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Coué, Emile (1857-1926)

Coué, Emile (1857-1926)

Founder of a popular system of autosuggestion that report-edly had great success in healing many illnesses and diseases. The essence of autosuggestion was that Coué himself was not a healer, but taught techniques by which his patients could heal themselves. His system is quite similar to New Thought and directly influenced modern ideas about the power of the mind.

Coué was born February 26, 1857, in Troyes, in the Aube district of France. He attended the town school until age 15 before studying in the high school, where he showed great aptitude for science. At the age of 19, he was apprenticed in a drugstore in Troyes, later studying chemistry at the École de Pharmacie in Paris. In 1882 he returned to Troyes and became proprietor of a drugstore. He married in 1884.

Soon afterward he was persuaded to listen to a lecture by a Dr. Liebault at the Nancy School of Hypnotism. Coué developed a great interest in hypnotism, but he thought Liebault's procedures lacked systematic method. He took an American correspondence course in hypnotism and practiced on patients who came to his drugstore. He observed that many subjects were not completely hypnotized although they were beneficially affected by simple drugs in a degree far beyond the actual medical potency of the drugs. From observation of his patients, Coué developed a theory of suggestion. He abandoned traditional hypnosis, requiring his patients to make their own suggestion for healing.

In 1910 he retired from business and moved to Nancy, where he concentrated on his practice of autosuggestion, sometimes treating as many as 15,000 people a year. He became well known after the celebrated psychologist Charles Baudoin described his methods in the book Suggestion and Autosuggestion (1920), which he dedicated to Coué. In 1921 the British physician Dr. Monier-Williams traveled to Nancy and studied Coué's methods. Upon returning to London, he opened a clinic for the practice of conscious autosuggestion, The Coué Institute for the Practice of Conscious Autosuggestion, in London treated thousands of patients annually. In 1923 a similar institute was established in Paris.

Coué toured America, where he popularized the phrase "Every day in every way, I get better and better" as part of his therapeutic method. This was a conscious suggestion that the subject was required to repeat in early morning and before going to sleep at night. Coué died at Nancy July 2, 1926. Conscious suggestion has since become an integral element in many popular systems of healing and self-improvement.

Sources:

Brooks, C. Harry. The Practice of Autosuggestion by the Method of Emile Coué. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922.

Coué, Emile. My Method, Including American Impressions. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1923.

. Self Mastery through Conscious Autosuggestion. New York: American Library Service, 1922.

Kirk, Ella Boyce. My Pilgrimage to Coué. New York: American Library Service, 1922.

MacNaghten, Hugh. Emile Coué: the Man and his Work. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1922.

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Coué, Émile

Émile Coué (āmēl´ kwā), 1857–1926, French psychotherapist. He is remembered for his formula for curing by optimistic autosuggestion, "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better." His teaching achieved a vogue in England and the United States in the 1920s.

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Coué, Emile (1857-1926)

Coué, Emile (1857-1926)

A French provincial pharmacist, Emile Coué was responsible for a therapeutic mind-over-matter system of "autosuggestion" known as Couéism that influenced the popular culture of the United States when, as in England, it became something of a national craze during the early 1920s. By daily repetition of its still familiar mantra, "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better," Couéism's adherents hoped to achieve health and success by positive thinking and the expectation of beneficial results. The most succinct definition of Couéism was perhaps Coué's own: "Couéism is an especial technique … for the teaching and application of auto-and other methodical suggestion. It is more: it is an attitude of mind directed toward progressive improvement."

Coué was born of old noble Breton stock in Troyes, France, and attended pharmacy school in Paris before establishing an apothecary in his home town. Observing that he could effect positive results in his clients by encouragement as well as medication, he developed an informal counseling service that became the foundation of his later work. Moving to Nancy in 1896, he came across an advertisement touting hypnotism as a tool for business success. His investigations in this field led him to develop his own system, though he always insisted that positive thinking—not hypnotic trance—was the basis of Couéism, and that he was merely harnessing imagination in the service of will. In 1913 he founded the Lorraine Society of Applied Psychology and, in 1922, the Coué Institute for Psychical Education at Paris. During World War I, he lectured in Paris and Switzerland, with proceeds used for the relief of war victims.

His book Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion caused a sensation when it was published in England and the United States, in 1920 and 1922, respectively. A steady stream of British pilgrims to Nancy turned Coué's facilities into a kind of secular Lourdes, especially after such luminaries as Julian Huxley and Sir Alfred Downing Fripp, the King's physician, endorsed the method. Emile Coué: The Man and His Work, a 1935 book by J. Louis Orton, a disaffected ex-associate, quotes Huxley: "He [Coué] goes further than any of the orthodox medical men in his claims for the power of mind over body; he effects remarkable cures, and finally he sums up his ideas in one or two simple generalizations."

Coué was invited to lecture in England regularly after 1921, where his reputed cure of Lord Curzon's insomnia only added to his reputation. On January 4, 1923 he arrived in the United States for a tumultuous lecture tour that was given substantial coverage in the popular press, especially by the New York World. Over the next several weeks, he gave 81 "séances" in major eastern cities, where his treatment of prominent socialites such as Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt further served to advance his cause. His appeal to American optimism and efficiency was undoubtedly the source of much of his popularity; industrialist Henry Ford was reported to have said, "I have read Coué's philosophy: he has the right idea. " And Coué himself was described as the "Henry Ford of psychology" by Gertrude Mayo in her 1923 book, Coué for Children. She wrote, "Just as M. Coué had first started the engine of the subconscious mind with hypnotic hetero-suggestion and later had substituted the self-starter of conscious auto-suggestion … thanks to him people … who had never known before they possessed unconscious minds, were finding not only that they had but that they could command them to their great personal advantage and convenience."

A National Coué Institute was founded in New York to train instructors to teach the method, and the American Library Service began publishing his books from New York. Despite Coué's decidedly secular point of view, his lectures evoked comparisons with the faith-healing revivals that were popular at the time, attracting, in the words of J. Louis Orton, "paralytics, asthmatics, and stammerers" seeking respite from their ills. Couéism came under fire from orthodox religious leaders and even Christian Science—which it somewhat resembled—for its secular viewpoint and its purported Freudianism, which it resembled not at all. Coué returned to the United States in 1924 for an extensive lecture tour of the western states, but took ill in England the following year after complaining his nose had been improperly cauterized to cure his recurring nosebleeds during a British lecture tour. He died in his homeland on July 2, 1926, and a huge crowd attended his funeral at a Roman Catholic church. Although his Institutes continued his work in Europe and the United States, the movement quickly declined and was soon all but forgotten.

Thus the Coué craze, especially in America, ended almost as soon as it had begun, leaving the Freudians and fundamentalists to battle it out for the ownership of the "mind-over-matter" question. The popularity of Couéism can be seen as representing a response by mass consumer culture to the spiritual devastation of World War I, which had spawned nihilism, Dada, socialism, and fascism in other contexts. Its pseudoscientific, quasi-religious trappings appealed to a disillusioned public hungry for non-material fulfillment during the 1920s, a decade that embodied the triumph of a modernistic, mechanistic culture. And as an early example of how publicity, hype, and celebrity endorsement were enlisted on behalf of non-material fulfillment, Couéism presaged the work of other self-help gurus and systems during the twentieth century, with voices as diverse as Norman Vincent Peale, L. Ron Hubbard, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Werner Erhard perpetuating their own versions of Coué's self-help message.

—Edward Moran

Further Reading:

Coué, Emile. My Method: Including American Impressions. GardenCity, New York, Doubleday, 1923.

——. Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion. New York, American Library Service, 1922.

Mayo, Gertrude. Coué for Children. New York, 1923.

Orton, J. Louis. Emile Coué: The Man and His Work. London, FrancisMott, 1935.

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