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Bernheim, Hippolyte

Bernheim, Hippolyte

(b. Mulhouse, France, 27 April 1840; d. Paris, France, 1919)


Bernheim was an intern in Strasbourg hospitals, but left Alsace after the Franco-Prussian War and became a professor at the Faculté de Médecine in Nancy after his agrégation. He was particularly interested in pulmonary localizations of the Bouillaud syndrome (rheumatic fever); forms of prolonged typhus that affect the cerebrospinal nerves; the effect of arteriosclerosisin the circle of Willis on the Cheyne-Stokes respiratory phenomenon; and in a special form of the right asystole without retrograde intervention of the pulmonary stasis (sinking of the poorly developed right ventricle caused by the enlarged left ventricle), called the Bernheim syndrome by the South Americanschool of cardiology.

After teaching in the medical clinics for thirteen years, Bernheim heard of a practitioner named Liebault (1823–1904) in one of Nancy’s suburbs. Liebault was a philosopher and philanthropist who successfully treated his patients through induced sleep. Bernheim, although very skeptical, went to call; this was the beginning of his study of hypnotism, of suggestion, and of hysteria, which also interested Charcot and the Salpêtrière school, as well as Émile Coué (1857–1926), a pharmacist in Nancy.

As early as 1884 Bernheim stated his Opposition to Charcot’s concepts regarding hypnosis. He criticized the Parisian idea of hypnosis in three stages, and was the first to have the courage to say that it was a “cultural hypnosis,” entirely explitable by suggestion.

Likewise, Bernheim demonstrated in 1904 that the great four-phase hysteria described by Charcot was not an illness, but an emotional, psychoneurotic reaction brought about through suggestion and curable by the same process. He thus anticipated Joseph Babinski, although there remained important differences between the latter’s pithiatism, based on a very precise semeiology, and Bernheim’s concepts. Bernheim’s fame brought Paul Dubois, Economo, and Freud to visit him. The latter was much impressed, and wrote:

I went to Nancy in the summer of 1889 where I spent several weeks. I witnessed the astonishing experiments performed by Bernheim on his hospital patients, and it is there that I experienced, the strongest impressions relating to the possible use of powerful psychical processes which remained hidden from, human consciousness. I had many interesting discussions with him and I undertook to translate into German his two works on suggestion and its therapeutic effects.

It is not correct, however, to classify Bernheim as the father of psychoanalyisis, for he remained a classical psychologist—he was a master of psychotherapy and a precursor of psychosomatic thought. At a time when the latter are both in full use, Bernheim’s ideas have lost nothing of their interest and value.


I. Original Works. Bernheim’s writings include “De lamyocardite aigüe,” thesis (Strasbourg, 1867); Des fièvres typhiques en général (Strasbourg, 1868); De l’étal cireuxdes muscles (Strasbourg, 1870); Leçons de clinique médicale (Paris, 1877), Spanish trans. by E. Sánchez de Ocana (Madrid, 1879): Contributioi à l’Étude des localizations cérébrales (Paris, 1878): Çtudes sur les râles (Paris, 1878); De la suggestion dans l’étal hypnotique et dans l’etal de veille (Paris, 1884), also in Revue mèdicale de l’est, 15 (1884), 513–520; 545–559; 577–592; 610–619; 641–658; 674–685; 712–721; 16 (1884), 7–20; De la suggestion et de ses applicationsa la thérapeutique (Paris, 1886), German trans. by Sigmund Freud (Leipzig-Vienna, 1888, 1889, 1896), English trans. By Christian A. Herter (New York-London, 1889); Recueil des faits cliniques (Paris, 1890), written with P. Simon; Hypnotisme, suggestion, psychothérapie, éludesnouvelles (Paris, 1891), Dutch trans, by A. W. Van Renterghem (Amsterdam, 1891), German trans. by Sigmund Freud (Leipzig-Vienna, 1892); L’hypnotismeet la suggestion dans leurs rapports avec la médecine légale (Nancy, 1897);Hypnotisme, suggestion, psychothérapie avec considérations nouvelles sur l’hysteérie (Paris, 1903, 1910); Doctrine de l’aphasie, conception nouvelle (Paris, 1907); and L’aphasie, conception psychologique et clinique (Paris, 1914).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Bernheim are E. H. Ackerknecht. A Short History of Psychialry (NewYork-London, 1959); G. Amselle. Conception de l’hystérie (Paris, 1907): P. Blum. Des anesthesies psychiques (Paris, 1906); K. Kolle, Grosse Nervehärzte (Munich, 1959). II, 220; III, 136–165; P. Kissel and P. Barrncand, “Le sommeilhypnotique d’après l’École de Nancy,” in L’encephale, 53 (1964), 5371–5388; P. E. Levy, L’éducation ralionnelle dela volonté. Son emploi thérapeutique (Paris, 1898). Preface, II, 21. 64–68; and H. H. Walsehr, “L’école hypnologiquede Nancy.” in Mèdecine et hygiene, no. 685 (1965), 443.

Pierre Huard

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Bernheim, Hippolyte (1840-1919)


A professor of ambulatory health care at the department of medicine in Nancy, Hippolyte Bernheim was born in Mulhouse on April 27, 1840, and died in Paris on February 2, 1919. He studied medicine in Strasbourg and, when he received his degree in 1870, during the Franco-Prussian war, he decided to practice in France. In 1879 he was offered the chair of ambulatory medicine at the then-new department of medicine in Nancy. Around 1882, in spite of his initial reticence, he agreed to visit Ambroise Liebeault's "clinic." Convinced of the efficacy of Liebeault's methods, Bernheim began to use hypnosis on some of his patients, generally working with people suffering from a variety of infectious diseases. In 1884 he published a scathing attack on the Salpêtrière: hysteria and hypnosis were no more than cultural phenomena aroused by the power of suggestion.

Bernheim now became the spokesman of a new school that was internationally recognized. In his private practice he saw neurotic patients from all over Europe. In spite of his personal admiration for Jean Martin Charcot, his position was deepened and further radicalized in two books translated by Freud, De la suggestion et de ses applicationsà la thérapeutique (Suggestion and its Therapeutic Applications) (1886 and 1888) and Hypnotisme, suggestion, psychothérapie (Hypnotism, Suggestion, Psychotherapy) (1891 and 1903). The prevalence of Bernheim's position seems to have exhausted itself by the end of the century. Char-cot himself, at the end of his life, in La foi qui guérit (The Faith that Heals) (1892), appears to have moved closer to the position of the school of Nancy. However, in Nancy, Bernheim felt isolated. He distanced himself from Liebeault, his hypnosis practice began to disintegrate, and his support for Dreyfus aroused considerable anti-Semitic hostility. After retiring in 1910 Bernheim moved to Paris. In 1913, in a book on hysteria, he gave a favorable assessment of the Studies on Hysteria.

According to Bernheim, hypnosis is only a particular case of the psychological phenomenon of suggestion. Psychotherapya term Bernheim popularizedincorporated the power of language, the doctor's influence on the patient, and the effect of the patient's mind on his body. Bernheim argued for a therapy of and by the mind, which could cure nervous illnesses and suppress or calm the symptoms, even the causes, of organic disease. He seems to have been a flexible and eclectic therapist, passing when necessary from authoritarianism to insinuation, sometimes even refusing to give orders to his patients.

Shortly before the July 1889 Congress on Hypnotism held in Paris that year, Sigmund Freud came to see Bernheim in Lorraine. In a letter to August Forel, Bernheim referred to Freud as a "charming young man." In 1888 however, Freud had turned to Charcot for support in criticizing Bernheim. After 1889 Freud would make use of some of Bernheim's ideas to distance himself from Charcot, but he continued to remain critical of the theory of suggestion promulgated by the school of Nancy. Freud later recalled how forcefully certain experiments of 1889, involving the recall of memories originating during hypnosis, had struck him. Reading the text published in 1890 after his trip to Lorraine, the "insightful" clinician from Nancy may also have left Freud with the nucleus of an idea for the treatment of the "psyche," or "soul," and an interest in the magic of words.

Jacqueline Carroy

See also: Autosuggestion; Cäcilie M., case of; Hypnosis; Liebeault, Ambroise Auguste; Negative hallucination; Suggestion; Translation.


Bernheim, Hippolyte. (1903). Hypnotisme, suggestion, psychothérapie (2nd ed). Paris: Fayard, 1995.

Blum, J.-L. (1986). La vie d'Hippolyte Bernheim, 1840-1919 (pp. 103-117). Paris: Frénésie.

Carroy, Jacqueline. (1988). L'école hypnologique de Nancy. I: Liébeault, Beaunis, Liégeois et Delbœuf. II: Bernheim, Charcot et Freud, le Pays lorrain. Journal de la Société d'archéologie lorraine et du Musée historique lorrain, 2-3, 108-116; 159-166.

Delboeuf, Joseph. (1885). Le Sommeil et les Rêves. Paris: Félix Alcan; Le Sommeil et les Rêves et autres textes. Paris: Fayard, 1993.

Freud, Sigmund. (1890a). Psychical (or mental) treatment. SE, 7 : 283-302.

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