Jerome Frank — 4 Features Common to All Healing Anywhere

Jerome Frank suggests the facinating idea that there is a common set of universal reasons all healing modalities work, no matter how different they may seem.

In his classic book Persuasion and Healing: A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy he crosses multiple cultures and considers healing modalities in the broadest sense — psychotherapy, religious ceremonies, shamanic healing, the medical model, modern, ancient, and more.

Like many “rational” authors, Jerome Frank can be subtly insulting in the implied assumption that there’s really no magic involved — that no gods or Powers are showing up, that its all explainable by psychology and science. Yet I find exercises to “rationally” explain how magic works (like shamanic healing for example) useful because they:

  • remind those of us who do believe in Higher Power and magick that psychology is also involved and so such techniques are doubly powerful. (Most of the Pagan readers of this blog.)
  • open the door to some respect and understanding from those who do not believe in Higher Power and magic but who, by virtue of believing in psychology, can give alternative healing techniques (and Pagan rituals) respect to the extent that they understand the psychology involved. (Some therapists reading this blog.)

So I’m constantly searching for explainations of how magic stuff works from a psychological viewpoint and I try to insert such into talks with other therapists as this is one way to buy understanding and tolerance for Pagan religions without having to convince them to believe in occult principles.

I will post such explanations from time to time on this blog. Speaking of which, I want to share one from Jerome. Towards the end of his book Jerome lists out four features common to all healing in all societies & cultures & circumstances. They are:

1a) Confidence in the therapist’s competence

  • Having a socially sanctioned role and special training helps.

1b) Confidence in the therapist’s desire to help

  • Belief that the therapist genuinely cares
  • The therapist believes patient can master the problems
  • Therapist acceptance validates patient’s outlook on life. Sense of being understood and accepted is a strong antidote to feelings of alienation and a potent enhancer of morale.

2) The locale is designated as a place of healing

  • Setting itself arouses expectation of help:
    • Rituals are in a sacred temple
    • Therapy is in a designated mental health clinic
    • If done at sufferer’s home, there’s a purification ritual first
  • Client is protected from life’s demands and can concentrate on prescribed therapeutic activities.
    • Client is not held accountable in daily life for whatever the therapy demands
      • It’s okay to go bald and throw-up in context of chemotherapy
      • It’s okay to scream and writhe in context of exorcism
  • An aura of religious or scientific healing is ascribed to the location

3) All therapies are based on a rationale which explains illness and health, deviancy, and normality.

  • If combating demoralization, must have an optimistic philosophy of human nature.
  • The therapeutic myth is compatible with the worldview shared by the therapist and the patient.
  • Western psychotherapies: problems arise from damaging early life experiences
  • Magical societies: Problems arise from demonic possession or the punishment of the Gods or failure to appease spiritual powers. (Here is where modern Neo-Pagans differ from tribal cultures, Santeria, and Voudun in my humble opinion. We largely believe in scientific problem causes, although we think we can cure them magically.)
  • Myths cannot be shaken by therapeutic failures — thereby strengthening the therapist’s self-confidence, thereby strengthening patient’s confidence, thereby strengthening likelihood it will work. (psychotherapy: “The client was resistant”, magical healing: “The intent was not strong enough”)

4) All forms of therapy help the patient overcome his demoralizing sense of alienation from his fellows.

  • Interaction with therapist and group
  • Shared conceptual framework
  • Problems not unique
  • Others care

All forms of psychotherapy, when successful, arouse the patient emotionally. Why is unclear.

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