Freud, Jung, And The Influence of Hypnotism

“Hypnosis arguably… set the pattern for Freud’s view on the unconscious and volition,” David A. Oakley suggests in From the Couch to the Lab Trends in Psychodynamic Neuroscience. 

Indeed, the recognition of the subconscious itself probably began, during the late nineteenth century, in the field of hypnosis. However, it is only with the launch — and broader acceptance — of psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century that the subconscious mind became generally acknowledged. 

Although rarely acknowledged, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939, the father of psychoanalysis) and his direct disciple Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) both practiced hypnosis early on. Although Jung gave up some aspects of hypnosis, as David Hartman and Diane Zimberoff notehypnosis and suggestion remained part of his therapeutic repertoire.”

Freud was not as successful in the field as he had hoped, and less successful than Jung at hypnotizing patients. “At the moment,” wrote Freud about his early work in hypnotism, “there were only two points to complain of: first, that I could not succeed in hypnotizing every patient, and secondly, that I was unable to put individual patients into as deep a state of hypnosis as I should have wished.”

The father of psychoanalysis also studied the findings of Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist at Saltpetriere Hospital, who had experimented with hypnosis, especially with regard to “hysterics.” And, interesting, in this regard, in December, 1906, Jung wrote to Freud, saying that “Most uneducated hysterics are unsuitable for psychoanalysis. I have had some experience here. Occasionally hypnosis gets better results.”

In the preceding year, Jung had been made the lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Zurich, where he would demonstrate hypnotism. In his volume of essays Memories, Dreams, Reflections, written towards the end of his life, Jung recalled this time, and one case in particular.

“during the first semester my lectures dealt chiefly with hypnosis,” wrote Jung. “… the problem of Freudian psychoanalysis moved into the foreground. In my course on hypnosis I used to inquire into the personal history of patients whom I presented to the students. One case I still remember very well.”

A fifty-eight year old woman visited Jung and his class. She was on crutches, having suffered paralyzing pain in her left leg for seventeen years. Jung put her into “a profound trance” for thirty minutes. Then, for another ten minutes, he tried to awaken her from hypnosis, unsuccessfully. Finally, the woman awoke and was “giddy” with excitement. “I am cured,” she exclaimed and, now able to walk normally, abandoned her crutches and left the university. 

Jung was far from overjoyed, however. “That was one of the experiences that prompted me to abandon hypnosis,” he later wrote. “I could not understand what had happened, but the woman was in fact cured, and departed in the best of spirits… her pains did not recur; in spite of my skepticism, I had to accept the fact of her cure.”

While Freud abandoned hypnotism at least partly because of his struggle to hypnotize patients, Jung abandoned it for the almost exact opposite reason. He was too successful, it seems. And — rather like the subconscious mind itself — the reasons for his success was not always clear. 

Results may vary from person to person.