The decline of hypnosis

Sigmund Freud preferred working with patients in a waking state rather than in an hypnotic state as he attempted to treat mental illness. Emile Coué, carrying on the tradition of the Nancy School, also rejected hypnosis, using the power of suggestion on conscious subjects to try and cure physical health problems. Along with Richet (and Rhine working in the United States), more and more researchers interested in parapsychology would abandon hypnosis in favor of gathering statistical data on subjects possessing the ability to manipulate dice and cards, or perform acts of psycho-kinesis (mental displacement of objects) and telepathy (mental communication), all during the waking state.

A new era of paranormal research had begun. Hypnosis came to be perceived more and more as a spectacle rather than a subject worthy of serious scientific study. Hector Durville (who did manage to gain official recognition for his 'school of public magnetism') had himself locked up in a cage of lions and succeeded in putting them all into an hypnotic trance! A few of his students, notably P.C. Jagot, Colonel de Rochas, Doctor Lancelin, and his sons Gaston and Henri Durville, nevertheless managed to keep the flame alive through the first half of the twentieth century.

However, in France between 1920 and 1950, most scientists did not hesitate to deny the very existence of hypnosis, claiming that it was simply the simulation of a trance state by subjects who were, in fact, perfectly awake. Hypnotists themselves were either accomplices or dupes of this chicanery. Fortunately, research did continue in other countries, including the U.S., Germany, England, Russia and Spain.

The study of suggestion over distances, initiated by Janet, was developed to a much more sophisticated degree by the Russian physiologist L.L. Vassiliev. One of Vassiliev's colleagues, Ivan Pavlov, offered a physiological explanation of hypnosis that did much to enhance its credibility among members of the scientific community. In Germany, J.A. Schultz developed a relaxation method that used verbal suggestions to describe the physical effects of hypnosis (I am calm. my arms and legs feel heavy. my right arm feels very warm. etc.). In 1960, a student of Schultz, Alfredo Caycedo, developed a therapeutic method which he called sophrology, using the equivalent of a mild hypnotic trance to treat patients suffering from a variety of disorders.

The technique, which has been gaining in popularity the world over, is the subject of our next chapter.

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