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Hypnotism In Medicine

Anesthesia.--Restoring the Use of

Muscles.--Hallucination.--Bad Habits.

Anaesthesia--It is well known that hypnotism may be used to render

subjects insensible to pain. Thus numerous startling experiments are

performed in public, such as running hatpins through the cheeks or arms,

sewing the tongue to the ear, etc. The curious part of it is that the

insensibility may be confined to one spot only. Even pers
ns who are not

wholly under hypnotic influence may have an arm or a leg, or any smaller

part rendered insensible by suggestion, so that no pain will be felt.

This has suggested the use of hypnotism in surgery in the place of

chloroform, ether, etc.

About the year 1860 some of the medical profession hoped that hypnotism

might come into general use for producing insensibility during surgical

operations. Dr. Guerineau in Paris reported the following successful

operation: The thigh of a patient was amputated. After the operation,

says the doctor, I spoke to the patient and asked him how he felt. He

replied that he felt as if he were in heaven, and he seized hold of my

hand and kissed it. Turning to a medical student, he added: 'I was aware

of all that was being done to me, and the proof is that I knew my thigh

was cut off at the moment when you asked me if I felt any pain.'

The writer who records this case continues: This, however, was but a

transitory stage. It was soon recognized that a considerable time and a

good deal of preparation were necessary to induce the patients to sleep,

and medical men had recourse to a more rapid and certain method; that

is, chloroform. Thus the year 1860 saw the rise and fall of Braidism as

a means of surgical anaesthesia.

One of the most detailed cases of successful use of hypnotism as an

anaesthetic was presented to the Hypnotic Congress which met in 1889, by

Dr. Fort, professor of anatomy:

On the 21st of October, 1887, a young Italian tradesman, aged twenty,

Jean M--. came to me and asked me to take off a wen he had on his

forehead, a little above the right eyebrow. The tumor was about the size

of a walnut.

I was reluctant to make use of chloroform, although the patient wished

it, and I tried a short hypnotic experiment. Finding that my patient was

easily hypnotizable, I promised to extract the tumor in a painless

manner and without the use of chloroform.

The next day I placed him in a chair and induced sleep, by a fixed

gaze, in less than a minute. Two Italian physicians, Drs. Triani and

Colombo who were present during the operation, declared that the subject

lost all sensibility and that his muscles retained all the different

positions in which they were put exactly as in the cataleptic state. The

patient saw nothing, felt nothing, and heard nothing, his brain

remaining in communication only with me.

As soon as we had ascertained that the patient was completely under the

influence of the hypnotic slumber, I said to him: 'You will sleep for a

quarter of an hour,' knowing that the operation would not last longer

than that; and he remained seated and perfectly motionless.

I made a transversal incision two and a half inches long and removed

the tumor, which I took out whole. I then pinched the blood vessels with

a pair of Dr. Pean's hemostatic pincers, washed the wound and applied a

dressing, without making a single ligature. The patient was still

sleeping. To maintain the dressing in proper position, I fastened a

bandage around his head. While going through the operation I said to the

patient, 'Lower your head, raise your head, turn to the right, to the

left,' etc., and he obeyed like an automaton. When everything was

finished, I said to him, 'Now, wake up.'

He then awoke, declared that he had felt nothing and did not suffer,

and he went away on foot, as if nothing had been done to him.

Five days after the dressing was removed and the cicatrix was found

completely healed.

Hypnotism has been tried extensively for painless dentistry, but with

many cases of failure, which got into the courts and thoroughly

discredited the attempt except in very special cases.

Restoring the Use of Muscles.--There is no doubt that hypnotism may be

extremely useful in curing many disorders that are essentially nervous,

especially such cases as those in which a patient has a fixed idea that

something is the matter with him when he is not really affected. Cases

of that description are often extremely obstinate, and entirely

unaffected by the ordinary therapeutic means. Ordinary doctors abandon

the cases in despair, but some person who understands mental

suggestion (for instance, the Christian Science doctors) easily effects

a cure. If the regular physician were a student of hypnotism he would

know how to manage cases like that.

By way of illustration, we quote reports of two cases, one successful

and one unsuccessful. The following is from a report by one of the

physicians of the Charity hospital in Paris:

Gabrielle C---- became a patient of mine toward the end of 1886. She

entered the Charity hospital to be under treatment for some accident

arising from pulmonary congestion, and while there was suddenly seized

with violent attacks of hystero-epilepsy, which first contracted both

legs, and finally reduced them to complete immobility.

She had been in this state of absolute immobility for seven months and

I had vainly tried every therapeutic remedy usual in such cases. My

intention was first to restore the general constitution of the subject,

who was greatly weakened by her protracted stay in bed, and then, at the

end of a certain time, to have recourse to hypnotism, and at the

opportune moment suggest to her the idea of walking.

The patient was hypnotized every morning, and the first degree (that of

lethargy), then the cataleptic, and finally the somnambulistic states

were produced. After a certain period of somnambulism she began to move,

and unconsciously took a few steps across the ward. Soon after it was

suggested--the locomotor powers having recovered their physical

functions--that she should walk when awake. This she was able to do, and

in some weeks the cure was complete. In this case, however, we had the

ingenious idea of changing her personality at the moment when we induced

her to walk. The patient fancied she was somebody else, and as such, and

in this roundabout manner, we satisfactorily attained the object


The following is Professor Delboeuf's account of Dr. Bernheim's mode

of suggestion at the hospital at Nancy. A robust old man of about

seventy-five years of age, paralyzed by sciatica, which caused him intense

pain, was brought in. He could not put a foot to the ground without

screaming with pain. 'Lie down, my poor friend; I will soon relieve you.'

Dr. Bernheim says. 'That is impossible, doctor.' 'You will see.' 'Yes, we

shall see, but I tell you, we shall see nothing!' On hearing this answer

I thought suggestion will be of no use in this case. The old man looked

sullen and stubborn. Strangely enough, he soon went off to sleep, fell

into a state of catalepsy, and was insensible when pricked. But when

Monsieur Bernheim said to him, 'Now you can walk, he replied, 'No, I

cannot; you are telling me to do an impossible thing.' Although Monsieur

Bernheim failed in this instance, I could not but admire his skill.

After using every means of persuasion, insinuation and coaxing, he

suddenly took up an imperative tone, and in a sharp, abrupt voice that

did not admit a refusal, said: 'I tell you you can walk; get up.' 'Very

well,' replied the old follow; 'I must if you insist upon it.' And he

got out of bed. No sooner, however, had his foot touched the floor than

he screamed even louder than before. Monsieur Bernheim ordered him to

step out. 'You tell me to do what is impossible,' he again replied, and

he did not move. He had to be allowed to go to bed again, and the whole

time the experiment lasted he maintained an obstinate and ill-tempered


These two cases give an admirable picture of the cases that can be and

those that cannot be cured by hypnotism, or any other method of mental


Hallucination.--Hallucinations, says a medical authority, are very

common among those who are partially insane. They occur as a result of

fever and frequently accompany delirium. They result from an

impoverished condition of the blood, especially if it is due to

starvation, indigestion, and the use of drugs like belladonna,

hyoscyarnus, stramonium, opium, chloral, cannabis indica, and many more

that might be mentioned.

Large numbers of cases of attempted cure by hypnotism, successful and

unsuccessful, might be quoted. There is no doubt that in the lighter

forms of partial insanity, hypnotism may help many patients, though not

all; but when the disease of the brain has gone farther, especially when

a well developed lesion exists in the brain, mental treatment is of

little avail, even if it can be practiced at all.

A few general remarks by Dr. Bernheim will be interesting. Says he:

The mode of suggestion should be varied and adapted to the special

suggestibility of the subject. A simple word does not always suffice in

impressing the idea upon the mind. It is sometimes necessary to reason,

to prove, to convince; in some cases to affirm decidedly, in others to

insinuate gently; for in the condition of sleep, just as in the waking

condition, the moral individuality of each subject persists according to

his character, his inclinations, his impressionability, etc. Hypnosis

does not run all subjects into a uniform mold, and make pure and simple

automatons out of them, moved solely by the will of the hypnotist; it

increases cerebral docility; it makes the automatic activity

preponderate over the will. But the latter persists to a certain degree;

the subject thinks, reasons, discusses, accepts more readily than in the

waking condition, but does not always accept, especially in the light

degrees of sleep. In these cases we must know the patient's character,

his particular psychical condition, in order to make an impression upon


Bad Habits.--The habit of the excessive use of alcoholic drinks,

morphine, tobacco, or the like, may often be decidedly helped by

hypnotism, if the patient wants to be helped. The method of operation is

simple. The operator hypnotizes the subject, and when he is in deep

sleep suggests that on awaking he will feel a deep disgust for the

article he is in the habit of taking, and if he takes it will be

affected by nausea, or other unpleasant symptoms. In most cases the

suggested result takes place, provided the subject can be hypnotized al

all; but unless the patient is himself anxious to break the habit fixed

upon him, the unpleasant effects soon wear off and he is as bad as ever.

Dr. Cocke treated a large number of cases, which he reports in detail in

his book on hypnotism. In a fair proportion of the cases he was

successful; in some cases completely so. In other cases he failed

entirely, owing to lack of moral stamina in the patient himself. His

conclusions seem to be that hypnotism may be made a very effective aid

to moral suasion, but after all, character is the chief force which

throws off such habits once they are fixed. The morphine habit is

usually the result of a doctor's prescription at some time, and it is

practiced more or less involuntarily. Such cases are often materially

helped by the proper suggestions.

The same is true of bad habits in children. The weak may be strengthened

by the stronger nature, and hypnotism may come in as an effective aid to

moral influence. Here again character is the deciding factor.

Dr. James R. Cocke devotes a considerable part of his book on

Hypnotism to the use of hypnotism in medical practice, and for further

interesting details the reader is referred to that able work.