MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Autogenic training (AT) is a relaxation technique that has garnered attention for its potential to reduce anxiety and improve psychological well-being. This review aimed to synthesize the findings from a diverse range of studies investigating the relationship between AT and anxiety disorder across different populations and settings.

A comprehensive review of 162 studies, including randomised controlled trials (RCTs), non-randomized controlled trials (N-RCTs), surveys, and meta-analysis, was conducted and 29 studies were selected. Participants in the studies were patients with:

  • cancer,
  • bulimia nervosa,
  • stroke,
  • coronary angioplasty,

Others were nursing students, healthy volunteers, athletes, etc.

Anxiety levels were measured before and after the AT intervention using a variety of anxiety assessment scales, including the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). The formats, duration, and delivery of the interventions varied, with some studies utilising guided sessions by professionals and other self-administered practises.

The combined findings of these studies revealed consistent trends in the beneficial effects of AT on anxiety reduction. AT was found to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms across a wide range of populations and settings. Following AT interventions, participants reported reduced anxiety, improved mood states, and improved coping mechanisms. AT was found to be superior to no treatment or a comparable intervention in a number of cases.

The authors conclused that the body of evidence supports autogenic training as a non-pharmacological approach to reducing anxiety and improving psychological well-being. Despite differences in methodology and participant profiles, the studies show that AT has a positive impact on a wide range of populations. The findings merit further investigation and highlight AT’s potential contribution to anxiety management strategies.

I was taught AT many years ago and have practised it occasionally ever since. I have also co-authored several papers of AT that showed encouraging results, e.g.:

Thus, I feel that the conclusions of this review might be correct.

Several further recent papers seem to support the notion that AT is a treatment worth trying, e.g.:

Why then AT is not better studied and more popular? A short paragraph of my next book (to be published in about 6 months) on the inventors of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), including the German psychiatry professor Johannes Schulz (1884-1970), inventor of AT, might give you a clue:

Schultz supported the euthanasia program of the Nazis, i.e. the extermination of disabled and other people considered ‘unworthy of living’ during the Third Reich. He passed death sentences on “hysterical women” through his diagnoses. In 1933, Schultz began research on a guide-book on sexual education in which he focused on homosexuality and explored the topics of sterilization and euthanasia. In 1935, he published an essay about the psychological consequences of sterilization and castration among men; in it he supported compulsory sterilization of men in order to eliminate hereditary illnesses. With a diagnostic scheme developed by him in 1940, Schulz advocated the execution of mentally ill patients by stating: “I personally have to align myself with Mr. Hoche […], by recalling the ‘annihilation of life unworthy of life’ and by raising the hope that the madhouses will soon become emptied and remodelled according to this principle.” Schultz was fully aware of the consequences of his diagnostic assessment and even used the term “death sentence in the form of a diagnosis”.

I came across this evidence only years after having published my papers on AT. Would I have developed an interest in AT, if I had known about Schulz’s Nazi past? Probably not.

8 Responses to A promising so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) invented by a despicable Nazi

  • It’s the same old problem we face with the works of Picasso, Roman Polanski, Gesualdo and so on.

    Fortunately Hitler spared us the dilemma by being a mediocre artist.

    • I don’t think tht’s comparable

      • Which bit? Obviously the Hitler bit was just reductio ad absurdum but the others do seem comparable. It’s the “can a bad person produce anything good” debate which is as alive as ever.

        As you say, if you had known about Schultz would you have taken an interest in AT? If I had known about Polanski would I have enjoyed Chinatown as much? Can we, should we view the work independently of the person?

        • I feel that it also depends on the field – in medicine, it is more difficult to separate the man from his work – at least for me.

          • Yes, I can see that. It sounds as though in the Schultz case his AT ‘good work’ was not a by product of his Nazi activities. How much harder it is with knowledge gained through the ghastly experiments of Nazi and Japanese doctors on their victims. You can’t unknow it. If it can benefit patients today is it wrong to use knowledge gained in such a way or does it salvage some crumb of good from the horror?

  • I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. There’s a reason we have what we call ethics.

    • sure – but this is not the question here, as far as I can see.

    • Intent is key. Eg. It would clearly be wrong to make a prisoner walk through a minefield so we could learn how to treat mine injuries. But it would be right, even obligatory, to learn from previous victims not of our causing.

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