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Source: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery
Metallo-therapy has been defined as a mode of treating various
affections, chiefly those of a nervous character, by the external
application of metals. It was recommended by Galen and other medical
writers, but they attributed its curative powers to the magical
inscriptions which the metals bore.
Mesmer experimented with magnets extensively, but soon abandoned their
use, as he found that he could obtain equally good results without them.
The so-called "metallic tractors" originated with Dr. Elisha Perkins
(1740-1799), a practising physician of Norwich, Connecticut, and
consisted of two rods, one of brass, and the other of steel. In cases of
rheumatism and various neuroses, the affected portions of the body were
lightly stroked by means of the tractors, and many remarkable cures were
reported. The new therapeutic method was endorsed by many reputable
practitioners, both in the United States and Europe, and its fame spread
It was soon discovered, however, that wooden tractors were fully as
efficacious as the metallic ones, and that the many vaunted cures were
psychic. Thus Perkins's tractors afford a striking example of the
curative force of suggestion.
Thereby (wrote John Haygarth, M.D., Fellow of the Royal Medical Society
of Edinburgh, in a brief treatise on the Imagination, published in the
year 1800) is to be learned an important lesson in Medicine, namely, the
wonderful and powerful influence of the passions of the mind, upon the
state and disorders of the body. This fact, he continued, was too often
overlooked in Practice, where sole dependence was placed upon material
remedies, without utilizing mental influence. To the latter, this
sagacious physician, writing more than a century ago, was shrewd enough
to ascribe the marvellous cures attributed to the remedies of quacks,
whose magnificent and unqualified promises inspire weak minds with
In one of his Lowell Institute lectures, at Boston, November 14, 1906,
Dr. Pierre Janet described the development of metallo-therapy in France
between the years 1860 and 1880. Metallic discs were applied to the
patient's body. These discs were of different kinds, sometimes being
composed of two or more metals. In some cases a magnet was used.
Different subjects, it was found, did not manifest sensitiveness to the
same metals, some being cured by iron, others by copper, while the
greatest number were susceptible to gold. Many interesting facts
relating to these cures were noted, such as periods of transition and
oscillation in the maladies, and most curious of all, a kind of
transference. For example, should a paralysis or a contraction seat
itself on the right side, the application of the discs would effect a
cure, but the malady would often return to the opposite side. And there
were other curious phenomena. A modification of sensation was invariably
Under the influence of the metal disc, the shin and muscles, which
before were numb, regained their normal states, and the return of
sensation preceded the cure, and was an indispensable condition. One can
obtain exactly the same results with discs composed of inert substances.
An old-fashioned letter-wafer, for instance, applied to the hand, has
produced similar effects. According to Dr. Janet, these phenomena are
wholly due to psychic agencies, partly akin to suggestion and partly
different. They depend upon the mechanism of attention. This faculty,
when directed upon any organ, will bring into prominence sensations not
Consciousness is limited, in that it does not always take cognizance of
all the existing sensations. This explains the phenomenon of
transference, in that the suppression of those sensations which were
prominent brings to the surface others which were not before recognized
by the consciousness.
As a result of the introduction of metallo-therapy in the hospitals of
Paris, an enormous number of hysterical patients applied for treatment,
influenced partly, no doubt, by the love of notoriety.
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