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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