LSD, hypnosis and the Catholic Church

I found this interesting snippet, among many interesting snippets, on p194 of David Healy’s book The Creation of Psychopharmacology (ISBN 0674015991), a history of the science and medicine of psychiatric drug development.

It discusses the similarities between the reaction of the authorities to LSD in the 1960s and the reaction to hypnotism in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The LSD story has a backdrop of considerable historical resonance. It seemed that under the influence of LSD mainstream cultures were inhibited, that a dose of LSD would lead to a humanizing of society and a democratizing of values. A similar story had played out two hundred years earlier with the development of mesmerism (hypnosis).

Mesmerism led to a perception among “therapists” that the entire social order could have resulted from suggestion. Many viewed mesmerism not just as a means of correcting the problems of an individual but as a means of changing society. Quite a few of the men who signed the early documents triggering the French Revolution were also members of Franz Mesmer’s Society of Harmony.

One of the responses of the establishment was to proscribe mesmerism, and later hypnosis. Mesmerism remained officially banned for almost a hundred years; it took the influence of the most famous clinician of his day, Jean-Martin Charcot, to bring it back to the scientific doman.

But the work of Charcot and Janet on hypnotism created further problems. It began to seem that many religious phenomena, including the stigmata of saints were hypnoid phenomena, and this perception led to the suggestion that saints exhibiting such effects were in fact hysterics.

Hypnosis fell under a further cloud when its use by Freud was associated with his claims that hysteria was linked to sexual abuse during childhood. There was widespread disquiet. The Catholic Church, for example, proscribed hypnosis in the 1880s, and the ban was not lifted until 1955.

The image is part of a larger painting called ‘A Clinical Lesson with Doctor Charcot at the Salpetriere, 1887’ painted by Andr√© Brouillet.

It depicts Charcot and one of his most famous ‘hysterical’ patients Blanche, being supported by Joseph Babi≈Ñski.

Freud had a copy of this picture in his consulting room, and it can still be seen in his old house, now the Freud Museum in London.

UPDATE: Jeremy, of the excellent Advances in the History of Psychology has emailed to say that they recently posted a summary of papers that look at the history of LSD, psychology and psychiatry. Thanks!

Link to book info.
Link to The Creation of Psychopharmacology on Google books.

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