Sunday Excerpt: Walking Your Blues Away - How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being
The amazing story of why Sigmund Freud abandoned hypnosis in 1895 and his discovery of how we can heal ourselves psychologically...
We are certainly familiar with trauma in the modern world, from acts of war and terrorism, to crime, child abuse, and the pain our dysfunctional schools cause our children. And we don’t always handle it well: suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans aged 15-24.[i] In 1996 over 51 million prescriptions were written in the United States just for the SSRI family of antidepressants (including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft), with sales topping over $3.6 billion for the top six SSRSs, and the numbers have grown since then.[ii]
But trauma is also nothing new for the human race. While sociologists argue about whether early human societies were comfortable egalitarian societies like most (but not all) modern-day hunter/gatherer peoples living in the various rain forests of the world, or whether they were violent dominator cultures where the physically strongest ruled (the primary fantasy of 18th century British writers), nobody disagrees that trauma and death were part of life. If four of us set out as a hunting party every few days, odds are that over time at least one of us would get eaten by a predator or die in an accident. When that happened right in front of the eyes of the other three of us, how would we deal with the psychological trauma that resulted from witnessing it? Or the trauma from a near-escape with death?
Humans are self-healing organisms. If you cut your finger, it heals. If you break your leg, it heals. Even if part of you is cut out in surgery, the surgeon’s wound heals. We heal from bacterial and viral invasions, from injuries, and from all variety of traumas. It’s built into us. Five million years of evolution, or the grace of God, or both, have made our bodies automatic healing machines.
So why wouldn’t the same be true of our minds and emotions?
In ancient times, humans experienced mental and emotional wounds just as they do today. Family members became sick and died; friends and family were lost to battles with other tribes and with wild animals; after the advent of agriculture, famine and plagues periodically visited us. All left their marks, their wounds, and if people didn’t have ways of healing from those emotional and psychological wounds, society would have become progressively less and less functional. Instead, history shows us that people usually recover even from the most severe of psychological wounds, often having learned great lessons or having gained important insights.
The famous Kauai Study of migrant farmworking children at great risk for child abuse found that a higher percentage of the abused children grew up “highly resilient” than did a middle-class control group. The generation that survived the Great Depression, and those who survived the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, often went on to create great institutions, build a nation, and offer comfort and hope to us all. Ellie Weisel’s experience comes to mind particularly: although he would never want to repeat or wish on another the experience of being in one of Hitler’s death camps, he used that experience to give an entirely new model of healing and vigilance about fascism to the world.
The reality is that while adversity breaks some people, it strengthens others. When people heal from adversity, the old cliché of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” usually is true.
In this book, I’m proposing that there is a healing mechanism built into the human mind and body that enables us to process trauma in a way that’s quick, functional, and permanent. This mechanism is simple and complex, fundamental and elegant. It involves rhythmic bilateral stimulation of the body, which thus causes nerve impulses to cross the brain from the left to right hemisphere and back at a very specific rate or frequency. This cross-patterning produces an autonomic integration of left-hemisphere “thinking” functions with right hemisphere and brain-stem “feeling” functions to produce an intellectual and emotional healing from trauma.
The mechanism, in its most simple form, is called walking.
Freud, Mesmer, and bilateral inductions to access the unconscious
After nearly thirty years of searching for ways to help people heal from trauma, it’s frankly amazing to me that it was so “right there in front of us” all the time. And the clues should have been conspicuous. For example, the first physician to develop a system that involved bilateral cross-hemispheric stimulation was Franz Anton Mesmer, in the late 1700s.
Mesmer healed people of trauma by a variety of techniques that he thought stimulated or moved people’s “animal magnetism,” the animating life force within the human body. To accomplish this, he sometimes used lodestones or magnets, or water that he had “magnetized,” or the direct force of his own “magnetism,” which included a technique of having patients hold their heads steady as they followed with their eyes two fingers he held in front of their faces, gently waving them from side to side for a few minutes at a time. As his biographer, James Wyckoff, said, “Mesmer now considered passes with his hand as the essential part of his cure.”[iii]
He termed his system Mesmerism, and for much of the 18th Century he was one of the most famous and notorious physicians in Europe. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a friend of Mesmer, and his opera Bastien et Bastienne was performed in 1768 in the garden of Mesmer’s home. Mozart later wrote Mesmer into his opera Cosi Fan’ tutte:
This magnetic stone
Should give the traveler pause.
Once it was used by Mesmer,
Who was born
In Germany’s green fields,
And who won great fame
His system was highly effective and widely practiced to treat all manner of physical and psychological ailments, although Mesmer was careful to not take patients suffering from clearly “organic” diseases. Trained as a classical physician, by doing this Mesmer was separating out those people who he would either prescribe medications for, or refer to other physicians for surgery or other medical techniques. His special interest was in those conditions caused by a lack of vitality or magnetism, what today would be called psychosomatic or psychiatric conditions, and what Freud referred to as “hysteria,” noting that it often produced physical sensations such as bleeding, paralysis, blindness, insomnia, fits, and a wide variety of other symptoms.
At the height of his career, Mesmer trained hundreds of physicians across Europe in his techniques, and had a following that included royalty and the highest levels of society, as well as the most poor who he treated for free. The medical establishment of his day decided that Mesmer was a threat to them, and so convened a Commission of Inquiry, which included a number of Paris’ most well-known physicians and the American scientist, Benjamin Franklin.
The investigators taught themselves what they thought were Mesmer’s techniques by having one of his students, d’Eslon, perform Mesmerism cures on them. None of them were sick, however, so none were cured.
Recognizing this, they retired to Ben Franklin’s home where, for three days, they tried to repeat what they’d seen d’Eslon do, only this time they practiced his techniques on members of “the lower classes.”[v] One of the members, de Jussieu, got good results and dissented from the majority report, concluding that Mesmerism worked; the rest thought it a failure and wrote of their opinion in a report dated August 11, 1784. The report, which claimed to debunk Mesmerism, was a huge blow to Mesmer’s reputation and career in France, and caused him to retire to a home in the countryside until his death in 1815.
But Mesmerism and Magnetism lived on as medical systems, and were widely practiced all across Europe and the United States well into the 19th Century. A French Magnetizer, Dr. Charles Lafontaine, came to England to teach the technique in November of 1841, and in the audience was a Manchester physician of Scottish ancestry named James Braid. Braid was fascinated by the techniques presented, and began to experiment with them extensively. He concluded, as had the French commission, that Mesmer’s claims for the powers of magnets were overstated. The power of trance induction through Mesmerism, however, fascinated Braid, who named the phenomena Neurohypnosis and later shortened the name to Hypnosis.
Braid carefully chronicled the aspects of trance, somnambulism, and other states that could be brought about by Mesmer’s technique of using fingers in front of the eyes.
Braid wrote: “My first experiments were conceived in view of proving the falseness of the magnetic theory which states that the provoked phenomena of sleep is the effect of the transmission of the operator on the subject, of some special influence emanating from the first while he makes some touches on the second with the thumb. He looks at him with a fixed stare, while he directs the points of the fingers toward his eyes, and executes some passes in front of him.
“It seemed to me that I had clearly established this point, after having taught the subjects to make themselves fall asleep just by fixing an attentive and sustained looked on any inanimate object.”[vi]
To determine if the technique worked because of a magnetic energy moving from the practitioner’s fingers to the patient’s eyes (as Mesmer believed) or just by virtue of the eye motion itself, Braid replaced the fingers with a swinging pocket watch. The technique still worked, and Braid concluded that Mesmer’s trance states – and the healing that came from them – were produced more by “fatigue of the eye muscles” or the power of suggestion than any sort of animal magnetism or etheric field.[vii]
Thus, during the late 19th Century the work of Mesmer split in two separate directions. On one side, Andrew Jackson Davis, Madam H.P. Blavatsky, and Phineas Quimby took aspects of Mesmer’s work and transformed it into the systems that would become Theosophy, Christian Science, and the New Thought movement. At the same time, Braid and other physicians worked to strip Mesemerism of its esoteric content and arrive at a scientific understanding of the physiological and psychological processes involved in producing trance states by fixed attention and bilateral stimulation.
Freud discovers hypnosis
The world that Sigmund Freud was born into in 1856 was already embracing hypnosis with a fervor, as the practice had spread to hospitals around the world for surgical anesthesia, and was being used by many physicians to treat hysteria, a broad category of physical illnesses believed to have a psychological basis.
Anna O – a pivot point for Freud
When Freud was 24 years old and just out of medical school, his mentor Josef Breuer began treating a 21-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman named Bertha Pappenheim, who Freud referred to in writing as Anna O. The young woman had spent several years of her life nursing her ailing father, and when he died she developed a number of ailments, including muteness, paralysis, hallucinations, and spasms. In addition, she refused to speak German but would only converse in English (they lived in Germany), and tried on several occasions to kill herself.
At that time, therapeutic hypnotic methods varied to some degree, although most involved having a person fix their attention on one point. Freud, in a paper published in 1881, wrote of several techniques he and Breuer preferred. One was clearly handed down from Mesmer, as Freud wrote, “we sit down opposite the patient and request him to fixate two fingers on the physician’s right hand and at the same time to observe closely the sensations which develop.” The other technique seemed a more recent invention of Breuer’s and Freud’s and involved, as Freud wrote, “stroking the patient’s face and body with both hands continuously for from five to ten minutes,” a technique apparently quite useful for hysterical female patients as, Freud notes, “this has a strikingly soothing and lulling effect.”[viii]
Breuer treated Bertha with these and other hypnotic techniques to some success, although Freud observed that the in the process the woman fell in love with Breuer, a married man old enough to be her father. She claimed Breuer had impregnated her and she would have his baby. Breuer claimed she had a “hysterical pregnancy,” and she was thus moved to a private sanitarium where she lived for the next few years out of the public eye. It is not known to this day if the pregnancy was terminated, she miscarried, gave birth, or if, as Breuer claimed, her pregnancy symptoms were all the result of her hysterical desire to have his child and had no basis in physical reality.
What is known is that after her release from the sanatorium, Bertha Pappenheim became Germany’s first and most outspoken social worker and feminist. She rose to Susan B. Anthony-like fame in Germany, writing books and producing plays advocating women’s rights, and translating into German and publishing Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 groundbreaking treatise on women’s rights titled A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In 1904 she founded a Jewish women’s movement (the Juedischer Frauenbund), which became so influential in Germany that it came to the attention of the Nazis. She died after being interrogated by Hitler’s goons in 1936; she had never married or, as far as can be found, ever had another relationship with a man after Breuer.
Bertha had found, in the first year of her treatment by Breuer, that it was very useful for her to spend long times talking with the attentive Breuer about her feelings: she called this her “talk therapy” and “chimney sweeping.” He would come to her home both evenings and mornings after her father’s death to hear her “talk therapy.” Her case, even though Freud and Breuer never claimed it as a “cure,” became the cornerstone of Freud’s theories and of modern talk-based psychotherapies.
Freud’s 1893 Some Points for a Comparative Study of Organic and Hysterical Motor Paralyses and his 1895-published Studies on Hysteria (the “founding document” on Freudian psychoanalysis, co-authored with Josef Breuer) based nearly all of his conclusions on results he obtained using Mesmer’s and Braid’s eye-motion and other hypnotic techniques. In Studies on Hysteria, for example, Freud wrote: “Quite frequently it is some event in childhood that sets up a more or less severe symptom which persists during the years that follow. Not until they have been questioned under hypnosis do these memories emerge with the undiminished vividness of a recent event.”[ix]
In 1893 Freud published On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: Preliminary Communication, co-authored with Josef Breuer. In it, he talked frequently and explicitly about hypnosis. “As a rule, it is necessary to hypnotize the patient and to arouse memories under hypnosis,” he wrote in the opening paragraph of the paper. “…when this [hypnosis] is done, it becomes possible to demonstrate the connection in the clearest and most convincing fashion.”[x]
In the paper, Freud and Breuer refer to their learning hypnotic techniques in 1881, and refer to their work before 1881 as “the ‘pre-suggestion’ era.”[xi] Repeatedly, Freud and Breuer referred to the power of hypnosis for both diagnostic and therapeutic work. They suggested that the root causes of hysteria are found in old memories or emotional traumas, and that, “Not until they have been questioned under hypnosis do these memories emerge…”[xii]
And the cure for these painful old memories that are driving neurotic behavior?
Freud and Breuer wrote: “It will now be understood how it is that the psychotherapeutic procedure which we have described in these pages has a curative effect. It brings to an end the operative force of the idea which was not abreacted in the first instance, by allowing its strangulated affect to find a way out through speech; and it subjects it to associative correction by introducing it into normal consciousness under light hypnosis or by removing it through the physician’s suggestion, as is done in somnambulism [hypnosis] accompanied by amnesia.”[xiii] (Italics Freud’s.)
Freud also used techniques borrowed from stage hypnotists, including tapping the face or putting his hand on the client’s forehead and pushing harder and harder as he asked questions about the person’s childhood – one of Freud’s favorite techniques until 1895. Hypnotic inductions were used to treat people from Europe to America, and Freud was using quick-induction trance states to give him access to his patients’ minds’ inner workings, helping him develop and flesh out his theory of the unconscious mind.
But hypnosis was not uncontroversial. Ever since the father of one of Mesmer’s young female patients had forcibly crashed into his treatment room to “rescue” his daughter, the misuse of hypnosis was a hot topic. Stage demonstrations of hypnosis were among the most popular forms of entertainment throughout the 1800s, and usually involved a beautiful female assistant who was put into a trance than then commanded to behave in total, blind obedience to the hypnotist.
In 1885, novelist Jules Clarette published in Paris a book titled Jean Mornas about a hypnotist who caused people to steal for him and left them with no memory of the events. In July of 1886, as the novel was being translated into German and English, the French Revue Del’Hypnotisme magazine published a series of experiments in which physicians hypnotized their patients to steal for them, proving a real basis for Clarette’s novel.
The revelations were very troubling to the French public, and when the book Jean Mornas was published in Germany in 1889, it caused quite a sensation. By 1891, Freud was still writing enthusiastically about hypnosis, claiming that he had “become convinced that quite a number of symptoms of organic diseases are accessible to hypnosis,” but that, “in view of the dislike of hypnotic treatment prevailing at present, it seldom comes about that we can employ hypnosis except after all other kinds of treatment have been tried without success.”[xiv] Nonetheless, Freud continued to use hypnosis and continued to get good results from the technique.
Freud forced to stop using hypnosis
But in 1894, George Du Maurier changed all that.
Most people alive today don’t remember Du Maurier’s name, or even the title of his novel, Trilby, which was published in 1894 and instantly became a worldwide bestseller and one of the most famous books of the 19th Century. Most people today do, however, remember the name of the villain of Du Maurier’s novel, which swept Europe and America.
The book Trilby played on both the growing public fear of hypnosis, and the anti-Semitism that was rampant in Europe at the end of the 19th Century. Du Maurier described his villain in explicit and stereotypical terms:
First, a tall bony individual of any age between thirty and forty-five, of Jewish aspect, well-featured but sinister. He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red béret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lusterless black hair fell down behind his ears on to his shoulders, in that muscianlike way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black which grew almost from his under eyelids; and over it his mustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists. He went by the name of Svengali, and spoke fluent French with a German accent, and humorous German twists and idioms, and his voice was very think and mean and harsh, and often broke into a disagreeable falsetto.
In Du Maurier’s story, Svengali was an unemployed musician who learned hypnosis and used it to put a beautiful young woman named Trilby under his spell. Svengali induced a trance in Trilby using the same methods Freud was using with his clients and many stage hypnotists were then using: bilateral eye movement and tapping. As Du Maurier wrote: Svengali told her to sit down on the divan, and sat opposite to her, and bade her look him well in the white of the eyes. “Recartez-moi pren tans le blanc tes yeaux.” Then he made little passes and counterpasses on her forehead and temples and down her cheek and neck. Soon her eyes closed and her face grew placid.[xv] Once Trilby was under Svengali’s power, he mercilessly exploited her sexually and financially, until, at the end of the book, she tragically dies of exhaustion while staring at Svengali’s picture.
The publication of Trilby was accompanied by several other hypnosis stories making headlines in Europe and America during 1894 and 1895. Stage hypnotist Ceslav Lubicz-Czynski allegedly used hypnosis to seduce the Baroness Hedwig von Zedlitz, which caused her family to report him to the police. According to an increasingly hysterical press, another stage hypnotist, Franz Neukomm, suggested to his subject that she “leave her body” for astral travel to heal another person on the stage. Newspaper stories said the woman died because of that suggestion, leading to screaming headlines of “hypnosis voodoo death!” Even Alexander Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers, wrote several novels during this era that used hypnosis and its power to seduce and control others as a major plot device.
The lurid stories spread worldwide, and brought hypnosis and the bilateral induction techniques associated with it into disrepute. No matter how effective the technique of having patients concentrate while either moving their eyes from side to side or being tapped on either side of the face, it was not to be done any more.
No physician – particularly a Jewish physician – was willing to take the risk of being accused of using what the newspapers had decided was Svengali’s “evil power” of hypnosis, even if it did heal. And Breuer and Freud were both Jewish physicians.
Freud turns to drugs
Freud’s frustration with having to abandon his eye-motion and hypnotic therapies had to have been huge, but public reaction to the 1894 publication of Trilby and the lurid hypnosis stories that accompanied it were so intense that he had no choice.
With the tool of waving his fingers in front of patients’ eyes denied him by public opinion, Freud abandoned hypnosis in 1895 and instead turned to drugs as a way of treating neuroses.
From 1895 to 1897, Freud regularly took small doses of cocaine, and gave it to virtually all his patients. As he wrote in On Cocaine, “A few minutes after taking cocaine, one experiences a certain exhilaration and feeling of lightness. One feels a certain furriness on the lips and palate, followed by a feeling of warmth in the same areas; if one now drinks cold water, it feels warm on the lips and cold in the throat. … During this first trial I experienced a short period of toxic effects, which did not recur in subsequent experiments. Breathing became slower and deeper and I felt tired and sleepy; I yawned frequently and felt somewhat dull. After a few minutes the actual cocaine euphoria began, introduced by repeated cooling eructation. Immediately after taking the cocaine I noticed a slight slackening of the pulse and later a moderate increase. … On the whole the toxic effects of coca are of short duration, and much less intense than those produced by effective doses of quinine or salicylate of soda; they seem to become even weaker after repeated use of cocaine.”[xvi]
Interestingly, to this day most students of Freud have not connected the international furor over hypnosis that was ignited in 1895 by Trilby with the calendar of Freud’s life and explorations.
For example, in an article titled “Sigmund Freud und Cocaine” published in the German-language Wien Klin Wochenschr, author G. Lebzeltern says: “The basic tenet proposed by J. V. Scheidt states that the narcotic drug cocaine played a role in the development of psychoanalysis, which has been underestimated up to the present day. It is a fact that Freud himself took cocaine (in small doses) for about two years, and that he began his dream interpretation approximately ten years later. ... The question to be answered now is: Why did this happen [begin] precisely in 1895?”[xvii] The article then goes on to suggest personal psychological reasons for why Freud started using cocaine as therapy in 1895, stopped cocaine in 1897 and in the fall of that year proposed the Oedipus complex as the basis for much neurosis, and then ten years later turned to dream therapy.
However, the simple fact that pops out if you superimpose the historical timeline of hypnosis on the historical timeline of Freud is that he stopped practicing Mesmer’s technique of waving his fingers in front of his patients eyes because the newspapers had branded that as hypnosis and determined, based on the novel Trilby, that it was something used by Jewish Svengali-types of men to seduce and exploit vulnerable women. And back then, all doctors were men, and nearly all of the psychiatric patients were women (with the exception of “actual madness,” such as schizophrenia, which Freud would not treat).
After the Trilby-induced hypnosis hysteria of 1895, in all probability even if Freud had wanted to continue using Mesmer’s version of Eye Motion Therapy he couldn’t have: most of his patients were women from the educated classes who read newspapers and novels, and would have run out of the office screaming if their physician tried using the same well-publicized methods the fictional Svengali employed to seduce and then exploit poor Trilby.
Nonetheless, Freud continued to hold his conviction of their power. In 1923, in Psychoanalysis: Exploring the hidden recesses of the mind, he wrote: “The importance of hypnotism for the history of the development of psychoanalysis must not be too lightly estimated. Both in theoretic as well as in therapeutic aspects, psychoanalysis is the administrator of the estate left by hypnotism.”[xviii]
But, protests aside, 1895 was the end of Freud’s use of hypnosis. He continued to practice non-hypnotic methods for the rest of his career. Right up to the day he committed suicide with a morphine overdose on September 23, 1939, he never again publicly used or advocated the techniques used by Mesmer, Braid, and the fictional Svengali.
As a result, Freudian analysis has not well withstood the test of time. Although still practiced around the world, there are no clean, scientific studies that support the efficacy of Freudian psychotherapy or most of the offshoots it has spawned. Drawing on the case of Bertha Pappenheim, Freud concluded that her “talk therapy” sessions every morning and evening with Josef Breuer, which included many emotional outbursts as she told of her earlier experiences, were a cathartic abreaction process similar to lancing a boil. Although Freud and Breuer freely acknowledge that Bertha wasn’t “cured” by this process, Freud nonetheless built an entire therapeutic model on it. (Breuer went back into family medicine after his one experience in psychiatry with Bertha.)
Modern history of bilateral movement
Thus, for just over sixty years – from the turn of the century when Freud abandoned waving his fingers back and forth in front of his patient’s faces until the 1960s when Milton Erickson and others began to gain acceptance for their efforts to revive the practice of therapeutic hypnosis – the only way a person could use eye motion therapy to heal from trauma was during sleep, in what is known as REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep. While REM sleep is important and useful, and apparently one way the normal vicissitudes of life are processed, it isn’t strong enough to process severe trauma.
In the late 1960s, Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed a model of how the mind and body interact. They called their new model and system NeuroLinguistic Programming or NLP. One of the components of NLP included their observation that people tend to carry with them memories of past traumatic events in specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components. For example, the memory-pictures may be bright and in full color, the memory-sounds loud, the memory-feelings intense. And, they discovered, when people shifted the qualities (which they called “submodalities”) of their internal mental pictures and memories of events, the emotional charge of those events changed.
For example, if you remember a past time of embarrassment as a bright color picture that’s over on your left side about five feet away from you, and you move it over to the upper right corner of your field of vision and push it twenty feet away and turn it black-and-white, odds are high that the emotional charge will diminish. They call this “shifting the submodalities.”
One of the most important of the qualities (submodalities) of a picture, they found, is position. So early NLP practitioners like Bandler and Steve Andreas tried having people move pictures back and forth, back and forth, to see what would happen. The result was that with minor pains and troubles, it rapidly resolved them, reducing the emotional charge and “flattening” the pictures.
This discovery that moving pictures from side to side, Richard Bandler told me, was a fascinating insight into the power of bilateral stimulation and functions. “If you’re just tossing a tennis ball from hand to hand,” he said, “it’s impossible to feel angry, and if you do it while thinking of a problem often the problem will resolve or solutions will pop into your mind.”
There was only one problem with the initial system of having people move their traumatic memory pictures from side to side. For big traumas, this “brute force” method would sometimes bring back to people the intensity of the event so strongly and quickly that they’d break into tears or freak out – what’s termed an abreaction. Freud had also observed this and wrote about it, but his post-1895 solution was to retreat from bilateral stimulation and instead go to a much weaker form of therapy limited to talking with his clients.