape, or form.

There are several factors that influence selfesteem. These include:

Age: Self-esteem tends to grow steadily up until middle school, which may be due to the transition of moving from the familiar environment of elementary school to a new setting with new demands. Self-esteem will either continue to grow after this period or begin to plummet.

Gender: Girls tend to be more susceptible to having low self-esteem than boys, perhaps because of increased social pressures that emphasize appearance rather than intelligence or athletic ability.

Socioeconomic status: Researchers have found that children from higher-income families usually have a better sense of self-esteem in the mid- to late-adolescence years.

people would not know where they came from, what they have experienced, or who their families and friends are. Memories are unique to each person. While many people may witness or experience the same event, each person will remember it differently. This is why memory is considered part of a person's complex personality.

Many scientists know what memory is, but they still don't know exactly how it works. Memory is defined as the ability to acquire information, store it, and then retrieve it later. It affects every aspect of people's daily lives. People have memories about facts, such as their names and phone numbers and birth dates. They also have memories about past events, such as graduation from high school, getting married, or the death of a loved one. In addition, memories of certain skills, such as how to talk, walk, cook, or play a sport exist in abundance. Still other memories seem to be instinctive. For example, people remember how to sleep, breathe, and digest food. These are just a few examples of what memory can do and how it helps people learn and live.

Different Kinds of Memory

Types of memory fall into two categories, or systems, in the brain. One system deals with fact knowledge, such as names and dates. The other system deals with skill. While scientists know these systems are separate, they think that the systems share with one another. What scientists do not know is how much they share and how closely they are connected.

Fact knowledge is usually referred to as short-term memory. Short-term memories can become long-term if the circumstances are right. Again, scientists are still unclear as to exactly how this works; however, they think that short-term memories do not last long because new information enters the part of the brain that stores short-term memories and then drives out older memories. If a short-term memory passes into the long-term memory, it has more staying power. It lasts longer and can eventually become permanent. The longer a memory lasts, the stronger it is and the less likely it will be forgotten. This happens because short-term memories are fragile, while long-term memories are sturdy. Some scientists believe that long-term memories are stored permanently because of chemical changes in the brain.

Other scientists do not categorize memories in terms of length. They believe that the length of a memory depends on certain circumstances; however, they do not know which circumstances produce long-term memories and which produce short-term memories. One thing scientists agree on, however, is the fact that the brain seems to have an unlimited capacity to store memories. Scientists continue to study how people store and retrieve memories and why, if they have an unlimited capacity to remember information, people forget.

How People Remember and Why People Forget

When memories are stored in the brain, they cannot serve people unless they are retrieved. How do people retrieve memories? This usually happens when memories are challenged. For example, if someone asks a question, a person must attempt to retrieve information in order to answer the question. Sometimes the answer is easy; other times, a person takes time to answer it. The amount of time it takes to answer the question is connected to a person's awareness of what memories are stored. Sometimes a person is not aware at the time that he or she knows the answer, but later realizes that the information is there, ready to be retrieved. Sometimes, a smell or a sound can trigger a memory that a person did not know was there.


For unknown reasons, some people have a better ability to remember information than others. Ancient civilizations were able to maintain their history through an oral (spoken) tradition. Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey were passed down through generations by word of mouth. It is believed that people's memories may have been stronger out of necessity. Because preliterate civilizations could not write, they were forced to remember things orally. When literacy (the ability to read or write) was developed, the need for oral stories diminished, which may explain why fewer people permanently store large amounts of information.

Some people have what is called eidetic imagery, or photographic memory, which enables them to take a picture of information and then use that picture to retrieve the information later. This picture is not just stored by sight. It can also be recorded through sound, taste, and smell. For example, a musician may be able to hear a song, and, without writing anything down, play back the song note for note. This type of memory is found more often in children than in adults. However, many people who have this ability as children often lose it as they grow older. Scientists do not know why some people have a photographic memory or why they eventually lose it.

There have been studies done, however, which reveal how too much memory can be harmful to a person. In the 1950s, a Russian man named Solomon V. Shereshevskii had the remarkable ability to remember an enormous amount of information. He was a reporter who was able to research and produce his stories without ever writing anything down. Shereshevskii eventually toured the world showing off his amazing ability to remember everything for an unlimited amount of time. Eventually, however, Shereshevskii's memory became an immense burden. Because he remembered so much information, he could not control his memories or when they surfaced. In the middle of conversations, he would be reminded of other events and facts until he could no longer concentrate on the conversation. He began to rant and rave like a madman. For the man who remembered everything, his greatest wish was to be able to forget.

Retrieving a memory involves finding the path that leads to the information and navigating that path. As more and more memories are stored from new experiences, those paths can become intertwined, making it more difficult to find the way back. It can become particularly difficult when stored information has similar meaning because a person will have trouble making distinctions between memories. For example, if a person has seen hundreds of movies, it may become difficult for the person to recall the details of each one. The person may mix together certain parts or lines from different movies or may even confuse the actors involved in the movies.

Some people have trouble retrieving a memory, but eventually manage to do it. However, sometimes a memory cannot be retrieved at all. Does this mean that the information has disappeared forever? Scientists believe that as people search for a particular memory, such as the name of a childhood friend for example, they are actively retracing the path to find the original information that was stored years ago. If they make it there, the memory is retrieved. However, if people cannot seem to make it back on that path, they will never be able to find the memory. Sometimes, though, people will find their way by taking an alternate route. For example, if a person asks a friend a question, and the friend thinks he knows the answer but cannot seem to retrieve the information, he might say something like, "It's on the tip of my tongue!" Then, as he is doing something completely unrelated later in the day, the information might pop into his head. Scientists believe this happens because the brain has found a related item, which then helps the person find the desired information.

Ways to Improve Memory

Some scientists believe the capacity to store information long-term is connected to concentration. Short-term memories can easily become long-term if a person is willing to concentrate on the facts. Lynn Stern, author of Improving Your Memory, says that to make a long-term memory a person must "focus on it exclusively for a minimum of eight seconds." With training, anyone can improve the capacity to remember.

Experts also recommend the following to improve and maintain a good memory:

  • Exercise on a regular basis. Exercise helps keep the blood flowing, which increases the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. With more oxygen, the brain, and therefore the memory, stays sharp and focused.
  • Manage stress. Stress can affect the body and the mind in negative ways. Emotional disorders such as depression can harm a person's ability to retrieve information.
  • Stay organized. Organization creates order in a person's life. If a person is always losing her keys, her brain is being used to try to find them everyday instead of thinking about more important matters.
  • Use visualization. Visualization means creating an image that corresponds with a fact or an event. If a person is trying to remember a list of groceries, it is helpful to associate a word, such as bread, with its corresponding image.
  • Write it down. Writing things down on paper or on the computer helps people to remember because the act forces them to concentrate on the things they are writing. Concentration, as stated above, is one of the keys to a good memory.


When most people think of learning, they think of acquiring knowledge or a specific skill, such as facts about history, new vocabulary words, or how to play an instrument. Learning also encompasses behavior in a much broader sense than the aforementioned specifics. To mental health professionals, learning, on a most basic level, involves behavior modification. For example, when students learn how to do long math problems, they are using a process that a teacher showed them, but they are actually learning a behavior (how to solve long math problems). As a result, when presented with a math problem in the future, people draw on that behavior (or learned method) to solve the problem.

Of course, not everything that people do is learned through teaching or firsthand experience. Rather, there do exist some behaviors that are purely instinctual, or behaviors that people (and animals, too) are genetically programmed to exhibit in certain situations. An example of this is the fight- or-flight impulse. In a scary situation, the human body produces the steroid adrenaline, which makes the heart pump faster and the lungs work harder. This is an unconscious response that readies a person to "fight" if the situation calls for it or to "flee"; again, this is not a learned response to fear or danger but an instinctual one. These behaviors are also referred to as being innate responses (or inborn).


Alzheimer's disease is an illness that causes people to forget things, even the people in their lives. They cannot remember recent experiences they have had or how to perform tasks that previously required little or no thought at all. Alzheimer's usually afflicts people in their late sixties, seventies, and beyond; however, the disease has been diagnosed in people as young as thirty. The disease often progresses until a person has difficulty speaking or functioning on his or her own. Eventually, the body's basic functions, such as breathing and digesting, break down until the person enters a coma and dies. Sometimes the disease progresses quickly, and death results in as little as five or six years. Other times, a person suffers with the disease for as long as twenty years.

Alzheimer's is a devastating disease not only to the person afflicted but also to the family and friends who must witness their loved one's suffering. There are many organizations devoted to supporting families and friends who are dealing with the disease. In addition, scientists are working hard to discover new ways of coping with the disease and to develop new treatment.

Alzheimer's disease is difficult to diagnose. There are, however, some warning signs that help physicians determine if a person has Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Association of America has developed these ten warning signs. They are:

1. Memory loss that affects job skills. It is normal to occasionally forget an assignment, deadline or colleague's name, but frequent forgetfulness or unexplainable confusion at home or in the workplace may signal that something is wrong.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Busy people get distracted from time to time. For example, you might leave something on the stove too long or not remember to serve part of a meal. People with Alzheimer's might prepare a meal and not only forget to serve it, but also forget they made it.

3. Problems with language. Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer's disease may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making his or her sentences difficult to understand.

4. Disorientation to time and place. It is normal to momentarily forget the day of the week or what you need from the store. But people with Alzheimer's disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing where they are, how they got there or how to get back home.

5. Poor or decreased judgment. Choosing not to bring a sweater or coat along on a chilly night is a common mistake. A person with Alzheimer's, however, may dress inappropriately in more noticeable ways, wearing a bathrobe to the store or several blouses on a hot day.

6. Problems with abstract thinking. Balancing a checkbook can be challenging for many people, but for someone with Alzheimer's, recognizing numbers or performing basic calculations may be impossible.

7. Misplacing things. Everyone temporarily misplaces a wallet or keys from time to time. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put these and other items in inappropriate placessuch as an iron in the freezer, or a wristwatch in the sugar bowlthen not recall how they got there.

8. Changes in mood or behavior. Everyone experiences a broad range of emotionsit is part of being human. People with Alzheimer's tend to exhibit more rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.

9. Changes in personality. People's personalities may change somewhat as they age. But a person with Alzheimer's can change dramatically, either suddenly or over a period of time. Someone who is generally easygoing may become angry, suspicious or fearful.

10. Loss of initiative. It is normal to tire of housework, business activities, or social obligations, but most people retain or eventually regain their interest. The person with Alzheimer's disease may remain disinterested and uninvolved in many or all of his usual pursuits.

Reprinted with permission of the Alzheimer's Association of America.

The Biology Behind Learning

When babies are born, their brains are made up of billions of neurons (nerve cells that carry messages to and from the brain to other parts of the body). Over time connections, called synapses, form among the neurons that are vital to proper brain functioning; these synapses help individuals make mental connections between different areas of the brain and between different information so that they may learn and develop to their fullest mental abilities. What drives the establishment of these synapses is stimulation, particularly during infancy and early childhood. Stimulation can be anything from color, to light, sound, or touch; anything that captures the child's attention and makes him or her think. When stimulation occurs, synapses are built and strengthened. Without stimulation or even reinforced stimulation, key synapses either will not form at all or will wither away. While things such as intelligence and creativity may be partially determined by heredity, these connections are what determine maximum development.

What Helps Learning and What Hinders It

Stimulation, then, appears to hold an important key to making certain that people are able to realize their cognitive potential. Because the most important connections are made before the age of ten, it is important for a child to receive proper stimulation. There are several things that hold the key to optimizing learning and mental development for a child. They include:

1. A nurturing, secure environment that provides emotional caring and safety.

2. A sense of predictability so that a child develops a sense of emotional stability.

3. Conversation and communication; the spoken word boosts brain-power.

4. Encouragement and praise with regard to a child's accomplishments, however minor, to provide a sense of empowerment.

5. Helping children make cognitive connections by pointing them out (point out the car in the picture and then take the child for a ride in the car).

6. Knowing when a child has had enough stimulation and needs some quiet time.

Mental disorders such as attention-deficit disorder and learning disabilities can hinder learning, as discussed in Chapter 12 on Mental Illness. However, certain environmental factors and conditions can also hurt a child's ability to learn. A neglectful home environment in which stimulation is absent can spell the beginning of future learning problems for any child. Particularly stressful events, such as the death of a parent, or a stressful situation, such as homelessness, can also have adverse affects on a child's ability to concentrate on and respond to mental stimulation.

Kinds Of Learning

Several kinds of learning that are present throughout the life span influence the acquisition of knowledge and the alteration of behavior. Proposed by prominent doctors, scientists, and therapists throughout the years, their principles remain unchanged and are the foundation for many forms of therapies (for more information see Chapter 15: Mental Health Therapies).

CLASSICAL CONDITIONING. Formulated by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (18491936), classical conditioning involves an automatic response to a certain stimulus that is acquired and reinforced through association. Pavlov illustrated the principles of classical conditioning after training dogs to salivate (involuntarily) upon hearing the ringing of a bell. Pavlov accomplished this task by first ringing a bell just before he fed the dogs. After a while, the dogs began to associate the ringing of the bell with getting their dinner. However, the response was ingrained in the dogs on such a deep level that the food was no longer the stimulus for salivation; rather, the ringing of the bell alone made the dogs salivate.

This can be seen in people's everyday behavior in different situations. An infant will learn to respond to the sound and smell of its mother before being given a bottle; the child is responding not to the bottle, but to the voice or scent of the mother. Similarly, if every time a child's parent calls him by his full name ("Come here, John Michael Smith!"), he gets yelled at, his heart may beat fast just hearing his full name being called, before his parent has even scolded him.


Light and different types of light can influence and affect how one learns. In the 1940s and 1950s, biologist John Ott discovered that cool fluorescent lights (which are used in many classrooms) can make some children overly excited, thus making it difficult for them to learn, especially those students with attention-deficit disorder (see Chapter 12: Mental Illness). Natural light, or light that closely mimics natural light, is best for studying and learning.

OPERANT CONDITIONING. Unlike classical conditioning (which involves involuntary response to a certain stimuli), operant conditioning involves voluntary response to a certain stimuli based on positive or negative consequences that result from the response. First put forth by psychologist B.F. Skinner (19041990), an example of operant conditioning is training a dog by using treats or verbal praise to reinforce the desired result. If an owner trains her dog Fido to give her a paw when the dog's shoulder is touched and the dog performs the task and is rewarded with a biscuit or kind words, the dog will associate successfully performing the task with the tasty treat or the praise. Similarly, if a dog is consistently scolded when it chews something it should not, the dog will make the association between chewing a forbidden item with harsh words and will learn not to engage in that behavior anymore. The same principles apply to human behavior. If a child learns that she is rewarded by successfully completing her homework each night, doing her homework will become important to her.

Positive reinforcement of a behavior will usually cause a certain behavior to continue, while punishment or the absence of reinforcement will result in a behavior being extinguished. Behavior modification, a way of promoting positive behavior and eliminating negative behavior, is built around principles of operant conditioning.


There has been much attention given to the notion of brain dominance in recent years. A popular book on learning to draw is entitled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence. This refers to the split-brain theory put forth by scientists who believe that the left side and the right side of the brain represent different types of thinking and that each person leans toward one or the other.

The left side of the brain is geared toward verbal skills, analytical ability; the left side of the brain also emphasizes aggressiveness and rigidity, and organization. It has been found that left-brained individuals are typically drawn to pursuing careers as accountants, attorneys, or careers in the military. In contrast, the right side of the brain is more geared to artistry, playfulness, intuitiveness, and fluidity; passivity and emotional flexibility are signs of right-brain thinking. It has been found that right-brain people are more likely to become artists, entrepreneurs, and educators.

The theory of brain dominance, when applied to the arena of learning and education, means that instructors and parents, when possible, need to take into consideration whether a child is left-side or right-side oriented and tailor teaching methods to that dominance.

OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING. Another way that people learn is through watching others or observing. A teacher trying to teach students how to add several numbers together will often explain the principles behind the method and will then demonstrate the method by solving a sample problem. The students then learn by observing the teacher. This is true of sports as well (watching a team execute certain plays during a sporting event) or behavior (watching someone get a desired result by giving a certain response). For example, a person might learn how to disarm her parents when they are angry with her by observing and adopting her brother's response, which seems to effectively calm their parents.

Observational learning is important in social learning. Young adults are likely to observe the habits and behaviors of their peers and adopt them as their own if they see those individuals gaining social acceptance through those habits and behaviors. This can include innocent things, such as ways of dressing or studying, or more harmful things, such as choosing to smoke, because those who do have gained a result that is desirable to those observing them.

Modeling (basing one's behavior on that of another person with whom there is a strong identification or desire to be like) is a part of observational learning, and young adults can model their friends' behavior as outlined in the previous paragraph. Modeling can also take place between people and someone they admire but do not personally know, such as a celebrity. For instance, if a young adult is a big fan of Madonna and hears that she does yoga every day, that young adult might be likely to take up yoga. The same holds true even if the person upon whom the teens are modeling themselves engages in harmful behavior. A celebrity who is caught engaging in risky behavior may influence young adults (and older adults) to engage in similar behaviors. Celebrities and public figures are often called "role models," even when they do not wish to be. They are generally held to higher standards than other people because their behavior is more likely to influence a large number of people.


Intelligence is defined most broadly as the ability and capacity to understand. It has taken many years for researchers to understand how to determine the precise differences between very intellectual individuals and those


According to psychiatrist Gene Cohen (a game inventor, founder of the game company Genco, and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health's Center on Aging) games are mental gymnastics that can help people stay mentally fit. Cohen and other mental health professionals believe that playing games allows for people to flex brain-power and connections that they don't typically get to use when working or doing everyday tasks. Exercising the brain in this manner promotes the growth of better neural connections and the growth of brain cells.

Cohen's theories are backed up by research performed by Marian Diamond, a mental health professional at the Brain Research Institute of the University of California at Berkeley, who found that laboratory rats given toys to play with were able to find their way through mazes more quickly than rats who were not provided with toys. Upon examination of the two sets of rats the researchers discovered that there were profound differences in the brains of the two groups; the brains of the rats that had been given toys had more well-developed cerebral cortexes (which is the part of the brain related to thought). These findings gave rise to fun educational programs such as Sesame Street.

What Cohen wants people to remember, though, is that mental exertion through games can boost the brainpower of peopleand rats as evidenced by Diamond's studyof all ages. Also, Diamond's study found that rats that simply watched other rats playing did not increase their brainpower at all. So, instead of passive activity such as watching television every night, to be mentally nimble in the years to come Cohen advises playing board games or cards. And, according to Cohen, computerized games do not boost brainpower because they do not involve reading nonverbal cues like watching one's opponents' reactions, which are part of traditional games.

who are less so. Until Alfred Binet (18571911), a French psychologist, sought to identify why certain students in French schools in the early twentieth century were not learning at the same pace as other students, no one had come up with any sort of solution to the question of how to measure intelligence. Using a trial-and-error approach to compiling his test, Binet developed his questions based on a division of students into categories of "bright" or "dull." The questions that ended up on the test were the ones that reinforced the difference in knowledge between these two groups.

The intelligence quotient (IQ) is the measure of intelligence as based on intelligence tests and the intelligence of the general population. While Binet created and published the very first standardized test of human intelligence (which was revised several times), it was American psychology professor Lewis Terman, of Stanford University, who came up with the actual formula for determining IQ: divide the test taker's "mental age," which is revealed by his or her score on the intelligence test, by his or her chronological age. The resulting number is what Terman called the intelligence quotient or IQ. In 1916 Terman brought the existing Binet test from France to the United States, translated it into English, and developed a new set of standard questions for American children. He named the new test Stanford-Binet.


Many times, there are people who are not necessarily "book" or "school" smart but who are whizzes when it comes to specific fields such as music, art, or the written word. In response to this phenomenon, psychologist Howard Gardner came up with seven different types of intelligence. They include: musical intelligence; intelligence involving envisioning and measuring space abstractly (in one's mind, as artists and architects often do); mathematical intelligence; and linguistic intelligence (superior writing skills). In addition, there is interpersonal intelligence (being able to relate to others in a productive manner); intrapersonal intelligence (having the ability to be deeply in touch with oneself on an emotional and mental level); and physical intelligence (skills possessed by superior athletes, dancers, or surgeons).

Other theorists have brought forth issues of practical intelligence, or the intelligence that correlates with a person's success in day-to-day life. According to these theorists, practical intelligence, which comes from observing others, has a great deal of validity in that traditional intelligence does not have any correlation to success in life; often times, people with high IQs never realize their potential or lack the common sense to make the best of their capacities.

In terms of how intelligent the general population is, the average IQ is 100, with 68.3 percent of people possessing IQs ranging between 85 and 115. People with IQs between 115 and 130 are classified as having superior IQs while those with IQs in excess of 130 are labeled as gifted. Those individuals whose IQ falls below 85 are labeled as borderline and any score under 70 often indicates that an individual is mentally impaired to some degree (see Chapter 12: Mental Illness for a discussion of mental retardation and its relationship to intelligence quotients).

IQ tests have come to be viewed as predictors of a person's performance in school and in given careers. Over the years, however, the idea of intelligence, which is strongly tied to Binet's initial test, has come under fire. The notion of intelligence and ways of measuring it do not take into account that individuals with learning disorders, while still being very intelligent, may have trouble with the standard test. In addition, many people feel that intelligence tests are culturally biased (preferential to certain groups of people).

For example, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, which is based on Binet's initial test, includes questions for young children about "typical" daily activities. However, depending upon where one lives (for example, in the city or in the country, or in California or New York) or what one's experiences are, it might be difficult for some children to come up with the "correct" answer, according to the intelligence test, of what a typical daily activity is. In the case of adult testing, participants are asked to interpret the meaning of "common" proverbs (short sayings such as "A stitch in time saves nine"). It may be difficult to answer the question if a person has never heard of a certain proverb, or perhaps the proverb has a slightly different meaning depending on where a person grew up. Is it fair to say that someone possesses less intelligence than someone else because his or her life experiences do not coincide with the intelligence test?

Objectors to this type of intelligence testing propose that basic intelligence is not necessarily tied to knowledge, the acquiring of which has cultural biases. These concerns have given rise to a variety of intelligence tests that will measure not only verbal skills but also nonverbal skills and which are free of any bias.


Just as intelligence is difficult to explain in a precise manner, so is creativity. While intelligence refers to one's capacity to understand, creativity can be referred to as one's capacity to think in unique ways and solve problems in an imaginative manner. However, intelligence and creativity are not necessarily linked. People who are highly intelligent may not be very creative at all while extremely creative individuals may not have a particularly high IQ. Creativity can be demonstrated in endless ways, from creative writing to painting to architecture to simply performing any task in a creative manner, whether it is parenting, teaching, or building and repairing things.

Creative Thinking

Whatever a person's creative talent may be, the key to creativity lies in divergent thinking. Many people will respond to questions using convergent thinking (thinking that is driven by knowledge and logic). Divergent thinkers, however, will respond to queries with unusual but still appropriate answers. For example, if a convergent thinker were asked how many ways he could think of to use a book, he might respond with a conventional answer such as, "You can read it and learn from it." A divergent thinker also gives conventional answers such as those given by a convergent thinker. But he may be more creative and say, "You could pile books on top of each other to create a step stool, or you could use the book as a doorstop, or you could use it as a serving tray."

Creative individuals tend to share certain characteristics, including a tendency to be more impulsive (spontaneous) than others. Nonconformity (not going along with the majority) can also be a sign of creativity. Many creative individuals are naturally unafraid of experimenting with new things; furthermore, creative people are often less susceptible to peer pressure, perhaps

because they also tend to be self-reliant and unafraid to voice their true feelings even if they go against conventional wisdom.

How to Promote Creativity

In addition to taking some of the suggestions in the "The Creative Household" sidebar (see page 320), child development specialists suggest that there are other specific ways to promote creativity in children. Parents, guardians, and teachers should urge children to think divergently and come up with many different answers to a question or problem, answers that may fall outside of a traditional response, and should be careful not to ridicule an offbeat solution; rather, this sort of response should be taken seriously. Children should also be encouraged to be free thinkers who do not always accept things as they are but, rather, question what is and why it is. In this vein, too, kids should feel they have a right to examine things independently and not always accept the answer, "Because that's just the way things are."


While no one is precisely sure why certain people are creative while others are not particularly so, researchers have been able to identify certain qualities that are often present in the upbringing and home environments of creative people. Parents and guardians of creative children have been found to have some things in common. Specifically, they are not very critical of their children and urge their children to pursue new activities and experiences. They also encourage openness and value creative thinking and curiosity; unusual questions and skills are also valued.

Another aspect these households share is that they are not overly strict in terms of having a lot of formal rules. There are a lot of family discussions and kids learn values and good behavior through these discussions and through modeling (see section on Learning). Adults in these households also try to give children access to lessons in different areas (dance, sports, music) and provide equipment to carry out these activities. Creative kids are also likely to collect certain things (dolls, trading cards), which is usually done with a parent's support. A strong sense of play and silliness was also present in the home.

Of course, creative individuals are raised in households of all kinds, and not just in environments such as described here.

Certainly, none of these things guarantees that a child or adult will necessarily be a creative person but it will help people to think creatively and to "color outside the lines."



Espeland, Pamela and Rosemary Wallner. Making the Most of Today: Daily Readings for Young People on Self-Awareness, Creativity, and Self-Esteem. Free Spirit Publishers, 1991.

Fogler, Janet and Lynn Stern. Improving Your Memory: How to Remember What You're Starting to Forget. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Gray, Heather M. and Samantha Phillips (illustrated by Ellen Forney). Real Girl/Real World: Tools for Finding Your True Self. Seal Press, 1998.

Palmer, Pat. Teen Esteem: A Self-Direction Manual for Young Adults. Impact Publishers, 1989.

Simmons, Cassandra Walker and Pamela Espeland. Becoming Myself: True Stories About Learning from Life. Free Spirit Publishers, 1994.

Web sites

The National Association for Self-Esteem. [Online] (Accessed October 29, 1999).

Personality: What Makes Us Who We Are? [Online] (Accessed October 29, 1999).

Healing, Psychic

views updated May 29 2018

Healing, Psychic

A popular early theory of psychic healing was that it was effected by a sudden and profound nervous change. The conception of the therapeutic power of such a change we owe to Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815). He brought it about by a combination of passes, unconscious suggestion, and supposed metallotherapy in an aparatus called the baquet. The baquet involved an oak tub filled with water, iron filings, and flasks of "magnetized water." Patients were connected to this baquet by holding rods or cords, which supposedly conveyed the "magnetism." The atmosphere was enhanced by music. Mesmer contended that a nervous effluence was passing into the patients.

There are many sensitives even now who claim curative power by such a fluid. But the discovery of magnetic action was put forward long before Mesmer as the basis of the sympathetic system of medicine.

The magnet itself was an illustration of the interaction of living bodies. Every substance was supposed to radiate a force. This force was guided by the in-dwelling spirit of the body from which it proceeded. A dissevered portion of a body retained something of the virtue of the body. This led to the deduction that instead of the wound, the weapon that caused it should be anointed, as the wound cannot heal while a portion of the vital spirit remains in disastrous union with the weapon and exerts an antipathetic influence upon its fellow spirit in the body (see powder of sympathy ).

The sway of mesmerism was long and powerful. It yielded place to hypnotism after James Braid proved that somnambulism can be induced without passes by mere suggestion, or moreover that the patients can bring it about by themselves by staring at bright objects.

This discovery threw the nervous effluence theory overboard, although its possibility as a coordinating factor was by no means ruled out. Indeed animal magnetism has often, in one form or another, been rediscovered. A. A. Liébeault (1823-1901), for example, from his work treating children under four and curing some under three, claimed that magnetic healing was not due to suggestion. Similar successes were registered later by psychologist Julien Ochorowicz (1850-1917) on children under two. Liébeault even came to the conclusion that a living being can, merely by his presence, exercise a salutary influence on another living being quite independently of suggestion.

However that may be, the mysterious power that after Braid was ascribed to suggestion did not bring us any closer to understanding the curative process. It is more than likely that the ordinary hypnotizer has no curative power at all, and that his command simply starts a train of self-suggestion from the conscious mind, which otherwise would not have penetrated sufficiently deeply to bring about a nervous change.

It is even legitimate to suppose that the same power may be at work in charms, amulets, and incantations. E. W. Cox may have hit upon the truth when he wrote: "The use of the passes is to direct the attention of the patient to the part of the body then being operated upon. The effect of directing the attention of the mind to any part of the frame is to increase the flow of nerve force [or vital force] to that part."

The healer himself may have no knowledge of the process. The supposition that when he lays his hand on the diseased part of the body a magnetic current passes through may not be correct at all, even if the patients often experience a feeling of warmth, as of an electric shock. The healer's influence appears to be rather a directive one for the patient's own powers, which the healer turns into a more efficient channel. If the hypnotizer is more successful than the average psychic healer, an explanation may be found in the trance state into which the patient is thrown, giving him direct access to the subconscious self to which, to use the words of F. W. H. Myers, "a successful appeal is being made through suggestion." In the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, he suggests,

"Beneath the threshold of waking consciousness there lies, not merely an unconscious complex of organic processes but an intelligent vital control. To incorporate that profound control with our waking will is the great evolutionary end which hypnotism, by its group of empirical artifices, is beginning to help us to attain."

This vital control he believed to be the result of some influx from the unseen world; the efficacy of suggestion was dependent on the quantity of new energy that could be imbibed from the spiritual world by directing subliminal attention to a corporeal function.

The problem of psychic healing, however, is much more complex than it appears. It bristles with interesting and stubborn facts that refuse to be fitted into convenient pigeonholes. Suggestion appears to be ruled out when healers cure animals. The process of healing seems interwoven with psychical manifestations, the success of healing often serving as evidence of the paranormal. Medical clairvoyance, psychometry, and direct and indirect action by spirits are concepts that demand consideration.

The somnambules of the early magnetizers diagnosed their own diseases. This was known later as autoscopy. It is now a rare phenomenon. As an intermediate instance between autoscopy and clairvoyant diagnosis, the curious case in Baron Carl du Prel's Experimental-Psychologie (1890) is worth mention. To a hypnotic subject it was suggested that, in his dream, he would find a certain cure for his ailments. The dream was very vivid, a voice giving medical advice was heard, and when these instructions were followed the patient's health considerably improved.

To the eyes of medical clairvoyants, the human body appears to be transparent. They see and describe in lay terms the seat and appearance of the disease. Some have a more restricted power and diagnose from the changes in the aura of the patient, the color being allegedly affected by illness.

Psychometrists do not require the presence of the patient at all. A lock of hair may be sufficient to put the medium on the right track. Sometimes an index, i.e., the mere mention of the name, will suffice. The medium, however, sometimes suffers sympathetically. Temporarily he or she often assumes the bodily conditions of the afflicted man and vividly experiences his ailments.

The therapeutic services of psychical research are now often acknowledged by psychoanalysts and physicians. Crystal gazing and automatic writing help to explore the subconscious mind. Long forgotten memories may be recalled and events of importance may be traced to their source and enable the psychoanalyst to form conclusions without hypnotic experiments. The divining rod (the diviner holding bacterial cultures in his hand) has also been discovered as a means of successful diagnosis, and the use of the pendulum in place of the rod has developed into the art of radiesthesia.

Spirit Healing

Often diagnosis and cure take place through alleged spirit influence, advice, or direct action. A physician, Josiah A. Gridley of Southampton, Massachusetts, confessed in his Astounding Facts from the Spirit World (1854) to have often known a patient's disease and the treatment to be followed before he ever went to see that patient. He attributed the remarkable success of his practice to his communion with the spirit world.

In England, the first spiritual healer, a lecturer on mesmerism named Hardinge, became convinced through spirit communications that epilepsy was due to demonic possession and undertook to cure such cases by spirit instruction. J. D. Dixon, a homeopathic doctor, was the next English healer who, after being converted to Spiritualism in 1857, treated his patients with prescriptions obtained by raps. Daniel Offord, a nine-year-old English boy, wrote prescriptions in Latin, a language which he did not know. He predicted the 1853 cholera epidemic two months in advance and prescribed a daily dose of half a teaspoonful of carbon as an antidote.

The spirits who assist mediums mostly claim to have been physicians on earth who have attained to a higher knowledge in the beyond. A. H. Jacob ("Jacob the Zouave") actually saw the spirits ministering to his patients. Mrs. J. H. Conant attributed Jacob's curative powers to the knowledge of "Dr. John Dix Fisher" in spirit; similarly "Dr. Lascelles" who worked through C. A. Simpson in the Seekers group in London; and "Dr. Beale," a spirit entity who claimed to have followed the medical profession on Earth and who worked through one Miss Rose, a medium. The strange cure of Mme X. (as recorded in the Proceedings of the SPR, vol. 9) was effected by a spirit doctor; the healing controls were Native Americans who were said to have been medicine men in their tribes.

The methods of Native American controls were quite interesting. As the medium Gladys Osborne Leonard describes in My Life in Two Worlds (1931),

"Mrs. Massey's chair was a wooden rocking one. Suddenly her chair began to rock backwards and forwards gently at first, then gathering speed, till it rocked at a tremendous rate. Then, to our horror, the chair turned a complete somersault. So did Mrs. Massey. She fell right on her head, and lay where she fell. I rushed to her, and before I realised what was happening North Star had taken control of me. A lump, the size of an egg, had come up on Mrs. Massey's head. North Star placed my hands upon it; in a few moments it had gone. North Star then left her head alone and proceeded to make passes over her body, particularly over the heart. He gave loud grunts of satisfaction, and seemed extremely well pleased with something. After about half an hour's hard work he stopped controlling me, and Mrs. Massey then disclosed the fact that she had felt very ill for some days past, and she felt better now than she had for months."

Further on, Leonard states,

"When North Star controlled me for healing, he always appeared to appeal to someone far higher than himself before commencing his treatment. He never spoke, but he used to hold his hands upward and outward as if he expected something to be put, or poured into them. His attitude was so obviously one of prayer, or supplication, though he was usually in a standing position."

The most well-known psychic healer was Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) who diagnosed and prescribed for thousands of ailments in a state of self-induced trance.

Healing at a Distance

Cases of healing at a distance are also on record. When the healer's magnetism is said to be transferred into water, paper, or cloth one may argue for suggestion as an explanation; there are, however, more difficult instances. According to a letter from E. W. Capron, quoted in Leah Underhill's The Missing Link in Modern Spiritualism (1885) on the occasion of Capron's first visit to the Fox sisters in Rochester, he mentioned casually that his wife was affected with a severe and troublesome cough. Leah Fox in trance suddenly declared: "I am going to cure Rebecca of the cough." She then gave an accurate description of Rebecca and pronounced her cured. Returning home, Capron found her extremely well and the trouble never returned. Absent healing, through prayer groups, is now a regular activity of healing centers.

Cases are recorded in which an apparition at the bedside of a sick person effects a cure by the laying on of hands or by giving instructions. Materialized spirit hands made passes over the head, throat, chest, and back of Stainton Moses to relieve his bronchitis. While it may have been Stainton Moses's faith in the powers of his guides that effected the cure, this does not, however, explain how the healing took place.

Neurologist J. M. Charcot (1825-1893) notes,

"The faith which was healing power seems to me to be the greatest of medicines, for it may succeed where all other remedies have failed. But why should faith, which works on the soul, be considered more miraculous than a drug, which acts on the body? Has anyone yet understood how a drug can cure?"

St. Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Valentine Greatrakes (1662), Jacob The Zouave (1828-1913), J. R. Newton (1810-1883), the Earl of Sandwich (1839-1916), author of My Experiences in Spiritual Healing (London, 1915), and such modern healers as the late Harry Edwards (1893-1976) to mention a few names only, put many astonishing cures on record that seem to be authentic.

The Nature of Healing

The mind-cures of Christian Science must also be considered. These are wrought by the perception of God as the sole reality and the belief that neither matter nor evil exist. Reports of spectacular healings come from the records of the Church of Christ Scientist, just as they come from Roman Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, and various Spiritualist, occult, and metaphysical groups. There appears to be little objective difference between spiritual healing, divine healing, mind-cure, and faith-cure (the removal of pain by faith in God's power and by prayer). In this respect, one may go back to the ancient days when sleeping in the temple, after having invoked the help of God, often brought about healing at the shrines of Aesculapius, Isis, and Seraphis.

Astonishing instances of healing are recorded in Carré de Montgeron's book La Verité des Miracles opérés par l'intercession de M. de Paris (Cologne, 1745-47), dedicated to the king of France. Miracles took place at the tomb of the Abbé Paris, the Jansenist, in 1731 and the three or four years following. The cure of Mlle. Coirin was without precedent. Cancer had completely destroyed her left breast, and the case seemed utterly hopeless. A visit to the tomb not only cured her, but restored the breast and nipple without any trace of a scar. She was examined in Paris by the royal physician, M. Gaulard, who declared the restoration of the nipple an actual creation. Other physicians deposed before notaries that the cure was perfect. Other amazing cures followed.

The cemetery of St. Médard became so famous for this occurrence that the ire of the Jesuits was aroused and soon afterward, according to Voltaire, it was inscribed on the churchyard wall:

   De par le Roidéfense à Dieu
   De faire miracle en ce lieu.

Voltaire said that God obeyed and the miracles stopped. This, however, is contradicted by the cures, which kept on occurring for a space of 25 years. And miraculous cures were effected at Treves in Germany by touching a relic known as the Holy Coat of Treves in 1891. Holywell in Wales was called the Welsh Lourdes for similar occurrences. Lourdes itself has become an established site for miracles in healing.

Recent Developments

The most sensational modern development of psychic healing is psychic surgery, which takes two forms. The first, in which the medium mimes operations, is allegedly guided by the spirit of a dead doctor; in the second, in which psychic healers appear to perform real operations, either with their bare hands or with primitive instruments, wounds heal instantaneously. The latter type of psychic surgery, practiced widely in the Philippines and Brazil, remains highly controversial, with conflicting evidence of authenticity and fraud.

Since the rise of parapsychology, psychic healing has been considered under the general heading of psychokinesis. During the 1960s, some interesting healing research was carried out, as various people who claimed healing powers were put to the test in laboratories in attempts to effect living objects. The most spectacular of these experiments used Oscar Estabany, a Hungarian immigrant, who worked with cancer researcher Bernard Grad of McGill University, Montreal. Through the 1960s, Grad involved Estabany in a set of ever more complicated experiments that had as their object the stimulation of the growth of plants and the increase of the rate of healing in wounds on mice. Biochemist Justa Smith also found that Estabany could stimulate the growth of enzymes. The choice of targets in these carefully controlled experiments was made in each case to take the factor of suggestion away.

In one of the most interesting of experiments, Estabany was not allowed near the plants, but merely held the water used to water the plants in his hands. As with other experiments, the plants watered with Estabany's water grew taller.

The Estabany experiments stand as among the most impressive in psychokinesis and are a demonstration of the healing power inherent in at least some human beings. The understanding of a healing power in some persons underlies the popular practice of therapuetic touch developed by Dolores Krieger, a nursing instructor, during the mid-1970s.


Carter, Mary Ellen, and William McGarey. Edgar Cayce on Healing. New York: Warner, 1972.

Dooley, Anne. Every Wall a Door. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1973. Reprint, Bergenfield, N.J.: E. P. Dutton, 1974.

Edwards, Harry. A Guide to the Understanding and Practice of Spiritual Healing. Surrey, England: Spiritual Healing Sanctuary, 1974.

. Thirty Years a Spiritual Healer. Surrey, England: Spiritual Healing Sanctuary, 1968.

Flammonde, Paris. The Mystic Healers. New York: Stein & Day, 1974.

Guirdham, Arthur. Obsession: Psychic Forces and Evil in the Causation of Disease. London: Neville Spearman, 1972.

Hammond, Sally. We Are All Healers. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. Reprint, New York: Ballantine, 1974.

Hutton, Bernard. Healing Hands. London: W. H. Allen, 1966.

James, R. L. L. The Church and Bodily Healing. Essex, England: C. W. Daniel, 1929.

Kiev, Ari. Magic, Faith and Healing. New York: Macmillan, 1964.

Macmillan, W. J. The Reluctant Healer. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.

Melton, J. Gordon. A Reader's Guide to the Church's Ministry of Healing. Independence, Mo.: Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, 1977.

Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.

Montgomery, Ruth. Born to Heal. New York: Coward, McCaan & Geoghan, 1973.

Nolen, William. Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle. New York: Random House, 1975.

Rose, Louis. Faith Healing. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.

Sherman, Harold. Wonder Healers of the Philippines. Los Angeles: DeVorss, 1966. Reprint, London: Psychic Press, 1967.

Tenhaeff, W. H. C. Paranormal Healing Powers. Olten, 1957.

Valentine, Tom. Psychic Surgery. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1974.

Mind Cure

views updated Jun 08 2018

Mind Cure

The name loosely applied to various systems of alternative healing in the late nineteenth century. The name was first applied to the healing system developed by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66) out of his reflections on mesmerism and hypnotism. Quimby, a clockmaker who became a professional mesmerist, observed the power of suggestion on his subjects.

Quimby turned his attention from mesmerist power to focus on the idea of mind. He posited that illness comes from holding delusions or false opinions in the mind (such as those put out by the church or the average physician) and the mind will reproduce in the body the false idea. His healing work consisted of presenting wisdom or truth to the patient, who accepted it and then became well. He operated informally out of Portland, Maine, through the years of the Civil War. He died in 1866 having never published any of his writings. His work was carried on by his various pupils.

The most famous of Quimby's students was Mary Baker Eddy, who in the months after Quimby's death pushed his system in an idealistic direction. She concluded that God was the only reality and that healing was to be found in accepting that reality. From that insight, which differed radically from that of Quimby, she built the Church of Christ, Scientist, the organizational center of the Christian Science movement. Christian Science has four fundamental propositions: (1) God is all in all; (2) God is Good. Good is Mind; (3) God, Spirit, being all, nothing is matter; and (4) Life, God, omnipotent good, deny death, evil, sin, disease. The new church was a phenomenal success and controversy swarmed around it and its founder. Two of Quimby's students, Julius and Annette Dresser, seemingly unaware of how Eddy's system was uniquely her own, challenged Eddy for not giving Quimby the proper credit for originating Christian Science.

Meanwhile, another Quimby student, former Methodist minister turned Swedenborgian, Warren Felt Evans, established a healing practice in Salisbury, Massachusetts, and developed his own healing system as an integral part of his Sweden-borgian thought. Ultimately a pantheist, he wrote a number of books.

As the movement developed, a number of students separated from Eddy and began to operate as independent Christian Science healers. One of them, Joseph Addams, began the Mind Cure Journal in Chicago in the mid 1880s. Other healers with no connection to Eddy, other than possibly having read her books, also appeared on the scene. Those students most attached to Eddy's thought founded what has been a continuing independent Christian Science movement, while the more autonomous thinkers became the founders of what would in the 1890s become known as New Thought. New Thought has been perpetuated through such organizations as the Unity School of Christianity, the Divine Science Association, the Church of Religious Science, and the International New Thought Association. It produced a number of best-selling authors, such as Ralph Waldo Trine, Prentice Mulford, Elizabeth Towne, and Orison Swett Marden.

The term mind cure had largely passed from the scene by the beginning of the twentieth century, but the basic movements, Christian Science, independent Christian Science, and New Thought, have continued. New Thought entered into mainline Christian thought through the efforts of Norman Vincent Peale and more recently Robert Schuler, both ministers in the Reformed Church in America.


Braden, Charles S. Spirits in Rebellion. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963.

Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967.

Melton, J. Gordon. New Thought: A Reader. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Institute for the Study of American Religion, 1990.

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