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Sigmund Freud


HYPNOSIS AND ITS REJECTION Freud followed many of Charcot’s leads in his analyses of hysteria, but he also broke away from some of his central ideas. Initially, like Charcot, Freud employed hypnosis to get through to the root causes of his patients’ illnesses. Charcot used hypnosis as a method of understanding hysterical illness, but he also believed that only hysterics were capable of being hypnotised. Hypnotisability for Charcot was a symptom of mental illness. Charcot’s theories were challenged, however, by researchers working with hypnotism in Nancy, France. Through carrying out enormous numbers of hypnotic experiments, the Nancy researchers (including Hippolyte Bernheim (1840–1919) and Ambroise Liébeault (1823–1904)) showed that most people were at least potentially hypnotisable. Eventually the Nancy school’s beliefs came to be more generally accepted than Charcot’s. It is impossible to say accurately what percentage of people are suggestible enough to be hypnotised, but almost all people have some degree of suggestibility that seems to be unrelated to factors such as intelligence or the potential for mental illness. In the wake of Charcot’s and the Nancy school’s discoveries, and following on Joseph Breuer’s lead, Freud began working with hypnosis in the treatment of his neurotic patients. Initially he used hypnosis to suggest ideas to patients that could help them overcome their illnesses. For instance if someone was unable to move their arm because of a hysterical paralysis, under hypnosis Freud would tell them that they could. But Freud quickly found that these suggestions rarely had the power to alter patients’ state of mind permanently. Instead Freud turned again to his colleague Breuer’s experiences with his patient Anna O., to discover another, more fruitful use of hypnosis. Breuer discovered that he could hypnotise Anna O. into remembering the origins of a specific hysterical symptom. If she could then, still under hypnosis, relive the initial experience along with the emotions she had felt at the time, the symptom would disappear. This method of cure Breuer named the cathartic method. THE CATHARTIC METHOD Catharsis is a Greek word which means purification through purging. Breuer originally adopted this term from Greek tragedy to describe the psychotherapeutic method in which an upsetting event that has caused a hysterical reaction is re-experienced under hypnosis and thereby purged from the system of the person who relives it. In Studies on Hysteria Freud and Breuer stated categorically that ‘Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences’ (Freud and Breuer 1895:58). Memory, not physiology, was at issue from now on. Freud eventually extracted two central points from his and Breuer’s work with their patients. One point was that unpleasant or traumatic recollections inevitably returned to haunt the memory of the patient. These unpleasant memories were then repressed from the patient’s conscious knowledge. REPRESSION An operation whereby the subject repels, or confines to the unconscious, a desire that cannot be satisfied because of the requirements of reality or of the conscience (see super-ego on p. 45). For instance, in one of Freud’s cases in Studies on Hysteria

(Elizabeth von R.) the patient refused to admit to herself that she was in love with her brother-in-law. When her sister died, an upsetting thought entered her mind: ‘Now he is free to marry me.’ This unwelcome wish had to be immediately repressed – her conscious mind could not allow it in because of the guilt she immediately felt for thinking it. Because it was repressed from her mind it returned, acted out on her body, as a hysterical symptom (see symptom on pp. 27–8). But it was not just any material that was repressed by the unconscious. After writing Studies on in Hysteria, Freud came to believe that there was always a sexual content to the repressed unpleasant memory that led to the hysterical illness. If hysterics suffered from reminiscences, they suffered from a specific type of reminiscence: sexual ones. Perhaps, to be more accurate, they suffered from not reminiscing enough; they fell ill from not being able to consciously recall and work through the trauma or traumas of their past.

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