METHODS OF HYPNOSIS
In order to bring about hypnosis and influence a subject therapeutically,
the most important thing, as I have mentioned in Chapter III, is to create the
right emotional atmosphere. The more feeling we can throw into our words, actions,
and manner, the greater will be their influence. Only words that come from the
heart can reach the heart.
We want to carry conviction, and conviction depends far more upon the
trend of the emotions than it does on intellectual endowment. If a person is in
an emotional state, and some suggestion is made, or some story told that
harmonizes with his emotion, he will generally believe it. It is the same when
an orator conveys his emotions to his audience. It matters little what his
arguments are; if he cannot inspire, or if he inspires with the wrong emotions,
the most perfect chain of reasoning will leave his audience unmoved or hostile.
"In all social reactions, it is the emotional factor that counts, not the
ideas that are expressed. It is not possible to make a man do what he does not
wish to do; but it is quite possible to create an atmosphere in which he does
wish to do it, and therefore does it." (Hugh Elliot, Human Character?)
In order to make a successful suggestion, we must have the right judgment
of the psychic condition of the person to be influenced. In no other branch of
therapeutics is it so necessary to individualize and to adapt one's methods to
the idiosyncrasies of the patient, his individual qualities, constitution,
temper, disposition, and the mood in which he happens to be at the time. We
must take note of the patient's intelligence and character, prejudices and
beliefs, preferences and dislikes, family life and social surroundings,
ambition and prospects, sincerity and energy, memories and fancies, experiences
and habits. Therefore, to practise this method of treatment, one must be an
expert in human character and possess a knowledge of human nature and practical
psychology, besides being gifted with unusual tact and sympathy.
To acquaint ourselves with the mind and character of the subject is our
preliminary duty. The best method is undoubtedly to encourage the patient to
tell his own story in his own way, with just so much of direction from the
physician as will prevent the introduction of too many irrelevancies and
trivialities in detail. In this way one gets hold of the material upon which
psychotherapy has to operate, and at the same time receives some valuable
sidelights upon the relative emphasis that things have assumed in the patient's
mind. Furthermore, the sympathetic attention which the physician lends to the
initial confession is sure to be rewarded in the future with confidences more
intimate and important.
The patient will benefit from the opportunity to unburden his mind to a
sympathetic listener; and his confidence in the ability of the physician to
help him out of his misery has curative power. Having been enlightened by the
physician as to the real nature of his case, understanding his own symptoms,
and having further been led to a full belief in the possibility of their
removal, the patient advances more easily along the path to recovery.
After these preliminaries we can proceed in the attempt to induce
hypnosis. As already indicated, we are not aiming at getting the subject to
sleep, but to produce such intense concentration and abstraction that the
subject becomes unaware of his surroundings; that is to say, pays no voluntary
attention to his environment, and even forgets that he has a body and limbs.
His senses are quiescent, except for the direction one or other is given by the
operator to concentrate the attention. The state produced is identical with
that of complete absent-mindedness, as when an ordinary person is meditating
deeply and does not notice his sensations. We are indeed aiming at a similar
condition for the treatment of disease or disorder, and, as will be shown
presently, for the production of supernormal mental capacities.
The room in which the patient is treated should be quiet, in
semi-darkness, and contain nothing which captivates the attention too much. The
patient being on a couch or in a lounge chair, with a comfortable rest for his
head, the first step is to induce in him a mental
Still another method is to stroke gently the subject's forehead or one
of his hands. This, besides calming his excitability, makes him forget any pain
that he may previously have felt, and concentrates his attention.
By all these methods we secure a limitation of the field of
consciousness, a state of absent-mindedness. The subject becomes unconscious of
his surroundings, and his subconscious mind is liberated.
Most modern hypnotists practise the Nancy method, i.e. suggesting to the
patient the effects they wish to produce: that he is getting drowsy, his
eyelids begin to feel heavy, he has a difficulty in raising them and will soon
not be able to lift them at all, and so forth. But, in my experience, if the
hypnotist speaks too much, the patient expects, waits for, and relies on the
suggestions made, a result which is not desirable, for it makes the subject too
dependent on the operator.
The old mesmerists compelled their subjects to look steadily at their
eyes while they gazed at them firmly. They then made slow passes with one or
both hands downwards from the crown of the patient's head over the face to the
pit of the stomach, or even down to the feet, always avoiding contact. After
each pass the hands were well shaken, just as if something were shaken off
them. The passes would be continued patiently for some time, until they excited
the sensation of warmth, pricking or tingling, numbness or rigidity, according
to the individual operated upon. By another method, the magnetizer would sit
down close to the patient, taking hold of his thumbs, and
gently pressing them gaze fixedly in his eyes, concentrating his mind
upon him, while the subject would gaze at the operator. The gaze of the subject
had the effect of concentrating the subject's attention, and the look of the
operator, as it were, commanded him not to "wander" in his thoughts.
The old magnetizers laid the greatest stress on the intense concentration on
the part of the operator, and would often achieve success solely by intent
gazing, without passes or verbal suggestion. In my experience, however, the
gazing process cannot be employed by everyone- It requires a sharp, penetrating
look, capable of long-continued fixedness; it will likewise seldom succeed with
individuals who are magnetized for the first time.
The magnetizers, finding the patients not yielding to the influence of
their passes, would close their eyes and press the fingers gently on the
eyelids and retain them there for a few minutes, at the same time concentrating
all their efforts.
Another method was to hold two fingers before the subject's eyes and ask
him to gaze at their tips, and to concentrate his attention on the idea of
sleep. The fingers were moved from a distance close to the eyes and away again,
when the tiring effect of constant accommodation of vision often produced the
At public performances magnetizers used soft strains of music, issuing
from an adjoining room, which lulled the subjects and appeared to assist
greatly the induction of sleep in new subjects.
These mesmeric methods are more suitable for the deeper states of
hypnosis, the trance-like conditions, in which the limbs remain in the position
in which they are put. If the hands are clasped together, the subject cannot
get them apart; or, if he is made to rotate his arms, he cannot stop the
movement until the hypnotist tells him he can do so. These deep states are not
really required except as tests, or when dealing with very severe symptoms, or
when we study certain phenomena of hypnosis in subjects who volunteer for
scientific purposes. For such deep hypnosis not all persons are suitable,
because they lack the required susceptibility or because, though they are
consciously willing, they subconsciously resist.
Still, any of these methods may be tried, and sometimes must be, for
some persons are more impressionable to one method than to another. Some are
distracted when touched, while others go off more easily when they feel the
contact of the operator. As a matter of fact, all processes succeed when they
inspire confidence in the subject.
As a rule, each hypnotizer has his own pet method, but the expert is
able to judge the mental susceptibility of the subject at first sight, and can
tell at once what process would be most successful.
A good preliminary test whether a person can be hypnotized is to judge
his sensibility by drawing the palm of the hand downwards, without contact, but
very near, over his face and hands. This is best done while the eyes are
closed, when it will be found that
some subjects have a peculiar sensation, varying from mere warmth to
pricking, and, in the most susceptible, as if a mild electric current passed
over their skin. This used to be described by mesmerists as the magnetic
influence, and although no such influence is admitted now, 1 have always found
that these passes were felt more readily and by more persons when I had been
doing much hypnotic work than when I had rested for some time.
For medical purposes we need only aim at the early stage preceding sleep
that is consistent with consciousness. This is the transitional stage which
anyone who has analysed his sensations has recognized as a brief period
immediately preceding the unconsciousness of slumber, when by an effort he can
become wide awake, or by lying still and guarding his mind against exciting
thoughts can insure speedy and perfect sleep.
The induction of this semi-wakeful state is, as a rule, all that is
needed, and is a fairly simple process. And in all cases hypnosis is more
readily induced for medical treatment than for any other purpose, because in
the sick the voluntary and conscious activity is diminished by exhaustion, and
the subjects are really earnest about it in order to be cured. But it is not
only sick people, or people suffering from nervous or other disorders, that can
be hypnotized; perfectly healthy people make equally excellent subjects. Nor
has the weakness of "will" anything to do with the susceptibility of
a subject. What sometimes hinders
hypnotization is "mental pre-occupation," which, however, may
suddenly at some moment be removed. Nor are "credulous" persons
necessarily good subjects. There are plenty of people who believe all they are
told, yet often offer a lively resistance when an effort is made to hypnotize
Insane people are notoriously hard to hypnotize, because of the
difficulty of engaging their attention and getting them to concentrate. But
with persons in the primary stages of mental disorder—that is to say, not
altogether mad—there is no such difficulty.
It will be noticed that, though all the methods we have described for
inducing hypnosis vary, the conditions are practically the same:
1. First and foremost is that of fixation of the attention.
2. Monotonous environment,
to produce monotonous impressions and intellectual drowsiness, the prelude of sleep.
3. Limitation of voluntary
movements by relaxation
of the muscles.
4. Limitation of the field
of consciousness by allowing no new incoming impression and
5. Inhibition of ideas by making the mind as nearly
as possible a blank.
These conditions suffice for all practical purposes. Sleep need not be
induced, but only the somnolent state we have described. This method has the
advantage that nearly everybody can be subjected to it.
Most important is the fixation of attention. In the physical procedure
it is the sensorial attention that is fixed; when the procedure is purely
suggestive, the attention is held captive by an idea. It would seem, then, that
a special modification of attention is a persistent psychological
characteristic of hypnosis.
We can now address the subject, speak plainly and emphatically to him
about his ailment or injurious habit, and he will remain perfectly passive, so
long as we say nothing with which he is likely to disagree. If the idea runs
counter to the sentiments and firmly held beliefs of the individual, other
things being equal, he is much less likely to accept it than if it accords with
his own feelings and convictions.
In the case of minor mental disorders and overactive dispositions, we
can impress upon him the desire to break himself of the morbid idea or impulse,
and, by calling his own powers of thought and volition into play, we can show
him the way to self-control.
The manner in which an idea is conveyed is often the determining factor
in the patient's suggestibility regarding it. It may be presented directly or
indirectly, persuasively or commandingly, once or repeatedly. The idea may be
put forward as an abstract proposition, or crystallized in the form of a
picture or a practical demonstration.
It is advisable to condense the idea which is to be the object of the suggestion,
to sum it up in a brief phrase which can readily be graven on the memory.
Whatever idea is presented to the mind in hypnotic
treatment is intended as a post-hypnotic suggestion, to take
effect after waking. When subjects are subsequently questioned as to their
motive for acting, they generally believe that they have so acted of their own
accord; for no suggestion is made in medical treatment which the patient would
not himself desire.
The suggestion made for post-hypnotic action may be direct or indirect.
A direct suggestion would be, for example, if we told an alcoholic subject that
he will no longer have a desire for drink. This, in many instances, will not
work at all, because it does not give the patient a motive for abstaining. I
much-prefer giving indirect suggestions, such as will provide him (in the case
of the alcoholic) with pictures of utter ruin and degradation if he persists in
the habit, and of his success in life, the realization of his aims and ideals,
his gaining respect and esteem if he will abstain. This supplies the patient
not only with the necessary motives, but also with the emotional background so
essential for the successful exercise of his will.
If we tell a person in the conscious state that a certain habit is
detrimental to his health, he will say that he knows as much, but cannot break
himself of it. If we draw attention to his habit, while he is in the
concentrated state of hypnosis, and supply him with reasons why he should stop
it, he receives the message passively, i.e. subconsciously, and automatically
acts upon it. When later he is tempted again, there comes into play a
restraining impulse, an
inhibition, and sometimes even a repulsion of the former desire.
We shall succeed best by projecting upon the mind of the subject a new
and stimulating idea, which will have a wholesome, regenerating, aspiring,
uplifting effect. We do not employ, therefore, so much a method of suggestion
as is commonly assumed, but we train the patient to act by his own will.
Especially where there is a conflict of emotions it is better not to make any
suggestions, but to let the patient pass into a state of reverie. This enables
the subconscious to break through to the surface, and, by allowing the patient
to talk about whatever comes into his mind, we may bring to consciousness an
event, long forgotten, which is at the root of all the patient's troubles.
The free talk in the passive, uncritical, subconscious state will reveal
not only those "complexes" arising from past events which are still
smouldering and exerting an undesirable influence on conscious life and
behaviour, and giving rise to physical symptoms, but may also reveal to the
operator's critical faculty a failure of adaptation, which he must rectify. So
long as the complexes are unconscious they are beyond our control; merely
bringing them into consciousness helps to remove the trouble from which the
patient is suffering. In any case, having discovered where the mischief lies,
we are able to advise the patient and re-educate him to take a proper view of
life and to adapt himself to the conditions of his surroundings.
All psychic treatment strives to free the innate forces that have been
bound and to adjust the individual to that external reality in which he must
live. (P. Bjerre.)
No psychotherapy is any good, certainly not
lasting, if it does not include the re-education of the patient; for his illness is often nothing
more than an unsuccessful effort to solve the conflicts of his life and a
failure of adaptation. We have to bring about a readjustment, some sought-for
and desirable reorganization of the individual in respect of his inner and
outer experiences, to assist him, as well as may be, in his efforts, hitherto
frustrated, toward the consummation of a more harmonious adaptation to his
social and physical environment. In other words, we seek the reconciliation of
the patient with reality. We evoke new ideals and the impulse to pursue them,
and make them so attractive to the patient that they become embodied in the
processes of his conduct. Of course, the ideals must be practical, not Utopian.
By the implanting of new ideals we tap the potential subconscious reserve
energy of the patient, bring about a reassociation and synthesis of the
dissociated mental systems underlying the symptoms of the disease, and guide
the mind of the patient to self-realization and self-perfection. The subject
must be brought to realize his previous misconceptions, his undesirable mental
habits have to be uprooted, he must be taught to minimize his difficulties, to
stop the magnification of trifles, and to gain self-control. We have to teach him orderly
thought and controlled emotion, and supply him with new motives for
right conduct. Undesirable elements of mental life have to be supplanted by the
concentration of attention on new interests, the furnishing of new outlets of
activities. A new attitude and outlook on life has to be acquired and
disturbing inner or outer conditions have to be adjusted. Mere exploration
of his mental contents without such reeducation is bound to prove a failure.
By the methods I have described, the subject retains his consciousness
unimpaired, and can, if requested, discuss and reason with the operator or any
person present with more intelligence than before. It will be found that the
concentration he practised while on the couch or in the chair has increased the
energy and power of his ideas, so that he will have more determination for the
realization of his aims. Again I lay stress, there must be an emotional contact
between the subject and operator. Men of sympathetic personality will always
have more influence than those of a colder nature. The cold, commanding
personality succeeds, if at all, chiefly by the fear he inspires.
We have seen that the factors necessary for successful mental healing
are, first of all, sympathy for the sufferer, which must be expressed in gentle
words and action, to bring peace to his mind and bodily activity. Then hope
with which to reanimate the reserves of energy. Stimulating words revive the
faith and induce the patient to make an effort. They
encourage him to gain control, to keep alive. Furthermore, we have to
take stock of the patient's mind and assess its various contents at their
In all diseases, whether functional or organic, there is a psychical
factor, for man does not suffer like an animal, feeling only crude sensations,
but his feelings are influenced by his fears and pessimistic reflections, and
often his mental suffering is greater than the actual bodily pain. We have to
deal not merely with the symptoms as they present themselves to the patient's
consciousness, but with the interpretation he invariably places upon these
On the other hand, actual pain, though we can remove it in hypnosis,
must be traced to its causes; for all pain that is not imaginary is a signal of
some disorder or disease, which, if unattended, is bound to increase. To remove
pain without discovering its cause is a dangerous proceeding.
Last, but not least, the physical needs of the patient must not be
neglected. We must not lose sight of the fact that disease has a physical
basis, and that even in functional affections there is some nutritional or
other disturbance, some change in the bio-chemistry of the tissues, which
cannot be corrected by merely making suggestions to the patient. We must
restore not merely the mental condition, but the health of the organization
with which mind is connected, and upon the normal state of which its soundness
depends. Much good can be accomplished by psychical measures, but those who are
not carried away by enthusiasm
will recognize that psychotherapy is not a panacea, and, although
valuable in many cases, should not be employed to the exclusion of other
measures. It is the duty of the practitioner when called upon to treat a
patient to carry out not one, but all of the measures which have been shown by
years of experience to be advantageous. He therefore requires an intimate
knowledge of the normal working and the disorders of the brain and nervous system,
and a proper knowledge of general medicine. These qualifications only a
properly trained physician can possess.
The first thing to do is to put the patient on the best physical basis.
Then we have solved part of the problem of his mental condition. We examine his
constitution to discover any defect there may be in the working of an organ,
and treat such defect according to the recognized methods of medical science.
We do not, as Christian Scientists and practitioners of other cults do,
relegate tried methods to the dust-heap, but recognize that, even if there be
no actual disease anywhere about the body, the patient, owing to his habitual
indulgence in morbid thoughts or habits, has weakened his constitution, and may
suffer from a state of nervous exhaustion or irritability, which requires our
treatment on established lines.