Therapies, techniques and ideas in alternative medicine, the healing arts and psychology

Donald Watson

Deutsch, London, 1995.

I like this book, in some ways: it is a comprehensive guide that has informed, alarmed and inspired me, and, although it is a dictionary, I read it from cover to cover. I must say at the outset, though, that it also became an application of one of its own "alternative techniques", the kind called Laughter Therapy.

Perhaps this seems unfair or cynical? I will excuse myself with a few examples, and go on to ponder more straight-faced questions. Colour Therapy comes first, with funny remarks like,

"green is rather dead; green light is unpleasant and seems to stultify growth" (p.97)

As in tropical rain forests?

Theo Gimbel is described as a "leading authority" on colour healing.

"He suspects that some of the violence of football fans can be attributed to the fact that matches are often watched under strong sodium vapour lamps which have a high level of red light. Cricket, he notes, which has a reputation for being very calm, is always watched in daylight, which has a high blue content." (p.97)

If this is what it means to be a "leading authority", then I'm a "leading authority" on what socks I wore last Tuesday. Or even what socks you wore.

Let's try another promising treatment: Bee Venom Therapy. Feed a bee with medicine, then make it sting you (which kills it). Whose idea is this?

"Medicated bee venom therapy was developed by one family in Australia and is practised now uniquely by Julia Owen." (p.55)


A curious feature of the book is the author's Jeckyll and Hyde treatment of the various topics. Western medicine is attacked throughout, of course, but it is amusing to see Freud given such a rough ride, when a kind of desperate lenience marks his accounts of nearly everything else. A nice little example, showing also a touching optimism, is this:

"Iridologists believe that the nerve filaments of the iris are linked to every organ in the body (for which there is as yet no anatomical evidence)." (p.218)

As for reading bumps on the cranium,

"Despite accusations of superstition, the practice survived (the British Phrenological Society lasted until 1967)." (p.286)

New inmate asks convicted murderer what he's in jail for: "Accusations of murder."

Luckily for me, I spotted some handy advice as early as page 7, and subsequently was careful to not to enjoy all this too much:

"joy (excessive excitement) may harm the heart (how many comedians die of heart attacks?)"

Help is on hand in endless ways in this book, but good old-fashioned first aid seems to be too mundane for these authorities.

"when seeds or bread are simply touched by a healer the corona around them becomes much more energetic, suggesting that electromagnetic energy can perhaps be transferred from one person to another." (p.222)

Donald, if someone's being electrocuted, don't grab them; use a stick or something.

This is still a useful book, and there are several themes which deserve singling out for separate discussion. So there will be links from here to pages on

Beyond this, there will be a mapping of a wide range of items from this and similar books, onto ideas and research from psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and so on.



Paul Taylor 2001