A Brief History of Hypnosis

The field began with Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese physician in the 18th century who had a rather strange theory that animal – that there were magnetic fields flowing through bodies and that when people got sick, something went wrong with their magnetic field, and that if he put his magnetic field next to their magnetic field, theirs would get better. I don’t know why his didn’t get worse. But he had these packets filled with metal filings, weak magnetic fields there, he would put people next to them and they would swoon and find themselves somehow often better. There are – I do need to warn you, for human subjects purposes that there are dangers to animal magnetism, so be careful when you use it. Mesmer did very well, he was a very popular physician, so he left his wife and family in Vienna and moved to Paris, where he competed very successfully with the leading French physicians of the day.

And if you did a randomized trial in 18th century France and sent every other medically ill patient to Mesmer or to French physicians, how many of you think Mesmer’s patients would have done better, medically? How many of you think the French physicians’ patients would have done better? Well, you’re right, you know why? Voltaire wrote to his brother after their father died, we did everything we could to save Father’s life, we even sent the doctors away. Think about what the major, what was the major treatment at the time? Bloodletting, so unless you happen to have congestive heart failure or polycythemia vera, you were much more likely to die if you went to an actual French doctor.

So, Mesmer’s practice flourished, which did not earn him a great deal of affection from French physicians, so they prevailed upon King Louis to investigate him, and he – they did, and they conclude – and the panel that investigated him, was very interesting, it was our own Benjamin Franklin who was having a wonderful time in Paris in those days. The famous chemist Lavoisier, who was an absolutely brilliant man, before he was beheaded in the French Revolution, in addition to discovering the fundamentals of oxygen and chemistry, he came up with the notion of the gross national product, which was a fundamental principle in economics, brilliant guy. And then there was a doctor well-known for his work in pain control on the panel, his name was Dr. Guillotin. He kind of created the mind-body problem. And so this crew investigated Mesmer and concluded that hypnosis was nothing but heated imagination. Now, I actually think that’s true and I’ll show you some evidence that it’s true, but at the time that was a devastating conclusion and that was pretty much the end of Mesmer’s career.

But hypnosis has been something like the oldest profession, everybody is interested in it, but nobody wants to be seen in public with it. And it was at the foundation of many very important movements, including psychoanalysis. So, when Freud started analysis, if you read the studies in hysteria he began using hypnosis and he was using it as a railroad to the unconscious. There is a couch in psychoanalysis because he had people lie down on the couch so he could hypnotize them.

One day in his autobiography he wrote, “I was relieving a woman of her attacks of pain by tracing them back to their traumatic origins when suddenly she woke from the trance and threw her arms around my neck.” And Freud wrote, “I was modest enough not to attribute this event to my own irresistible, personal attractiveness.” And so Freud discovered transference that day. That people have irrational feelings about their doctors that have transferred from other people in their lives. So, he felt that in order to control this, he had to stop using hypnosis. So, he moved his chair back behind the couch and had them free associate with eyes open, instead of formally using hypnosis.

Now notice here in the sacred spot over the couch, he has a picture of an archaeological dig, and of course Freud was interested in archaeology, deeper and deeper layers of the unconscious. So, this is his last study, the study in Maresfield Gardens in London, he saw to the arrangement of the study. And in the sacred spot over the couch, there’s now a different image, and that’s of Charcot inducing hypnotic catalepsy. So, at the end of his career, he got interested again in hypnosis. And he wrote, “The pure gold of analysis might have to be alloyed with the baser metal of suggestion.” One other story about interest and rejection is this woman, she suffered from a disease called spinal weakness, one of the many maladies that this Institute is particularly interested in studying, and it meant she had to be carried around from room to room by her father.

She got engaged, she got married, she got pregnant, and she was still being carried around by her father. And finally when she got pregnant she decided she needed help, so she went to a disciple of Mesmer’s named Phineas P. Quimby. Great name, isn’t it, and he cured her of her spinal weakness with animal magnetism. And they started a correspondence, they were in touch for many years, there’s speculation they may have had an affair, nobody knows for sure. Five years after he cured her, she got a letter informing her that he had suddenly died. The next day she slipped on the ice, she reinjured her back and went into a period of meditation in which she concluded that it was not really animal magnetism that had cured her, it was the word of God. Does anybody know who this is? Well, it’s Mary Baker Eddy, and that was the beginning of Christian Science, and to this day you cannot mention the word hypnosis around a Christian Scientist. I was at the mother church in Boston getting a very nice tour from a lady who was very friendly until she heard that we were there for a Hypnosis Society meeting.

And this was the text, Ancient and Modern Necromancy, Alias Mesmerism, and Hypnotism, Denounced. So, like as with many movements, it starts an important movement in psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and one of the better remaining newspapers in the United States, the Christian Science Monitor, and yet it immediately gets rejected. So, I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t get rejected. This was my daughter’s depiction of what I do, “My dad hypnotizes people and makes them want to live longer.” And you see a particularly successful clinical exam on here. My daughter, who’s now an attorney practicing working with the U.S. Mission for the United Nations, says, “Dad are you still showing this picture?” And I say, “Yes, I am,” but it does not represent her current 136 00:06:20,313 --> 00:00:00,000 level of artistic ability!

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