Sigmund Freud and Hypnosis

Sigmund Freud and Hypnosis

Many people are familiar with the idea of Psychoanalysis and the pioneering work of Dr. Sigmund Freud, yet many do not know just how much hypnosis played a role in the development of his theories and methods.  

Freud indeed studied hypnosis with some of the major leaders in the field at the time, yet the understanding of how to use the trance state was still in its infancy and Freud eventually dropped hypnosis entirely.  Because of his fame and reputation, and because many Freudian analysts were essentially dogmatic in their views about Freud’s methods, then whatever Freud said became quite true for them.  

Freud’s rejection of hypnosis led to a huge movement away from using the altered state in modern psychotherapy.  Read more here about why this happened and what we are doing to change it.

Why did Freud reject hypnosis?

There are two primary uses of hypnosis which Freud was working with.  One was the power of direct suggestion and the other was regressive hypnosis. Freud found that the power of suggestion alone could not be relied upon because post-hypnotic suggestions did not stick.  

For instance, he might tell someone suffering from anxiety to be more calm, confident, and relaxed, yet the suggestion would only last for so long and then the anxiety would come back again. 

Freud had studied regressive hypnosis and understood that the root cause of people’s problems could not just be masked with suggestion therapy, but that the problem had to be resolved at its source.  

Why did Freud reject regression?

Many women of Freud’s time were diagnosed with “hysteria”.  When Freud regressed these women to the cause of their problems he discovered that many of these women had been sexually abused.  

When Freud brought these insights to his colleagues they wanted to hear nothing of it.  Freud knew that he was on to something by working to find the cause, yet with his colleagues rejecting his ideas, he did not go much further in this regard. 

What else caused Freud to drop hypnosis?

Hypnosis requires rapport.  It requires that the hypnotist’s suggestions are taken by a client who is responsive to those suggestions.  Historians have speculated that Freud simply did not have a good rapport with his patients and that he simply was not a good hypnotist.  

The idea of the analyst sitting behind the client, not looking at them, and analyzing what is being said is not a good method for building rapport at all according to modern-day theories of hypnosis. 

It has also been said that Freud used to rub cocaine on his gums and that he had bad teeth and bad breath.  This may have also contributed to his lack of rapport and why he sat behind his patients.

In short, Freud’s theories and methods became so popular that many psychotherapists adapted his styles, which had essentially rejected hypnosis in favor of analytical methods.  However, studies ended up showing that Freud’s methods were not all that effective, and most modern psychotherapists do not practice Freudian analysis at all. 

What we now understand is that hypnosis is a very powerful tool in creating change and many modern-day therapists are getting trained as hypnotherapists and are bringing the use of the altered state into their practices.   With a renewed interest in hypnotic methods, many people are being helped by licensed therapists and professional hypnotherapists alike.

To learn more about the history of hypnosis and hypnotherapy trainings for licensed and unlicensed professionals, visit us online at or call 800-551-9247.

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