Hippolyte Bernheim

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Hippolyte Bernheim.

Hippolyte Bernheim (Mulhouse, 17 April 1840 – Paris, 22 February 1919) was a French physician and neurologist, born at Mülhausen, Alsace. He is chiefly known for his theory of suggestibility in relation to hypnotism.[1]


Bernheim received his education in his native town and at the University of Strasbourg, where he was graduated as doctor of medicine in 1867. The same year he became a lecturer at the university and established himself as a physician in the city.

When, in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian war, Strasbourg passed to Germany, Bernheim moved to Nancy (where he met and later collaborated with Dr. Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault), in the university of which town he became clinical professor.

The Nancy School[edit]

When the medical faculty took up hypnotism, about 1880, Bernheim was very enthusiastic, and soon became one of the leaders of the investigation. He became a well-known authority in this new field of medicine.

Hippolyte Bernheim.

Albert Moll (1862–1939), an active promoter of hypnotism in Germany, went to Nancy and studied with Bernheim; while in the United States Boris Sidis and Morton Prince were also considered part of the Nancy School.[2]

Bernheim also had a significant influence on Sigmund Freud, who had visited Bernheim in 1889, and witnessed some of his experiments (though he was known as an antagonist of Jean-Martin Charcot with whom Freud had studied in Paris). Freud had already translated Bernheim's On Suggestion and its Applications to Therapy in 1888;[3] and later described how "I was a spectator of Bernheim's astonishing experiments upon his hospital patients, and I received the profoundest impression of the possibility that there could be powerful mental processes which nevertheless remained hidden from the consciousness of man".[4] He would later term himself a pupil of Bernheim, and it was out of his practice of Bernheim's suggestion/hypnosis that psychoanalysis would evolve.[5]

Bernheim himself increasingly turned from hypnosis to the use of suggestion in a waking state, something his school began to term 'psychotherapeutics'.[6]


Bernheim has been criticised for failing to recognise the role of what Pierre Janet called the rapport between hypnotizer and hypnotised[7] - the element from which Freud would evolve the concept of transference.[8]


Bernheim wrote many works, of which the following are mentioned here:

  • "Des Fièvres Typhiques en Général", Strasburg, 1868;
  • "Leçon de Clinique Médicale", Paris, 1877;
  • "De la Suggestion dans l'État Hypnotique et dans l'État de Veille", Paris, 1884;
  • "De la Suggestion et de son Application à la Thérapeutique", Paris, 1887.

English translations:

  • Bernheim, H., (Herter, C.A. trans.), Suggestive Therapeutics: A Treatise on the Nature and Uses of Hypnotism, (De la Suggestion et de son Application à la Thérapeutique, [Second Edition], 1887), G.P. Putnam's Sons, (New York), 1889.
  • Bernheim H., New Studies in Hypnotism, [Trans. by Sandor R.S, of Bernheim's French (1891) Hypnotisme, Suggestion, Psychothérapie: Études Nouvelles], International University's Press, (New York), 1980.


  1. ^ R. Gregory ed, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 332
  2. ^ Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 88
  3. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time (1988)p. 51
  4. ^ Quoted in Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (1964) p. 211
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis (PFL 1) p. 501-2
  6. ^ Ellenberger, p. 87
  7. ^ Ellenberger, p. 153
  8. ^ Freud, p. 502-3

Further reading[edit]

Huard, Pierre (1970–80). "Bernheim, Hippolyte". Dictionary of Scientific Biography 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0-684-10114-9. 

  • Alexandre Klein, "Et Nancy devint la capitale de l'hypnose" http://www.estrepublicain.fr/fr/philosophie/info/5262459-Et-Nancy-devint-capitale-de-l-hypnose
  • Alexandre Klein,« Nouveau regard sur l’Ecole hypnologique de Nancy à partir d’archives inédites », Le Pays Lorrain, 2010/4, p. 337-348.
  • Alexandre Klein,« “Lire le corps pour percer l’âme” : outils et appareils à l’aube de la psychologie scientifique à Nancy », Guignard, L., Raggi, P., Thévenin, E., (dir.), 2011, Corps et machines à l’âge industriel, Rennes, PUR, p. 41-54.

External links[edit]