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Mesmerism -- The Magnetic Method
Franz Anton Mesmer
Around the time of the American Revolution, Franz Anton Mesmer (1733 - 1815), a Viennese physician, introduced to the scientific world the theory and practice of what he called animal magnetism. The spirit of the times tinged his practice with something of the mystical. In 1778 he went to Paris where he opened a clinic that became tremendously successful. In his remarkable clinic he treated all kinds of diseases.
Copy Of Old Drawing Of Mesmer's Baquet
His clinic consisted of a large hall, which was darkened by covering the windows. In the center of the room was a large oaken tub, the famous baquet. The tub, about one foot high, was big enough to allow thirty patients to stand around it. The tub was filled with water, in which had been placed iron filings, ground glass and several bottles arranged in a symmetrical manner. The tub had a wooden cover that contained openings through which jointed iron rods protruded. The patients could apply these rods to the various ailing parts of their bodies. At a strategic moment, Mesmer would appear dressed in brilliant silk robes. He would pass among the patients, fixing his eyes upon them, passing his hands over their bodies, and touching them with a long iron wand. Patients apparently suffering from various disorders would declare themselves cured after two to three treatments.
Mesmerism, like psychoanalysis, embodies a theory, a set of phenomena, and a type of therapy. Hypnotism comprises a group of phenomena that can include the phenomena of mesmerism, however, it is questionable whether all the results reported by Mesmer and his students are true manifestations of hypnosis. For example, according to Mesmer, a successful treatment by animal magnetism ended in what he called the "crisis" which was a convulsive attack usually accompanied by crying and laughing. His "crisis" had all the earmarks of hysteria, which may have played a part in some of the results. The essence of mesmerism can be found in his doctoral dissertation (1766) in which he theorized upon the influence of emanations from heavenly bodies on the health of human beings. Shortly after writing this he became aware of the work of a priest who was said to obtain miraculous results in the art of healing by exposing his patients to the influence of magnets. Mesmer came to believe that magnets emanated two sources of influence: physical magnetism, which he called "mineral magnetism" and the other, which had analogous properties, he called "animal magnetism." He identified animal magnetism as the universal emanation he had hypostatized in his dissertation.
According to Mesmer, animal magnetism had the following properties: it could be transferred to animate and inanimate bodies; it could become concentrated or diffused by such bodies; it could act at a distance; it could be reflected by mirrors; it could be communicated, propagated, and increased by sound; it could be accumulated in bodies; and it had two polarities which could produce opposite effects and could decrease or destroy each other's effects. It was thought to be a kind of impalpable gas or fluid. Its distribution and action were supposed to be under the control of the human will.
Mesmer's sole interest in animal magnetism was due to its curative powers. According to him, a patient's health depended upon the distribution of animal magnetism in his body. Ill health was do to an excess or a deficiency of animal magnetism in the patient's entire body, or in specific parts of his body. Mesmer cured patients of their maladies by giving, removing or redistributing the animal magnetism within the patient.
Later magnetizers developed these ideas into a somewhat impressive body of pseudo-scientific knowledge. In time negative or positive animal magnetism became associated with every known physical phenomenon and object. Also, it became capable of acting as a medium of transmission for various properties of the objects from which it came. For example, various effects of drugs were said to be transported at a distance by their animal magnetism. Also, human thought and the will could be affected and carried by it. Certain individuals, called "sensitives," were said to be able to see animal magnetism. It appeared to them as a luminous emanation, or "aura" surrounding all individuals and objects. It was claimed that this "aura" varied in color and intensity for each individual and changed as his thoughts and emotions changed. As this doctrine was embellished, it was used to account for various reported supernormal phenomena. For example, phantasms or "astral projections" were said to be nothing but exteriorized animal magnetism or that which had become released from its owner's body upon death. It was also believed that animal magnetism could be used as a medium for communication via thoughts. One of the most spectacular applications of this doctrine was made by de Rochas, a follower of the Salpetriere school. He claimed to have proof that under hypnosis one could extract or project the subject's sensory capacities with his animal magnetism and impregnate objects with the latter, transferring these capacities to the object. He claimed, anything done to the object was felt by the subject, no matter how far apart they were.
The brief account of the doctrine of animal magnetism and its ramifications is a fascinating subject if for no other reason than it represents one of the most complete misrepresentations of facts under the guise of science. It demonstrates how suggestibility and the desire to believe can lead to a fantastic adulteration of information.
In 1841, James Braid an English physician witnessed a mermeric seance conducted by a French magnetizer named Lafontaine. He attended the demonstration expecting fraud. Upon seeing the demonstration a second time and making certain tests on the magnetized subjects himself, he became convinced that the phenomena were real. He became enthusiastic about what he saw and experimented on his own. His experiments soon lead him to believe that the cause of the various phenomena was not a fluid that passed from the body of the mermerist into the subjects.
Braid developed a special technique for inducing the trance, a method still used to this day. He originally had his patients look at a cork attached to his forehead. He later replaced the cork with a bright object held near and slightly above the eyes in such a way that the eye muscles were under a certain amount of strain. The subjects were instructed to look fixedly at the object. This procedure was usually combined with verbal suggestions. It was braid that coined the word hypnotism. He utilized the trance mainly for painless surgical operations of which he performed in large numbers.
The following is Braid's own account of his procedure for inducing the hypnotic trance:
Take any bright object (I generally use my lancet case) between the thumb and forefinger and middle fingers of the left hand; hold it from about eight to fifteen inches from the eyes, at such position above the forehead as may be necessary to produce the greatest strain upon the eyes and eyelids, and enable the patient to maintain a steady fixed stare on the object. The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep his eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of the object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted; they will shortly begin to dilate, and after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object toward the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion. If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried toward the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above his eyes. It will generally be found that the eyelids close with a vibratory motion, or become spasmodically closed.
He states that after the hypnotic state is obtained, you can place the limbs of the subject in any position and they will remain that way. After a while he claimed, the limbs tend to become rigid and involuntarily fixed. He also claimed that all of the sense organs (except sight), muscular motion, resistance and certain mental faculties first become extremely elevated. Later there appears a very large depression in the form of a profound torpor accompanied with tonic rigidity of the muscles.
The scientific formulation of hypnosis began with Braid. It was due to his accurate descriptions of empirical facts. Of the three leading investigators of Mesmerism, Elliotson, Esdaile and Braid, it is Braid that made the most significant contributions. Esdaile and Elliotson were "fluidists" and radical proponents of mesmerism. Unlike the mesmerists, Braid maintained that his method of induction would not affect anyone without his or her full participation (free will). This was directly opposite the claims made by the mesmerists that they had the power to overcome a subject's resistance merely by exerting their "will power" and by secret "passes."
Braids technique was that of the modern day hypnotherapist. His approach was patient-centered, including the principle that the patient could hypnotize himself independent of the influence of another. He was opposed to the idea that hypnosis could be induced by magnets or any other type of physical device and insisted that hypnotic phenomena were subjective and induced by direct and indirect suggestion. He believed that rapport was an artifact created by the operator's attitude and recognized the importance of verbal and non-verbal suggestion in the development of the induction phase.
Charcot and Hypnotism
J. M. Charcot Charcot, a French neurologist and anatomist, played an important, but very controversial part in the history of scientific hypnotism. Around 1880 he attracted a lot of attention by his courageous experiments and lectures on the subject of hypnosis. Aware of the unscientific extravagances that brought the magnetizers into disrepute, he resolved that his experiments would be ultra-scientific and technically above reproach. Despite Charcot's scientific intentions, no one has ever created more errors or gone more widely afield in his experimental methods than he. The results of his research culminated in the delivery in 1882 of his famous nosographic paper before the Paris Academy of Science. Apparently he never hypnotized anyone himself, but depended upon his assistants, who brought the subjects to him.
The subjects were mainly three hysterical young women. He sought diligently to document the objective signs that characterized hypnotic sleep. He reported a number of supposed discoveries. Major hypnotism, as it was then called, was said to show three sharply marked stages: lethargy, catalepsy and somnambulism. In the lethargic stage, which was induced by closing the subject's eyes, he maintained that the subject could hear nothing and could not speak.
However, if certain nerves were pressed, amazing and uniform contractures resulted. While in the lethargic stage, the cataleptic stage could be induced by opening the subject's eyes. In this state the subject's limbs remained in any position they were placed. Finally, if friction were applied to the top of the head, the subject passed into the somnambulistic stage. Sometimes the contractures, catalepsies, and other hypnotic manifestations appeared on only one side of the body. In such cases, if a strong magnet were brought close to the affected side, the symptoms would be transferred to the other side of the body.
The main problem with Charcot's nosography was that it did not agree with the observations of many of his contemporaries. Bernheim, the principal voice of the opposition, insisted that he had never witnessed the spontaneous occurrence of Charcot's syndromes. Even more damaging was his contention that only by suggesting the various symptoms could they be obtained. Bernheim's final conclusion was that the pre-education of the subjects or unwitting suggestions to them, accounted for the three stages reported by Charcot. This resulted in the now famous and often violent controversy between the Salpetriere and Nancy schools of hypnotism.
The above very brief history of hypnotism is largely only of historic and academic interest today. Like all sciences, hypnotism has descended from magic and superstition, but none has been so slow as hypnosis in shaking off the evil associations of its origin.
|The instructions presented are from the personal collections and writing library of Mr. Robert E. Cutter, who died December 13, 2001, while in the process of completing the transfer of his work to the internet. These are offered as educational instruction only. The purpose of this instruction is the effective learning and use of hypnotic techniques for vocational or avocational self-improvement. This instruction is not offered as a substitute for, nor as a supplement to, any form of therapy concerned with physical, mental, nervous or emotional illness. Robert E. Cutter served as web consultant for American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association for three years. His hypnosis education came through the training he provided at a school he owned in the 1950's in Los Angeles, California, along with his wife who preceded him in death in 1980. Robert Cutter was not a psychologist and did not practice psychotherapy, but his interest in hypnosis motivated him to provide free resources materials for others who wanted to learn to use the power of their minds to improve well being and health-related issues.|
Michael A. Robinson, R.N.- BC Psychiatry
Licensed Texas State Nursing Board Registered Nurse
Texas State Nursing Board Certified in Psychiatry
In Honor and Memory of Robert E. Cutter, B.S. 1923-d.2001
From the Writings of Robert Cutter's Self Hypnosis Center
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