Hypnotism

Hypnosis was a controversial topic of medical, legal and public debate in several European countries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The therapeutic potential of hypnotic suggestion was balanced against the dangers of a mental state that made the individual a powerless subject of the hypnotizer’s will and commands. The risks of induced nervousness and hysterical fits, of sexual abuse of hypnotized persons, and of criminal suggestions were invoked when treatment with hypnosis was discussed (Chettiar, 2012; Gauld 1992; Wolf-Braun, 2000; Wolffram, 2009: 83–130). Moreover, in the eyes of its critics, medical hypnosis had uncomfortable resemblances or links with the mesmeric or ‘magnetic’ treatments by lay healers, the stage performances of lay hypnotists and female ‘trance-dancers’, as well as the trance states of spiritualist mediums in occult séances (Hales, 2010; Kennaway, 2012; Teichler, 2002; Wolffram, 2012a). In addition, simulation by patients or test persons was seen as a problem in assessing the efficacy of hypnotic interventions (Bugmann, 2012: 60–4). The Berlin physician Albert Moll (1862–1939) was a key participant in these debates and established himself as an expert in hypnosis and suggestion therapy (Cario, 1999; Hahn and Schröder, 1989; Wendelborn, 1994; Winkelmann, 1965). Heather Wolffram in particular has recently considered his role in the efforts of a group of physicians in Imperial Germany to legitimize medical hypnosis as a therapeutic method and to demarcate it from contemporary research into paranormal, occult phenomena (Wolffram, 2012a). [Andreas-Holger Maehle-PMC 2014]