Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Hypnosis (Part 2/20)

What is the common factor that makes it possible for one approach to fit into such widely diversified therapies? It seems to be the idea that hypnosis somehow makes the inner person more accessible. When an individual relaxes into a "trance" state, memories, pains, and traumas as well as solutions and potentials supposedly become more available. Hypnosis is viewed as a direct route to the unconscious, where old demons can be exorcised with the least amount of discomfort to the patient. Traumas can be relived and resolved without any conscious participation; symptoms can be relieved without any knowledge of their source; compulsive behavior patterns can be broken without undue effort; defeatist self-images can be overhauled in a session or two.

In effect, hypnotism is based on the belief that the "unconscious" mind can swiftly heal the patient without the "conscious mind" ever being involved. Because of this apparent ease in effecting change, hypnosis has become one of the most popular forms of therapy. It is popular from the patient's point of view because it is like magic. Indeed, hypnotherapy expressly draws one away from the “why” – the reason for the neurotic symptoms in the first place. As a result, hypnotherapy draws patients away from a cure.

History of Hypnosis

The first attempt to explain hypnosis in naturalistic terms came in the 1700s. An Austrian physician named Franz Anton Mesmer (1713-1815) proposed that healing could occur through the transference of "animal magnetism." His procedures became known as mesmerism. People still speak of being “mesmerized.” Mesmer intended to bring hypnosis into the realm of modern science, but his techniques only contributed to its aura of mystery, magic, and charlatanism. Dressed in flowing silk robes, Mesmer would appear before his patients, who were gathered around a tub filled with water and iron filings. These would purportedly help transfer to the patients "the marvelous animal magnetism exuding from [Mesmer]." At some point the animal magnetism would trigger convulsions in the patients, which would remove whatever symptoms had been present.[1] (I suspect the convulsions represented a release of accumulated primal energy, which might well yield temporary relief of the patient’s symptoms.)

In 1784, a committee of inquiry convened by the King of France discredited Mesmer's ideas. The committee found that in fact that no such magnetism existed, and the striking recoveries were due to "mere imagination." Hypnotism was again linked to mysticism and quackery.

Nevertheless, by the 1840s it had spread to various parts of the world. Two surgeons working independently of each other – John Elliotson in London and James Esdaile in Calcutta – discovered that the mesmeric trance could be used for pain control during major surgery. Another 19th-century English physician, James Braid, agreed that Mesmer's techniques could be useful. He dismissed the concept of animal magnetism, however, and introduced the term hypnotism (from the Greek hypnos, meaning "to sleep"). This referred to a "nervous sleep" brought about by a concentration of attention. Braid believed hypnosis was a sleep state, or at least a state of consciousness existing below the level of conscious-awareness. These views divorced hypnosis from mesmerism, and tempered the medical profession’s negative attitude toward the use of hypnosis.

In subsequent decades, two scientific viewpoints on the nature of hypnosis crystallized. In the mid-1880s, Hippolyte Bernheim, a professor of medicine at Strasbourg, saw hypnosis as a normal phenomenon, resulting from a psychological response to suggestion, and not involving any special physical forces or processes. By contrast, Jean Martin Charcot, professor of neurology at the Sorbonne, considered hypnosis a pathological phenomenon which occurred only in hysterical patients and which did involve the physical influence of magnets and metals.

Sigmund Freud stepped into the controversy in the 1890s. A former student of Charcot, he became interested in the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool for treating neurotic disorders. Freud found hypnosis useful in helping hysterical patients recall forgotten traumatic events. He also used it as a technique to alleviate physical and emotional symptoms. In an 1893 case study, for example, he described how he used hypnosis to help a woman who was not able to breast-feed her child. After inducing a hypnotic trance, Freud "made use of suggestion to contradict all her fears and the feelings on which all the fears were based: 'Do not be afraid. You will make an excellent nurse and the baby will thrive. Your stomach is perfectly quiet, your appetite is excellent, you are looking forward to your next meal...'" Freud went on to comment about his "remarkable achievement." Hypnotism successfully alleviated the woman's physical symptoms, restored her appetite, and allowed her to nurse her child for eight months.[2]

Later, however, while compiling his book Studies in Hysteria, Freud discontinued the use of hypnosis and instead concentrated on the newly-developed techniques of psychoanalysis and free association. Later, he employed dream analysis as "the royal road to the unconscious."

[1]Ernest R. Hilgard and Josephine R. Hilgard, Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain. Los Altos, CA: William Kaufmann, 1975, p. 2.

[2]Freud, S. (1893). A case of successful treatment of hypnotism. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.), Sigmund Freud: Collected Papers (Vol. 5, pp. 33-46). New York: Basic Books, 1959, p. 36.


  1. Dr. Janov,

    you write: "Until recently, it has been shrouded in mystery, magic, and the supernatural, associated with everything from Druidic healers and high priests in ancient Greece to shamans, gods, witches, devils, and quacks."

    A person went to court to get his money back, because the therapy he selected did not help.

    "Crystal ball, tea leaves or imagination:
    Who Humbug booked, must pay for the Humbug says a German court".

    We can add to this every therapy in the business of:
    coaching, past life experience, hypnotherapy, etc - all those who are not seeking the source, causing the pain.

    Bottom line, it is the one in mental pain who decides if they want to heal.
    Most will choose catharsis and pay for catharsis, because they have not hit the concrete yet - some never will.
    Meanwhile, they repeat the pattern of abuse, while others make money off the repressed by selling humbugs.

    All you can do, Dr. Janov, is offer your knowledge, your inside, your empathy, have your arms open for the one who detoured for years, when they finally hit the concrete and know all the humbugs they paid for were nothing but catharsis.

  2. A link:


    Hypnosis And Surgery: Study In Belgium Finds It Shortens Recovery Time
    William Weir, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
    The Hartford Courant, Connecticut
    June 14--Hypnosis, according to a new study, can help patients undergoing surgery.

    Art, how would you explain the results?

  3. Genovés 2011-06-22

    During 1995, when I was the mgn. dir. of a European sales- and distribution center in St. Avold in France I went through 2 weeks of intensive classes in French in a language clinic in Metz. Before every session, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, I was put into a hypnotic state which lasted 2-3 hours. Ackording to the school I was doing very well and improved in short time my French. However, I was only able to speak French when I was in a hypnotic state. Unfortunately, not being under hypnosis, I could not remember much. So somewhere in the language center of my brain I have a sleeping French department.

    By the way, during decades I used to hypnotise myself when I went to the dentist. I could not take anesthesia, because it triggered, those days, my epilepsy when the anesthetic effect let, which did not happen when I put myself into a hypnotic state.
    So, yes, hypnosis can short term be very effective...

    Jan Johnsson

  4. Apollo: It puts you unconscious so you do not feel pain. Wonderful. That is what it is for. But you cannot get well unconsciously. You need to feel pain. art

  5. For those who have access to a copy of "Primal Man", there`s also a good interesting 10 pages on hypnosis in that book by Dr Janov.

    Btw, in case some of you are interested in a rebuttal I made to Apollo`s well-intentionned but false comments about Wilhelm Reich, see my second post on the Janov blog "So you think the government will solve addiction?", a few days ago.


  6. when you are in a trance, you are getting closer to death. i don't want that kind of pain relief. a nearly-dead person can never feel satisfied.

  7. People within your family usually don’t work with hypnosis because they live with you and are used to you, so try it with a friend it might work.

  8. Hey Aer , my only encounter with a hypnotherapist
    several years ago was in retrospection a ridiculous event1 I remember "the helping hand " of this gentleman because his post hypnotic suggesstion did not work..h e raised my arm...1
    By the way the German psychiatrist Hans Lungwitz
    did write "that only neurotics are to be hypnotized.. Ahat is it the e x a c t state where this ominous state of mind "is in one`s mind"
    Yours emanuel

  9. Hi,

    Yes indeed Richard and as I approach my death I would like to be able to do so with my eyes wide open, my heart full of love and my head clear with the perception of what is.

    There is a belief that when we die like that we live on forever, at least in the memory of those beloved we leave behind. They inherit the will to live life to the full and to love others as themselves.

    Truly a Christian Message if there ever was.

    First of all Christian had to find the gate and the gate keeper. Eventually he had to leave his baggage behind, then at last he was able to climb the steep hill and surmount his troubles.
    A lot of hassles along the way.

    Paul G.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.