Can Hypnosis Solve Your Problems?
Dr. George Estabrooks, professor of psychology at Colgate University and author of the book, Self Hypnotism, made the following two statements in a paper called “The Future of Hypnosis” given as part of a program on “The Nature of Hypnosis” at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association:
“On the subject of hypnosis and self hypnosis, it would be well to sound a word of caution against certain attitudes which have become popular and which can be well illustrated in the field of medicine. In this respect, direct suggestion is under the ban. For example, a dictum, ‘Never remove the symptom unless the cause is understood,’ is much emphasized. Its validity is greatly open to question, since much of medical practice is direct symptom removal, as only a little thought makes apparent.
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“Another dictum generally followed (concerning self hypnosis) is that the unconscious background of symptom-complexes must necessarily be made conscious to effect a cure. Reasonable and thoughtful consideration of the extensive role of the unconscious in daily living and functioning renders this dictum much less creditable.”
I should like to discuss both of these statements in some detail as they invariably arise in the mind of the individual seeking help through hypnosis.
The first thought that comes to mind is that all the religious healings cited in the Bible involve direct symptom removal. The cures that are effected by religious devotees traveling to sacred shrines are also in the realm of direct symptom removal. I have yet to hear a criticism of this type of treatment directed at religious leaders or condemnation of the religious shrines. These cures are accepted as evidence of the power of faith or attributed to the super-natural. In these cases, nothing is ever done to make the person cured understand the nature of the unconscious mechanisms which contributed to his problem.
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Religious healing cannot be dismissed by merely saying, “It isn’t scientific.” A methodology is only scientific when it works. It is of no value if it doesn’t help the individual seeking help. We must face the fact that not all people can be helped by the same psychological treatment. We can readily see this in the following extreme example: An aborigine suffering from a psychological problem certainly wouldn’t be a candidate for psychoanalysis as we know it. He could, no doubt, be helped much more readily by a witch doctor. It also stands to reason that the sophisticated Westerner would not be influenced by the incantations of a tribal medicine man.
Going further, we find there are many schools of psychotherapy and many approaches to solving man’s emotional problems. The cure rate for all of them, however, is approximately the same. I think we must accept the fact that there is no one sound, logical, scientific approach. I believe that so long as the end result is achieved, the methodology was scientific for that individual’s needs. The goal of all therapies is to help the patient free himself from whatever emotional problems beset him.
This approach, to some readers, may seem an oversimplification of a very complex problem, but I think it’s time that we had a simple, workable formula devoid of technical jargon. Too often, complex technical terms and theories have been glibly used to explain away failures. I believe we need more and more emphasis on measures to make the patient feel better rather than spending most of the time trying to find out why he doesn’t feel well. This, of course, is symptom removal again.
I should like to point out an interesting fact pertaining to Biblical healers. So long as the fame of the healer preceded his arrival in any country, he was able to heal the sick. However, where his fame as a healer was either unknown or discredited, he found no faith and subsequently no cure. The earliest reference to hypnosis is in the Bible, Genesis ii, 21. “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept…”
Dr. William Malamud, 86th president of the American Psychiatric Association, in an address delivered at the annual meeting in 1960, stated the following in a paper called “Psychiatric Research: Setting and Motivation”:
“During the last few years we have witnessed a growing trend of overemphasizing the value of ‘exact’ methodology and uniformity of standards. This trend, which could be characterized as a ‘cult of objectivity,’ has already had an important influence on psychiatric research. It is true that in its emphasis on critical judgment and valid criteria, it has helped to curb unrestrained flights of imagination and sloppy methodology. But the over glorification of objectivity and the insistence on rigidly single standards of acceptable methods have resulted in a concentration on certain phases of the science of human behavior at the expense of other very important ones.”
I believe that most individuals have a fairly good understanding of how they came to have the problem that they have. I have yet to encounter the person who protests he has no idea why he doesn’t function as he would like to in a certain area. From a practical standpoint, not many have the time nor money required to delve into the unconscious background of the problem. The high cost of treatment is a very real objection and cannot be discounted lightly. People suffering from emotional problems usually suffer financial reverses as well. Who is to help these people? There are very few places in the country where they can receive competent psychiatric help at a reasonable fee. Is there this type of help in your own community? It is only when the individual is destitute that the state provides whatever help it can. However, at this point it’s a long hard struggle back to good emotional health.
The National Association for Mental Health and its affiliates issue about 10 million copies of 200 different pamphlets on various aspects of mental health. To assess the value of these pamphlets, 47 mental hygiene experts held a conference at Cornell University. A report on this outstanding conference has been published. It is called “Mental Health Education: A Critique.” A feature by Ernest Havemann in the August 8, 1960 issue of Life contains a very worthwhile article on this conference called “Who’s Normal? Nobody, But We All Keep On Trying. In Dissent From ‘Mental Health’ Approach, Experts Decry Futile Search For An Unreal Goal.” The following paragraph is taken from the Life article:
“What about psychiatry and psychoanalysis? This is a different matter. Many unhappy and problem-ridden people, though by no means all who have tried it, have profited from psychotherapy. Indeed, all the mental health pamphlets, as a postscript to the self-help methods they advocate, wind up by advising the reader to seek professional care if his problems are serious enough. But the skeptics at Cornell cited statistics which to them show that psychiatric treatment is as remote for the average person as a trip to the moon. Aside from the expense, which most people would find prohibitive, there simply are not enough therapists to go around. The U. S. has around 11,000 psychiatrists and 10,000 clinical psychologists—in all, about one for every 8,500 citizens. If everybody with emotional problems decided to see a psychiatrist, the lines at the doctors’ offices would stretch for miles.”
I assume that most readers of this book know that state hospitals are understaffed and unable to provide proper care for the mentally ill. Mike Gorman, executive director of the National Mental Health Committee, has written a crusading report on this very theme called Every Other Bed. In this book he tells us that every other hospital bed in the United States is occupied by a mental case. Mental illness costs the country two and a half billion dollars a year besides the more important untold human suffering that can never be equated in dollars. The book is a shocking story of how we have let this happen; are still letting it happen; and of how little, for the most part, we, the general public as well as the medical and psychological professions, are doing to correct this deplorable situation.
It is time that we re-examined the dictum’s that say a symptom can never be removed unless the cause is understood and the unconscious background of symptom-complexes must be made conscious and understood before a cure is effected.
There are many positive thinking groups functioning in the religious field. Many of these religious groups are in existence primarily because of the dynamic philosophy or psychology they offer for every day living. Couple this with a strong faith in God, and you have a combination which approaches infallibility. Recently we have had a series of best-selling books which expound this very theme. Does it work? Of course it does when used properly.
You can be sure that there has been criticism of this religious psychology. The criticism is that the basic causes of the problem are never dealt with and the unconscious conflict is not resolved. It’s the same argument over and over again. What about the people helped? They seem to have made tremendous strides and are leading lives as well adjusted as anyone else. Once imbued with this spirit or feeling of well-being, it permeates every phase of their relationships in a constructive manner.
The only reason that there isn’t more criticism is that this type of psychotherapy is incorporated into the religious tenets of these groups, and criticizing another man’s religion makes the detractor’s entire philosophy unacceptable. I am strongly in favor of these groups because I would prefer having a religion that keeps pointing out the positive side of life and that “life can be beautiful” if you put your faith in God and practice positive thinking. It is certainly better than the cynical philosophy of its detractors or the grim religions which stress punishment. Think of the guilt feelings involved in the latter. No one can live up to such a formidable creed.
Of course, if you suggest to positive thinking, religious individuals that they are using a form of self-hypnosis, they will emphatically deny and debate the issue. Since we are primarily interested in mental hygiene and not in winning a debate, it is well to leave the matter as it stands. The point to keep in mind is that so long as a person feels that this methodology is the answer to his needs and so long as no one is being hurt by his belief, I feel he should cling to his conviction. He should not allow it to be destroyed by those who are thinking in different semantic terms.
I would like to bring up another common example pertaining to the two basic concepts that we have been discussing. It is the example of the many individuals who have taken public speaking courses to overcome stage fright. In most cases, the person involved hasn’t had too much opportunity to be a public speaker. Because of this, he suddenly feels he may not say the right thing or forget what he wants to say. This anxiety can create the very situation or block that he fears. What is the solution? Certainly not psychoanalysis to find out why he functions the way he does. You could use this approach, but I don’t think it’s the most constructive one. It is like asking, “What am I doing that’s wrong?” instead of “What can I do that’s right?” The most constructive approach is to take a course of instruction to get the actual practice and experience in the techniques of public speaking.
Before proceeding further, I believe it is necessary to point out that I am not just being critical of the convictions of other sincere and dedicated individuals engaged in the field of mental hygiene. It is always good to re-evaluate our present thinking on any subject, no matter how sincere or convinced we may be that what we are doing is correct. At times, we can become so immersed in our convictions that we cannot take criticism and respond emotionally to ideas or interpretations that do not coincide with logical thinking.
What, then, is the answer to mental health problems? There is no single answer. It is a very complex situation. There are many promising drugs and treatments which, if adequately developed and widely used, could do a great deal toward promoting good mental health. Fundamentally, the problem will always be that of trying to understand human behavior and helping those in distress with an efficacious formula.
What is that formula? I believe hypnosis can contribute in part to the answer. Needless to say, hypnosis is contraindicated in many emotional problems because of the very nature of the problem itself. Some emotional difficulties must first be worked out on a conscious level. After this, hypnosis can be instrumental in achieving the final goal.
Dr. Frank S. Caprio, a prominent psychiatrist, in his book, Helping Yourself with Psychiatry, states the following: “A whole new world of self-confidence and positive living is open to every person, young and old, through hypnosis, self-hypnosis and self-suggestion or auto-hypnosis.”