Can hypnotism get respectable?
Everyone reading this could probably perform the trick above. It takes no magic powers to be a hypnotist. But as long as this strange phenomenon is exploited by showmen how can Canadian doctors and dentists use it openly?
AT A private demonstration before the Ontario Dental Nurses’ and Assistants’ Association in the Royal York Hotel last year, Dr. Donald S. Moore, a Hamilton dentist, showed how usually painful dental work could be done painlessly without the use of anesthetics. Specifically denying that he used hypnotism, he talked his patient into a state of “psychosomatic relaxation.” He demonstrated how he could, at will, make the patient feel no pain on only one side of his face while the other side remained normally sensitive. Moore had previously demonstrated his technique before the dean and professors of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons at the University of Toronto. Newspapermen were not permitted to attend either of these demonstrations.
In the previous summer of 1953 an itinerant stage hypnotist called The Great Doctor Zomb put a Banff girl named Betty Black into a trance. The next day the effects had not worn off completely and she fell asleep three times. The Great Doctor Zomb, by then appearing at Wainwright, Alta., wired instructions to Banff doctors on how to get Betty completely out of her trance. She was last reported improving in Banff Springs Hospital.
These two news items—one an officially approved report of a scientific demonstration handed to the Press by a highly reputable profession organization; the other a piece of tragi-comedy wired out over the Canadian Press as a “summer filler”
-—in a way sum up the hypnotism problem in Canada today.
On one hand, you have the British Medical Association this spring approving the use of hypnotism in medical practice and recommending that anesthetists, psychologists and obstetricians be taught how to use it. On the other, you have The Great Romeo hypnotizing a teen-ager in Maniwaki, Que., in a well-publicized effort to help the police find a lost child.
Doctors and dentists, many of whom are using hypnotism regularly without talking about it publicly, become understandably angry when stage hypnotists venture into medical preserves. And many professional men believe that even stage demonstrations of hypnotism should be outlawed. Britain took this step in 1952 when the Hypnotism Act was passed to protect susceptible persons from harmful effects at the hands of a hypnotist with no medical or psychological training. But the act prohibits only stage demonstrations; it does not specifically block the lay hypnotist from treating people. One incident that prompted the British action was the case of a woman who was placed in a state of catalepsy (in which the body becomes rigid) by a stage hypnotist. The showman placed chairs under the woman’s head and feet and left the rest of her body unsupported. Then he invited members of the audience to come forward and smash a rock that he placed on her stomach. One willing watcher swung the heavy hammer, missed the
rock and hit the woman. She died.
Sunday-supplement stories and films about Rasputin, the Mad Monk who supposedly bewitched a Russian empress, and Svengali, who became synonymous with hypnotism after his appearance in George du Maurier’s Trilby, have kept the public’s curiosity whetted about this phenomenon and Canada has always been a good pitch for the traveling hypnotist. They all seem to be Great—The Great Dr. Zomb and The Great Romeo already mentioned, The Great Morton, The Great Raymond (none other thanj an ex-Toronto Star photographeij named Ray Munro). Morton, a bearded Australian, filled the Roya! Alexandra, Canada’s biggest legitimate theatre, for an astonishing eight weeks in a recent year.
Some of them perfect their trade before the footlights then retire to the shaded lights of an office suite and offer their hypnotic services to the public. The best known of these is thirty-one-year-old Stephen Steiner, a self-taught hypnotist and head of the Institute of Hypnotherapy, with an office on Toronto’s Bay Street.
The neat and serious Steiner, unlike many doctors, is most affable with newspapermen and has thus earned considerable publicity. His institute was the subject of a series of articles by the science reporter of the Toronto Telegram, has demons strated on CBLT’s Tabloid, ha¿ helped a Toronto detective regaiij the memory he lost after a gun duel with a trio of bandits, has advised mothers who desire childbirth withi out anesthetics. He offers individual instruction to stammerers and stutterers and consultation in cases of overeating, insomnia, nail biting, bed wetting and other conditions.
Steiner claims that in Montreal he worked with doctors “on special cases” and that he has started nine Toronto dentists studying hypnosis. The medical and dental professional organizations, however, will have nc truck with Steiner, or with any medically unqualified hypnotist. Thej are convinced that serious trouble could befall a person treated for any kind of ailment by a lay hypnotisteven where an apparent “cure” was effected, the hypnotist’s lack of; medical knowledge could result ire deeper psychological damage.
The doctors can point to wide evidence of quackery in the hypnotic field. William Lewis, of Lake Park, Chicago, advertises: “Hypnotism can help you! Control your chffdren, control the sex function by suggestion! Happiness in marriage can be yours! Send today for this breathtaking course. $1.50 complete.” Many “hypnology schools” now in operation offer to train you for a career in stage hypnotism. They are mostly run by persons who call themselves “doctor,” yet never list theii degrees. In the U. S., the Chicagc Institute of Hypnosis, directed by Edwin Baron and the Wilshirf School of Hypnotism in Hollywood run by Melvin Powers, are cases ir point. At Rexford North’s Hypno tism Centre
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Fiction’s wicked Svengali keeps giving hypnotism a bad name
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in Boston ("a complete ten-lesson course for only $20”) advertisements list an oriental perfume ("a soothing aid in producing an atmosphere conducive to the induction of hypnotism; one ounce, with instruction, $1.50”), hypnodisks and miniature crystals for the induction of hypnotism, and hooks such as How To Get Publicity With Hypnosis and How to Make Money With Hypnotism.
The opponents of popular hypnotism can also point warningly to the case in Copenhagen last year where Bjorn Nielson was sentenced to life imprisonment for hypnotizing Palle Hardrup and causing him to rob a bank. Two cashiers were killed during the robbery and Hardrup was committed to a mental institution.
Hypnosis already has a long medical record. There are evidences that primitive man used it, perhaps unwittingly. The ancient Egyptians were skilled in its use, as were the Greeks. The Austrian physician and mystic Franz Mesmer developed a flourishing business around it in the eighteenth century, though subsequently the claims he made for his powers were largely discredited. In the mid-nineteenth century a French doctor named Jean Marcot made use of the science in his studies, and later Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist, reported trying it before he settled on psychoanalysis. World War II with its thousands of cases of battle fatigue—once known as "shell shock”—is considered largely responsible for the current renewed interest in hypnosis as an aid in the treatment of mental ills. Because hypnosis enables the psychiatrist to approach the subconscious mind of his patient directly, it often permits him to uncover as much repressed material in six months as he could in a year or more using the more common psychotherapeutic techniques.
In civilian life, it has the added advantage-—in those cases where it can be employed effectively—of sometimes reducing the cost of psychotherapy, because of the fewer sessions required.
Still, some doctors have reservations about its value in psychotherapy; Freud himself, they point out, found that simple knowledge of repressed or forgotten material was not helpful. It is suggested by these doctors that perhaps the only value hypnosis has in this field is in building up confidence in the therapist. Certainly hypnotherapy is not replacing other forms of psychotherapy, but the lessons learned during the war have done much to encourage many doctors to adopt it as an aid to straight therapeutic discussion or the free association method of Freudian psychoanalysis.
It is no cure-all; there is no such thing as a miracle cure through hypnosis. "Hypnosis,” according to Dr. Bernard Raginsky, of Montreal, "is only a highly specialized instrument to be used by specially trained individuals only as an instrument.”
The use of hypnosis is not confined to psychotherapy. In obstetrics, dentistry, minor surgery and in the treatment of compulsory habits such as over-smoking, it has proven itself an effective medical tool.
Obstetricians have for years been seeking a method of pain relief for the woman in labor. While all chemical anesthetics in current use produce an adverse respiratory or circulatory reaction and are therefore not entirely safe for either mother or baby, hypnosis, when induced by an expert, is claimed to be altogether harmless;
moreover, it does not alter the normal mechanism of labor. Under drug anesthesia, the sensitive area is "frozen,” so that the pain impulses do not reach the brain. Under hypnosis, however, the state of heightened suggestion makes it possible for the brain to ignore those sensations which would otherwise be painful. Anesthesia induced by hypnosis, since it depends directly on the depth of the trance, can be regulated by the hypnotist; drugs, on the other hand, once let loose in the body, are far less subject to the anesthetist’s control.
Dr. William Kroger, of the Chicago Medical School, has used hypnosis in childbirth. One of his patients, Mrs. June Brindel, reported that during her prenatal treatment "there was no mumbo-jumbo or making with the hands. Suggestions were given in a quiet voice and consisted chiefly of statements like 'The birth of your child will be a very pleasant experience. You will feel no discomfort. You will look forward with joy to the birth of your child.’ ” At the onset of labor, some weeks later: "There were a few
minutes when I felt very uncomfor-
table, but Dr. Kroger asked me to close my eyes at the count of three, breathe deeply, start counting and relax. Then he repeated the familiar formula I had heard so often on my visits to his office. Immediately, all sense of discomfort vanished. I was very calm and could concentrate without effort on the alternate rhythm of contraction and relaxation. Just at the moment of birth, there were a few instants of tremendous tension, followed by a feeling of utter peace ... I felt such a surge of affection and pity for the tiny, helpless creature that I was surprised at myself. I
realized then what a real pity it is to deprive a mother of active participation in the birth of her child . . .”
In dentistry, the use of hypnosis to induce anesthesia is becoming routine. A recently completed survey by Dr. Thomas O. Burgess, of Concordia College in Minnesota, reveals that five hundred dentists in Canada and the U. S. are using hypnosis to induce relaxation and anesthesia. All types of operations have been performed under hypnosis: cavity preparations, fillings, taking of impressions for dentures, extractions, and even root canal work. Most dentists, of course, don’t expect hypnosis to replace the usual chemical anesthetics completely, any more than obstetricians do. Under certain circumstances, drugs may be used in conjunction with hypnosis, as in the doctor’s early efforts while he acquires a certain amount of skill in the induction of the trance.
Hypnosis can be used to induce anesthesia for most minor operations, and if the patient is capable of a deep trance, major ones as well. A few years ago an eighteen-year-old recruit checked in at the Regina military hospital to be treated for two abscesses under his arm. Dr. S. R. Cooper decided they had to be lanced. Forty-five minutes before the operation, one and a half grains of nembutal, a sedative, were administered. The boy was asked to lie down and relax. Repeated suggestions of sleep, relaxation and fatigue, in addition to anesthesia of the right arm and shoulder, were continued for about ten minutes. When the young man was resting comfortably, the doctor tested him for pain with the scalpel. The patient stirred, but there was no indication of sensitivity to pain. During the incision, while there was considerable grimacing, the boy remained in a deep trance. The doctor suggested that on awakening he would be comfortable, and that he would recall nothing of the operation. Awake, he had no pain, and fell into a natural sleep almost immediately.
The exact nature of hypnosis is still somewhat mysterious. The Canadianborn scientist, G. H. Estabrooks, head
of the Department of Psychology of Colgate University in New York, once defined it as “a state of exaggerated suggestibility, brought about by artificial means.” A hypnotized person can reason and remember; he is not unconscious, and therefore not asleep—at least in the ordinary sense. Hypnosis can be induced by thinking of sleep, but a hypnotized individual will respond to stimuli and obey commands, and scientific recordings prove that the heart and lung action show more resemblance to those of the waking state. Dr. A. A. Brill, who worked with Freud for many years, writes of his embarrassment when a woman whom he had hypnotized by giving repeated suggestions of sleep, sat bolt upright, still in a trance, and exclaimed that she wasn’t asleep at all.
Can you be hypnotized? Probably. With the exception of children under five or six, practically all normal people can be hypnotized. How deep a trance you can achieve, however, is another matter; only about one person in five can be hypnotized to the point of being able to turn somersaults and still remain in the trance. This is usually considered the last, or somnambulistic stage; in this deep a trance, you are able to have hallucinations involving any of your senses: at the hypnotist’s suggestion a cup of tea will taste like apple pie, look like apple pie and smell like apple pie, and what’s more, you’ll eat it with a fork.
For most medical purposes, the medium stage is necessary; you may open your eyes without breaking the trance and, at the hypnotist’s suggestion, you can be completely anesthetized. Suggestions that you will act in a specified manner after waking up will be carried out.
There are two common methods of achieving this trance (though many other methods do exist): suggestions of sleep, and eye-fixation. In the first, the hypnotist sees that you are comfortable and asks you to relax. "Relax every part of your body. Now when I pick up your hand, I want it to fall like a piece of wood, with no help from you. Now relax your legs the same way.
Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Now relax your jaws. Now your cheeks, now your eyes. Your eyes are getting heavier and heavier. You can hardly keep them open. Soon they will close. Now your cheeks, now your eyes. Your eyes are getting heavier and heavier. You can hardly keep them I open. Soon they will close. Now make your mind a blank. You see a blackness spreading out in front of you. Now sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Your entire body and mind are relaxed. Your sleep is becoming deeper. You are in a deep, deep sleep.” The hypnotist’s voice gradually becomes softer and softer, i and he speaks more and more slowly. The eye-fixation method consists of tiring your eyes by having you stare at j a bright object held just above your j line of vision. You are asked to stare at ! the object and try to keep all other j thoughts out of your mind. Eventu! ally, you will go out in a glassy blank;
I you have reached the first stage. Now ¡ the hypnotist may carry on from here j with the sleep suggestion method to in! duce a deeper trance.
An old method seldom practiced nowadays involves the use of "passes,” or various complicated movements of the hands. But the hypnotic pass, as used by Mandrake the Magician, is now largely a theatrical gesture used to attract the attention and to impress the audience in popular demonstrations. In fact, the blind can he hypnotized.
You can probably, with the help of a hypnotist, learn to hypnotize yourself, either by the eye-fixation method or by talking yourself to sleep. Although only the first stage is usually reached, some persons are able to produce a deep trance by autohypnosis, and anesthetize themselves. You need not worry about waking up. Whether you’ve hypnotized yourself, or someone else has hypnotized you, either the trance will gradually turn into ordinary sleep, or you will wake up naturally.
As you go into a trance, your conscious mind gradually blots out everything and everybody but the hypnotist; your attention becomes focused on him (or, in the case of autohypnosis, yourself) and what he is saying. There can be a dozen others in the room with you—you will be oblivious of them, and will obey only the hypnotist. You are able to recall forgotten or repressed ideas and events and this permits a psychiatrist to make extensive use of hypnosis in the treatment of a variety of abnormal mental conditions. One of these is loss of memory.
Dr. Norman Viner, a Montreal psychiatrist, twenty-five years ago reported the case of a twelve-year-old boy who disappeared after school one day and was found eight hours later in a ditch in a suburb of Montreal. Taken back home, he didn’t recognize his mother, his sister, or his dog, nor could he remember what school he attended. Viner hypnotized the hoy several times over a two-month period and eventually helped him to complete recall.
One of the most fascinating facets of the hypnotic phenomenon is post-hypnotic suggestion. If the doctor suggests while you are in a trance that you will no longer have, say, a sore throat on awakening, you will wake up to find it gone. This sort of direct symptom removal is usually frowned upon, however, since the underlying cause of the problem is left untreated. Most psychiatrists agree with Dr. John W. LovettDoust, of the University of Toronto, who says that "if a patient comes to me with a headache, I can relieve him of the headache by hypnosis, only to find that he will shortly after develop a pain in the back.” Nevertheless, in such conditions as paralysis brought on by hysteria, the removal of the symptom usually affords such vast relief that
the patient is in a healthier frame of mind to face the real cause of his difficulty.
Doctors tread very cautiously in using hypnosis in treating alcoholism or over-smoking. Suggestions such as "You won’t want to drink any more” or "Just the very sight of tobacco will make you sick” might well have the effect of causing the patient to give up one compulsion, only to take up a more serious one, such as drug addiction, which is not easily treated by hypnosis. (Since the body develops a real need for narcotics, once the habit becomes established, treatment involves physical rehabilitation as well as mental.) In such cases, it is not primarily the symptom which must be removed, but its underlying cause which must be determined.
The hypnotherapist can sometimes get at this basic difficulty by using a technique called "age-regression,” which makes it possible for the patient to relive earlier periods of his life as vividly as if he were experiencing them for the first time, and with his mind in the same stage of immaturity. Even his handwriting changes.
Hypnosis can also be used successfully in conditions where no deepseated neuroses are necessarily involved, such as general depression, stage fright and minor speech disorders. It is in cases like these that suggestions for direct symptom removal are likely to be effective and permanent.
Can You Be Hypnotized?
The story of how Sergei Rachmaninoff came to write his familiar Second Piano Concerto is a case in point. In the early weeks of 1900, after suffering such severe apathy and depression for over a year that he hadn’t written a note of music, he consulted Dr. N. Dahl, a pioneer in medical hypnosis. Rachmaninoff wrote, in part, of his experience:
Dr. Dahl asked me what sort of composition I wanted to write. I told him that I had promised a piano concerto to the people of London. Consequently, I heard the same hypnotic formula repeated day after day: ‘You will begin to write your concerto, you will work with great facility, it will be an excellent piece of work.’ Although it may sound fantastic, his cure really helped me, and already by the beginning of summer I had begun to compose. I felt that Dr. Dahl’s treatment had strengthened my nervous system to a miraculous degree. Out of gratitude, I decided to dedicate my concerto to him.
Hypnosis has been quickly effective in the treatment of some speech disorders that have no organic basis. In 1951 a high-school boy was treated by John J. Levbarg, of the Harlem Eye and Ear Hospital in New York, for a high-pitched falsetto voice. Under hypnosis, his voice dropped an octave at the first session and, by the third, his voice was fuller and more masculine. Extremely nervous and shy when he began treatment, after eight months of occasional hypnotic sessions he was considerably more confident and poised and his voice was completely normal.
Certain skin ailments, also, seem to lend themselves to hypnotherapy.
Can a person be hypnotized against his will? Can a hypnotized person be made to commit a crime while in a trance, and to harm himself or others? These questions cannot be answered definitely. Most authorities would say, in answer to the first question, that while you can’t be hypnotized against your will, you can be hypnotized without your knowledge, if the hypnotist goes about his job quickly and cleverly enough. Many college psychology
courses teach that a hypnotized individual will do nothing in a trance that he wouldn’t do otherwise: an honest person won’t steal, and a person with the normal sexual inhibitions won’t disrobe in public. But there is much evidence to the contrary.
Dr. Ludwig Mayer, a German psychiatrist, tells of a woman who had been treated by a hypnotist who posed as a physician. Over a period of seven years he compelled her to steal money for him and to make several attempts— all unsuccessful—to kill herself and her husband.
In 1950 Dr. Loyd Rowland, of Baylor University in Texas, put a black rattlesnake in a box which was surrounded by invisible glass. Four highschool students were put into a deep trance. Rowland asked them, "Do you all see that box?” They all said they did. Rowland went on, "There is a rattlesnake in that box. Go up to it and reach through the opening in the screen wire and pick up the snake. Go right ahead.” One of the four subjects woke up immediately. The other three went right up to the glass, felt around for a while (one of them even began to push at it), then hesitated and looked questioningly at the experimenter. It was perfectly obvious that, had there been no glass, very shortly there would have been no students, either. Rowland maintains it is highly unlikely they could have seen the glass. In the second part of the experiment, a hypnotized boy and girl watched while Rowland poured sulphuric acid in two glasses. Ke said to both subjects, "Do you know what sulphuric acid is? It’s very dangerous and can put a person’s eyes out.” The subjects were then told, in turn, to pick up a glass and throw the acid in the experimenter’s face. (Again, they didn’t know that he was protected by invisible glass.) They both threw the acid.
Hypnosis for amusement presents another example of how this phenomenon, which is capable of immense good, can be employed for perverse ends. Because most people are not aware that anybody can practice hypnotism, individuals with a flair for showmanship are passing themselves off as having special powers and appearing before audiences in virtually the role of magicians. The hypnotist has no "power” whatsoever; in fact, he is required to exhibit the very minimum of hypnotic ability on the easiest of subjects. He seldom, if ever, explains that he is demonstrating only a small fraction of hypnotism—the induction of a deep trance in specially selected, highly suggestible people.
Rexford North, publisher of the now defunct Journal of Hypnotism, describes how the selection of subjects is done: "Say to your audience, 'Your
hands are growing tighter and tighter together.’ Wait and look. Then say, 'Breathe evenly and deeply ... as I count to three—one, two—’ look around . . . and try to spot, and have your assistant trained at this moment to select those who are in definite trouble and cannot release their hands, then say, 'Three, you cannot release your hands, as they are glued together as one hand.’ By this time you have selected your subjects.”
Since, by post-hypnotic suggestion, a person can be trained to go into a trance at a prearranged signal, stage hypnotists find it easy to have two or more "plants” in the audience. Indeed, they could hardly do without them. It is usually a plant who will nudge his neighbor with a "Come on, let’s volunteer, what can we lose?” In view of the fact that stage hypnotism is almost invariably aimed at making the subject look ridiculous and amusing the audience, the most significant effect such
demonstrations produce is to discredit the legitimate use of hypnosis by the medical profession. Moreover, the highly suggestible people who are suitable subjects for such demonstrations may easily suffer considerable mental and physical harm.
In December 1948 Miss Diana RainsBath was hypnotized on a stage in Brighton, England, by Ralph Slater. He "age-regressed” her back to a little frightened child crying for her mother. The audience thought it all very funny, but Slater forgot to bring her back to the present before removing the trance, and the girl consequently suffered an acute depression and anxiety neurosis for eighteen months following the incident. She was finally treated and cured by Dr. S. van Pelt, president of the British Society of Medical Hypnosis, but the victim sued Slater for three thousand dollars. The jury reached a verdict of negligence on the part of Slater.
In everyday life we have all had some experience with heightened suggestion, even though it may seldom reach the point of hypnosis. I, for one, have tipped tables and played the ouija board, and will affirm, with thousands of others, that no physical effort was involved. But the tables and disks don’t move by themselves, and a sort of light autohypnosis must be responsible. Most of us have had the experience of waking up just ahead of the alarm clock; the same force is at work here.
But only when hypnosis has been stripped of all the superstition and mystery that has surrounded it for centuries will it come to be accepted as a natural and rational phenomenon which has immense possibilities for good when used as a tool in the hands of highly skilled and medically trained persons. if