The Emmanuel Clinic

The Emmanuel Movement

The Emmanuel Clinic


Rev. Francis W. McPeek

The Role of Religious Bodies in the Treatment of Inebriety in the United States

Alcohol, Science and Society, 1945

Illustrative of a later development in the use of religious elements in the treatment of inebriety is the work of the Rev. Dr. Elwood Worcester and Samuel McComb, together with that of the physician, Isador H. Coriat, at Emmanuel Church in Boston. Begun shortly after the turn of the century, the so-called Emmanuel Movement had a lively impact on the thinking of churchmen and church workers in this country.

The center of the work was the clinic operated under the auspices of the church. The philosophy was that both medicine and religion have essential places in the treatment of any disease, but most particularly in the treatment of the functional illnesses. In the first book published by these three men, Religion and Medicine, they strive to inform the public on what they are attempting:

"We believe in the power of the mind over the body, and we also believe in medicine, in good habits, and in a wholesome, well regulated life. In the treatment of functional nervous disorders, we make free use of moral and physical agencies, but we do not believe in overtaxing these valuable aids by expecting the mind to attain results which can be effected more easily through physical instrumentality’s."

Scientific procedures were employed in diagnosis and case records were kept. The use of specialists was frequent. When physical medicine was indicated, it was given, but it was accompanied by skilled religious counseling. The then current knowledge and opinions on the nature of the unconscious mind were freely drawn upon by specialists. Suggestion and autosuggestion were frankly employed.

In connection with inebriety, many of the viewpoints expressed by these workers have been subsequently rejected. They accepted the theory of reproductive germ damage; they held that children of drunkards suffer to an almost incredible extent from various forms of mental and nervous diseases; that these children will inherit enfeebled or defective physical constitutions because of their parents constant tippling, and so on. The only differential diagnosis was between the chronic alcoholic and the dipsomaniac, by which they distinguished between the steady drinker and the periodic. The principal form of treatment, when abstinence was agreed to, was hypnosis and suggestion. All this was in 1908. By 1931, Worcester and McComb, again writing jointly, their book this time called Body, Mind and Spirit, had seen, and had liberally used, many advances in the field of medical psychology. The older doctrines of Charcot and Coue had given way before those of Freud, and much was taken from the latter. But the firm belief in the instrumentality of religion remained unshaken, and the equally firm belief that religion and medicine must go hand in hand:

"From the beginning we have associated ourselves with competent medical men and surgeons. Indeed, had such cooperation been refused, I should not have dreamed of assuming responsibility for the sick in mind and body. For many years most of our patients have been sent to us by physicians, and in all cases which involved more than the need of moral and spiritual advice we have left no stone unturned to procure the best diagnosis and medical care obtainable."

In dealing with the inebriate, three conditions were laid down. The alcoholic must wish to stop of his own volition and not simply because his wife or someone else requires him to submit to treatment. Only those who seriously propose total abstinence for the rest of their lives are accepted for treatment. And no discussions are held with persons who are in a state of intoxication.

The treatment process, after these conditions have been satisfied, is partially in the field of therapeutic analysis of the patients problems, the use of suggestion, and sometimes hypnosis. Suggestion is used only when the patient has been relaxed and is in condition to respond to it. Specifically, something like this is said:

"You have determined to break this habit, and you have already gone. . . .days without a drink. The desire is fading out of your mind, and the habit is losing its power over you. You need not be afraid that you will suffer, for you will not suffer at all. In a short time liquor in any form will have no attraction for you. It will be associated in your mind with weakness and sorrow and sickness and failure..."

The patient is built up physically by the use of nourishing food, exercise, outdoor living, and so on. There is a search for new occupations and interests. "On the whole, our successes have been far more frequent than our failures," the authors report.

Out of the Emmanuel Movement has grown a very definite interest in the alcoholic. Mr. Courtenay Baylor, whose name is familiar to students of the treatment of inebriety, was long associated with Drs. Worcester and McComb. Those who wish to know more about his views and methods may read Dwight Anderson’s article "The place of the lay therapist in the treatment of alcoholic." The principle elements in the treatment of alcoholics are catharsis, surrender, and relaxation -and these are carried out or induced through the use of religion.


The Emmanuel Movement and Richard Peabody Religion Plus Psychotherapy

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