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Hypnosis has existed for as long as there have been human beings.
Virtually all early and primitive people performed special rituals and ceremonies as part of their everyday lives. An integral part of these rites included monotonous beating of drums, rhythmic chanting, and dancing. Individuals dressed in various garments denoting their status in the community, the healers and witch doctors being revered as having special or supernatural powers. The continuous chanting, dancing, and participation in the ceremony and ritual brought about a heightened response in the participants which, in turn, led to the realisation of their expectancies. The early belief was that if a person participated in the rituals or if the ceremonies were done for and on his behalf, he would benefit from the expected results of the ritual. It was immaterial whether or not these rituals were religious, spiritual, or healing ceremonies as the expected result was affected by the participation and belief.
The oldest written record of cures by hypnosis was obtained from the Ebers Papyrus which gives us an idea about some of the theory and practice of Egyptian medicine before 1552 BC. This scroll contains 700 ‘magical’ formulas designed to cure afflictions ranging from crocodile bites to toenail pain. It also includes a surprisingly accurate description of the circulatory system, noting the existence of blood vessels throughout the body and the heart's function as centre of the blood supply. It also describes a treatment in which the physician placed his hands on the head of the patient and, claiming superhuman therapeutic powers gave forth with strange remedial utterances which were suggested to the patients, and which resulted in cures. King Pyrrhus of Egypt, The Emperor Vespasian, Francis I of France and other French kings up to Charles X practised healing in this manner.
The Egyptians are also thought to have originated ‘Sleep Temples’ in which priests gave similar treatments to patients through the use of suggestion.
The Egyptians continued to practice healing, and word of their success eventually spread far and wide throughout the adjoining lands, as far away as England and Asia Minor. As a symbol and physical evidence of their beliefs, the Egyptians built various temples in which the priests practised their ‘suggestions’, ‘rituals’ and ‘cures', in the treatment of those afflicted and suffering.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician referred to most frequently as ‘the father of medicine’ and whose oath all graduating physicians take, is known to have discussed the phenomenon saying, ‘the affliction suffered by the body, the soul sees quite well with the eyes shut’.
The Romans borrowed trance healing from the Greeks, as they did much else of the Greek culture during the period of the rise of the great Roman Empire. Many men of great learning and wisdom were imported from Greece as Roman slaves to teach the young in Roman households. Among the Romans, Aesculapius often threw his patients into a ‘deep sleep’ and allayed pain by stroking, with his hand.
In 2600BC the father of Chinese medicine, Wong Tai wrote about techniques that involved incantations and the passing of hands. Other accounts can be found in the Bible, the Talmud (a book of Jewish writings) and the Hindu Vedas, written about 1500BC.
The advent of Christianity led to a decline in the use of hypnosis because it was considered witchcraft, and trance healing, if practised at all, was done secretly.
In the tenth century, Avicenna, a great physician, stated, ‘The Imagination can fascinate and modify man's body either making him ill or restoring him to health’.
About the middle of the sixteenth century, a man named Theophrastus Paracelsus brought forth a new theory regarding the production of diseases. This theory stated in effect that certain heavenly bodies, especially the stars, influenced the behaviour of men. He also postulated that men influenced each other, which is still a basic concept in the study of ‘behaviour psychology’.
Van Helmont from Belgium, Maxwell from Scotland, and Santanelli from Italy, said virtually the same thing around 1600, and laid the foundation for the concept of animal magnetism, which was later to have been made famous by Mesmer.
It is ironic that the modern history of hypnosis begins not with a physician but with a clergyman, a catholic priest who lived at Klosters. Father Gassner theorised, according to the beliefs of the day, that patients who were ill were possessed by devils, which must be cast out, before the patient could again attain the state of good health. Gassner obtained church approval for his actions by stating that God was working through him to cast out devils that possessed his unfortunate patients.
Unlike some other men of his time, Father Gassner was not secretive with his methods, and frequently allowed physicians to observe him administer treatment. The physicians who were to observe were ushered into a room and seated much as in a theatre and then the patient would be marched onto a stage in the centre of the room to await the appearance of Father Gassner. Timing his entrance to make the most of the spectacle, Father Gassner would stride out onto the platform in a long solid black flowing cape, holding a ‘gold’ crucifix high in the air before him. The patient had been told in advance that when Father Gassner touched him with the crucifix, he would promptly fall to the floor and remain there for further instructions. Gassner's patients were told to actually ‘die’ while lying prostrate on the floor, and that during this period of ‘death’, he would cast out the devils from their body and then restore them to normal life again. This idea of rebirth permeates both hypnosis and religion even as far back as the earliest primitive forms.
After the observer physician examined the patient, felt no pulse, heard no heart sounds, and pronounced him dead, then Father Gassner would order the demon to depart, and shortly thereafter the patient would revive and arise completely cured. Mesmer was said to have watched a number of performances by Father Gassner in the early 1770's and is responsible for introducing the phenomena to the medical profession.
Franz Anton Mesmer was born the son of a game warden on 23 May 1734, at Lznang on Lake Constance. He studied at Dillingen and Ingolstadt and received his Ph.D. following which he studied law. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1766 after presenting a paper entitled, De Planetarum Influx (On the influence of the Planets).
On 10 January 1768, two years following his graduation, Mesmer married the wealthy widow of an army Lieutenant Colonel, Marie Anna Von Posch.
Mesmer, unable to swallow Father Gassner's hypothesis that patients were possessed by demons, believed that in some way the metal crucifix held by the Father was perhaps responsible for magnetising the patient and hence developed his ideas and explanation of the results into a theory of animal magnetism, which he first tested in 1773 by treating a 28 year old female, Franziska Osterlin, who eventually married Fredrich Von Posch, Mesmer's stepson.
Mesmer published his first account of the magnetic cure in 1775, under the title of, Schreiben Uber die Magnetiker. Although his fame continued to spread, he was forced to leave Vienna following the famous Paradis case, in which Dr. Von Stoerck and Dr. Barth opposed him.
In 1777 Maria Theresa Paradis, a blind child pianist, and favourite of the Empress, recovered her sight after treatment by Mesmer despite the fact that she had been under the care of Europe's leading eye specialist, Dr. Von Stoerck for ten years without improvement. Influenced by jealous doctors, the child's mother took her away from Mesmer's care before the cure was complete. In an emotional scene, the mother struck the child across the face because she did not wish to leave Dr. Mesmer's clinic and the hysterical blindness reasserted itself.
Nevertheless, Mesmer's influence was still great enough to secure a recommendation from the Austrian Foreign Minister to the Imperial Embassy in Paris, to which he moved early in February 1778. He founded a clinic with D'Eslon on the Place Vendome, and published his famous book, Memoirre Sur La Decouverte Du Magnetisme Animal in 1779.
In 1784 the French Government investigated Mesmer, and pronounced him a fraud. However, Benjamin Franklin, who was a member of the investigating committee, wrote the minority report, which stated the phenomenon was worthy of further consideration. Other members of the commission were Jussieu, famous for his connection with the Twilleries; Guillotin, the inventor of the Guillotine which bears his name; and Lavoisier, the well-known French chemist whose name is still familiar to Americans as the brand name of a mouth wash! Esdaile's fascinating description of the investigation states he believed the verdict was fair enough considering the nature of the evidence placed before them. He goes on to say: ...but yet, (such is human fallibility), in this case summum jus was also summa injuria; truth was sacrificed to falsehood, as I think will clearly appear from a short analysis of their proceedings. This will probably not be time wasted, as I have heard intelligent gentlemen say that the report of the French philosophers still decided their opinions. They had a series of axioms in Mesmerism presented to them, whose truth they were to examine and the efficacy of certain processes was to be proved to their satisfaction by experiment.
The Mesmerist's object seems to have been to try to convince the commission that he had a secret worth knowing, and yet to continue to keep it to himself by hiding its simplicity by disguising it by over complication. D'Eslon, the pupil of Mesmer, put forward his laws of animal magnetism as follows:
1) Animal magnetism is a universal fluid, constituting an absolute polonium in nature, and the medium of all mutual influence between the celestial bodies, and betwixt the earth and animal bodies. This only a gigantic assertion.
2) It is the subtlest fluid in nature, capable of flux and of reflux, and of receiving, propagating, and continuing all kinds of motion.
3) The animal body is subjected to the influences of this fluid by means of the nerves, which are immediately affected by it. We see no other way at present.
4) The human body has poles, and other properties, analogous to the magnet. The first proposition has never been proved, and takes everything for granted; there is only likelihood in the second.
5) The action and virtue of animal magnetism may be communicated from one body to another, whether animate or inanimate. True, as regards to the relations between animate bodies; and these can also impregnate inanimate substances.
6) It operates at a great distance, without the intervention of anybody.
7) It is increased and reflected by mirrors, communicated, propagated and increased by sound, and may be accumulated, concentrated, and transported.
8) Notwithstanding the universality of this fluid, all animal bodies are not affected by it; on the other hand there are some though but few in number, the presence of which, destroys all the effects of animal magnetism. The first part correct, the last not improbable.
9) By means of this fluid, nervous diseases are cured immediately, and others medially; and its virtues, in fact, extend to the universal cure and preservation of mankind. True, to so great a degree, that we do not yet know how far it may go.
Is it surprising that the commission dismissed such a mass of sheer assertion and unsupported theory, albeit seasoned with truth, but so diluted and obscured as not to be recognisable with contempt? D'Eslon was not content to tell the truth simply, but added so many corroborating inventions of his own that no one knew what to believe, and the case was dismissed as unworthy of further investigation. He ruined himself, and his cause, also (perhaps in ignorance) by loading the truth with a parcel of trumpery machinery through which he hoped the power of nature would nevertheless penetrate; but Nature, like an overloaded camel, turned upon her driver and threw him and his paraphernalia of magnetic platforms, conducting-rods and ropes, pianos, magnetised trees and buckets, into the dirt; and truth retired in disgust to the bottom of her well, there to dwell till more honest men should draw her forth again to surprise and benefit the world.
There are a number of very important assertions in this excerpt from Esdaile's book. First, he points out clearly the reason why the commission turned down the phenomenon as unworthy of further investigation. Second, he illustrates the point doubly by even adding a number of misconceptions of his own, misconceptions which were nevertheless accepted as true in his day regarding medical practice. Thirdly, he sums up a really ingenious and brilliant theory in one sentence: As far as my observation goes, all that is necessary for success, if the parties are in relation of agent and subject, is passive obedience in the patient, and a sustained patience on the part of the operator. Fourthly, he makes a statement which might serve further experimentation: The process being a natural one, the more the parties are in a state of nature the better. This might be better accomplished by means other than mere nudity although perhaps the possibility that by being nude the subject psychologically is ‘defenceless’, or more ‘submissive’ should not be overlooked. My favourite induction method is to take the patient with all his or her senses on a journey into a primitive wooded area, peaceful and quiet, serene and still where concentration and relaxation are greatest. Both the spirits of passive obedience as well as the journey into the wilderness of nature to seek communion with God are a part of every major religion in the world.
So much for the report of the commission which had as its ultimate effect the denunciation of Mesmer, his methods and theories, although his theories were actually far more on trial than his methods.
After being denounced in Paris, Mesmer's popularity quickly faded, and he travelled to England, Italy and Germany, returning for a brief visit to Paris before the outbreak of the revolution. He then settled in Frauenfeld in Switzerland, until the summer of 1814 when he moved to Morsburg, where he died on 5 March 1815.
Mesmer and his son published works on animal magnetism, and even today copies of these completed works can be obtained.
The Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825)
The Marquis de Puysegur, a pupil of Mesmer's, used 'animal magnetism' on a young peasant who entered into a state of sleep while still being able to communicate with Puysegur and respond to his suggestions. When the peasant 'awoke' he could remember nothing of what had occurred. Puysegur thought that the will of the person and the operators' actions were important factors in the success or failure of the 'magnetism', in other words psychological influences were extremely important in the whole process. It was the Marquis de Puysegur who coined the term ‘somnambulism’.
John Elliotson (1791 - 1868)
John Elliotson was born in 1791 and died on 29 July 1868 after a long illness, at the house of his friend, Dr. Symes, a formal pupil. Elliotson he received his M.D. from Edinburgh, but went on to study on the continent as well as in Cambridge and at Sir Guy's Hospital.
Elliotson was a brilliant physician, lecturer, and Professor of Medicine. His fame, however, even exceeded that of his predecessor, Dr. Braid, for Elliotson ascended to the academic heights of a full Professorship of Medicine at the London University. He was also named President of the Royal Medical and Surgical Society and was one of the founders of the University College Hospital in London.
Elliotson introduced the stethoscope into England together with the methods of examining the heart and lungs which are still used to this day. A complete history of his life also appears in Bramwell's book.
Elliotson is best known for the fact that in 1846, he established the first journal dealing with hypnotism. It was called Zoist, and complete copies of the journal are still obtainable from some sources. He was discharged from the University College Hospital for choosing hypnosis as the subject for the Harveian Oration of 1846. In this Harveian Oration, Elliotson quoted this memorable passage from Harvey's works, ‘True Philosophers, compelled by the love of truth and wisdom, never fancy themselves so wise and full of sense as not to yield to truth from any source and at all times; nor are they so narrow minded as to believe any art or science has been handed down in such a state of perfection to us by our predecessors that nothing remains for future industry’.
Elliotson then applied Harvey's words to the science of Hypnotism and stated in no uncertain terms that it was the duty of the physicians of that age to carefully and dispassionately review his research on the subject. Many interesting articles appeared in his journal, Zoist that was published quarterly from April 1843 until 31 December 1855. For thirteen years, article after article, was published by Elliotson, Esdalie, and many other brilliant physicians of that time, testifying to the excellent results of hypnotic treatment in insanity, epilepsy, hysteria, stammering, neuralgia, asthma, torticollis, headaches, functional difficulties of the heart, rheumatism, tic-douloureux, spasmodic colic, sciatica, lumbago, palsy, convulsions, acute inflammations of the eyes and testicles, and reports of hundreds of painless operations, everything from removal of a cataract to the amputation of the penis of which James Esdalie reported two cases. Parker (from whom the expression ‘Painless Parker’ originated) reported over 200 painless operations in Exeter, an institution Elliotson helped him to form. Elliotson was excellent in the field of child hypnosis, and worked with many children and childhood diseases, such as St. Vitus Dance, Chorea, tics, and other maladies. Unlike Braid, however, Elliotson continued to believe in clairvoyance and other mystical phenomena until his death.
James Braid (1795 - 1860)
James Braid was born at Rylaw House in Fifeshire in 1795, studied at Edinburgh and qualified there as a surgeon. After practising in Scotland for a short time he moved to Manchester, where he lived until he died suddenly of a heart attack on 25 March 1860.
On 13 November 1841 a French magnetiser named La Fontaine first introduced James Braid to Mesmerism and Mesmeric experiments. A complete description of this seance is found along with a detailed history of Braid's activity in writing in Bramwell's book, Hypnotism, Its History, Practice and Theory.
The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid to coin the term and develop the procedure known as hypnosis, which is derived from the Greek hypnosis (sleep), in 1842. Popularly titled the ‘Father of Modern Hypnotism’, Braid rejected Mesmer's idea of magnetism causing hypnosis, and attributed the ‘mesmeric trance’ to a physiological process - the prolonged attention on a bright moving object or similar object of fixation. He postulated that ‘protracted ocular fixation’ fatigued certain parts of the brain and caused the trance, ‘nervous sleep’.
At first he called the procedure neuro-hypnosis and then, believing sleep was involved, to hypnosis. Realising that hypnosis was not sleep, he later tried to change the name to ‘monoideaism’, but the term hypnosis had stuck. Consequently, the name remains today, giving the general public the false impression that the subject is in a deep sleep.
Braid noted that during one phase of hypnotism, known as catalepsy, the arms, limbs, etc., might be placed in any position and would remain there. He also noted that a puff of breath would usually awaken a subject, and that by talking to a subject and telling him to do this or do that, even after he awakes from the sleep, he can be made to do those things. Braid thought he might affect a certain part of the brain during hypnotic sleep, and if he could find the seat of the thieving disposition, or the like, he could cure his patient.
Braid concluded there was no fluid, or other exterior agent, but that hypnotism was due to a physiological condition of the nerves. It was his belief that hypnotic sleep was brought about by fatigue of the eyelids, or by other influences wholly within the subject. In this he was supported by Carpenter, the great physiologist; but neither Braid nor Carpenter could get the medical organisations to give the matter any attention, even to investigate it.
James Esdalie (1808 - 1859)
Dr. James Esdaile probably performed more surgical operations under hypnoanesthesia than any physician up until the present time. He was a man of extreme ingenuity and intelligence who practised most of his life in India, and is probably better known for his work in hypnosis than anyone with the possible exception of Mesmer himself.
Esdaile was born on 6 February 1808, the son a minister, and like Elliotson and Braid studied at Edinburgh where he graduated in 1830, obtaining a position with the East India Company.
Esdaile did his first operation under hypnosis on 4 April 1845, on a Hindu convict with double hydrocele, at the native hospital at Hooghly. After accomplishing 75 operations under hypnoanesthesia he wrote to the medical board; but his letter was not even acknowledged. Later, at the end of the year, having over a hundred operations to his credit, he contacted Sir Herbert Maddock, then the deputy governor of Bengal, who appointed a committee of investigation composed primarily of physicians.
On receiving their favourable report, the Governor then placed Esdaile in charge of a small experimental hospital near Calcutta, in order that he might continue his research into hypnosis for whatever values it might have. Esdaile began his research in November of 1846, with the following physicians appointed to help him: R. Thompson, M.D., D. Stuart, M.D., J. Jackson, F.R.C.S., F Mouatt, M.D., R. O'Shaughnessy, F.R.C.S. At the end of the trial year of Esdaile's experimental works, he had 133 more operations to his credit, and a large number of medical cases as well. The reports by visitors to the institution continued to be favourable, and with the deputy governor's continued support, Esdaile was then appointed to Sarkea's Lane Hospital and Dispensary to continue his work and expand it to other fields of medicine.
Esdaile's fame spread far and wide, and he once stated truthfully that he did more operations on scrotal tumours in one month than took place in all the hospitals in Calcutta in a year. Some local physicians who felt that his patients were hysterical criticised him in the medical journals. Esdaile's comment on this was that his own report of the cases was still worthy of mention if only as an example of an epidemic of insanity. His sense of humour stayed with him until he left India in 1851. When he left, he had thousands of painless operations to his credit, and over 300 major operations all done under Mesmerism.
While Esdaile was in India, chloroform was first introduced as an anaesthesia and later after he left India, a prize of $10,000 was offered in 1853 to the discoverer of the anaesthetic properties of ether, which was described as the earliest anaesthetic. Esdaile sent an indignant letter of protest about this, drawing attention to the fact that he had performed painless surgery under Mesmerism for years before anyone had ever heard of ether. (For that matter, chloroform preceded ether in any case).
Disgusted with India and ‘caring not a straw’ about a big practice in Calcutta, Esdaile returned to Perth, the home of his father, where he settled and remained until he developed an illness of the lungs (tuberculosis?), and moved from Scotland to Sydenham, where he died at the age of 50 on 10 January 1859.
Esdaile wrote many works, but perhaps his most famous work was a book originally titled, ‘Mesmerism in India’, and later released under the title of ‘Hypnosis in Medicine and Surgery’. In this particular book, he not only reported 73 painless operations, but also 18 medical cases of palsy, lumbago, sciatica, convulsions, and tic-douloureux, in addition to informing the public on hypnosis. He lashed out at the stupidity of some medical men who were blind to any new ideas; quoting in Latin, ‘Stare super vias Antiquas’ to describe such medical men. He went on to say that as a lover of truth for its own sake, he was very little gratified by being told by his friends, ‘I believe because you say so’. He felt this was a barren belief, and constantly searched out physicians to prove his new found medical tool to them. Jacob Conn, M.D. of the John Hopkins Medical School faculty stated that no one has worked more diligently to bring the value of hypnotic analgesia and anaesthesia to the attention of the medical profession than James Esdaile. Esdaile's work evidently paid off, as the British Medical Association reported favourably in 1891 that ‘As a therapeutic agent, hypnotism is frequently effective in relieving pain, procuring sleep and alleviating many functional ailments’.
Dr. Eugene Azam (1822 - 1899)
Dr. Eugene Azam was on the faculty of medicine at Bordeaux as a correspondent for the Academy of Medicine in Paris. Dr. Azam's contribution to the advancement of hypnosis was in his discovery of the splitting of the conscious. It was he who made medical practitioners aware of two levels of awareness. These two levels of awareness are now referred to as the ‘conscious’ and ‘subconscious’.
Azam wrote a book on a case of splitting consciousness in 1887. He described in detail the case of a young girl, named Felita X, who first came to him during the month of June 1858. He observed many hypnotic phenomena in this patient, and made some psychological deductions that bore out a good deal of Braid's conclusions. Professor Jean Martin Charcot wrote the preface of the book, (supra) who highly praised Dr. Azam's work. Translated from the French it said in effect:
Today, now that Hypnotism has arrived and is now the regular application of this method of describing illness, which has finally taken place among the facts of positive science, it would be unjust to forget the names of those who had the courage to study this question a moment when it was under universal disapproval. Dr. Azam has been one of the initiators; the first in France, he has searched to control by his personal experience the results announced by Braid. The good fortune of an unforeseen discovery, it is true, was favourable to him by placing in his hand the subject's experience, which had spontaneously presented several phenomena which were described by Braid. But, how many physicians who were placed in Dr. Azam's position would have passed by these interesting facts without stopping either by fear to be mistaken by a jugular hysteria, or by fear that they would compromise their reputations by undertaking studies which have been discredited, or simply by following the scientific laziness which deprives us of the benefit of new things in modern development. The results of Dr. Azam are not solely of historical interest; this analysis rediscovered the most important part of somatic phenomena and psychiatric anaesthesia, hyper-anaesthesia and contracture and catalepsy which we have learned since this year has produced a great deal according to the rigorous determination by drawing our attention to a special category of subjects. It is of interest to remark as a matter of fact, that by the choice of subjects and by the nature of the phenomena produced, the case histories of Dr. Azam belong to hysterical hypnosis. It is said that this form of hypnosis first took place in science and only today has arrived. It manifests symptoms so characteristic that the most sceptical person cannot now doubt its existence. Therefore, we must invite our eminent colleagues to take part in the success of the work to which he has contributed after we have listed the research of Dr. Azam with those of the school of Salpetriere.
Azam went to great difficulty to remove the aura of mystery from hypnosis, and was praised by Charcot because of this. Dr. Heinz Hammerschlag states in his book, Hypnose und Verbrechen that the Azam studies in Bordeaux, while important, were important primarily because these studies attracted the attention of Liebeault who first succeeded in giving these researchers a new slant. He endeavoured to attribute the phenomena of hypnosis to the psychiatric influence of suggestion rather than to the influence of magnetism, which had previously been so popular in the days of Mesmer. How Charcot could continue to maintain the ridiculous assertion that all hypnotic subjects were ‘hysterical’ straight to the face of Braid's research and then through the opposite side of his mouth praise Dr. Azam for clarifying and reiterating Braid's conclusions is completely incomprehensible.
Dr. Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault (1823-1904) and Hippolyte Bernheim (1837 - 1919)
Liebeault is widely known as ‘The Father of Modern Hypnotism’. The reason for this is primarily because he was the one who concluded and published the observation that all the phenomena of hypnotism are subjective in origin.
Liebeault was a humble French physician, who though generally speaking was uninterested in research, nevertheless was a genius at therapeutics. He maintained an overflowing country practice that kept him busy night and day since the time he received his M.D. in 1850. His practice in hypnotism was almost entirely gratuitous, and because of this, it gained him the quiet respect of all that knew him.
Liebeault was born in 1823, began his study of medicine in 1844, and started his experiments in hypnotism in 1848, even before he left medical school. After having completed a number of therapeutic sessions of hypnosis, he authored a book, which was two years in the writing. Scepticism, however, was so great that he only sold one copy, which went to Hippolyte Bernheim. In 1882 Liebeault cured an obstinate case of sciatica, which Bernheim had treated without results for over six months. Partly because of his curiosity, and partly because he wished to expose Liebeault as a quack, Bernheim bought the book and then journeyed to see Liebeault convinced that he was in fact a charlatan. Bernheim was, however, so impressed by Liebeault's work that he decided to remain with him and became a devoted pupil and lifelong friend.
Bernheim and Liebeault then published another book together, which was widely acclaimed. This was especially true because of Liebeault's vast number of fascinating case histories.
Whereas Parker and his contemporaries were interested primarily in painless surgery, Liebeault invaded all fields of medicine and was the most important single physician in broadening the scope of therapeutics through the use of hypnosis. An excellent description of Liebeault's clinic appears in Bramwell's book.
Liebeault became quite adept at rapid hypnosis was one of the first doctors who realised that for most hypnotherapy, a deep trance was unnecessary. Quite the contrary, Liebeault would induce his patients with no more than a wave of the hand, and a quick phrase, such as ‘Sleep, my little kitten’; suggest away the morbid symptoms and allow the patients to wake up when they desired. He saw hundreds of patients rarely spending more than a quarter of an hour with any of them. Bramwell states that all of Liebeault's patients were either improved or cured following his rapid suggestive treatments.
Liebeault assisted by Bernheim established what has been known as the ‘School of Nancy’. This was a period of development in hypnosis during which a great deal of experimental work was done with many types of induction.
At the same time that Liebeault was merely using the word ‘sleep’ with a hand pass, Charcot on the other hand was violently ringing gongs and flashing drummond lights. The Germans, Weinhold and Heidenhain, preferred the ticking of a watch, and Berger was using warm plates of metal. The idea of magnetism and magnetic processes had not yet completely worn off yet. Despite Liebeault's explanation of the phenomena as subjective, Piteres maintained that certain portions of the body were particularly sensitive to stimulation of the skin, and these so- called hypnotic zones which were described by him existed sometimes on one side of the body and other times on both.
It was only after Liebeault achieved a ripe old age and retired from medical practice that he reaped a measure of the acclaim which was certainly due to him. He neither sought nor made a fortune. He remained to his death, happy and secure in the knowledge of a life well spent in treating the poor.
Dr. Bernheim of the Nancy School is perhaps the best known for publicising the use of hypnosis. Although Liebeault was responsible for broadening therapeutics, his book was never widely read. However, when Bernheim published his book on hypnosis (with Liebeault's case histories), it was immediately accepted everywhere. In spite of Charcot's tremendous reputation and early start with the Salpetriere School, more and more people swung to the Nancy way of thinking. Medical dispute continued throughout the entire 19th century and into the early 20th century, each side claiming victories in the explanation of hypnosis. Bernheim would merely ask the patient to look at him, think of nothing but sleep, and then would tell the patient, ‘Your eyelids begin to feel heavy, your eyes are tired and they begin to blink, they are getting moist, your eyes cannot see distinctly, and they are closed’. If the patient did not close his eyes and fall asleep almost immediately as many did, then he would repeat the process until success was assured. If the patients never showed any signs of sleep or drowsiness, he would then assure them that sleep was not essential and that hypnotic influence could be exerted without it. Bernheim inspired hundreds of famous physician hypnotists such as Von Schrenk, Noltzing, Babinski, and a great many others. Charles Richet was credited with introducing the induction method of squeezing of the thumbs and the hands together.
Jean Martin Charcot (1825 - 1893)
Jean Martin Charcot was a French neurologist who performed landmark experiments in the late 1800s and found that hypnosis relieved many nervous conditions.
His clinic for nervous disorders achieved a widespread reputation among scientists of the time, including the French psychologist Alfred Binet and the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud.
Charcot was well known in the Medical profession for many varied accomplishments, and his biography is still easily obtainable. He is probably the most famous physician to embrace hypnotism at that time and, in addition to his work with Hypnotism was known for Charcot's bath, disease, joint, syndrome, etc, as well as the Charcot-Marie-Tooth type, and his work with progressive neuropathic muscular atrophy is well known to all medical students.
The Charcot-Weiss-Barber Syndrome (syndrome of the carotid sinus) and the Charcot-Vigouroux sign are also both well known.
Charcot had a number of crystals named for him including the Charcot-Leyden crystals, the Charcot-Neuman crystals and the Charcot-Robin crystals.
Despite his great fame in the medical field, Charcot plunged into hypnotism without the usual careful research that he had given his other works. Consequently, his reputation weakened when his theories that hypnosis was a pathological state that weakened the mind were later disapproved by the Nancy School of Medicine. As a matter of fact, when Charcot died, Babinski denounced many of Charcot's cures, stating that some were actually faked and some were figments of Charcot's imagination. This bitter attack on Charcot from Babinski, more than any other thing, was responsible for the decline of the use of hypnosis in France. This decline continued until modern times with only a few experts such as Pierre Janet and Dr. Joseph Morlas using hypnosis until it was officially introduced to the French medical schools in the autumn of 1958.
Josef Breuer (1842 - 1925)
Until Breuer's time, hypnosis had primarily been used for the alleviation of pain in surgery, and according to Liebeault's method, the simple suggesting away of symptoms. However, around 1880, Breuer made an accidental discovery that not only changed the methods of hypnotherapy, it actually introduced an entirely new art in itself. It was Breuer's work which attracted Freud and led him into methods of psychoanalysis which are so common to psychiatrists today.
Josef Breuer was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1842. His father, Leopold Breuer, taught religion in Vienna's Jewish community. Breuer's mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother and educated by his father until the age of eight. He graduated from the Akademisches Gymnasium of Vienna in 1858 and then studied at the university for one year, before enrolling in the medical school of the University of Vienna. He passed his medical exams in 1867 and went to work as assistant to the internist Johann Oppolzer at the university.
Breuer was among the most important physiologists of the nineteenth century. He made the crucial observations upon which early psychoanalytic theory was based. He discovered that neuroses could be caused by unconscious processes and, furthermore, that the neurotic symptoms could disappear when these underlying causes became part of the conscious mind. He communicated these findings to Sigmund Freud and the two men collaborated. Breuer emphasised hypnosis. He also believed that differing levels of consciousness are very important in both normal and abnormal mental processes. Although Freud eventually rejected this concept, it is now believed to be of great significance.
Breuer's first important scientific work was published in 1868. With Ewald Hering, a physiology professor at the military medical school in Vienna, he demonstrated the reflex nature of respiration. It was one of the first examples of a feedback mechanism in the autonomic nervous system of a mammal. Their experiments changed the way scientists viewed the relationship between the lungs and the nervous system, and the mechanism is still known as the Hering-Breuer reflex.
In 1868, Breuer married Matilda Altmann, and they eventually had five children. Following Oppolzer's death in 1871, Breuer entered private practice. He still found time for scientific study. He worked in his home, with funds derived from his medical practice. Turning his attention to the physiology of the ear, he discovered the function of the semicircular canals. His work provided the foundation for our modern understanding of how sensory receptors detect position and movement. In all, Breuer published approximately 20 papers on physiology over a period of 40 years. Although he joined the faculty of internal medicine at the University of Vienna in 1875, his relationships there were strained and he eventually resigned his position in 1885.
It was in 1880 that Breuer first observed the development of a severe mental illness in one of his patients, ‘Anna O’. Breuer found that he could reduce the severity of Anna's symptoms by encouraging her to describe her fantasies and hallucinations. He began using hypnosis to facilitate these sessions and found that when she recalled a series of memories back to a traumatic memory, one of her many symptoms would disappear, a process that Breuer called cathartic. Soon, Breuer was treating Anna with hypnosis twice a day and eventually all of her symptoms were gone. Breuer drew two important conclusions from his work with Anna: (1) that her symptoms were the result of thoughts that were buried in her unconscious and (2) that when these thoughts were spoken and became conscious, the symptoms disappeared. Breuer's treatment of Anna O. is the first example of ‘deep psychotherapy’ carried out over an extended time period.
Breuer did not publish the results of Anna's treatment. He did, however, teach his methods to Sigmund Freud, and together they began to develop this new form of psychotherapy. Breuer did not continue to treat patients such as Anna. Although he claimed that the demands of his busy medical practice prevented him from pursuing psychotherapy, Freud believed that he was upset by the strong attachment that Anna developed for Breuer towards the end of her treatment, a phenomenon that became known as transference. When Freud began to use Breuer's methods of psychoanalysis, Breuer and Freud discussed Freud's patients and the techniques & results of their treatments. In 1893, they published an article on their work, and two years later, the book which marked the beginning of psychoanalytic theory, Studien über Hysterie. At about the same time, their collaboration - and their friendship - came to an end. Apparently Breuer's ambivalence concerning the value of their work fuelled their discord. Their final break came about over the question of childhood memories of seduction. At the time, Freud believed that most of his patients had actually been seduced as children. Only later did he realise that Breuer was correct in believing these to be memories of childhood fantasies.
Breuer dropped his study of psychoanalysis, whereas Freud continued to develop his theories independently. Among other concepts, Breuer usually is credited with having first suggested that perception and memory are different psychic processes and with having developed a theory of hallucinations. Breuer's background in physiology had a profound influence on the development of his theories and it is likely that his influence on the work of Sigmund Freud has been underestimated. Some physicians, the ‘Breuerians’, continued for a time to use Breuer's original cathartic techniques without adopting Freud's modifications and amplifications.
Breuer was regarded as one of the finest physicians and scientists in Vienna. In 1894, he was elected to the Viennese Academy of Science. Breuer died in Vienna in 1925. His daughter Dora later committed suicide rather than be deported by the Nazis. Likewise, one of his granddaughters died at the hands of the Nazis. Other members of his family emigrated.
As Wolberg states in his book, Medical Hypnosis, ‘The importance of Breuer's work lies in the change of emphasis in hypnotic therapy, from the direct removal of symptoms to the dealing with the apparent cause of these symptoms’. Although Janet simultaneously arrived at this conclusion, it was Breuer that received the credit for the discovery.
Milne Bramwell (1852 - 1925)
Bramwell was probably most famous for his work in clinical hypnosis in medicine and surgery. He also wrote on hypnotic theories, hypnosis in animals, the management of hypnotic experiments, experimental phenomena of hypnosis, and even on such occult subjects as spiritualism, clairvoyance, and telepathy.
Bramwell is best remembered for his classic text ‘Hypnotism, It's History, Practice and Theory’, which even today is considered to be one of the finest books ever written on hypnotism. In his book, he states that his own first introduction to the subject was indirectly due to Dr. James Esdaile, for Esdaile left India and lived for some time in Bramwell's native town of Perth. Many of Esdaile's experiments were seen afterwards reproduced by Bramwell's father who was also a physician. Bramwell witnessed many of these experiments as a boy, and they deeply impressed him. He was an avid reader and student at Edinburgh when Professor John Hughes Bennett again drew his attention to hypnotism.
After leaving Edinburgh, Bramwell became engaged in general practice, and hypnosis was almost forgotten until he learned that it had been revived in the wards of the Salpetriere. On 28 March 1890, he gave a demonstration of hypnotic anaesthesia to a larger gathering at Leeds. This was reported in the British Medical Journal and the Lancet, and referrals of patients became so great that he abandoned general practice and limited himself to the practice of hypnotism. Bramwell was somehow able to avoid most of the great opposition and misrepresentation that had been heaped on earlier physicians connected with the science.
Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)
It was Breuer's work that attracted Freud and caused him to publish his famous book co-authored with Breuer, Studien uber Hysterie, which was published in 1895. Breuer and Freud correctly concluded that hysterical symptoms developed as a result of repressing damaging experiences and that if these damaging experiences were once again released from the subconscious mind by a mental catharsis, the hysterical symptoms would be eliminated. Breuer accomplished this through the use of hypnosis, but Freud, a poor hypnotist, found that free association coupled with psychoanalysis were vehicles by which he could better accomplish his work. Parlour has pointed out that although Freud spurned formal ‘hypnosis’ he nevertheless used many hypnotic techniques constantly such as ‘touching the patient's forehead’, ‘the concentration of the patient's mind’, ‘the relaxation of the body on a couch’, and ‘the abundant use of the imagination’. This was largely overlooked during Freud's lifetime and attention was given to Freud's words that did not always explain Freud's actions.
It was during this period that the greatest misconception regarding hypnosis first gained a foothold, and which even now is still regretfully difficult to dislodge in the minds of a number of learned medical men and hundreds of lay people. Because of Freud's denunciation of hypnosis in favour of psychoanalysis, people began to associate hypnosis with ‘direct suggestions’ (only one aspect of hypnotism). Hence, the general public and lay people as well began to think in terms of psychoanalysis versus direct suggestion. What was not sufficiently explained was that the science and art of hypnotism contains both analysis and suggestion and when correctly applied not only breaks the problem into its constituent parts for analysis but puts the individual back together again with a Synthesis. Conventional psychoanalysis, however, with its lack of directive guidance, eliminates the latter entirely and renders the former slow, cumbersome and often times ineffective. Nevertheless, because of Freud's great brilliance and popularity, the words ‘free associations’ and ‘psychoanalysis’ became the buzzwords of the day, and hypnosis again descended into obscurity.
A few experts such as Pierre Janet of France, Bramwell and Moll of Great Britain, Morton Prince and McDougall of the United States, and Pavlov in Russia continued to use hypnotism. Most other neurologists (most mental disease was approached from the standpoint of ‘neurology’ in those days) immediately were influenced by Freudian theory and methods.
Freud was a fascinating man. He was born on the 6th of May in 1856, in the Moravian town of Freiberg, a tiny, ancient industrial town that then belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His mother, Amalia, to whom he had a strong oedipal attachment, was 20 years younger than his father, Jacob. The family moved to Vienna, where he spent his life. When Freud was four years old, his father died in October 1896, and it profoundly affected Freud, which he expressed in a letter to his close friend, Dr. Fliess.
The Freud family was Jewish, but Freud himself ignored Jewish feasts, and instead celebrated Christmas and New Year because ‘it was easier’. This would seem a highly unusual behaviour pattern from such a nonconformist, but as stated above, Freud was actually a paradox who said some things and practised others. For one thing, he constantly maintained that he was a scientist of the first quarter, seeking only truth first, last, and always. He continued to believe until his death, Lamarch's theory that acquired traits could be inherited, which no true scientist of that age believed any more than they still believed the world was flat. Freud also dabbled in occultism and telepathy, and openly stated his belief in it, although he never published such works. Freud was a great believer in the magic of numbers, and his close friend, William Fliess, has stated that Freud believed that important things happen to men in cycles of 23 to 28 days. He predicted his own death at age 61 or 62, and seemed quite dismayed after passing this age, and thereupon raised his prediction to 85½, the age at which his father and half-brother both died. Freud's eldest son, Jean Martin Freud, who was named after Charcot, whom Sigmund admired so much, published a relatively new book of Freud's home life as a father and a man. Freud first met his wife in April of 1882, and fell in love at first sight, although they were not married until after his one month of service on manoeuvres with the Austrian Army in 1886, when he was promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain.
Freud practised as a specialist in nervous diseases, and was a junior lecturer at the University of Vienna when Jean Martin was born. He lived at Suenhaus, facing Ringstrasze, but wrote many of his best books in naturalistic settings. Interpretation of Dreams, probably one of Freud's most famous books, was written at a Villa in Berchtesgaden, a beautiful resort high in the Bavarian mountains, later to become infamous as the well-guarded retreat of Adolph Hitler.
Freud was always immaculately and carefully dressed, even during the last 17 years of his life in which he painfully suffered one operation after another for the incurable cancers that beset him. Even after much of his mouth, palate and jaw structure had been dissected away, and he was forced to wear a monstrous prosthesis in order to close the opening between the nasal cavity and the throat so that he could talk, he maintained his sense of humour. Weak and unable to speak except in his native German (although previously he spoke both French and English well), he once said to French singer Yvette Guilbert, ‘Meine Prosthese Spricht Keine Franzosisch’ (my prosthesis does not speak French).
Freud had a total of 33 operations in all, including a sterilisation operation which he hoped would in some way change the hormonal set-up of his body and prevent the cancer from spreading. He flew to England to escape Hitler in 1938, and at 82 years old, while in London, he recovered sufficiently to do four analysis treatments daily. Freud hated drugs and only occasionally took aspirin.
In February of 1939 his cancer finally caught up with him, being determined inoperable and completely incurable at that time, and on 21 September of that year, he asked his personal physician, Max Schur, for a sedative. ‘It is only torture now, and it has no longer any sense’, Freud said, and days later, at the age of 83, he was dead. His daughter Anna, remained at his side during his long protracted illness, and kept him comfortable. ‘Most important’, says biographer Jones (who himself was perhaps the foremost English speaking psychoanalyst of his time), ‘is the increasing sense people have of being moved by obscure forces within themselves, which they are unable to define. Few thinking people nowadays would claim a complete knowledge of themselves or what they are consciously aware of comprises the whole of their mentality, and this recognition with all its formidable consequences for the future of social organisations we owe above all to Freud. Man's chief enemy and danger is his own unruly nature, and the dark forces pent up within him. If our race is lucky enough to survive for another thousand years, the name of Sigmund Freud will be remembered as that of the man who first ascertained the origin and nature of those forces and pointed the way to achieving some measure of control over them’.
Emile Coué (1857 - 1926)
Emile Coué, a French pharmacist, introduced a hypnotic-like method, the self-application of conscious autosuggestion. He claimed that one could condition the mind by consciously repeating words or images as self-suggestion to the subconscious mind, and that the conditioned mind would produce a self-generated command when required.
Coué popularised the following laws of suggestion:
When the will and the imagination come into conflict, the imagination always wins.
In essence the harder one tries to do something, the more difficult it is to accomplish. This is a sort of reverse psychology. By presenting the subject with a challenge such as ‘your eyes are stuck shut. You are not able to open them’. This causes a sort of block in the mental process simply by focusing all attention on the desire to achieve the goal of the challenge. This concept does not seem to make much sense but it’s functioning is observable. For example if a subject is told not to think of a blue monkey, it becomes very difficult for them not to.
Concentrated Attention or Repetition
‘Whenever attention is concentrated on an idea over and over again, it spontaneously tends to realise itself’.
By mentally visualising an activity one lays the neural groundwork to make it actually happen. For example repeatedly imagining being able to address a large group of people calmly and successfully, mentally prepares one for such an activity.
‘A stronger emotion tends to replace a weaker one’.
By attaching an emotion to a suggestion it is made more effective. Attaching an emotion that is stronger then the currently experienced emotion makes it much more effective. Some emotions function as survival tools. Fear and anxiety, for example, are critical emotions when it comes to the survival of the individual. If you are not anxious in a dangerous situation you are more likely to be injured or killed. These strong emotions can override the more critical, hypnotically resistant processes that normally dominate and control our behaviour.
Emile Coué published an influential handbook on what he called autosuggestion. Although dated this short book contains much of what was to become the foundation of modern hypnosis.
Pierre Janet (1859 - 1947)
In the 1880s, Janet identified the connection between academic psychology and the clinical treatment of mental illness. He stressed psychological factors in hypnosis and contributed to the modern concept of mental and emotional disorders involving anxiety, phobias and other abnormal behaviour.
Albert Moll (1862 - 1939)
Albert Moll, an English contemporary, is famous for his book on hypnosis. Moll's book, copyrighted a few years before Bramwell's, was arranged a bit differently and is noteworthy for its dissertation on the legal aspects of hypnosis which Bramwell did not cover. Moll demonstrated how everyday suggestions differ from hypnosis, and also gave the first reference to ‘waking hypnosis’. He anticipated Erickson's studies of the post-hypnotic state, and also investigated the relationship between the hypnotist and the subject. His book has long been considered one of the best introductions to the study of hypnosis and was one of the first pieces of literature to objectively separate hypnosis from the mystical elements that surround it.
Clark Leonard Hull (1884 - 1952)
The modern study of hypnosis is usually considered to have begun in the 1930’s with Clark Leonard Hull at Yale University in the United States. In 1933, Hull published ‘Hypnosis and Suggestibility’ which was a rigorous study of the phenomenon using statistical & experimental analysis and is arguably the most scientific treatment of hypnotism.
Hull’s studies demonstrated that hypnosis had no connection with sleep (‘hypnosis is not sleep, … it has no special relationship to sleep, and the whole concept of sleep when applied to hypnosis obscures the situation’). The important factor was the subject's imagination - some people were more responsive or ‘suggestible’ than others to hypnosis.
Dr. Sydney Van Pelt (Died 1976)
A history of hypnosis would not be complete without mentioning the foremost expert in the field of medical hypnosis of our time. Dr. S. J. Van Pelt, an Australian physician who established practice in London, England and was the world's first modern full-time medical hypnotist. Limiting his practice to the use of hypnosis in medicine, Dr. Van Pelt built up an enviable reputation at a time when the rest of the world was very suspicious of the new modality. He became the first and lifetime president of the British Society of Medical Hypnotism, and the Editor of the British Journal of Medical Hypnotism, the oldest and most respected journal in the field still in publication. The British Journal of Medical Hypnotism under his guidance from its inception has lived even longer that Elliotson's Zoist and is now the world's undisputed leader in its field. By means of the British Journal and the Journal of the American Institute of Hypnotherapy for which he has written a number of articles, the best of the scientific literature on the subject of hypnotism is disseminated throughout the English-speaking medical profession of the world. Dr. Van Pelt participated as lecturer in the first international course in medical hypnotism ever given in November 1959 aboard the M.S. Kungshohm on a Caribbean Cruise.
Dave Elman (1900 - 1967)
Dave Elman was born on 6 May 1900 in Park River, North Dakota USA and died on 5 December 1967. His interest in hypnosis was stimulated at an early age by his father who was an accomplished hypnotist. When Elman was 8 years old he began to realise the vast possibilities of hypnosis in the relief of pain. This occurred when his father was dying of cancer and a family friend relieved the intractable pain quite rapidly with hypnosis. This friend was a well-known hypnotist with an enviable fame for performing outstanding feats. The young Elman never forgot how his father was afforded relief not available from traditional medical procedures.
During the years 1923 - 1928, Elman worked for free on various radio networks in the evenings and on holidays and weekends. In 1928, he got his first paying job with the WHN radio station in New York. Soon after, he was hired by Columbia Broadcasting System and worked on every major radio station in the metropolitan New York area, where he became known as an ideas man. He wrote, produced, directed and performed in his own shows as well as others.
Many show people do charitable work and Elman was no exception. He would often get a group of his friends together to put on a show for a worthy cause. In 1948, he arranged such a benefit and a few days before the show date was informed that the group would not be back in town in time for the performance. Elman was on the spot; it would be impossible to get another group together on such short notice. What could he do? How could he entertain an audience for a couple of hours? He hit on the idea of a hypnosis show, something he hadn't done in years. The performance was a success and afterward he was approached by a group of doctors who asked him to teach them what he knew about hypnosis. Apparently, though they had taken courses, they had all tried it but failed. Elman agreed to teach them and gave a course to a group of twenty physicians. When that course was over, the doctors had another group of twenty waiting for another course, and so it grew.
Elman was then faced with a difficult decision. He loved his work in radio, but he wanted to teach hypnosis. It had to be one or the other. He eventually chose to give up radio for hypnosis and decided to teach only physicians and dentists in the New York - New Jersey area. Before long, however, he was getting calls from doctors all over the country asking him to come to their town and in many instances they agreed to get groups together. That opened the door to his career in teaching hypnosis all across the United States.
At the students' request, Elman put his course on tapes & records and followed this up with his now famous book ‘Findings in Hypnosis’. (Upon his death, his wife Pauline continued to handle the book for a while, then turned it over to Nash Publishers who changed the name to ‘Explorations in Hypnosis’. It is now titled ‘Hypnotherapy’ and is published by Westwood Publishers, Los Angeles.) The doctors continued to refer to this material long after finishing the course and they still do. Telephone calls from doctors everywhere seeking advice on hypnosis soon became an everyday occurrence. Many of his students had taken courses from their colleagues but they had not learned enough. As is the case today, there were doctors in those days who felt that hypnosis should be their own exclusive domain insisting that no ‘layman’ could, or should teach doctors anything. Whilst Elman felt the sting of this, he continued to teach and continued to gain respect and admiration.
Milton H. Erickson (1901 - 1980)
Milton Erickson is generally acknowledged to be the world's leading practitioner of medical hypnosis. His writings on hypnosis are the authoritative word on techniques of inducing trance, experimental work exploring the possibilities and limits of the hypnotic experience and investigations of the nature of the relationship between hypnotist and subject.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that Erickson had a unique approach to psychotherapy which represents a major innovation in therapeutic technique. For many years he developed effective and practical methods of treatment which may or may not involve the formal induction of trance. Those who think of him largely as a hypnotherapist might be surprised that he listed himself in the telephone directory as psychiatrist and family counsellor.
Within his own life, Erickson had many personal disabilities, which he often stressed helped him become proficient at practical problem solving for his clients.
Erickson’s 'problems' began early. Born into a poor farming community in Nevada, Erickson didn’t speak until he was four. Later, he was found to have severe dyslexia, to be profoundly tone deaf and colour blind. At the age of seventeen, he was paralysed for a year by a bout of polio which was so bad that his doctor was convinced he would die.
Despite his handicaps (or perhaps because of them), Erickson went on to qualify as a medical doctor and psychiatrist. In the following years he became the World’s greatest practitioner of therapeutic hypnosis and one of the most effective psychotherapists ever.
Erickson was a great researcher into the extent and limits of hypnosis as a tool for personal change. ‘Hypnotherapy - An Exploratory Casebook’ by Milton H Erickson and Ernest L. Rossi is a comprehensive and fascinating compendium of Erickson's cases, transcripts and ideas.
Erickson influenced major thinkers like Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, inspired the developers of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and laid the groundwork for innovators of brief therapy like Paul Watzlovitz, who wrote the influential book ‘Change’.
When Erickson was in his fifties he was struck by a second bout of polio that caused him a great deal of physical pain. He was even able to turn this into a learning opportunity as he became highly effective at treating other people’s pain with hypnosis. He details many of his approaches to sensory alteration and pain control in ‘Hypnotic alteration of sensory, perceptual and psychological processes' by Milton Erickson (The collected papers of Milton H Erickson Volume 2).
Despite severe illness in his old age, Erickson continued to teach, demonstrate and practice his remarkable skills as a therapist, even when eventually confined to a wheelchair. He died at the age of seventy-nine.
Milton Erickson’s case studies are legendary. As with many legends, cults have grown up around the man and his life. He developed many ideas and techniques in hypnosis that were very different from what was practised at the time. His style is now commonly referred to as ‘Ericksonian Hypnosis’ and has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.
Erickson believed that the unconscious mind was always listening, and that, whether or not the patient was in trance, suggestions could be made which would have a hypnotic influence, as long as those suggestions found some resonance at the unconscious level. You can be aware of this, or you can be completely oblivious that something is happening. Erickson would see if the patient would respond to one or another kind of indirect suggestion, and allow the unconscious mind to actively participate in the therapeutic process. In this way, what seemed like a normal conversation might induce a hypnotic trance, or a therapeutic change in the subject. It should be noted that Erickson's conception of the unconscious is definitely not the one held by Freud.
Erickson was an irrepressible practical joker, and it was not uncommon for him to slip indirect suggestions into all kinds of situations, including in his own books, papers, lectures and seminars.
Erickson also believed that it was even appropriate for the therapist to go into trance. ‘I go into trances so that I will be more sensitive to the intonations and inflections of my patients' speech and to enable me to hear better, see better’.
Erickson maintained that trance is a common, everyday occurrence. For example, when waiting for buses & trains, reading or listening, or even being involved in strenuous physical exercise, it's quite normal to become immersed in the activity and go into a trance state, removed from any other irrelevant stimuli. These states are so common and familiar that most people do not consciously recognise them as hypnotic phenomena.
Because Erickson expected trance states to occur naturally and frequently, he was prepared to exploit them therapeutically, even when the patient was not present with him in the consulting room. He also discovered many techniques to increase the likelihood that a trance state would occur. He developed both verbal and non-verbal techniques, and pioneered the idea that the common experiences of wonderment, engrossment and confusion are, in reality, just kinds of trance. These phenomena are of course central to many spiritual and religious disciplines, and are regularly employed by evangelists, cult leaders and holy men of all kinds.
Ernest Hilgard (1904 - 2001)
Ernest Ropiequet ‘Jack’ Hilgard was an American psychologist, professor at Stanford university, who became famous in the 1950s for his research on hypnosis, especially with regard to pain control. Along with André Muller Weitzenhoffer, Hilgard developed the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales from the 1950s onwards.
Hilgard is specifically known for his theory that a so-called ‘hidden observer’ is created in the mind while hypnosis is taking place. This phenomenon was controversial and critics claimed it could be manufactured by suggestions, indicating that it was possibly no more than an artefact of the instructions given to the research participants.
The studies of Ernest and Josephine Hilgard, helped increase understanding of pain mechanisms in the body.
Ernest Rossi (Born 1933),
Ernest Rossi documented Erickson's life work. He has since provided unique insights into the mind - body connection. His seminal work has scientifically outlined how we can influence healing at a sub-cellular level using suggestion. To many, that could sound a little far fetched, however like Erickson, Rossi was simply working from the assumption that the body has the ability to heal, and that sub-cellular communication is happening all of the time. Rossi's psycho-biological model of hypnosis proposes that what seems to be an extension of the normal parameters of mind-body performance skills via hypnosis is actually the optimisation of the individual's normal range of abilities in response to the general process of adaptation to challenge and stress by the nervous and other related systems.
Nicholas P. Spanos (1942 - 1994)
Nicholas P. Spanos, was Professor of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Experimental Hypnosis at Carleton University in the US from 1975 to his death in a single engine plane crash in 1994.
Spanos hypothesised that the behaviours and experiences associated with hypnosis are acted out in accordance with the social context & expectations of the hypnotist and the setting by the person undergoing hypnosis, even though they may be sometimes experienced as involuntary. Spanos also contributed to the view that the hypnotic state did not exist at all, and that the behaviours exhibited by those individuals are in fact due to their being ‘highly motivated’.
Irving Kirsch (Born 1943)
Irving Kirsch was until recently the Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies and a lecturer in medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He was also a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Hull, United Kingdom and the University of Connecticut in the United States.
Kirsch is noted for his research on placebo effects, antidepressants, expectancy, and hypnosis. He is the originator of response expectancy theory, and his analyses of clinical trials of antidepressants have influenced official treatment guidelines in the United Kingdom.
Kirsch’s response expectancy theory is based on the idea that what people experience depends partly on what they expect to experience. According to Kirsch, this is the process that lies behind the placebo effect and hypnosis. The theory is supported by research showing that both subjective and physiological responses can be altered by changing people’s expectancies. The theory has been applied to understanding pain, depression, anxiety disorders, asthma, addictions, and psychogenic illnesses.
Kirsch’s analysis of the effectiveness of antidepressants was an outgrowth of his interest in the placebo effect. His studies in this area were primarily meta-analyses, in which the results of previously conducted clinical trials are aggregated and analysed statistically. His first meta-analysis was aimed at assessing the size of the placebo effect in the treatment of depression. The results not only showed a sizeable placebo effect, but also indicated that the drug effect was surprisingly small. This led Kirsch to shift his interest to evaluating the antidepressant drug effect. Kirsch’s first meta-analysis was limited to published clinical trials. The controversy surrounding this analysis led him to obtain files from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) containing data from trials that had not been published, as well as those from published trials. Kirsch’s analyses of the FDA data showed that the difference between antidepressant drugs and placebos is not clinically significant, according to the criteria used by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which establishes treatment guidelines for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.
It is also worth mentioning the achievement of A.A. Mason who, in the early fifties, used hypnotic suggestion to cure a fifteen year old boy of his ichthyosiform erythrodermia of Brocq, a congenital skin disease in which the skin is covered with fishlike scales, and which was thought previously to be incurable.
Andrew Salter's theory of the conditional reflex to explain hypnotic effects has been followed, more recently, by the writings of Barber, Sarbin and Orne, whose position generally is that there no 'special state' in hypnosis. What has become known as the 'special state no special state controversy' is not likely to be resolved until there are major advances in the biological sciences, and perhaps not even then.
Harold Crasilneck showed that hypnotic strategies could be effective with stroke patients.
Herbert Spiegel described the natural hypnotic talents of patients.
John Cerbone is best known for his work in the area of instant inductions (speed trance induction). His work draws on the six methods of inducing trance (boredom, confusion, loss of equilibrium, eye fixation, misdirection, shock and overload) in a unique technique that produces instant induction in 3 to 7 seconds.
Richard Nongard has been a collaborator in developing these methods with Cerbone.
Hypnotism in medicine
Hypnotism became widely used by physicians & psychologists during World War I, World War II and the Korean War where it was merged with psychiatry and used to treat battle fatigue and mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from war. After the wars, scientists found additional uses of hypnotism in clinical treatment.
In 1955, the British Medical Association (BMA) approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesia in pain management, childbirth and surgery. At this time, the BMA also advised that all physicians and medical students should receive fundamental training in hypnosis.
In 1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis. It encouraged research on hypnosis as it recognised that some aspects of hypnosis were still unknown and controversial.
In 1993, New Scientist published results of largest survey ever recorded on stopping smoking methods. Hypnosis was streets ahead of anything else.
During the past thirty years or more, many physicians, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other practitioners have taken up the cause of hypnosis, thereby educating the general public as to its therapeutic values and benefits.
Presently, various researchers have postulated differing theories of what hypnosis is and how it could be understood, but there is currently no generally accepted explanatory theory for the phenomenon.