I’ve been to many healers in my time, and it seems to me that the techniques they employ say a great deal about the practitioner’s beliefs about what constitutes a human being. This – explicitly or implicitly – is what guides their healing methods. If you think a human body is simply a physical, mechanical thing, as many doctors used to do, you treat it accordingly. If you see it as intelligent, responsive, self-regulating, then your approach is entirely different.
Dr Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a real groundbreaker of healing, was in no doubt. He saw humans as mind, body and spirit, and showed that our healing power comes primarily from within. Nowadays, few people have heard of him and yet his influence is reflected in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and well known writers such as Louise Hay, Dr Wayne Dyer, Dr Bernie Segal, Byron Katie, and many others.
Quimby was born on February 16, 1802. A clock-maker by trade, he lived most of his life in Belfast, Maine. New England. Although others called him ‘Doctor’ he had little formal education and no medical training, but he had a practical, enquiring mind and unparalleled determination.
As a young man, he contracted tuberculosis. Doctors couldn’t help, so he decided to help himself. Someone suggested horse-riding as the fresh air would do him good, but he was too weak to ride, so he borrowed a horse and cart. One day the horse refused to pull the cart up a hill, so Quimby got down and walked with the horse. When they got to the top, it suddenly started trotting. As Quimby couldn’t get back on the cart he ran down the hill with the horse, which, strictly speaking, he shouldn’t have been able to due to his illness.
Back home, he realised he was breathing freely. The pain had gone (it never returned) – he had experienced a spontaneous healing. In that moment he dedicated himself to understanding what brought this about. He reasoned that there must be something within that can make us well, of which we’re not normally aware.
First he studied the work of the hypnotist Anton Mesmer, who had quite a reputation in Europe. By 1840, Quimby was an expert hypnotist. He worked with a young man called Lucius who, under hypnosis, could apparently diagnose patients’ illnesses and suggest a cure. Later, Quimby realized that Lucius was tuning in to what the patient believed he had, not what he actually had. So after his early experiments, he gave up hypnotism and instead focussed on curing disease through the mind, getting his patients to see causes for themselves.His approach was evidence-based and rigorously scientific. He trusted no opinions, only knowledge.
He studied the healing methods described in the New Testament. Quimby did not regard the gospel healings as miracles, but as scientific applications of truth as represented by Universal Law.
Ironically he was vehemently anti-religion. He believed that the Church had irresponsibly abandoned any interest in healing and that his purpose was to resurrect it. He studied the New Testament because he wanted to understand and correct the negative thinking of his patients – especially those who believed that ill health was a punishment for some unpardonable sin.
His healing methods were highly unusual. He sat with his patients until he had a mental impression of the problem and its cause. Often he felt every symptom of the disease in his own body. Then he silently challenged the cause in his own mind, addressing his comments to the spirit within which, he argued, could never be sick. Sometimes barely a word was spoken as Quimby’s thoughts somehow impacted on the patient.
He described the cause of disease in his own words:
‘The trouble is in the mind, for the body is only the house for the mind to dwell in. if your mind has been deceived by some invisible enemy into a belief, you have put it into the form of a disease, with or without your knowledge. By my theory or truth I come in contact with your enemy and restore you to health and happiness.
‘This I do partly mentally and partly by talking till I correct the wrong impressions and establish the truth, and the truth is the cure. . . . A sick man is like a criminal cast into prison for disobeying some law that man has set up. I plead his case, and if I get the verdict, the criminal is set at liberty. If I fail, I lose the case. His own judgment is his judge, his feelings are his evidence. If my explanation is satisfactory to the judge, you will give me the verdict. This ends the trial, and the patient is released.’
His son George (who acted as his secretary) described his father’s method of cure as follows (I paraphrase slightly):
‘A patient comes to see Dr Quimby. He renders himself absent to everything but the impression of the person’s feelings. These are quickly imprinted on him. This mental picture contains the disease as it appears to the patient. Being confident that it is the shadow of a false idea, he is not afraid of it. Then his feelings in regard to health and strength are imprinted on the receptive plate of the patient. The patient sees the disease in a new light, gains confidence. This change is imprinted on the doctor again and he sees the change and continues. The shadow grows dim and finally disappears, the light takes its place, and there is nothing left of the disease.’
Quimby knew that one mind can influence another, and believed that most disease is due to false reasoning. To remove disease permanently, it is necessary to know the error in thinking which caused it. ‘The explanation,’ he said, ‘is the cure’. Half a century before Freud, he explained that many of the harmful beliefs are located in the unconscious mind and must be brought into consciousness before they can be dealt with.
Quimby healed thousands of people of a wide range of illnesses, most of whom had not responded to conventional treatment. In the end, it was his very success that killed him. He died of over-work and self-neglect on January 16, 1866, having seen over 10,000 patients in his last seven years.
Quimby left behind detailed journals, and some of his clients devoted their lives to spreading awareness of his methods. Rev Warren Felt Evans wrote the definitive contemporary account in his book, ‘The Mental Cure’ (1869), but it was not until 1989 that Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: The Complete Writings were published, edited by Dr Ervin Seale, who devoted most of his working life to the task.
Nowadays we have scientific proof that our thoughts and emotions affect our physical health. Placebos illustrate the effectiveness of suggestion as a powerful healer and CBT and NLP have proved their worth in many situations. Perhaps it is also time for Quimby to receive his due credit. If his ideas and methods were investigated anew, who knows how many people could benefit?
© Feeling Good All The Time, 8.10.2018
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @feelinggoodatt