Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Discovery Of Hypnosis And Of Psychoanalysis


Now that we have acquitted Mesmer of the discovery of hypnosis, we can turn to another man, the English eye specialist Braid, who made the following discovery in 1843:
If you ask a person to stare fixedly for a few minutes at a glittering object which is held slightly above eye-level at a distance of about 20 centimetres, the eyelids close automatically and a strange, sleep-like condition is induced.
Because of the similarity between the induced condition and sleep this phenomenon was called 'hypnosis' (Greek: hypnos = sleep) by Braid. So if we are looking for a progenitor for hypnosis Braid is the most likely candidate – though, in fact, the history of hypnosis goes right back to the “holy sleep in the temple”.
The next important events in the history of hypnosis in modern times took place in Nancy and Paris. In Nancy, Liebeault and Bernheim worked on the further development and investigation of hypnosis in the years 1866-1884. They were successful in inducing hypnotic sleep by verbal suggestion. Suggestion is the essential factor at the centre of their theoretical reflections. Today we would call it a “motivational trigger”.
At around the same time the famous neurologist and brain physiologist Charcot, of the psychiatric clinic at the Salpetriére in Paris, was making his experiments in hypnosis. As was typical for his time, his patients consisted mainly of hysterics, and he was struck by the similarity between the phenomena which appeared in hypnosis and the symptoms of hysteria. At that time hysteria was defined as unknown affliction of the brain, which was the definition of all psychosis. Obviously Charcot looked for the theoretical explanation of hysteria in certain physiological processes of the brain.
Sigmund Freud, as a young unsuccessful doctor, visited both Bernheim in Nancy and Charcot in Paris, in order to learn the technique of hypnosis. Back in Vienna Freud obtained no special success with his own patients in the newly acquired technique of hypnotherapy, which did not suit him. Although a good hypnotist is not dependent on innate, supernatural gifts, he nevertheless requires a certain talent for hypnosis, much as a musician does for music. The technique of hypnosis can be acquired like the technique of playing the piano, but the technique alone does not make the master.
However, through Bernheim, Freud became acquainted with an experiment which turned out to be the point of departure for other fundamental considerations. Bernheim ordered his test-subjects to carry out certain actions during hypnosis. Then he tried, by post-hypnotic suggestion, to induce a state (called post-hypnotic amnesia) in which they forgot the actions and incidents that had occurred during hypnosis. When these people had been brought back to a waking state and were questioned they had no recollection whatsoever of the time spent in hypnosis. Bernheim then stepped up the psychological pressure on his patients; they were asked to try very hard to recall the forgotten period of time. After a while the first fragments of memory appeared and gradually the test-subjects recalled all the incidents that had taken place during hypnosis.
Freud applied what he had learned in Nancy to the case history of neurotics. He supposed that in the life history of a mentally ill person there might likewise be an incident or a number of incidents which he or she does not want to recall and has pushed out of his or her memory. Just as one can cancel out hypnotically produced loss of memory by psychological means, so by the same token it should be possible to call back into consciousness those forgotten and repressed episodes from the patient's life. This technique of bringing forgotten material back into consciousness was developed further by Freud and is well known today as the “psychoanalytical method”.
In his later writings Freud spoke in rather negative terms about hypnosis and, as psychoanalysis grew, the role of hypnotherapy was increasingly restricted. This is not, however, the case in Eastern bloc countries where, because psychoanalysis could not gain a foothold, hypnosis as a psychotherapeutic method took up a position of undisputed strength.

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