Observations Life and Death

Every day in every way we are getting better and better: the optimism of health policy

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5608 (Published 22 August 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5608
  1. Iona Heath, president, Royal College of General Practitioners
  1. iona.heath22{at}yahoo.co.uk

Why the perpetual striving for perfection in healthcare, wonders Iona Heath, writing in a personal capacity

Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie (1857-1926) was a French psychologist whose publication Self Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion was translated into English in 1922.1 The key to his method, which he claimed was effective in the treatment of all maladies, was the repetition of a mantra-like phrase. He advised: “As soon as children are able to talk, make them repeat morning and evening, 20 times, the words ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.’ This habit will produce excellent health—physical, mental and moral.”

Coué’s optimism is admirable, but after an initial wave of enthusiasm in the early part of the last century his method fell into disuse, presumably because excellent health proved to be not so easy to create or sustain. Yet something of Coué’s philosophy seems to live on in the imperturbable optimism of health policy in the United Kingdom. This optimism provides one of the last refuges of a seductive belief in the potential of logic and science to achieve the infinite perfectibility of human beings and human …

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