Guy Le Gaufey – The Tight-Rope Walkers

THE LETTER 14 (Autumn 1998) pages 182-194

The idea according to which Freud began with psychoanalysis by putting an end to his practice of hypnosis is generally very well accepted today. In spite of some criticism which claims that this is not so obvious, the analytic community (let’s suppose for the moment that such a thing exists) holds to this assertion through thick and thin. But it is equally evident that something had been kept alive from hypnosis in the new technique of free association, and a simple look at two of Freud’s texts will be enough to support this: the first one written in the glorious time of hypnosis, the second, ten years later, in Die Traumdeutung.

The former one, the little known and not much read Psychische Behandlung, was written in 1890, to be included in a collective book whose title was: Die Gesundheit: Ihre Erhaltung, ihre Storung, ihre Wiederkerstellung (Health: its preservation, its troubles, its return). Because this book was known only in its third edition (dated 1905), this essay is even attributed to 1905 in the Standard Edition, which looks immediately impossible given its contents: an emotive defence in favour of hypnosis, a technique which, according to this Freud, represented ‘a progress in the art of healing’.

During the 1880’s, as a medical practitioner strongly impressed by Charcot and Bemheim (whom he was in the process of translating), he used hypnosis almost daily. In this text, after a long introduction about the importance of words in the relation between body and mind, he gives a brief account of the means through which hypnosis can be achieved. After having given an account of how many and multifarious these can be, he sums them up in a single sentence:

But the same result can be brought about by describing the onset of the state of hypnosis and its characteristics quietly

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