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Yale J Biol Med. 2011 Mar;84(1):15-25.

The power of rhetoric: two healing movements.

Author information

  • Director, Liberal Studies Program, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA. stewart.justman@umontana.edu


Though we might suppose that our sensations are unaffected by the talk around us, the rhetoric surrounding a treatment can in fact color the experience of those having the treatment. So it is with both Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and the 18th-century therapy that has been cited as its predecessor: mesmerism. In both cases, rhetoric itself is conscripted into the service of therapeutic ends. Reports of cures are advertised and celebrated in a way that builds the expectation and feeds the experience of more of the same. Precisely because they are rooted in and speak to their time and place, however, the efficacy of these therapies may be limited. An investigation of the kinship between the two healing movements - and the driving force of a movement is nothing other than rhetoric - throws light on possibly social sources of therapeutic efficacy.

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