by Ruth Pedersen Hunsberger


When Sigmund Freud introduced psychoanalysis into the United States in 1909, he was surprised by the enthusiastic American reaction to his ideas.  “My short visit to the New World,” he wrote, “encouraged my self respect in every way.  In Europe I felt as though I were despised but in America I found myself received by the foremost of men as an equal….  This was the first official recognition of our endeavors.”[1]


In Europe, Freud had a sprinkling of followers, notably in Vienna, Zurich, Berlin, Budapest and London.  In the United States, so enthusiastic was his American audience that, only a year after his visit, psychoanalysis had taken root in a fertile soil.  In 1910, the Psychopathological Association was organized in Washington, D.C., followed by the New York Psychoanalytic Society in 1911 and the American Psychoanalytic Association in Baltimore in 1914.  In 1917, the Johns Hopkins Medical School offered regularly cataloged courses in psychoanalysis – the first medical school to do so.  And, in these early years following Freud’s visit, many Americans were fascinated by the English translations of his Interpretation of Dreams (1913) and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1914).

That Freud was an atheist and a Jew no doubt weighed very heavily against a fair hearing for psychoanalysis in Austria, a predominantly Catholic country with a long tradition of anti-Semitism.  Catholics rejected psychoanalysis not on its merits as a new scientific discovery, but rather on the basis of its founder’s religious views.  This Catholic opposition was so vigorous and so vocal, it gave rise to the impression that all religious faiths were opposed to Freud.

A study of the American religious reaction to psychoanalysis shows on the contrary that, with Catholics in the minority, there was no significant outcry against Freud from either Protestants or Jews.  Protestant ministers were among the first to popularize Freud, declaring as early as 1909, the year of Freud’s visit, that as physicians of the soul, clergymen had a close interest in Freudian psychology and this new therapeutic method.  There were Jewish rabbis who claimed Freud as a great Jewish healer in the tradition of the ancient prophets.  It is striking how many of Freud’s early followers in the United States were of Jewish origin, including his first translator, A.A. Brill.  And very influential in opening the door for Freud were the faith-healing movements, notably Christian Science, New Thought and the Emmanuel Movement, all preaching a gospel of health and happiness and stressing the influence of the mind on mental health.

The favorable Protestant response to psychoanalysis stemmed from the partnership it had established with scientific psychology in the late 19th century, seeking an understanding of the nature of religious belief as well as insight into mental illness at a time when the medical sciences were unprepared to deal with the functional approach to neurosis.  Freud probably received more abuse from the conservative core of the American medical profession than from the entire ministerial profession.  This is not to say that Protestant clergymen, liberal or conservative, were not offended by Freud’s anti-God pronouncements.  But they did not let Freud’s religious views prejudice them against psychoanalysis as they understood it.

William Langer, speaking of the rapid and enormous popular reception of Martin Luther, said: “It is inconceivable that he should have evoked so great a popular response unless he had succeeded in expressing the underlying unconscious sentiments of large numbers of people in providing them with an acceptable solution to their religious problems.”[2] Could the same be said of Freud?  Was the rapid growth of the psychoanalytical movement in the United States related to the possibility that psychoanalysis could further spiritual ends, indeed, be good for the soul?

It has been said that those who accepted psychoanalysis during its first decade had already given up their belief in a personal God.  Freud had noticed “an extraordinary increase” in the neuroses with the decline of orthodox religious faith.  Jung was also impressed by this correlation, feeling that a religious problem was involved in most, if not all, of his cases.

The American soul had been disturbed by not only the scientific challenge to orthodox Christian belief in the latter part of the 19th century, but by the rapid economic and cultural changes taking place in American life – changes resulting from the transformation of the American economy from rural and small-town to industrial and urban.  Traditional ways of life had eroded, producing a host of so-called “nervous disorders”.  If diet, sedatives, patent medicines, rest and work cures, hypnosis and electric shock failed, the neurotic was almost certain to find himself at best tolerated, and at worst distinctly unwelcomed by his physician.  The clergy, as traditional caretakers of the soul, had also been unsuccessful in healing their disturbed parishioners.

In 1908, a year before Freud’s visit, the Reverend Robert MacDonald of the Washington Avenue Baptist Church in New York told his congregation:


Man’s modern way of living with all its hurry and scurry has gotten on his nerves.  He sleeps poorly, is depressed and melancholy.  He is dyspeptic and sluggish and miserable.  The same man who will not listen to a purely spiritual appeal wants help and wants it badly….Now for the first time, psychology reveals an immense subconscious realm which in everyday life is susceptible to impression, suggestion and influence – to spiritual hypnosis.[3]


     The term “spiritual hypnosis” used by the Reverend MacDonald reflects the interest of numerous Protestant ministers in this psychological technique, employed when traditional pastoral counseling failed.  Indeed, Freud’s lectures at Clark University in 1909 coincided with the high point of American popular interest in hypnosis, the power of suggestion and faith healing.  William James was so impressed with the widespread activity in “mind-cure”, he likened it to a wave of religious activity analogous in some respects to the spread of early Christianity, Buddhism and Mohammadism.[4]


     Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science was the most prominent of the mind-cure movements and eventually became a church.  Horatio Dresser’s New Thought worked within the Protestant churches.  The Emmanuel Movement established a partnership between the Episcopal Church in Boston and Boston’s neurologists to put mental healing on a scientific basis.  These three movements emerged to address the need for a new approach to mental illness and to involve man’s spiritual life in the process.

     Christian Science had its roots as far back as 1840 when Mary Baker Eddy’s mentor, Phinneas Parkhurst Quimby, the son of a blacksmith in Portland, Maine, had become interested in mesmerism shortly after it had been introduced into the United States by the Frenchman Charles Poyen in 1836.  Quimby’s unusual skill with hypnosis found him giving public demonstrations.  Before long, he was asked to examine the sick with the thought that hypnosis might restore health.

     Quimby, whose unpublished papers have been available in the Rare Book Division of the Library of Congress, eventually gave up hypnosis for what he called the “talking cure”.  Instead of putting the patient into a mesmeric sleep and, by suggestion, implanting the idea of his getting well, Quimby would sit by his patient, listen to a detailed account of his troubles and talk things over.  When he had some idea about the patient’s problems he made suggestions for a change of attitude – to remove the “error” in the patient’s mind and establish the “truth”.  Error for Quimby did not preclude the existence of physical disease as it did for his famous patient, Mary Baker Eddy.

     Like Freud, Quimby needed a theory to explain why his method effected cures.  Unlike Freud, he turned to religion to find it.  He studied the New Testament for clues to Jesus’ success in healing and came to the conclusion that Jesus healed through “Divine Efficiency” and that he, Quimby, had received some of this “Divine Efficiency”.  He referred to his method as “spiritual healing”.[5]


     Mary Baker Eddy had been cured by Quimby after years of neurotic suffering.  From Quimby she borrowed the idea that disease was an “error”, or wrong thinking, and had to be removed so that the “truth” could take its place.

     In 1866, two years after Quimby died, Mary Baker Eddy was out on the road preaching first “moral science”, then Christian Science.  Many of her students in the early days of the movement went forth as “mental healers” after a course of twelve lessons.  Eddy’s metaphysics resembled extreme philosophical idealism.  Mind was real, body unreal.  Mind was moral truth, matter was mortal error.  Disease, for Eddy, did not exist except in the mind.  Despite its strange theories, the movement grew.  Science and Health, her “Key to the Scriptures” first published in 1875, was by 1900 in its 190th edition.

     In 1908, the Reverence William D. Maxon of Christ Church, Detroit, observed:


The Christian Scientists have a larger number of adherents than the Episcopal Church with all its learning, power and wealth.  They have gained in 20 years more than we have gained in 300 years….This multitude of people is just as great a reproach to the medical profession as to the church.[6]


     The social standing of the average Christian Scientist was in the upper brackets of the middle class. How many of these adherents went all the way with Mary Baker Eddy’s extreme metaphysics is a question.  It could be assumed that, as in the case of psychoanalysis, many were glad enough to get some relief from their sufferings without worrying about the theory.  William James, for example, said he could make nothing of Freud’s dream theories and suspected Freud of being what he called a “regular hallucine”.  Yet James felt the future of psychology lay in Freud’s direction.

     It has been said that Christian Science churches would not have been built but for the fact of the “mental cure”.  A spirit of genuine religion was worked into mental healing.[7]


     Christian Science and psychoanalysis had common appeals for many Americans:

1.  They were optimistic, promising cures at a time when the medical profession had little insight into the nature of the neuroses and were, therefore, unable to help the increasing number of unhappy, “nervous” Americans.

2.  Both were posited on the assumption that health and happiness could be attained by individual effort rather than by changing society – the more difficult task.

3.  Both offered a modern faith – in man and reason.  Salvation could be equated with not “a life hereafter” but with its original Greek meaning – to heal.

4.  Both laid claim to science when science was “in the air”.

Mary Baker Eddy was not the only patient of Phinneas Parkhurst Quimby to believe in “faith healing”.  Three years after Quimby’s death in 1866, another patient, the Reverend Warren Felt Evans, published what could be the first book on mental healing in the United StatesThe Mental Cure (1869).  Evans built upon Quimby’s basic idea but drew from the teachings of Swedenborg and Hegel rather than from the New Testament.  Evans pointed out that Jesus healed first the mind, then the body, and that the power of suggestion – “Go in peach”, “Be of good cheer” – was the dynamic behind the miracles.  Evans believed that diseases of the body were caused by disorders of the spiritual life.  He felt that those who, like Quimby, had the “intuitive power” to detect the “morbid” state of mind underlying the disease, could convert the patient to a healthy state.  The Reverend Evans’ views on the power of the sex drive would sound familiar to Freud.  In his book The Mental Cure, Evans wrote:

The sexual or conjugal love is more intimately connected with the inmost life of the spirit and is the fountain of more unhappiness or misery than originates with any other affection…[8]


     The Mental Cure was widely read.  Along with his other works, Mental Medicine, Soul and Body, and the Divine Law of Cure, it served as raw material ten years later for Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health (1875).

     In 1884, an editorial in the Boston Morning Journal noted the expanding activity in mental healing:


Mind-cure, or Christian Science, is called by people outside of New England a Boston craze.  No other city has developed the system to such an extent as Boston and probably in no other place are there as many disciples of mental healing.  Four recognized heads of as many different schools reside in this vicinity and hundreds of followers swell the list of believers.  A system of healing, claiming so many adherents and recognized so largely by many eminent men, deserves to be better understood than it is at present by the large majority of people.


     It is perhaps no coincidence that Boston, the fountainhead of mental healing movements, was also the area where psychoanalysis made its entry.

     There were many who could not go along with the theories of Christian Science but who, nevertheless, were ardent supporters of mental healing as a method.  Under the leadership of Julius Dresser, another patient of Phinneas Parkhurst Quimby, a rival movement was organized under the name “Mental Science” to distinguish it from Christian Science.  This movement was made up of small independent groups which formed the Metaphysical Club in Boston in 1895 and published a magazine called New Thought.  The stated purpose of the Metaphysical Club was:


To promote interest in and the practice of a true spiritual philosophy of life and happiness; to show that through right thinking one’s loftiest ideas may be brought into perfect realization; to advance the intelligent and systematic treatment of disease by mental methods.[9]


     The Club brought together many writers in the mental science field and attracted a number of liberal religious leaders.  Unitarians and members of the Society of Friends became interested in the mental healing aspects of New Thought.  This movement’s leaders, while addressing themselves primarily to mental health, applied their basic principles to allied topics of social and religious import.  New Thought did not ask its followers to leave their churches but to exert the New Thought influence within them.  The New Thought movement spread beyond Boston.  On the West Coast it became Divine Science.  Independent churches sprang up identifying Jesus not as the traditional son of God but as a Divine Essence, Spirit or Wisdom.  New Thought borrowed heavily from Emersonian idealism to give a liberal interpretation to the New Testament.  It attracted many intelligent, educated Americans.

     Unlike Christian Science, New Thought recognized the physical reality of disease.  Health was considered not so much a bodily condition as the accompanying mental state.  Health meant a sound mind in a sound body.  As one New Thought writer stated:


The science of mental health springs out of an art of life which each individual must acquire through far more intimate self-knowledge than the average man possesses.[10]


     One acquired this intimate self knowledge through a New Thought Healer, who “finds a subconscious condition that is fundamental to the physical disorder….Having admitted all the facts he reserves the right to interpret them in his own way.  He then defines disease as a state of the whole individual….beliefs, fears, sensations, subconscious conditions, habits, dispositions….”

     After Freud’s visit, the New Thought leaders believed New Thought and psychoanalysis had much in common.  Its founder, Horatio Dresser, in writing up a history of New Thought, stated:


Psychoanalysis as practiced by Freud and his school is nearer to New Thought than suggestive therapeutics or hypnotic therapeutics, for the psychoanalysts do not practice hypnotism or mere suggestionism, their efforts being to understand the hidden motive or mental cause of disease.  New Thought healers do not employ the Freudian technique, they do not analyze dreams or specialize in nervous disorders traceable to sexual suppression.  But they might well assimilate some of the results of Freudian psychology.  That psychology is profound.  It throws light on the nature of desire, the will, and the love nature.[11]


Devotees of New Thought wished that Freudian psychology were more spiritual, but this limitation did not dim their appreciation of Freud’s contribution.  Freudian psychology, by its very neutrality, could be incorporated into the gospel of healing, and Christianity was a gospel of healing for New Thought followers.

     The New Thought movement grew steadily from its origin in the 1800’s up into the 20th century.  It divided and subdivided into small “centers of truth” and metaphysical clubs.  While Christian Science had one text, Science and Health, New Thought devotees published a variety of texts, many of which had a large sale.[12]


     William James was attracted to New Thought, referring to it as “mind-cure”.  In his Varieties of Religious Experience, he describes his experience with a mind cure healer, and, in a personal letter to a friend in 1894, he wrote:


I had a pretty bad spell….It is barely possible that the recovery may be due to a mind-curer with whom I had 18 sittings….Two other cases of brain trouble, intimate friends of mine, treated simultaneously with me, have entirely recovered.  It is a good deal of a puzzle.[13]


     James believed that mind-cure had made great use of the “subconscious life” by employing passive relaxation, concentration and meditation and invoking “something like hypnotic practice.”  He stated further that, “To the importance of mind-cure the medical and clerical professions in the United States are beginning, though with much recalcitrancy and protesting, to open their eyes.”

     The gospel of health and happiness embodied in Christian Science and New Thought, like psychoanalysis, was a movement open to charges of quackery and cultism.  Yet these movements had to be reckoned with.  Charles Reynolds Brown, Dean of the Yale Divinity School, stated in 1910:


Where physicians are indifferent to the value of mental and spiritual forces in overcoming disease, then we may look for a full crop of queer cults which have been misleading large numbers of people in recent years.  The people want to know what help there is along this line….The rapid growth of these strange cults covered all over with such nonsense as would tend to crush them is a significant symptom of our twentieth century life.  Let the physician be more fully instructed in the medical schools and in the principles of psychology.  The mood and the need of our age imperatively demand it.


     It is apparent that, by 1909, Christian Science and New Thought had created a stir sufficient to put both clergymen and physicians on the defensive.  Freud could not have come at a more auspicious time.  The Boston craze had become both a substitute for current forms of worship and for medical practice.  Psychotherapy was “in the air”.

     “Scarcely a day passes,” wrote the Reverend Lyman Powell of the Episcopal Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, “when I do not receive inquiries as to the best books to read upon psychotherapy.”  The list of books which he “constantly recommended” to people who came to him for “counsel and treatment” did not include one title relating to God and the kingdom of heaven.  All were books on health and happiness and on modern psychology and psychotherapy.  The list itself illuminates the widespread popular interest in, as well as the prevalence of, nervous troubles on the eve of Freud’s visit.  Among the Reverend Powell’s sought-after titles were:

Rest, Mental Therapeutics, Suggestion (Darcum)

The Influence of the Mind on the Body (Dubois)

Hypnotism or Suggestion and Psychotherapy (Ford)

The Psychic Treatment of Nervous Disorders (Dubois)

Nerves in Order (Schofield)

Nerves in Disorder (Schofield)

The Unconscious Mind (Schofield)

Power Through Repose (Call)

Health and the Inner Life (Dresser)

In Tune with the Infinite (Trine)

The Gospel of Good Health (Brown)

The Will to Believe (Patterson)[14]


     Trine’s In Tune with the Infinite placed responsibility for health and happiness upon the individual, not upon society.  This book had a remarkable response.  After the original printing in 1908, it was published in translation in 20 countries, in Esperanto and in raised letters for the blind.  In 1957 it received its eighth printing, passing the 75,000 mark.

     Three years before Freud’s visit, the Reverends Elwood Worcester and Samuel McComb of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Boston brought the Protestant church into “mental healing” through what came to be known as the Emmanuel Movement.  In so doing they prepared the way for the Protestant acceptance of psychoanalysis and laid the cornerstone of modern pastoral psychiatry.

     While Christian Science and New Thought operated without reliance upon the medical profession, the Emmanuel Movement sought to establish a working partnership between the Protestant minister and the neurologist with the hope of placing mental healing on a truly scientific foundation.

     The Reverends Worcester and McComb both had studied the “new psychology” in Germany and were well versed in the latest developments in abnormal psychology and neurology, particularly those segments that were pioneering in the functional approach to mental illness.  Worcester said, “Our psychology is the psychology of the schools….We range ourselves on the side of such writers as Wundt, Fechner, Paulsen, Janet, Forel, Freud, Prince, Sidis, James.”[15]


     Worcester received the support of Boston’s progressive-minded neurologists in establishing a clinic within the Emmanuel Church to diagnose and treat nervous disorders.  The Movement was launched with a series of four lectures delivered in the parish house on Sunday evenings.  The first lecture on “The Power of Control” was delivered by Dr. James J. Putnam, Professor of Neurology at the Harvard Medical School.  Putnam, three years later, became one of Freud’s leading supporters.  The second lecture on “The Value and Limitation of Suggestion” was given by Dr. Richard Cabot.  The third and fourth lectures were delivered by the ministers themselves, who described the work they were about to undertake, referring to it as “religious therapy” and commenting on some of the new psychological approaches to nervous disorders.  At the close of the fourth lecture Worcester announced that he and McComb would be available in the parish the following morning along with a staff of neurologists to diagnose and advise any person regarding their “moral problems” or “psychical disorders”.

     At the first morning’s clinic some 198 persons turned up who were suffering from a wide variety of complaints including rheumatism, paralysis, indigestion and other purely physical ailments wholly outside the concept of their work.  As a practical joke, one of the institutions for the insane had sent several busloads of its patients down to the church to embarrass Doctor Putnam, a dramatic illustration of the derisive attitude, in those days, of medicine toward the concept of functional neuroses.

     The church clinic procedure called first for a physical-neurological examination of each patient by the medical staff.  Those who were found to have organic diseases were referred to a medical specialist outside.  Those who were diagnosed as having functional disorders were received in the rector’s study, where “in the confidence of the confessional, the patient unlocks the hidden wholesomeness of his subconscious.”  These sessions went far beyond the confessional of the Catholic Church, which did not attempt to probe the unconscious.

     Although much of the therapeutic work done by Worcester and McComb at the Emmanuel Church clinic was the conventional pastoral counseling, they did not hesitate to use hypnotic suggestion to “re-educate” their patients.

     Dr. Richard Cabot, medical consultant to the clinic, described the Emmanuel method as follows:


Of the classical methods of mental healing, explanation, education, psycho-analysis, suggestion, rest-cure and work-cure, suggestion is the one most used at Emmanuel Church.  Suggestion is given to patients who have been brought, by means of a quiet room, a comfortable chair, and soothing words, into a relaxed and somnolent or sleeping state.  Besides the direct personal treatment of individuals in the morning and evening clinics (for such they essentially are) Emmanuel Church maintains weekly public exercises which may be chiefly described as Wednesday evening prayer meetings, with a twenty minute talk on mental healing instead of a sermon, and a supper afterwards….Among the topics discussed in the past year are: insomnia, suggestion, anger, worry, peace in the home, what the will can do, Nervousness and its cause, and prayer as a curative power.


     The majority of cases treated in the Emmanuel Church clinic were diagnosed as neurasthenia, insanity, alcoholism, fears and fixed ideas, sexual neurosis and hysteria.

     The Emmanuel Church clinics became daily affairs, so great was the popular response.  The movement caused excitement from the start and led to controversies about the theories and practices of its leaders.  Questions arose both within the ministerial and medical professions as to whether the ministers were competent to perform the functions they had assumed.

     Some of the Emmanuel Church’s own parishioners objected, questioning the propriety of so many depressed specimens of humanity queuing up day after day in the church’s halls waiting for treatment.  The issue reached the bishop of the diocese, the Right Reverend William Lawrence, who settled it by letting Worcester have a free hand.  Lawrence, however, never alluded to the subject in public.[16]


     The Emmanuel Movement received wide publicity in the popular literary journals of the day.  Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies Home Journal, invited Worcester to write a series of articles for the Journal.  Under the title “The Results of the Emmanuel Movement”, this series ran through five issues of the magazine (November 1908-March 1909) on the eve of Freud’s visit, resulting in over 5,000 personal appeals to Worcester for help.  Other articles followed in The Independent, Outlook, Harper’s, Current Literature and Century.  Titles included “Nervousness – A National Menace”, “New Phases in the Relation of the Church and Health”, “The Emmanuel Movement and Nervousness”, and “The Dangers of the Emmanuel Movement”.

     Some medical critics charged that Worcester and McComb were unfitted to engage in such psychotherapy and felt they were usurping the rightful territory of medicine.  Neurologist Ralph W. Reed of Ohio declared:

I am totally unable to find anything in the literature of the cult that convinces me that their methods are religious at all.  Dr. McComb, himself, refers more frequently to the authority of Janet than of Jesus.


     The sensational press published weird stories to the effect that the Reverend Worcester at Emmanuel Church had raised a man from the dead by auto-suggestion.  A Chicago paper headlined an article: “What Two Ministers in Boston Are Doing to Make the Lame Walk and the Blind to See.”

     In response to this adverse criticism of their “Religious Therapeutics”, Worcester, McComb, and Dr. Isadore H. Coriat published Religion and Medicine (1908), subtitled The Moral Control of Nervous Disorders.  This book called for the revival of the minister as “physician to the soul” and exhorted the Protestant church to reactivate the original mission of the Christian church as a ministry of healing.  It urged ministers to utilize the findings of modern psychology and warned of the increasing threat of Christian Science to the established churches.  This work, Religion and Medicine, included a section written by Dr. Isadore H. Coriat, one of Boston’s prominent neurologists who helped launch psychoanalysis after Freud’s visit in 1909.  Coriat called attention to Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life (German edition).  This may have been the first time Freud’s name and work were brought before the American public (five years before Freud’s first book, The Interpretation of Dreams, was available in English translation).

     The Emmanuel Movement was not confined to New England.  In New York City, the Reverend Robert MacDonald of the Washington Avenue Baptist church, in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, defined the movement as one that extended the church’s usefulness to the saving of the whole man.  “The older appeal,” he stated, “was to the soul and one’s preparation for eternity.  This movement takes hold of his mental and bodily life and fits him for daily living right here and now.”[17]


     In Brooklyn, New York, the reverend Lewis T. Reed preached a sermon entitled “Suggestive Therapeutics,” emphasizing the power of suggestion and the subconscious.  The Reverend A.W.H. Hodder, a Baptist minister also in Brooklyn, believed in the Emmanuel approach, as did the Reverend L. Ward Brigham of All Souls Congregational Church.

     On the West Coast, the Rector of the Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, Oregon, wrote a primer for setting up a “church class in psychotherapy.”  In Atlanta, Georgia, the Reverend Len G. Broughton said of the Emmanuel Movement:


… no movement in the church has travelled so rapidly in modern times….In every section of the country it is being talked about favourably and unfavourably by both the church and the medical profession, while suffering humanity, hitherto unaided, reaches forth its trembling hand with at least a faint hope that the day is not far distant when there will come the long sought relief from pain and suffering.[18]


     In Chicago, Bishop Samuel Fallows of the Reformed Episcopal Church called his “psychotherapic” work “Christian Psychology” and stated with “positive authority that religious therapeutics could cure want of confidence, sleeplessness, nervous dyspepsia, melancholia, fear, mental depression, hysteria, anger and weak will.”

     In San Francisco, the Reverend Thomas Parker Boyd in his book The How and Why of the Emmanuel Movement showed the art of healing had been practiced from earliest times, from the witch doctor of old driving out the devil, to the modern therapist.  “Between these extremes of development are all the pathies, shrine cures, bones of the saints, holy waters, quackery, charlatanism, allopath, homeopath, isopath, osteopath, electric, botanic, magnetic, Christian Science, mind cure, divine healing and what not.”

     In 1909, due to the unfavorable publicity the Emmanuel Movement received, Worcester and McComb adopted a policy of eliminating as much as possible further attention to their work.  They discontinued the Church clinic but continued their therapeutic counseling quietly, referring patients to outside physicians when indicated.

     Freud apparently heard about the Emmanuel Movement at the time of his visit to Clark University in 1909.  He is quoted as having said:


When I think that there are many physicians who have been studying psychotherapy for decades who yet practice it with the greatest caution, this introduction of a few men without medical or with only superficial medical training, seems to me of questionable good.


     William James was disappointed that Freud should have taken this negative view.  In a letter to Theodore Flournoy, James wrote:


A newspaper report of the congress said that Freud condemned the American religious therapy (which has had such extensive results) as very ‘dangerous’ because so ‘unscientific.’  Bah!


     Despite Freud’s lack of enthusiasm for their work, Worcester and McComb continued to support Freud and psychoanalysis.  In 1912, McComb wrote in Century magazine: “We owe to the genius of Professor Sigmund Freud of Vienna the remarkable discovery which in this realm is so revolutionary that it makes all preceding discussions almost obsolete.”

     It is quite clear that the Emmanuel method of therapy was not psychoanalysis but counseling and hypnotic suggestion.  Worcester and McComb, like numerous neurologists in 1908 and during the first few years after Freud’s visit, did not clearly understand the difference between psychoanalysis and suggestion.  James Putnam’s first encounter with psychoanalysis led him to the conclusion that “the psychoanalytic method does not differ much in principle from the other methods.”

     There may be a correlation between the decline of the mental healing movements and the introduction of psychoanalysis after 1909.  The mental healing movements at their height between 1890 and 1910 had given exclusive attention to conscious thought as the “greatest power in the world,” and had relied on the power of suggestion to change attitudes and effect cures.  Christian Science and New Thought were posited on the belief, deeply rooted in 19th century American evangelical and transcendental thought, that spiritual insight could tap hidden sources of energy.  This optimism was one facet of what has been termed “American innocence”.  The Emmanuel Movement, on the other hand, drew less upon 19th-century idealism and more on 20th-century science.  The Emmanuel Movement, in aligning itself with medicine, had laid the cornerstone for the continually developing cooperation between religion and psychiatry.

     In 1939, the Committee on Religion and Health of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America held a symposium on “Christianity and Mental Hygiene”.  This symposium was notable for its orientation around Freudian principles.  Not only did it reflect the acceptance of psychoanalysis by a variety of participating ministers, but also a comfortable familiarity with psychoanalytic concepts and terminology – ego potential, identification, life force, libido and others.  The ideal goal of pastoral counseling was expressed as “the ability of the minister to get at the roots of neurotic disturbances and not be satisfied to accept surface motives for real motives.”  Freud was hailed as another Darwin:


Whatever one may think about the specific theories of Freud and his followers, he must be recognized as the Galen or Darwin in the field of psychotherapy.  It was he who first mapped out the new road and devised a vehicle by which it might be traversed.  Certainly his most lasting contribution will be the methods he devised for uncovering the hitherto unrecognized underground motives of the mind.[19]


     Today, although the psychoanalytic star that shone so brilliantly for half a century has been dimmed somewhat by new insights into mental illness and new methods of treatment, among religious leaders there is a continuing interest in Freudian insights into human nature and the use of those insights in pastoral counseling.  Freud and the gospel of health and happiness are still alive.

     Those early religious movements – Christian Science, New Thought and the Emmanuel Movement – attracted many Americans who believed that mental health was, or should be, a function of religion.  This ideological kinship strengthened the image of Freud as a mental healer and thus favorably influenced the American reception of psychoanalysis.




American Historical Review, vol. IXIII, Jan. 1958, p. 302.


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Bellwald, A.M.  Christian Science and the Catholic Faith.  New York: MacMillan, 1922.


The Best of Ralph Waldo Trine.  Indianapolis, N.Y.: Bobbs-Merril, 1957.


Boston Morning Journal, Saturday, May 10, 1884 (Quimby Manuscripts, Library of Congress).


Boyd, Thomas Parker.  The How and Why of the Emmanuel Movement.  San Francisco: Whitaker and Ray, 1909.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, vol. XXIII, no. 138, no. 6, April 1908.


Broughton, Len G.  Religion and Health.  New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1909.


Brown, Charles Reynolds.  Faith and Health.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1910.


Cabot, Richard.  “New Phases in the Relation of the Church to Health”, in Outlook, vol. 88, Feb. 29, 1908.


Cameron, Norman.  “William James and Psychoanalysis,” in Centenary: William James, The Man and the ThinkerMadison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1942.


Chicago Examiner, June 9, 1917.


Dresser, Horatio W.  A History of the New Thought Movement.  New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1919.

….. Health and Inner Life.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906.


Evans, Warren Felt.  The Mental Cure.  Boston: Colby and Rich, 7th ed., 1885.


Federal Council of Churches, Symposium on “Christianity and Mental Hygiene”, New York, 1939.


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Greene, John Gardner.  “The Emmanuel Movement”, in The New England Quarterly, vol. 7, 1937.


Jones, Ernest.  The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, vol. 1.  New York: Basic Books, 1953.


The Ladies Home Journal, Jan. 1919.


Maxon, William D.  Faith Cure, privately published sermon delivered in Christ Church, Detroit, Feb. 9, 1908 (Library of Congress).


May, Henry F.  The End of American Innocence.  New York: Alfred Knopf, 1959.


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[1] Freud, Sigmund, An Autobiographical Study (New York: W.W. Norton, 1935), pp. 102-3.

[2] American Historical Review IXIII (January 1958): 302.

[3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle XXIII, no. 138, no. 6 (April 1908): 4.

[4] Baker, Ray Stannard, New Ideals in Healing (New York: Broderick A. Stokes, 1909), p. 1.

[5] Unpublished Quimby manuscripts, Rare Books Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

[6] William D. Maxon, “Faith Cure,” privately published sermon delivered in Christ Church, 9 February 1908, Detroit, Michigan, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., pp. 6-7.

[7] Horatio W. Dresser, Health and the Inner Life (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906), pp. 38-39.

[8] Warren Felt Evans, The Mental Cure (Boston: Colby and Rich, 1885), 7th edition, p. 214.

[9] Horatio W. Dresser, A History of the New Thought Movement (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1919), p. 182.

[10] Dresser, Health and the Inner Life, p. 6.

[11] Dresser, A History, p. 307.

[12] Dresser, Health and Inner Life, p. 8.

[13] Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (Boston: Little Brown, 1935), p. 159.

[14] Lyman P. Powell, The Emmanuel Movement in a New England Town (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909), pp. 181-7.

[15] John Gardner Greene, “The Emmanuel Movement,” New England Quarterly 7 (1937): 502.

[16] Elwood Worcester, Life’s Adventure (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1932), p. 288.

[17] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, XXIII, no. 138, no. 6 (April 1908): 4.

[18] Len G. Broughton, Religion and Health (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1909), p. 6.

[19] Federal Council of Churches, Symposium on “Christianity and Mental Hygiene,” New York, 1989: p. 12.


About the Author
Ruth Pedersen Hunsberger received her M.A. in American Intellectual History from the University of Rochester in 1961. Her dissertation, from which this paper is adapted, was titled "The American Reception of Sigmund Freud". Her later activities included serving as research associate and speechwriter at the Legislative Reference Service, U.S. Library of Congress, 1961-1963; and as Director, American Field Service, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1963-66. During World War II she served as research assistant to General George Patton on the U.S. invasion of French Morocco, 1942.  Mrs. Hunsberger spent the last years of her life at Brookhaven, in Lexington, Mass.  She died there at age 97, in February, 2009.  

Copyright © 2005 Ruth P. Hunsberger. All rights reserved.