The Rise of Neuro-Hypnotism - Trance and Suggestion - History of Hypnosis Part 2

Welcome to our History of Hypnosis 4 part series. You are currently reading part 2 of the series. You can find parts 1, 3 and 4 here:

Part 1: Exorcists and Magnetizers takes us back to the very beginning and first practices of hypnosis that we know of.

Part 3: Is Hypnosis Art or Science? is an interesting read that looks into some of the most heated times in the history of hypnosis.

Our Part 4: Hypnosis in Modern Times Debated will discuss modern hypnosis, how it is seen by mainstreem media and what are it's challenges.

Please enjoy reading part 2 of our History of Hypnosis series.

Manchester, England, November 13, 1841 - La Fontaine and Braid

An audience has gathered for a conversazioni -- that is, a mesmeric performance and demonstration -- by Charles La Fontaine, a famous Swiss mesmerist. Among the audience members is a local physician named James Braid, and he is attending out of skeptical curiosity.

Even though he would later write that nothing convincing occurred that first evening, Dr. Braid returns six nights later, again looking to debunk the charlatan. This time, however, the physician observes one phenomenon that seems quite real to him: eye catalepsy. One of the volunteers appears to be genuinely incapable of opening his eyes.

This fact intrigues the doctor, and he formulates a theory that he immediately puts to the test: According to Braid, eye catalepsy occurs, not because of some preposterous notion of magnetic fluid and not because of imagination as the Bailly Commission had claimed, but rather due to eye paralysis brought on by prolonged staring at one spot.

Initial experiments prove positive, and the doctor sets about to tell the world that he has solved the question of mesmerism once and for all. In fact, he starts lecturing on the topic within a few months, and he publishes a book within a year.

In that book, Neurypnology, Braid introduces the term "hypnotism" to differentiate his physiological explanation from a magnetic explanation. Now, he is not the first to use that term: In 1820, Etienne de Cuvilliers had proposed the terms hypnotic, hypnotist, and hypnotism -- but none of these terms took off until Braid adopted them.

Manchester, England, March 22, 1860 - Braid's Changing Views on Hypnosis and Abbe Faria

Nearly two decades after he first de-constructed mesmerism, Braid is on his deathbed with only a few days left to live, and he is packaging his final manuscript -- now called On Hypnotism -- to send to his French colleague Eugene Azam.

Braid's notion of hypnotism has changed with continued research. He has come to realize that that physical fixation on a single object is not as important as psychological fixation on a single idea; he has also realized that what he's doing has nothing to do with sleep. For those reasons, he has tried to withdraw the physical term hypnotism in favor of the more accurate psychological term monoideism, which means "fixation on a single idea."

A prolific writer, many of his published works have centered on explaining apparently supernatural phenomena with unconscious action: He has argued that hypnosis is natural, not only with magnetizers like Elliotson and John Colquhoun, but also with clergyman Hugh M'Neile, who preached that hypnotism was the work of Satan.

Likewise, he has drawn on the research of Michel Chevreul and William Benjamin Carpenter into ideomotor action to debunk pendulum dowsing, table-tapping, and Spiritualism.

In this very last work that Braid is preparing to send to Azam, the doctor again shifts his emphasis, this time from trance to suggestion, essentially coming to agree with the Bailly commissioners that imagination is the central factor of hypnosis.

In many ways, Braid's final views also echo those of Abbe Faria, an earlier practitioner sometimes considered the first stage hypnotist, who wrote in 1819 that "lucid sleep" has nothing to do with magnetic energy and everything to do with psychology, suggestion, and imagination.

Sadly, Braid's final words on hypnotism would be lost for the better part of a century.

The success of his first book and relative obscurity of his later writings would serve to perpetuate his early flawed terminology and limited understanding to the next generation of hypnotists.

Near Paris, France, 1878 - Salpetriere and the Hysteria School

Eighteen years after Braid's demise, Jean-Martin Charcot, the director of the Salpetriere sanitarium and France's leading expert on neurological disorders, is observing the behavior of a patient having a hysterical fit. (Hysteria is an actual diagnosis at the time; the patient is not merely emotional and dramatic.) The woman seems unaware of her surroundings, and Doctor Charcot is struck by the similarity between her symptoms and the actions of a hypnotic subject.

This similarity inspires Charcot to use hypnosis to make a hysteric patient manifest her symptoms on command. In fact, he finds it easy to induce and direct a hysteric fit with hypnosis.

Over time, this leads him to view hypnosis itself as a form of illness to which only hysterical people are susceptible -- not the best publicity for the hypnosis profession.

(Those who have read Part I of this series will recall that Gassner and Mesmer both performed similar acts "symptom prescription" though each reached his own explanation as to why.)

With repeated experiments, Charcot would find that his hysterical patients respond to his hypnotic suggestions in exactly the same way over and over again.

In fact, his patients prove so consistent that he often puts on very showy demonstrations at the Salpetriere. What he does not seem to be aware of is that his students may have coached his patients on how to respond, thus producing consistent, predictable, and ultimately flawed results.

Nancy, France, 1882 - Nancy and the Suggestion School:

When Charcot is only a few years into his experiments with "Grande Hypnotisme", it happens that Doctor Hippolyte Bernheim, a professor of medicine in Nancy, has traveled to a tiny village to meet a country doctor, Ambroise-August Liebeault, who has a curious method of healing his patients. He calls it hypnotism, and he has learned it from a translation of Braid's earlier works.

Bernheim is not initially impressed with Liebeault, and the professor intends to debunk hypnosis. Liebeault's ragged appearance does nothing to reassure Bernheim: In worn-out slippers, a threadbare robe, an unkempt tie, and tousled hair, he looks more like a cobbler than a physician.

Nonetheless, Liebeault's brilliance and passion win over Bernheim and his professorial colleagues, who decide not only to practice hypnosis but to explore its limits in every way that they can. It has been said, with only slight hyperbole, that everything a modern hypnotist does can be traced back to the Nancy school of thought.

Before long a pamphlet war erupts between the neurologists of Paris and the scholars of Nancy. The former cling to Charcot's disease model while the latter become more and more convinced that hypnosis is a natural result of suggestion that anyone can enjoy.

The Significance of the Rivalry of Salpetriere and Nancy Schools of Hypnotic Thought

Members of both schools made some interesting discoveries that are still relevant in modern hypnosis:

  • False Memory Syndrome: The 1990s were rocked by experiments that proved how easy it is to create false memories, but the fact is that both the schools in nineteenth-century France conducted research into this question. It was found that hypnotic suggestion could create "retroactive hallucinations" -- memories of events that never happened. Even extreme memories, such as witnessing or committing a crime, could be generated with hypnosis.
  • Inducing Anti-Social Behavior: Both schools also experimented with suggesting that hypnotic subjects commit various crimes, including violent crimes, while hypnotized. (The "violence" was performed with paper "weapons," inert "poisons," and other safeguards.) Jules Liegois, of the Nancy School, testified in an 1891 court case that a hypnotized person is an automaton, capable of committing crimes if commanded to do so. However, in contrast, Gilles de la Tourette, one of the Salpetriere doctors, performed an experiment which gave reason for caution in concluding that fake crimes committed with fake weapons were indistinguishable from the real thing. In a famous exercise, Tourette had a star somnambulist commit multiple "murders" with no resistance; when he suggested to the young woman that she was alone and could disrobe for her bath, she steadfastly refused.
  • A number of modern techniques, including post-hypnotic suggestions, matching-and-mirroring, change personal history, and waking suggestions, were pioneered or advanced by the two rival schools.

Paris, 1889 - Meeting Between the Salpetriere and Nancy representhatives

Eleven years after Charcot's first experiments with hypnotism, and only seven years after the fateful meeting of Liebeault and Bernheim, the foremost luminaries of the hypnosis world are gathered in one room at the same time.

The Salpetriere is represented by Babinski, Binet, Janet, and Tourette. Charcot, though invited to preside over the proceedings, is notably absent. From Nancy have traveled Liebeault, Bernheim, and their colleagues, Liegois and Beaunis. This is the First International Congress of Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism, and Victor Dumontpallier is to give the opening address.

Like his colleague Charles Robert Richet, who spoke at the opening of the hypnotism division of a general psychology congress a few months earlier, Dumontpallier talks of reconciliation between the two rival schools, noting the strong points of both approaches.

William James, regarded by many as the Father of Psychology, was present on both occasions and would later comment that it seemed to him that the disease model of the Salpetriere was dead, and that suggestion had carried the day.

Bernheim's presentation about the supremacy of suggestion convinces most of the participants, though Tourette refrains from commenting and Janet criticizes Berheim, calling his theories unscientific and inconsistent. Bernheim replies that he is aware of one consistent truth: that the brain tends to act on any idea planted in it.

All in all, the first "hypnosis convention" goes well, with members of rival schools coexisting peacefully.

University College, London, 1892 - There is no hypnotism; there is only suggestion

Only a few years after his views on suggestion win out at the first hypnotism conference, Bernheim now addresses the Congress of Experimental Psychology.

In the same place where Elliotson performed the demonstrations that cost him his professorship, and the same place where Liston had triumphantly announced that ether as a surgical anesthetic "beats mesmerism hollow," the professor from Nancy makes a stunning statement:

"There is no hypnotism; there is only suggestion."

This intentionally provocative pronouncement echoes what Braid had concluded by the end of his career, but in this case, the world takes notice. By shifting the focus away from trance to suggestion, Bernheim lays the ground work for the non-state theorists of the twentieth century.

However, at the same time, one very prominent figure is about to use, and then abandon, trance as a therapeutic modality.

Vienna, Austria, 1893 - Freud and the Psychodynamic School

Doctor Josef Breuer is working with his patient Anna O., a young woman who suffers from hysteria.

Having first used hypnosis in the Salpetriere method to produce all of her symptoms on command, Breuer embarks on a novel journey, using hypnosis to walk his patient backwards in time toward the traumatic situation that lay at the beginning of her troubles.

Upon reliving the event, Anna O. experiences an intense catharsis -- what today would be called an "abreaction" -- and continues her life symptom free. She dubs this approach, "the talking cure," but it would later be called "regression-to-cause."

Breuer turns to his friend, an up-and-coming psychiatrist who has studied hypnosis both at the Salpetriere and in Nancy, as well as attending the hypnotism congresses, to co-author a report on the new method. That friend is named Sigmund Freud.

Over the next decade, Freud will continue to develop this method of using hypnosis to plumb the depths of his patients' psyche for the causes of their symptoms.

However, eventually one experience would sour Freud on the use of hypnosis: After relieving a young female patient of unpleasant symptoms, the doctor is surprised that she jumps up from his couch and puts her arms around him in an amorous embrace.

From this, Freud concludes that sexual attraction is an important element in hypnosis; to avoid such "transference," he vows to discontinue the use of hypnosis with his patients.

As Freud develops his method of free association to explore the subconscious, he retains many of the trappings of his hypnotic process: the couch, the closed eyes, the hypnotist positioned behind the client.

Still, his turn away from hypnosis to psychoanalysis, coupled with the influence he would exert on the field of psychology, is enough to greatly reduce the attention hypnosis will receive in the twentieth century -- all because the doctor is embarrassed by an overly affectionate girl!

Nancy, France, 1901 - Coue and the Supremacy of Suggestion

Nearly two decades after Bernheim first went to debunk the ragged country doctor Liebeault, and nearly one decade after Bernheim has made his dramatic statement on the University College stage, a new student arrives at Nancy to study with the leaders of the hypnosis world.

Trained as a pharmacist, Emile Coue has been drawn to study the power of suggestion after observing a form of the placebo effect; he has noticed that praising a medicine as he delivers it increases the drug's efficacy.

Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, Coue will take the hypnotic principles he has learned from Bernheim to formulate and then travel the world teaching a new application: Auto-Suggestion or "The Coue Method."

His approach will be so far distanced from trance that many will not recognize it as hypnosis. From him will come not only the concept of the affirmation, but also the most famous affirmation of all: "Every day in every way, I am getting better and better."

Thus the trajectory of Nancy-from Liebeault's early flirtations with animal magnetism, to Liegois's experiments with the limits of trance, to Coue's method of hypnosis without trance-recapitulates the trajectory of Braid's career, and that of many other hypnotists.

In the meantime, new rivalries in hypnosis are on the horizon. Fairly soon, a Wisconsin farm boy and a behavioralist professor will clash, setting the course for the two of the three main approaches to hypnosis in the twentieth century.

Hypnosis might have been trully misunderstood in the past, but now we know better. It's reliable, safe and fun. Try it for yourself right now for free! - click here and enjoy hypnosis for the first time!

Recommended for Further Reading - Part II:

  • Braid, James (1843). Neurpypnology. London: John Churchill.
  • Carrer, Laurent (2003). "Abbe Faria (1756-1819), the Controversial Priest from Goa." APA Div 30 Bulletin.
  • Carrer, Laurent (2004). "Abroise-Auguste Liebeault (1823-1904), the Forgotten Physician from Nancy." APA Div 30 Bulletin.
  • Coue, Emile (1920). Self-Mastery through Conscious Auto-Suggestion. New York, NY: Malkan.
  • Forrest, Derek (2000). Hypnotism: A History. London: Penguin Books.
  • Pintar, Judith, and Steven Jay Lynn (2008). Hypnosis: A Brief History. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Rathus, Spencer A (2002). Psychology in the New Millenium, 8th ed. New York: Thompson Learning Inc.
  • Rosenfeld, Saul Marc (2008). A Critical History of Hypnotism: The Unauthorized Story. Self-Published.
  • Waterfield, Robin (2002). Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis. London: Macmillan.
  • Winter, Allison (1998). Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian England. Chicago: U of C Press.