Archive report of meeting

Thursday 10th June 2004

Past notice

Is Hypnotherapy Losing Its Edge?

A talk by James Pool

Despite many dramatic developments in hypnotherapeutic techniques over the past half-century, there are some who believe the success rates of the early pioneers remain significantly better than many modern day practitioners.

This was the controversial view explained and defended by American academic and researcher James Pool at the society's June 2004 meeting.

Having investigated the history of hypnotherapy for more than two decades, James Pool focused particularly on the unpublished secrets of one of the leading medical hypnotist at the start of the 20th century - Dr August Forel.

Dr Forel was professor of psychiatry at the University of Zurich who became director of the famous Burgholzli Institute - a post subsequently held by Carl Jung.

Having heard of the spectacular success of Bernheim's treatment with hypnosis in the ancient city Nancy in the Lorraine region of France, Forel travelled to Bernheim's clinic and after studying his methods he continued to travel throughout Europe visiting all the outstanding practitioners of medical hypnosis.

Dr August Forel

His travels took him to the clinics of leading medical hypnotists like Charcot and Wetterstrand, studying the strengths and weaknesses of each - which is why his information remains so valuable and unique in the 21st Century.

Much of what Forel learned was published in "Hypnotism or Suggestion and Psychotherapy," (1906) which quickly became a leading textbook on medical hypnosis.

Dr August Forel

Some of the methods of medical hypnosis he witnessed though convinced Forel not only of the awesome power of hypnotism but caused him to fear they would seem like panaceas, arousing the wrath of the medical profession ... and the drug companies.

In addition however he became alarmed at the prospect of the most powerful techniques falling into the hands of demagogues or unscrupulous politicians. As a result some his information he decided not to reveal to the public, but passing it only to his son, Forel's fears were realised in the 1920s when he witnessed Hitler's use of hypnotic techniques to arouse racial hatred in Germany.

His son, Dr Oscar Forel, also a psychiatrist and experienced in medical hypnosis, kept the secret and after his fathers death in 1931 through the years when Hitler conquered one country after another.

James Pool learned first hand the full story from Dr Oscar Forel who described how his father, on returning to Zurich began using hypnosis, not only on the patients of the Burgholzli, but on the staff as well. One example involved the nurses working through the night at the Institute. The nurses were always tired, as they had to be on duty outside the rooms of mental patients, ever vigilant for some crisis.

Pool demonstrating arm catalepsy

Forel's solution was to hypnotise them so that they could steep in the halls and not be disturbed by the ordinary loud noises or screams the mental patients during the night. But if they heard something unusual, that was an indication a patient was in trouble, the nurse would awaken at once. This method apparently worked very well.

James Pool and the ageing Dr Oscar Forel met in the 1970's with Dr Forel intrigued at earning about Pool's research on Hitler. The two became friends with Forel inviting Pool to his beautiful chateau home on the shores of Lake Geneva.

During a series of private conversations, Oscar Forel - who was then in his 80's - wanted to share his fathers' discoveries with someone before he died. No longer was he hesitant about betraying his father's wishes to keep the knowledge secret from the public, since Hitler’s use of hypnosis had already created the ultimate catastrophe.

What had first impressed Dr August Forel was the success of hypnosis in treating many cases which failed to respond to more conventional treatments. The range of ailments tackled by the early pioneers was substantial. The June lecture set out to consider two broad questions: First, why medical hypnosis, at the turn of the last century, seemed to enjoy a higher success-rate than today and secondly, why more illnesses were treatable with hypnosis.



James Pool

has a BA degree with honours in history and an MA in communications from the University of Cincinnati.
He is the author of two best selling history books, 'Who Financed Hitler' and 'Hitler and His Secret Partners'.
For the last five years has conducted research into medical history, particularly in medical hypnosis during its "Golden Age" of hypnotherapy between 1880 and 1900.