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Practice Of Hypnotism

In the ordinary practice of hypnotism now, the patient is placed
sitting on a comfortable chair and the operator on one side facing
prepares the mind of the subject by proper assurances. The patient
must be brought into a thoroughly assured and comfortable state of
mind and must be quite ready to submit to hypnotism. Then in most
people, if the finger is held rather close to the patient and well
above the line of sight, requiring special effort on the part of
the superior recti muscles as well as of the power of convergence, a
tired feeling will come over the subject with a tendency of the lids
to droop. When this happens the subject is asked to allow the lids to
drop and to quietly concentrate the attention on the idea of sleep so
as to permit the drowsy feeling gradually to increase. On a first
seance this may take ten minutes, subsequently much less time will be
needed, and, as a rule, in five minutes the subject is quite
predisposed to sleep. In more difficult cases a much longer time may
be needed, and repeated efforts may have to be made. Great patience is
required. The operator soon learns to adjust himself to certain
peculiarities of individuals in predisposing them to the hypnotic

Hypnotism Simple, Natural, Not Mysterious.--The most important thing
to know about hypnotism is the fact that any one who wishes can
hypnotize. There may be need for favoring circumstances, but there is
no need for any special faculty in the operator. If he has confidence
in himself so as to take up the question of hypnotizing seriously, if
the subjects are reasonably susceptible and if they are persuaded that
they may be hypnotized, or even if they are not, so long as they take
the operator seriously a hypnotic state will result. Nothing is more
surprising to the operator himself, the first time he succeeds, than
his success. This at once gives him renewed confidence, and future
hypnosis becomes a comparatively simple matter. To have this idea
widely diffused would do much good, since it would at once strip the
charlatans, who abuse hypnotism, of most of the mystery that surrounds
them. The general diffusion of such knowledge would also do good in
another way. It would expose the supposed wonderful power that some
people are presumed to possess. Hypnotism works no wonders; it is a
mere natural manifestation not unlike sleep, and probably not a whit
more mysterious.

Stages.--A number of divisions of the hypnotic state have been
suggested, but probably the simple division into three stages is the
best for ordinary teaching purposes, and helps to the understanding
both of the conditions themselves and of many things that are written
about hypnotism.

The first stage consists of a subdued, dreamy condition, in which the
patient is not asleep and yet not thoroughly awake to all that is
going on around him. He has his mind so concentrated on certain
thoughts that he is preoccupied, and suggestions are much more
efficient than under ordinary circumstances. This is really only a
state of intense attention to the suggestions that are being made,
with the banishment of all distracting thoughts. It is rather
difficult for any one to keep from being distracted, and whenever this
is accomplished, the ideas that then enter the mind penetrate more
deeply and, above all, seem to affect the will more forcibly than when
they are merely superficially considered. This first stage of
hypnotism would not be considered hypnotic by most people who
associate the idea of sleep with hypnotism.

In recent years it has been found that most of the good that is
accomplished, especially for nervous people, by hypnotic suggestion,
can be attained almost, if not quite as well, in this first stage, and
without the hypnotic trance. The first stage is much less liable to
the dangers of hypnotism in many ways, and it represents one of the
most interesting phases of psychotherapy.

The second stage of hypnotism is the hypnotic sleep. The patient loses
consciousness of his surroundings, though his senses are still open to
suggestion from the operator. Practically all that happens in the room
apart from what is brought to the subject through the operator's
direction remains unnoticed. If the sleep is very deep, even the
suggestions of the operator do not penetrate after a time, so it may
be quite difficult to awaken the subject. It may be even some hours
before the person hypnotized will come out of the lethargy which has
been induced in these cases. Under these circumstances, this second
stage partakes somewhat of the nature of the deeper trance condition
that characterizes the third stage.

The third stage of hypnotism consists of a profound trance-like
condition in which there is catalepsy--that is, firm contracture of
muscles all over the body--and as the extensors are stronger than the
flexors, this contracture takes place in the extended position. The
cataleptic condition is really a nervous spasmodic seizure rather than
a true stage of hypnotism. It is probably always harmful for the
patient to have it induced. Its occurrence as one manifestation of
hysteria, apart from hypnotism, shows its real character. It is with
this stage of hypnotism that professional hypnotists, who give
exhibitions, make their demonstrations--that is, of course, when their
demonstrations are really hypnotic and are not merely, as is often the
case, performances by actors trained for the purpose. Catalepsy is
entirely pathological; experiment with it then is eminently
undesirable, and certainly should not be undertaken except under the
most careful precautions and by a physician. One of its dangers was
very clearly pointed out by the death of a young man, who in a
cataleptic condition was subjected to certain strains upon his thorax
which brought about the rupture of an aortic aneurism. Catalepsy never
permits of suggestion in such a way as to be helpful to the patient.
It always leads to further functional deterioration of the nervous
system, and yet it has unfortunately come to mean for many people the
most essential characteristic of hypnotism. Its production is supposed
to represent the acme of skill in the hypnotist. Nothing could
possibly be less true nor be more likely to do harm.

Susceptibility.--As to the number of people who are susceptible to
hypnotism, there are great differences of opinion. Liebault declared
that practically every one is susceptible in the hands of a patient
operator. In a carefully made series of cases his failures were less
than three per cent. Van Rentergehem and Van Eeden, in a series of
over 1,000 persons, failed only with fifty-eight, or little more than
five per cent. Schrenk-Notzing's statistics, collected from many
countries, seem to show that only about six per cent. were
uninfluenced. Bernheim, at Nancy, was not nearly so successful as
Liebault, his master, and his failures amounted to twenty-five per
cent. at the beginning and at least twenty per cent. later. I remember
that when I was at the Saltpetriere fifteen years ago, they were
inclined to discount the enthusiasm of the Nancy school with regard to
the value and significance of hypnotism. They insisted that probably
not more than one out of two of the persons presenting themselves at a
nervous clinic could be hypnotized to the extent that is ordinarily
associated with the word--could be brought beyond the drowsy stage.
There are other workers in the subject who have insisted that not more
than one out of three ordinary individuals can be so deeply
hypnotized as to exhibit the ordinary symptoms. These symptoms consist
of complete neglect of surroundings and absolute absorption in the
suggestions of the operator.

Some people can be hypnotized to the extent of being thrown into sleep
and yet walk and talk under the absolute control of the operator.
These are so-called somnambules, the class of persons who are
exhibited by professional hypnotizers who want to attract popular
attention, and, indeed, the class usually exhibited by physicians
before medical societies, and even by professors before their classes.
This extreme susceptibility is, however, quite rare. Even the most
ardent advocates of hypnotism and of the susceptibility of humanity to
it do not claim that more than one in ten of average individuals can
be influenced to this degree. There are milder degrees of hypnotism
than this, until we reach a state in which all the patients feel is a
certain dreamy sense of well-being and a heaviness of the eyes, with a
readiness to respond to suggestions. Most people who think of the
somnambulistic stage as representing hypnotism would not consider
these latter to have been at all subjected to the hypnotic state.

Repeated Efforts.--As to this question of susceptibility, much
depends on how often the operator has tried to hypnotize the
particular subject, for susceptibility develops with repeated trials,
not only where there is a manifest impression at first, but also where
there is not. It is not uncommon to find that a patient who cannot be
brought at all under the influence of hypnotism in the first or second
or third trial, will, at the fifth or sixth trial, yield to the
suggestion to go into a hypnotic sleep. A dozen unsuccessful efforts
may be followed by the development of a very satisfactory hypnosis.
Those who have practiced hypnotism much tell of having tried a score
or even two score of times before finally bringing on a hypnotic
condition. Dr. J. Milne Bramwell, one of the English authorities on
hypnotism, tells the story [Footnote 20] of having tried sixty or more
times to hypnotize patients before finally succeeding. It is this
persistence that enables successful hypnotic operators to accomplish
results where less confident physicians fail. It is also the frequency
of trial that makes all the difference in the statistics as to the
susceptibility of patients to hypnotism in the hands of different
individuals. There must be the confidence of the patient in the
physician's power to hypnotize, but, above all, there must be the
physician's own confidence in his power to bring on the hypnotic sleep
so that he tries and tries again, even to seventy times.

[Footnote 20: "Hypnotism. Its History, Practice and Theory," by J. M.
Bramwell, 2nd edn. London, The De la More Press, 1906.]

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