Our interview today is with John C. Hughes, author of The Illustrated History of Hypnotism.
FQ: What initially got you interested in hypnotism?
My first encounter with hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena was in a psychology class at Boston University in 1950. This stirred my interest and shortly thereafter I had the good fortune of studying hypnotism under the tutelage of Dr. Rexford L. North, who later became the founder of The National Guild of Hypnotists. Dr. North was a fascinating man and a wonderful teacher. He was by all odds the premier hypnotist of the late 1940s and early 1950s, as a teacher and therapist.
When I entered this fascinating field the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic modality was virtually nonexistent. Back then only a small number of medical doctors used hypnosis openly in their practices. Milton Erickson, William Kroger, Louis Wolberg, and a few other brave souls had the courage and fortitude to use hypnosis in their practices and encourage its use by other professionals. At that time hypnotherapy, as we know it today, did not exist, and none of the medical or dental schools then provided postgraduate training in hypnosis.
While attending college in Davenport, Iowa I started teaching, on a small scale, what essentially was the Rexford L. North hypnotism course. In the beginning all participants were fellow students. Those students told others and my course became popular. To my astonishment even members of the faculty––my professors––enrolled in my course. This unforeseen success encouraged me to advertise, and soon I was conducting classes in the larger cities in Iowa and Illinois. I was a student by day and a teacher of hypnotism at night.
This situation provided me with a unique opportunity. Since postgraduate training in hypnotherapy was not available in the mid-1950s, my courses attracted many health professionals. (It was not until 1958 that the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association gave official sanction for the use of hypnosis by its members.) At the request of these doctors, I was called into their offices to hypnotize patients with various medical problems, such as obesity, smoking, insomnia, wryneck, bad habits, for the alleviation of pain in terminal cancer cases and anesthesia for medical and dental procedures.
FQ: What sort of education/training have you completed?
In 1959 I was awarded a D.C. (doctor of chiropractic) degree from Palmer School of Chiropractic, Davenport, Iowa.
FQ: Obviously the book is chock-full of factual information, but was there anything in particular that surprised you as you researched and wrote The Illustrated History of Hypnotism?
Yes, numerous books relating to the theoretical and experimental foundations of hypnosis, along with texts on the clinical uses of hypnosis as an adjunct to medical and psychological treatment were found in my research. I did not find, however, any adequate history of how hypnotism has grown since it was introduced––under the name of “animal magnetism”––by the Viennese physician Franz Anton Mesmer over two centuries ago.
My book, then, fills that gap. It introduces the reader to many fascinating and colorful personalities who pioneered and developed hypnotherapy. Thought their achievements were of a magnitude comparable in the field of psychology to those of Pasteur, Lister, and other giants of physical medicine, these great hypnotists remain virtually unknown to general readers.
FQ: Which historical figure did you find most interesting to write about and why?
Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer believed that the effects he was able to produce in the thousands of patients who came to him for treatment were due to the operation of a mysterious magnetic fluid that permeated the universe, and which he was somehow able to tap and direct to healing purposes. Erroneous though this concept was, the results he obtained were, with few exceptions, so beneficial, and brought such genuine relief to sufferers from both physical and psychological ailments, he could justly claim his animal magnetism, as he called it, was safe and effective, as well as a wholly new therapy.
By whatever measure he is judged, Mesmer was one of those extraordinary individuals who left a permanent imprint upon history. All subsequent development of hypnotism, and of psychoanalysis and allied disciplines, can be traced directly to his pioneering accomplishment. Had he not come forward when he did to promote his animal magnetism concept effectively and widely, the practice and understanding of hypnotism as a therapy could not have made the substantial advances that it did over the span of the nineteenth century. The great progenitors of hypnotherapy in the Victorian Era all followed in the path Mesmer had originally laid out, even though frequently diverging from his interpretations and techniques. It is thus necessary for an understanding of the progress of hypnotism from its revival for modern times by Mesmer, to be acquainted with the vast extent of his influence on Western thinking and views on mental processes.
FQ: You covered several different time periods in your book. How has the public’s perception of hypnotism changed through these times?
Hypnotism has had to wage a long and difficult struggle to gain scientific credibility and acceptance by the medical profession. In the past few decades––although little noticed by the general public or the news media––there has been a growing recognition and use of hypnosis in all of the advanced nations around the globe.
The variety of problems for which hypnosis is useful makes it a healing tool of tremendous importance. Hypnosis is the preferred method in the healing of severe burns. A second degree burn can often be kept from going third degree, if hypnosis is promptly employed. It is an effective treatment for skin conditions, such as itching, eczema, herpes, psoriasis, warts, and many others. It has been used beneficently in the treatment of anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, as well as for gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, and colitis. Hypnosis is used in the alleviation of pain in dentistry, in childbirth, and in the relief of chronic pain problems such as arthritis and cancer. It is used successfully in the treatment of anxiety and stress, and in the management of fears and phobias. The employment of hypnosis in treating psychosomatic disorders, and in psychotherapy in general, is now virtually routine.
Hypnotism has thus come of age and is being used more effectively with more people than ever before. The evolution of the many uses of hypnosis is continuing with the promise of even greater achievements in the century ahead.
FQ: Do you have any projects in the works?
Yes, I have just completed a revised and expanded third edition of Hypnosis: The Induction of Conviction, which was first published in 1990. This is a detailed instructional handbook that offers a full comprehensive text that consolidates and clarifies the essentials of the art and craft of hypnotism.