Delboeuf, Joseph Rémi Léopold (1831-1896)

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Joseph Delboeuf was a Belgian psychologist and hypnotherapist. He was born in Liège on September 30, 1831, and died in Bonn on August 13, 1896. He was a professor at the University of Ghent from 1863 to 1866 (philosophy), and after 1866 taught at the University of Liège (Latin, Greek, and psychology). Signs of Delboeuf's influence can be found in many places in Sigmund Freud's work, at least until 1900. The most significant include:

  1. Delboeuf treated a woman traumatized by the death of her son. He eliminated her symptoms, which resembled the terrible conditions of his death, by having her relive those experiences several times. Delboeuf explained "how the magnetizer assists in the healing process. He places the subject in a state where the evil has manifested itself and through speech combats that same, recurring evil." Freud discussed this hypothesis extensively in "On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena" (1893a) and in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d).
  2. Looking back on his therapy with Emmy von N., Freud doubted for the first time the value of claims by Bernheim and the "perspicacious" Delboeuf. He questioned whether Bernheim was correct in continuing to claim that "suggestion is everything," and Delboeuf for having claimed that "that being so, there is no such thing as hypnotism." Unable to resolve these issues, he abandoned theory and turned to practice, finally showing preference for the analytic and genetic method, which was in fact that of Delboeuf.
  3. Delboeuf's Le Sommeil et les Rêves [Sleep and Dreams] (1885) and Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) have several traits in common. Delboeuf's work opens with the famous dream of the lizards and the Asplenium, an intriguing dream from several points of view and one that led the psychologist to articulate his conception of memory and remembrance, whose meaning he attempted to grasp through the randomness of free association. In the Interpretation of Dreams two of Delboeuf's concepts are treated favorably: "forced rapprochement" (to account for the tendency of dreams to merge) and "cliché" to explain the presence of verbal expressions in certain dreams. Having decided to use his own dreams for hermeneutic purposes, Freud acknowledges that he had to overcome [conquer] his initial reticence. He remarks that he overcame his resistance by subjecting it to a process expressed by Delboeuf, whom he quotes: "every psychologist must acknowledge even his weaknesses if he feels he can shed light on a problem by doing so" (Freud, 1900a; Delboeuf, 1885, p. 30).

FranÇois Duyckaerts

See also: Congrès international de l'hypnotisme expéri-mental et scientifique, First; Disque vert, Le ; Hypnosis; Suggestion.


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

. (1889). Le Magnétisme animal.Á propos d'une visite à l'École de Nancy. Paris: Félix Alcan.

Duyckaerts, François. (1993). "Les références de Freud à Delbœuf." Revue Internationale de Psychanalyse, 6, 231-250.

Freud, Sigmund. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE,2.

. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.