Article: Hypnosis and the Alternate Consciousness Paradigm – Adam Crabtree (Is.31)

by Adam Crabtree

Invited Address Delivered at the 101st Convention of the American Psychological Association
Toronto, August 20, 1993

This morning I would like to talk with you about the evolution of a psychotherapeutic paradigm—by that I mean a way of looking at human behavior and the human mind that makes it possible to work therapeutically with people. It is a paradigm that is very familiar to us because it is behind the psychotherapy used by a very large segment of practitioners. According to this paradigm, our minds are divided. In one part, we figure things out and make decisions with awareness and reflection, and we can account for what we think and decide. In another part, we carry on mental activity that does not breach our consciousness. As a result, we experience feelings and impulses that baffle us because we remain unaware of the thinking behind them. According to the paradigm I am describing, we are more than the consciousness we know and experience every day. We have another, hidden consciousness, different from a normal one. I call this way of looking at things the alternate-consciousness paradigm. I have for the moment side-stepped terms like “the subconscious” and “the unconscious” in this discussion. These terms are part of our popular culture, but unfortunately popular culture produces popular myths. In the course of time they have become laden with inaccurate meanings and false assumptions that are hard to shake, and it makes me want to avoid them entirely.

Part of the load of assumptions that these popular-culture terms carried the belief that Sigmund Freud originated the idea of a sphere of dynamic mental activity that escapes our awareness. This is far from the truth. Before Freud put a psychological word to paper, there had been a hundred years of intense speculation about an alternate consciousness in human beings. And by the time he had written his first case of hysteria, there was already a well-developed alternate-consciousness psychotherapy in place.

What I want to do this morning is to put the popular assumptions aside and see how we actually got where we are today. This means telling a story that is not commonly known. In fact, the only person who made a serious attempt to tell the story was Henri Ellenberger in his Discovery of the Unconscious (1970). As marvelous as this great work was, some elements of the tale were missing. I have just completed a book that attempts to tell “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey says).

Armand Marie Jacques de Chastenet, the Marquis de Puységur, was, in late 18th century France, a colonel in the artillery regiment of Strasbourg and a member of an old and distinguished family with a large estate at Buzancy near Soissons. He spent most of his time looking after his land and occasionally carrying out experiments with electricity – that is until 1784. In that year he had the opportunity to attend a seminar in Paris where he learned about a new and controversial healing method called animal magnetism, presented by its inventor, Franz Anton Mesmer. Studying in the company of a group that included the likes of the Marquis de Lafayette, Puységur learned the theory and technique of a system that greatly resembles modern “energy healing” approaches.

Having returned to his estate, Puységur was anxious to put what he had learned to the test, and on a warm May evening he entered the dwelling of Victor Race, one of the peasants on his estate, who was suffering from congestion in his lungs and a fever. Puységur began to “magnetize” the man. This involved making passes or sweeping movements of the hands over the body of the ill person. To Puységur’s great surprise, after seven or eight minutes, Victor fell peacefully asleep. Puységur soon discovered, however, that Victor had not fallen into a normal sleep but had slipped into an unusual state of consciousness; he was awake while asleep. Writing about the incident a few days later, Puységur said:

He spoke, occupying himself out loud with his affairs. When I realized that his ideas might affect him disagreeably, I stopped them and tried to inspire more pleasant ones. He then became calm – imagining himself shooting a prize, dancing at a party, etc.… I nourish these ideas in him and in this way I made him move around a lot in his chair, as if dancing to a tune; while mentally singing it, I made him repeat it out loud. In this way I caused the sick man that day to sweat profusely. After an hour of crisis I calmed him and left the room. He was given something to drink, and having had bread and boullion brought to him, I made him eat some soup that very same evening – something he had not been able to do for five days. He slept all that night through. The next day, no longer remembering my visit of the evening before, he told me how much better he felt (Puységur 1784, pp. 28-9).

It is clear from this account (and later writings) that this puzzling state of consciousness had some striking features. First of all, it was a kind of waking sleep, as Puységur saw it. And since it was produced by the application of animal magnetism, he called it “magnetic sleep.” He also called it “magnetic somnambulism,” because he noticed a great similarity between this magnetically produced state and that of natural somnambulism or sleepwalking. About sixty years later the physician James Braid will redefine the state and provide a new nomenclature, so that today we know this state as hypnotic somnambulism or hypnotic trance.

An additional characteristic of magnetic sleep was suggestibility. Another was an “intimate rapport” (as Puységur called it) or special connection between magnetizer and magnetized. Yet another characteristic was the presence of paranormal features, specifically thought reading and clairvoyance. These three features while very important for a history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, go beyond what we can deal with today.

Two other features are central to the issue at hand. First is the lack of memory for what occurred during magnetic sleep. You will remember that Victor could recall nothing of what happened while Puységur was with him. This was a characteristic that was almost universal for magnetic and hypnotic somnambulism in the first hundred years. Today what is named (and in my opinion misnamed) hypnotic “amnesia” is not as common as it was then. The explanation for that would take us too far afield, so let me just emphasize that lack of memory was absolutely typical at the time. The second feature goes to the heart of the matter of the new paradigm. It is called “divided consciousness.” This is the manifestation of two apparently independent streams of thought and involves an alteration in personality.  Let me explain.

That lack of memory I just mentioned has a peculiarity. Let us take Victor as an example. When he woke up from his magnetic sleep, he could not remember anything that he or Puységur had done or said. But, as Puységur found out later, when he was back in the state of magnetic sleep, he could recall perfectly what had occurred in all previous instances of magnetic sleep, and he also was aware of all that occurred during his normal state of consciousness. This seemed to reveal two separate memory chains with separate streams of consciousness.

Not only that, Victor was different when he was in the state of magnetic sleep – he was not his usual self. Puységur noticed right away a striking contrast in personality traits: “when [Victor] is in the magnetized state, he is no longer a naïve peasant who can barely speak a sentence. He is someone whom I do not know how to name (1784, p. 35).” Puységur, the educated aristocrat, even found himself turning to this strangely inspired somnambulistic peasant for advice about how to apply animal magnetism: “He is teaching me the conduct I must follow. According to him, it is not necessary that I touch everyone. One look, one gesture, one feeling of goodwill is enough. And it is a peasant, the narrowest and most limited in this locality, that teaches me this. When he is in crisis, I know no one as profound, prudent, or clear-cited (1784, pp. 32-3).”

The double memory chain and alteration of personality in magnetic sleep created the impression of a stunning discontinuity between the waking state and the state of magnetic sleep. It was as if the magnetic subject lived in one world when somnambulistic and another one awake. From another point of view, individuals seem to possess two selves – the magnetic self and the waking self – which could not be merged.

The division of consciousness and doubling of the self was noted consistently by the magnetizers and hypnotizers that succeeded Puységur. Many described how somnambulistic subjects frequently used the third person when referring to themselves in the normal state, and often when talking about themselves in their waking state they were anything but complementary. There are many references to somnambulists lamenting the foolishness or naïveté of their waking selves – almost as though they were speaking about inexperienced children.

Among those who described this kind of double consciousness was Count Lutzelbourg, a contemporary of Puységur. He wrote of a male patient who was passionately obsessed by another man whom he trusted implicitly. But while somnambulistic, the patient would tell Lutzelbourg about this man’s true character – that he “abused his confidence, betrayed his secrets, thwarted his projects, and even destroyed his reputation.” This somnambulist told Lutzelbourg how to get proofs of this man’s treachery to present to the waking patient and get him to end the affair. He cautioned Lutzelbourg to enlighten the waking self slowly lest he be overwhelmed by the shock.  Lutzelbourg relates that he followed those instructions and was able to help the man resolve the situation.  Lutzelbourg writes about this man’s two states: “I had the pleasure of dealing with two different and opposed individuals, of whom one was timid pliable, and even credulous to excess; while the other was clairvoyant, firm, and judged men and things according to their just value (Lutzelbourg 1786 p. 47).”

Unfortunately, there is not sufficient time to multiply instances of this division of consciousness or doubling of consciousness (for more examples, see Deleuze 1813 I: 176; Eschenmayer 1816 pp. 56-7, Brandis 1818 p. 127; Bertrand 1826, pp. 409-10; Pigeaire 1839, p. 44; Gregory 1851, pp. 83-85; Ennemoser 1852, p. 486). Let me just say here that what Puységur noted was confirmed again and again by people working in this field

What clearly emerges from all this is that Puységur laid the foundations for something extraordinarily important. The awareness of divided consciousness created a new way of viewing the human psyche, and from that, a new paradigm for understanding and dealing with mental disturbances.

The paradigm is definitely new. Until relatively recently in the history of human thought, when a person was subject to unaccountable feelings, obsessions, or impulses, the source was thought to be some outside entity – the devil, an evil spirit, or a witch – intruding into the consciousness of the afflicted person and causing him or her to think strange things and have weird compulsions. The extreme form of this harassment was possession, a state in which the intruding consciousness seized control from the victim’s ordinary consciousness and took charge of the body. This paradigm for disturbed mental functioning was employed to account for everything from “bad thoughts” to madness and was long considered an adequate and complete explanation. This framework for explaining mental disorders can be called the intrusion paradigm. The intrusion paradigm implies that all mental aberration is of supernatural origin. The remedy therefore has to be applied by those skilled in spiritual matters – the shaman, the sorcerer, the priest-exorcist – and history has shown that these workers have at times been able to help their clients greatly.

Later a second paradigm arose for understanding the origin of disturbances in human consciousness, one that recognizes a natural cause rooted in imbalances in the physical organism. Although the foundations for this paradigm already existed in ancient healing practices, it came into its own in the Western world in the 16th century, heralded by the appearance of two works: the Occulta naturae miracula of Levinus Lemnius (1505-1568), which appeared in 1559, and the De praestigiis daemonum of Johann Weyer (1515-1588), first published in 1562.  Lemnius and Weyer believe that mental dysfunction was not a spiritual or moral problem but a physical one.  They held that victims of disturbances of consciousness were suffering not from the intrusion of spirits or demons but from a bodily malady that could be corrected medically. Since this explanatory framework holds that mental aberrations are the result of a malfunctioning organism, it can fittingly be called the organic paradigm.

The discovery of magnetic sleep by Puységur introduced a radically new view of the human psyche and opened a fresh vista of psychological inquiry. Magnetic sleep revealed that consciousness was divided and that there exists in human beings a second consciousness quite distinct from everyday consciousness. This second consciousness in some cases displays personality characteristics unlike those of the waking self in taste, value judgments, and mental acuity. The second consciousness has its own memory chain, with continuity of memory and identity from one episode of magnetic sleep to the next, but it is separated from the person’s ordinary consciousness by a memory barrier, and the two consciousnesses are often sharply distinguished as though they were, as Puységur put it, “two different existences.”

The importance of this discovery cannot be overestimated. The newfound second consciousness became the ground for a third paradigm for explaining mental disorders, based on the interplay between ordinary consciousness and the usually hidden second consciousness that is revealed in magnetic sleep. According to the alternate-consciousness paradigm, humans are divided beings. We have our ordinary consciousness, which we normally identify as ourselves, and a second, alternate consciousness that reveals itself in the magnetic trance and can seem quite alien to ordinary consciousness. The feeling of alienation is due in part to the memory barrier and in part to the fact that a distinct sense of identity is often present in the second consciousness. This alienation is the basis on which the alternate-consciousness paradigm explains mental disorders, for the second consciousness may develop thoughts or emotions very different from and even opposed to those of the ordinary self, causing one to think, feel, and act in uncharacteristic ways.

In the intrusion paradigm the feeling of alienness is automatically interpreted as an invading presence from the outside which is the source of the unaccountable thoughts, feelings and impulses. In the organic paradigm the source is the body. In the alternate-consciousness paradigm the source is a dissociated part of the mind itself. The feeling of alienness results from a condition of inner division that, in normal circumstances, prevents one’s ordinary consciousness from being aware of one’s second consciousness.

Once the new paradigm was established and divided consciousness was recognized in magnetic somnambulism, it was also seen to occur spontaneously in nature. Cases of naturally generated double consciousness began to show up in the literature shortly after Puységur’s discovery.

There were, for instance, the “sleeping preachers,” people who spontaneously entered an altered state and delivered inspirational talks to those around. One example was Rachel Baker who began her entranced preaching in 1811. After her Christian sermon she would answer theological questions while remaining in the somnambulistic state. Upon returning to her normal condition, she had no memory of what had occurred (Mais 1814 and Devotional Somnium 1815).

Another instance of double consciousness is exemplified in the rather bizarre case of Anna Winsor, described by William James in an article on automatic writing (James 1889). In 1860 Anna began to experience pains in her right arm. As the pains grew, the arm suddenly fell limp at her side. From that moment she looked at that arm as belonging to someone else. She could not be convinced that it was her own right arm, which she believed to be drawn back along her spine. No matter what was done to the right arm – cutting, pricking, etc. – she took no notice of it. As I said, Anna believed it to be an arm, but not her own. She treated it as an intelligent thing and wanted to keep it away from her, biting it or hitting it and generally trying to get rid of it. She saw it as an interference in her life, sometimes taking things that belong to her. She called the right arm “Old Stump.” At the same time Anna’s left arm sometimes carried out violent, self-destructive acts. It would tear her hair, rip the bedclothes, and shred her night dress.  Old Stump functioned as a benevolent agent, protecting Anna against her left arm, grabbing and restraining the vicious member.  Old Stump, who never slept, would engage in all kinds of constructive activities, often writing, sometimes producing poetry, sometimes messages from departed persons.  Old Stump would answer questions put to it and give directions about how to care for Anna. While Anna was sometimes delirious and violent, Old Stump always remained rational and helpful.

The case of Anna Winsor is unusually instructive because it graphically demonstrates the division of consciousness noted in magnetic somnambulism. For here we see the two consciousnesses not alternating progressively, one after the other, but present simultaneously and competing for control of the body. Alongside the regular consciousness of Anna Winsor another consciousness, Old Stump, equally intelligent and purposeful was at work. The case of Anna Winsor hinted that if two consciousnesses can operate concurrently in one instance, it might be possible in all.

While there were many other instances of double consciousness throughout the decades after Puységur’s discovery of magnetic sleep, those that contributed most to the evolution of the alternate consciousness paradigm as a psychotherapeutic framework were cases of dual or multiple personality.

In the late 18th century, investigators began to notice a condition in which someone would suddenly seem to become an entirely different person. The individual would remain in this new personality for some time, then return to normal. This phenomenon would eventually be followed by another switch back to the new personality, then return to normal, and so forth. It was first labeled alternating personality or dual personality and is known today as multiple personality disorder.

The first clearly described cases of multiple personality disorder show up in 1791, only seven years after Puységur discovered magnetic sleep.  Eberhard Gmelin described the case of the 21-year-old Stuttgart woman who suddenly exhibited a personality who spoke perfect French and otherwise behaved in a manner typical of a French woman of the time. She would periodically enter these “French” states and then return to her normal “German” state. In the French states she would remember everything she had said and done in previous French states, whereas in her normal state she had no knowledge of the French personality.  In her French personality she believed herself to be a native of Paris who had emigrated to Stuttgart because of the French Revolution. She believed people around her to be personages other than they were, incorporating them into her fantasy. She spoke in elegant, idiomatic French, and when she attempted to speak German (her native tongue) it was labored and hampered by a French accent.  Gmelin discovered that he could put her into her French state by applying passes used to induce magnetic sleep, and that he could return her to her normal state by applying the usual methods for bringing someone out of magnetic sleep (Gmelin 1791 I: 2-89). This successful use of animal magnetism to control the switching seem to indicate a close link between divided consciousness in the normal individual and the pathology of dual personality.

Over the decades that followed, more and more cases of multiple personality were recorded (see Goettman, Greaves and Coons, 1991). In interest of brevity, I would like to describe the case of Louis Vivé. Born in France in 1863 to a mentally disturbed mother, at the age of ten Louis was sent to a reform school. At fourteen, Louis, still in the reform school, was frightened by a snake. This trauma marked the beginning of a cycle of disturbed emotional states, including hysterical symptoms such as epileptic seizures and paralysis of the legs. He eventually came under the observation of the physicians Bourru and Burot and was discovered to have six distinct personalities. Each personality was tied to a particular period of Louis’s life and (with one exception) held the memories for that period only. When Louis was in one of these states, he believed himself to be of an age that corresponded to that period. Personality 1 was violent and unruly. Personalities 2 and 3 were quiet and well educated. Personality 4 was shy, childlike in speech, and had the skill of a tailor, but little education. Personality 5 was obedient, boyish, and well educated. Personality 6 was the best balanced of them all, with a decent character, moderate education, good physical strength, and the memory for nearly all the events of Louis’s life.

With Louis Vivé, multiple personality was for the first time clearly linked causally with traumatic events. Different traumas produced the different personalities, and Bourru and Burot were able to bring forward the different personalities by placing the boy in a state of artificial somnambulism and inducing the memories of the period to which the desired personality was tied. In this way they linked the various personalities to distinct trance states – trance states originally produced by the trauma itself (Bourru and Burot 1888).

Let us pause for a moment and see where we are. When Puységur stumbled across magnetic sleep, he opened up a whole new perspective on the human psyche. It was revealed that we are divided beings, with a second or alternate consciousness that has a distinct memory chain and often exhibits personality traits uncharacteristic of the normal self. The state of magnetic sleep was immediately compared to naturally occurring sleepwalking, and it was soon discovered that nature afforded many instances of double consciousness that seem to parallel the duality of magnetic sleep. Nowhere was this more dramatically demonstrated than in dual or multiple personality, and as psychologists became more and more familiar with this disorder, they discovered that magnetic or hypnotic somnambulism was the most effective tool for manipulating the multiple states.

But now questions arise about whether this alternate consciousness that is tapped in magnetic or hypnotic trance is something that simply appears on the occasion of the trance or actually exists within us all of the time. And if it is always there, could it be affecting us in the conduct of our daily lives without our realizing it? Spontaneous cases of double consciousness and multiple personality show an alternate consciousness at work, but is that duality constant? And does the alternate consciousness function, concurrently with normal consciousness? The case of “Old Stump” seems to indicate that it does, but there is still the question of whether the alternate consciousness operates behind the scenes in normal individuals. These questions are of vital interest to those who deal with the healing through psychotherapy. So let us turn now to what appears to me to be the very first case of psychotherapy carried out in the modern mode, a case conducted by none other than the Marquis de Puységur himself.

At the end of the first decade of the 19th century, Puységur published a remarkable account of his treatment of a young boy for a mental disorder (Puységur 1812, 1813).  Alexandre Hébert, a boy of twelve and a half, was suffering from paroxysms of rage in which he was a danger to both himself and those around him. He experienced severe headaches and would fall into fits of weeping and moaning and hitting his head against the wall, sometimes even attempting to throw himself out of windows. If someone touched him while he was in this condition, he became violent, thrashing around and biting anyone who tried to restrain him.

Medical help had failed, and Puységur was asked if he could do anything. Puységur magnetized Alexandre and the boy soon became somnambulistic. As was his wont, Puységur asked the somnambulistic Alexandre what should be done for his cure. Alexandre’s response was magnetization, applied no less than every other day. The first time Puységur neglected to keep the timetable, Alexandre had a fit of rage of extraordinary intensity. He screamed, pounded the furniture, tried to throw himself out of the window, and generally terrified everyone in the house. Puységur was called and in a few minutes was able to place Alexandre in magnetic sleep and question him about the attack. Alexandre said it was a consequence of Puységur’s neglect of the prescribed schedule. Needless to say, Puységur was more conscientious after that. In the course of his treatment of Alexandre, which included talk about his childhood experiences and some rudimentary but effective work with dreams, Puységur came to the conclusion that the heart of Alexander’s problem was that he was in a continual, unconscious state of magnetic “rapport” with his mother, and since his mother was absent, that rapport was confusing and destructive to him. Puységur determined that the remedy consisted in replacing the disordered rapport with his mother with a powerful magnetic rapport with himself. He proceeded to do precisely that, and in a few months the boy was completely cured.

This experience led Puységur to formulate a general theory of mental disturbance. He believed that all mental disturbance could in the end be attributed to disordered somnambulism – a state of affairs in which the disturbed person is in an unacknowledged state of rapport with someone no longer in his or her life. The resulting confusion and disorientation explains the bizarre behavior so often exhibited by the mentally ill (Puységur 1812, pp. 48-54).

Puységur’s theory of mental disturbance, absolutely unique in his time, anticipates elements of psychotherapy as it would develop seventy years later. His notion of disordered somnambulism and is cure certainly puts one in mind of Freud’s theory of transference. And his conduct of therapy in the state of magnetic somnambulism anticipates the hypnotherapy of a much later era. But to keep things focused on the matter at hand, I would like to emphasize one point. In the therapy of Alexandre Hébert, Puységur took it for granted that the alternate consciousness of magnetic sleep was continually at work in the boy and could be evoked at any moment. This sense of an active subliminal world, a sphere of dynamic unconscious mental activity, is not theorized about in his works, but it is certainly assumed in everything he does. The explicit development of that assumption would only happen in the 1880s with the work of Pierre Janet and others.

In the meantime, the notion of dynamic unconscious mental activity received a powerful boost from a most unexpected quarter around the middle of the 19th century. At that point one of the most unusual fads of modern times arose – developing straight out of American spiritualism. Spiritualism is a religio-philosophical system that holds that people survive death and can communicate with us from the other side by various means. They may do so through mediums, for instance, who can relay messages clairvoyantly received from relatives and loved ones. The departed may also communicate through more mechanical means, by slate writing, for instance, in which chalk writing appears of its own accord on covered slates.

In 1852 another mechanical form of spirit communication arose in the United States and quickly spread throughout England and Europe. It made use of the common parlor or living room table and was variously called “table moving,” “table tipping,” “table turning,” and “table rapping” (Crabtree 1993, p, 237).

Table moving was something any group of people could do. All you needed was a table and a bit of curiosity. As a result, within a few months of the first reports of this phenomenon, literally millions of people were experimenting with spirit communication in their homes. And if you can believe the relevant literature published in the early 1850s, many achieved striking success.

Here is how it was set up. A few people would sit around a table, let us say a small round table, with their hands resting on top. Their fingers would be spread out and the little fingers of each sitter hooked the little finger of the sitters on either side, forming a circuit. Then they would wait for the spirits to act. After a while, if they were lucky, any one of a number of things might occur. The table might begin to rotate. It might rise up on one side and come down again, tapping a leg on the floor. It might even lift completely off the ground. Or raps might be heard coming from within the table.  Where raps occurred or the leg tapped on the floor, a code was used to convey messages. Usually the code was a simple alphabetical one, and someone would write down the letters as they were indicated. The resulting messages would typically be from a spirit who would identify himself or herself and give a message that might be meaningful to a particular sitter or might be an inspirational thought for all.

So what we have here is a physical movement or sound, producing intelligible communication. A reading of the mass of pamphlets and books on the subject written in the 1850s reveals that there were various attempts to explain how this phenomenon occurred. There was the spiritualist explanation that said it was just what it looks like: the intervention of spirits. On the other hand, there were those who believed that the sitters were simply moving the table with physical force applied by their fingers or hands. There was no supernatural agency involved, it was said, but instead the sitters unconsciously deluded themselves and produce their own messages without realizing what they were doing. Then there were those who believed that the tables were moved or physically affected by some invisible “fluid” projected unconsciously by the participants, so that the resulting messages were again the result of the unconscious agency of the sitters. Interestingly, the other possible explanation – out and out fraud – was not broadly accepted. That was probably so because the phenomenon was so widespread, and one would have to come up with an impossibly complex conspiracy theory by which some member of each family or ad hoc group was out to dupe the others. In any case, the deliberate fraud theory, while certainly true in some cases, did not seem to be adequate for all.

Now the interesting thing about all these explanations is that (barring the action of spirits or deliberate fraud) they all imply that there is, in the participants themselves, some unconscious agency at work that exhibits a certain amount of intelligence, cleverness, and creativity. While a number of writers came close to drawing out the full implications of this idea (Rogers 1852, Samson 1852), only one, the author of an anonymously published French monograph ([Tascher] 1855) actually took that step. This author stated that the sitter or table median is subject to division of the psyche and a second “personality” is produced, one totally outside the awareness of the person who is giving the messages. This personality has its own motives and interests and can communicate through the tables with creative spontaneity. This personality exists alongside of and operate concurrently with the normal personality, while remaining totally hidden to it.

More than thirty years later, a reference to this monograph would turn up in L’automatisme psychologique  (1889), Pierre Janet’s masterwork on psychological healing. Janet brings us to the culmination of the evolution of the alternate-consciousness paradigm as a psychotherapeutic explanatory framework. For it was he who, more than any other, spelled out the implications of the notion of a dynamic hidden consciousness and developed a therapeutic technique based on these insights.

Janet arrived as his basic position in the 1880s, a hundred years after Puységur’s first session with Victor Race. Through his work with hysterics, Janet was able to give a full description of the nature or mode or action of the alternate consciousness of magnetic sleep. He identified four essential characteristics of the alternate consciousness. It was seen first of all as intelligent, capable of understanding facts and events and making judgments based on reasoning. It is reactive, aware of what is happening in the environment and capable of responding to those events. It is purposeful, able to pursue its own goals and take action based on its own criteria, which may differ from those of the individual’s normal consciousness. Finally, it is co-conscious, existing simultaneously with the consciousness of daily life (even though unrecognized by that consciousness) and carrying out its own operations concurrently with those of normal consciousness.

Janet compiled his data and reached his conclusions from working with individuals suffering from hysteria. These flamboyantly symptomatic and highly hypnotizable people provided him with a kind of window on the psyche that revealed a great deal of its inner workings. It was particularly his work with a woman he called “Lucie” that opened up this vista and led to the development of his theory of dissociation, which stated that the psyche is capable of dividing itself into separate compartments that function relatively independently.

Janet’s experiments demonstrated the presence of a second consciousness within Lucie, one entirely unknown to her normal consciousness. It was revealed that the second consciousness, or second “personality,” as he called it, demonstrated attitudes, values, and ways of thinking very different from the normal Lucie. This second personality, who was named Adrienne, operated concurrently with Lucie and was aware of all that Lucie did.  Adrienne also was able to affect Lucie’s actions without Lucie realizing it and could communicate with Janet unbeknownst to Lucie.

For Lucie, Adrienne was a source of what Janet called “subconscious acts,” acts that emanated from a source below her normal consciousness. For example, through hypnotic suggestion, Janet had Lucie hallucinate a picture on one blank card in a group of blank cards. No matter how Janet shuffled the cards, Lucie always hallucinated the picture on the same blank card. Lucie was aware neither of the fact that she was hallucinating, nor that she was always choosing the same card.  Adrienne revealed through automatic writing that she was the source of the hallucination and also that she had spotted a minute defect on the chosen card, and so was able to always project the picture on the same card.

Janet discovered that inner personalities were common to hysterics and that they were likely to know of the cause of the various hysterical symptoms. He also found that the source of the symptom was generally a traumatic event that could be brought forward by contacting the subconscious region of the mind through automatic writing or hypnotism. The traumatic event had implanted what he termed a “subconscious fixed idea” that over time evolved into a complex neurotic system. Therapy involved using hypnotism or whatever other means were available to unearth the subconscious fixed idea and thereby make the hysterical symptom obsolete.

Janet’s work was the culmination of a new kind of psychological healing begun by Puységur a hundred years earlier. Janet viewed mental dysfunction in terms of a stream of thought and of will not accessible to the ordinary awareness, a center of consciousness that operates independently of the ideas and intentions of normal consciousness. This second level of consciousness can produce actions, emotional hallucinations, and physical symptoms that are inexplicable in terms of the perceived desires of the individual. Treatment involves bringing the content of this hidden level to light and destroying its power to affect the person. Janet conceived of these subterranean or subconscious influences in terms of groupings of thought and emotion that carry with them a consciousness of their own. These secondary consciousnesses are identifiable as personalities, with the self-awareness, a unity, and an ability to act in a coordinated way that is analogous to that of the normal waking personality. Through his work Janet showed himself to be the foremost proponent and spokesman of the alternate-consciousness paradigm for explaining disturbances of consciousness. With Janet, the ultimate-consciousness paradigm had come of age, acquiring a framework that would from that time forward lie at the heart of every psychodynamic psychotherapy.

At this point I’m going to add two final notes. I do this perhaps somewhat unfairly, because each opens large questions that deserve a great deal of attention. I can only partially exonerate myself by saying that I do treat them at greater length in my book that will be out this fall.

The first point is this. Janet spoke about subconscious streams of thought as resulting from pathological conditions. He believed that in perfectly healthy individuals there would be no subconscious realm, no subconscious ideas. Although it turns out that there may, by his definition, be no perfectly healthy people, nevertheless, he rejects the idea of a subconscious mind in normal people. It was for others, such as Alfred Binet, Morton Prince, Max Dessoir, and especially Frederic Myers to take the alternate-consciousness paradigm to the ultimate conclusion – that every psyche has a realm of dynamic unconscious mental activity.

The second point relates to the position held by Sigmund Freud in the evolution of the alternate-consciousness paradigm. Far from being its originator or even its chief proponent, Freud is quite opposed to the view of the psyche put forward by Janet and the other psychologists just mentioned. He explicitly rejected the notion that there could be streams of consciousness outside normal awareness. His model of a dynamic Unconscious was based on the view that everything mental is in the first instance unconscious, and that only one consciousness per person is allowed – much like those grocery store sale items. The notion of dual or multiple streams of consciousness was abhorrent to him. This issue was the subject of a running dispute between Freud and Janet that was never settled. It is my opinion that the psychoanalytic tradition has suffered greatly from Freud’s stance. It made it very difficult to find a way to account for multiple personality disorder and other severe dissociative conditions, and as a matter of fact, Freud’s contemporaries who are familiar with what I call the alternate-consciousness tradition severely criticized him on precisely that score (Crabtree 1993, pp. 351 ff.) This concludes my comments on hypnotism and the alternate consciousness paradigm. Questions?



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