This site offers various education, education info and links, kids stuff, health info and tips, book reviews, cooking tips and recipes, business info and references, travel advisory another related information.homesite mapcontact us


Hypnotism: Its History, Practice and Theory


III.—Hypnotic Induction

The methods by which hypnosis is induced have been classed as follows:

(1) physical;
(2) psychical;
(3) those of the magnetisers.

The modern operator, whatever his theories may be, borrows his technique from Mesmer and Liébeault with equal impartiality, and thus renders classification impossible. The members of the Nancy school, while asserting that everything is due to suggestion, do not hesitate to use physical means, and, if these fail, Bernheim has recourse to narcotics.

The following is now my usual method: I rarely begin treatment the first time I see a patient, but confine myself to making his acquaintance, hearing his account of his case, and ascertaining his mental attitude with regard to suggestion. I usually find, from the failure of other methods of treatment, that he is more or less sceptical as to the chance of being benefited. I endeavour to remove all erroneous ideas, and refuse to begin treatment until the patient is satisfied of the safety and desirability of the experiment. I never say I am certain of being able to influence him, but explain how much depends on his mental attitude and power of carrying out my directions. I further explain to the patient that next time he comes to see me I shall ask him to close his eyes, to concentrate his attention on some drowsy mental picture, and try to turn it away from me. I then make suggestions of two kinds: the first refer to the condition I wish to induce while he is actually in the armchair, thus, "Each time you see me, you will find it easier to concentrate your attention on something restful. I do not wish you to go to sleep, but if you can get into the drowsy condition preceding natural sleep, my suggestions are more likely to be responded to." I explain that I do not expect this to happen at once, although it does occur in rare instances, but it is the repetition of the suggestions made in this particular way which brings about the result. Thus, from the very first treatment, the patient is subjected to two distinct processes, the object of one being to induce the drowsy, suggestible condition, that of the other to cure or relieve disease.

I wish particularly to mention that although I speak of hypnotism and hypnosis—and it is almost impossible to avoid doing so—I rarely attempt to induce so-called hypnosis, and find that patients respond to treatment as readily, and much more quickly, now that I start curative suggestions and treatment simultaneously, than they did in the days when I waited until hypnosis was induced before making curative suggestions.

I have obtained good results in treating all forms of hysteria, including grande hysterie, neurasthenia, certain forms of insanity, dipsomania and chronic alcoholism, morphinomania and other drug habits, vicious and degenerate children, obsessions, stammering, chorea, seasickness, and all other forms of functional nervous disturbances.

It is impossible to discuss the different theories in detail here, but I will briefly summarise the more important points,

(1) Hypnotism, as a science, rests on the recognition of the subjective nature of its phenomena.

(2) The theories of Charcot and the Salpêtrière school are practically a reproduction of mesmeric error.

(3) Liébeault and his followers combated the views of the Salpêtrière school and successfully substituted their own, of which the following are the important points:

(a) Hypnosis is a physiological condition, which can be induced in the healthy.
(b) In everyone there is a tendency to respond to suggestion, but in hypnosis this condition is artificially increased.
(c) Suggestion explains all. Despite the fact that the members of the Nancy school regard the condition as purely physiological and simply an exaggeration of the normal, they consider it, in its profound stages at all events, a form of automatism.

These and other views of the Nancy school have been questioned by several observers. As Myers justly pointed out, although suggestion is the artifice used to excite the phenomena, it does not create the condition on which they depend. The peculiar state which enables the phenomena to be evoked is the essential thing, not the signal which precedes their appearance.

Within recent times another theory has arisen, which, instead of explaining hypnotism by the arrested action of some of the brain centres which subserve normal life, attempts to do so by the arousing of certain powers over which we normally have little or no control. This theory appears under different names, "Double Consciousness," "Das Doppel-Ich," etc., and the principle on which it depends is largely admitted by science. William James, for example, says: "In certain persons, at least, the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which co-exist, but mutually ignore each other."

The clearest statement of this view was given by the late Frederic Myers; he suggested that the stream of consciousness in which we habitually lived was not our only one. Possibly our habitual consciousness might be a mere selection from a multitude of thoughts and sensations—some, at least, equally conscious with those we empirically knew. No primacy was granted by this theory to the ordinary waking self, except that among potential selves it appeared the fittest to meet the needs of common life. As a rule, the waking life was remembered in hypnosis, and the hypnotic life forgotten in the waking state; this destroyed any claim of the primary memory to be the sole memory. The self below the threshold of ordinary consciousness Myers termed the "subliminal consciousness," and the empirical self of common experience the "supraliminal." He held that to the subliminal consciousness and memory a far wider range, both of physiological and psychical activity, was open than to the supraliminal. The latter was inevitably limited by the need of concentration upon recollections useful in the struggle for existence; while the former included much that was too rudimentary to be retained in the supraliminal memory of an organism so advanced as that of man. The recollection of processes now performed automatically and needing no supervision, passed out of the supraliminal memory, but might be retained by the subliminal. The subliminal, or hypnotic, self could exercise over the vaso-motor and circulatory systems a degree of control unparalleled in waking life.

Thus, according to the Nancy school, the deeply hypnotised subject responds automatically to suggestion before his intellectual centres have had time to bring their inhibitory action into play; but, on the other hand, in the subliminal consciousness theory, volition and consciousness are recognised to be unimpaired in hypnosis.