This distinction throws light on the therapeutics of diseases produced by means of the imagination, or suggested diseases.
When one of these victims to hypochondria, anæmic and emaciated, who are usually called malades imaginaires, has recourse to medicine, on the plea of suffering pain or some other subjective disturbance, he is usually told that it is of no importance, that he is rather fanciful and should think less about his health, and some anodyne is carelessly prescribed. The patient, who is really suffering from the pain he has suggested to himself, feels convinced that his malady is not known, and that nothing can be done for him. The idea that his complaint is incurable becomes intense in proportion to his high opinion of his physician's skill, and thus the patient, who was suffering from the chronic affection suggested by his imagination, often goes away incurable.
Those who undertake miraculous cures act very differently. They do not deny the existence of the disease, but they assert that it may be cured by supernatural power. They act by means of suggestion, and by gradually inculcating the idea that the disease is curable, until the subject accepts it. The cure is sometimes effected by the suggestion, and when it is said to be by saving faith, the expression used is rigorously scientific. These miracles should no longer be denied, but we should understand their genesis and learn to imitate them.
When a believer associates the Deity with his idea of cure, he is accustomed to expect it to be sudden and complete, as the result of a definite religious manifestation; and this, in fact, often occurs. We had a well-known instance at the Salpêtrière, when a woman of the name of Etcheverry was, after her devotions in the month of May, suddenly cured of a hemiplegia and contracture, by which she had been affected for seven years. Only a slight weakness of the side remained, which disappeared in a few days, and which could be explained by the prolonged inaction of the muscles. This may be termed an experimental miracle, since the physicians had prepared for it beforehand, having for a long time previously suggested to the subject that she would be cured when a certain religious ceremony took place, and it is a miracle which explains the numerous cures by the laying-on of hands which are recorded in the Bible, If we do not go further back than the last century, suggestion explains the cures by Greatrakes, the exorcisms by Gassner, Mesmer's successes, and the miracles performed at the tomb of the deacon Paris in the cemetery of Saint Médard; and in our day, in the famous caves on the slopes of the Pyrenees.
The resources of the physician, who does not profess to be a thaumaturgist, are more scanty. When he is consulted by a patient whose disease has a psychical origin, he is unable, unless in some exceptional circumstances, to inspire confidence in remedies which are not more or less gradual, but, whatever they are, he must prescribe with firmness and authority. It is a well-known fact that the hydropathic treatment of some forms of hysteria has afforded more speedy results than other