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The Hypnotist and the Warts

Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 04:00 AM

If you haven't listened to Placebo yet, do that before you read this spoiler-strewn post -- just hit the play button above before you go any further.

In February of 1951, Dr. Albert Mason began treating a teenage patient whose skin was so ravaged that after two unsuccessful skin grafts, his plastic surgeons agreed they could do nothing else to help him.

Mason knew he was up against a big challenge. Most of the boy's body -- everything but his face, neck, and chest -- was covered in a "black horny layer" of skin that Mason said "felt as hard as a normal finger-nail, and was so inelastic that any attempt at bending resulted in a crack in the surface, which would then ooze blood-stained serum." On top of that, Mason's treatment plan didn't exactly inspire confidence in his colleagues: he was going to try hypnosis.

On the plus side, Mason had had success using hypnosis on patients with warts before, and he figured it might help this kid. So he decided to start with the boy's left arm (he specified one body part at a time in order to isolate a direct cause and effect from hypnosis). The arm cleared up in under two weeks.

As Mason moved on to the rest of the boy's body, he documented his progress -- which was shocking, especially once Mason realized he wasn't treating a bad case of warts (as he'd originally thought), but an incurable disease: congenital ichthyosiform erythrodermia.* Stunned by the boy's improvement, he typed up a paper charting his results in 1952 (PDF). Complete with photos...

The boy's right arm (a) before beginning hypnosis, (b) eight days after treatment was begun, showing complete regression of ichthyosiform skin:

Patient's legs seen from the right (a) before hypnosis, (b) four weeks after treatment, showing complete regression of ichthyosiform skin in some areas and improvement in others.

Skin on the boy's right thigh (a) before treatment, (b) one month after treatment was begun:

Photos by Gordon Clemetson, courtesy of Albert Mason, British Medical Journal, August 23, 1952

* This realization hit Mason hard. It rattled his confidence, and his future hypnosis treatments -- so much so, that he eventually gave it up, and came to the conclusion that hypnosis is a "folie à deux," or "madness shared by two."


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Comments [9]

F. Smith from Boston

Whatever the cause, this does work. I had warts that refused to be burned off all over one hand. I finally tried hypnosis and in a matter of a few weeks they were completely gone.

Feb. 14 2014 12:22 PM

Exert from original article explaining why the suggestion was aimed at one limb at a time:
"On February 10, 1951, the patient was hypnotized and,
under hypnosis, suggestion was made that the left arm
would- clear. (The suggestion was limited to the left arm
so as to exclude the possibility of spontaneous resolution.)"

Dec. 14 2013 02:53 PM
Brian from St Louis Missouri

After listening to this story I thought, I have some warts on my hand, let me see if I can make mine go away. Well I just remembered this the other day when I noticed I don't have anymore warts. Previous to that story I had at least 10 on my right hand and a few on my left. So thanks.

Sep. 05 2013 12:05 PM
K8TIY from Ann Arbor MI

"Barleycorn, barleycorn,
Injun meal shorts,
spunkwater, spunkwater,
swaller these warts!"

Mark Twain had it all along.

Jul. 16 2013 09:23 PM
LauraMaura from Austin, TX

How is it that once again, religion has wormed itself into another story that should be about science? At least the coat ceremony makes it clear where some doctors are set on the road to a god complex. ugh.

Jul. 12 2013 01:04 PM
GregG from Marietta, GA

I can totally relate to this story. When I was a kid, I had a couple of warts (commonly referred to as seed warts) on my fingers. Nothing major, but I wanted to get rid of them. One day, my dad told me to take a washcloth down to the woods, scrub the wart, throw the washcloth behind me and never look back. For some reason, I totally believed it would work. The warts were gone a few days later. I always figured it was just mind over matter.

Jun. 29 2013 09:04 PM
Miz Molly Mae

Why treat one at a time? To test the hypothosis.If he did it all, there could be the argument that the initial diagnosis was wrong and that it was a coincidence that it healed then.

Jun. 26 2013 01:35 PM
Kiesha Pringle

Why would the doctor only cure one arm at a time?

Jun. 23 2013 09:22 PM
christopher m stock from minneapolis

The power of the mind is truly amazing

Jun. 22 2013 05:19 PM

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