Hypnotising Away Hysteria
David Lewis – author of Triumph of the Will?
In the previous blog, I described the use of electric shocks to treat what we would, today, describe as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but which, during the First War, psychiatrists called ‘hysteria.’
The most benign treatment was hypnosis and one of the most effective First War medical hypnotists was Max Nonne. A Hamburg based neurologist,he treated more than 1,600 patients and enjoyed success and gained the reputation of a Zauberheiler (magical healer).
Hypnotist Dr Max Nonne, the ‘miracle worker’
Nonne’sdecision to attempt hypnosis, which he had learned many years earlier, came by chance rather than any initial faith in the procedure.
In October 1914, he was asked to treat a lieutenant, recently evacuated from Flanders, who appeared to have been struck dumb. Suspecting the officer’s problem was psychological rather than physical, but with no clear idea how to proceed, Nonne decided to attempt hypnosis.
To his astonishment, no sooner had he placed the man in a trance and instructed him to talk than his patient regained the power of speech.This encouraged Nonne to use hypnosis on a regular basis, usually with equally favourable results.
As word of his accomplishments became known, other German doctors clamoured to learn his secrets. While cautioning that not every patient could be cured instantly, and admitting that with some it was necessary to ‘slave away for hours’, Nonne also insisted that in a majority of cases treatment was both simple and speedy. He even claimed that Blitzheilung (split-second) cures frequently occurred.
The ‘miracle worker’ soon became much in demand as a speaker and toured Germany addressing doctors. With the instincts of a born showman, his hour-long presentations were part academic lecture and part pure theatre. While demonstrating his skills from the platform, he would not only instantly cure soldiers suffering from paralyses, tics, tremors, stuttering and stammering but, by using hypnotic suggestion, make those previously cured reproduce their original symptoms with ‘photographic fidelity’.
After Nonne had successfully demonstrated hypnosis to a group of high-ranking military doctors, the authorities finally accepted the merits of hypnosis, and, for the remainder of the war, scores of doctors from all over Germany were sent to Hamburg to learn his methods.
Nonne was convinced that any physician could achieve the same success provided he possessed ‘unfailing self-confidence’, was able to inspire ‘feelings of obedience’ on the part of his patient and created ‘an atmosphere of healing’.
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that many German doctors were so inept at hypnosis that, despite Nonne’s dramatic demonstrations, the procedure proved at best unreliable and for the most part useless.
Modern research has shown success rates range from 20% to 70%, the crucial difference being the extent to which the therapist believes in the approach he or she is using.
So it comes as no surprise to modern-day hypnotists that, at a time when many doctors regarded hypnosis as quackery, many failed to achieve the same level of curesas Max Nonne.
To see Max Nonne treat a hysterical German soldier in this film from 1917, Click here…