What did Sigmund Freud think of hypnosis?

When the young Sigmund Freud made his way to Paris and Jean Martin Charcot’s Salpêtrière School in 1885, he was drawn by the study of neurology. However, once he was exposed to the study of consciousness, his interests began to evolve in to a passion for psychology, including hypnosis. Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in what is now the Czech Republic. Raised in a middle class Jewish family, he eventually went to medical school at the University of Vienna.

Freud was first exposed to hypnosis just a few short years before he went to study under Charcot in Paris. While studying with his mentor and later colleague Josef Breuer, Freud was able to witness, then later practice hypnosis in a clinical setting.

At the time, Breuer was working with a young woman suffering from what was called "hysteria" at the time. Bertha Pappenheim, "Anna O." as she came to be known, was suffering from a variety of physical and mental conditions that defied explanation by the current medical community. These included non-specific pain, speech disturbances and period refusal to eat or drink.

Breuer used hypnosis to try to alleviate her symptoms using relaxation. During these sessions, Breuer allowed Anna O. to speak freely and to explore memories that she seemed to recall without trigger or reason.

After two years of therapy with Anna O., Breuer defined the foundational principles of what would come to be called "psychoanalysis" (the talking cure). This new type of therapy being developed in Vienna was later to form the foundation of Freud's methods.

Breuer would later distance himself from Freud because if Freud's insistence that virtually all trauma could be traced back to sexual conflict.

While starting his private practice and further developing his version of psychoanalysis, Freud utilized hypnosis with many of his clients, preferring a dominant, assertive, paternalistic technique of hypnosis.

As Freud continued to develop his own theories and practices, including variations of psychoanalysis and free association, he began to move away from hypnosis as a modality. Freud later wrote that he felt his methods were more effective and that traditional hypnosis "did not effectively do away with client resistance, yielding only incomplete information and temporary results".

It was partially due to Freud's personal role in developing psychology as a field of academic study that Hypnosis is not taught at most universities to this day.

But in spite of the setback caused by Freud’s rejection of the practice, Hypnosis continued to become more widely accepted around the turn of the Century, including by such organizations as the British Medical Association in 1892.

Interestingly, as even his own protégé Carl Jung, noted, Freud's obsession with sex detracted from the effectiveness of his methods. As time has shown and Freud's theories have been increasingly discredited and his methods dropped from modern use, hypnosis and the use of hypnotic suggestion have been increasingly validated by modern scientific methods.

In his 1977 book "Clinical and experimental hypnosis: in medicine, dentistry, and psychology" Dr. William S. Kroger wrote:

In the light of the historical development of Freudian theory, perhaps ‘we need a psychoanalysis of current psychoanalytical resistance to the use of hypnosis.

Current research in hypnosis does not substantiate a single reason for Freud's avoidance of hypnosis... Since scientific hypnosis was in its infancy in Freud's time, one can hardly blame him for adopting a negative attitude. However, there is no valid reason why Freud's successors should continue to use this embryonic period in the historical development of hypnosis to criticize contemporary hypnotherapy. Masserman recognized that hypnosis was the core that underlies all forms of psychotherapy...

Shortly before his death, Freud spoke very resignedly about the poor results of psychoanalysis in an article seldom mentioned by his loyal followers. As Rado observed, 'Digging into the past yields diminishing returns.' Others question the value of recapturing early fantasies and memories. This is not to imply that many of Freud's observations in human behavior will not be of enduring value. Contemporary technics in hypnoanalysis could not have developed had it not been for his penetrating insights.

Are Freud and his sexuality based version of psychoanalysis destined to be a footnote in psychological history? Many now think that may be the case.

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