Andrew Salter

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Andrew Salter (May 9, 1914 – October 6, 1996) was the founder of conditioned reflex therapy, an early form of behaviour therapy which emphasized assertive and expressive behaviour as the way to combat the inhibitory personality traits which Salter believed were the underlying cause of most neuroses. In the 1940s, Salter introduced to American psychotherapy a Pavlovian model of hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis training.


Andrew Salter received a BA from NYU, and was "grand-fathered in" as a practicing (Manhattan at 1000 Park Avenue at East 84th Street) psychologist with only a BA. Salter spoke seven languages fluently[citation needed] . He first made his mark clearing out the alcoholic's ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital by treating patients with hypnosis and teaching them self-hypnosis (autosuggestion).[citation needed]

Criticism of Psychoanalysis[edit]

Salter was the first nationally recognized opponent of psychoanalysis. He was a dedicated critic of Freud. His book "The Case Against Psychoanalysis" was so controversial that the New York Times gave it two reviews, one extremely positive and one extremely negative.

Salter proclaimed in this post-war tome, "psychoanalysis has outlived its usefulness." Salter chucked psychoanalysis and replaced it with Pavlovian conditioning under hypnosis. In the conditioned reflex, he has seen the essence of hypnosis. He gave a rebirth to hypnotism by combining it with classical conditioning.

Andrew Salter was and remains the most passionate opponent of Classical Freudian Psychoanalysis and believed that A. A. Brill (who was Sigmund Freud's official English translator) had "homogenized" Freud's work and deliberately omitted passages which Brill considered to be too radical, conflicting or bizarre. Salter spent three years studying everything Freud and his contemporaries had written, including correspondence with Carl Jung and Anna Freud, mostly in the original German before writing his "autopsy" of Psychoanalysis, "The Case Against Psychoanalysis" which today remains the best work ever written critiquing Freud's theories. Today's academic texts "soft pedal" many of Freud's theories, making Psychoanalysis more "palatable" due largely in part to Salter's works and those who came after him.


Salter also brought attention to the fact that Pavlovian Psychology was a lot more than simple Classical Conditioning, citing the work done in Pavlov's Russian laboratory for over a quarter of a century. Salter is considered by many to be the "father of behavior therapy". Salter is certainly one of the first psychotherapists who adapted and applied learning theories to clinical practice.

Salter believed in releasing personal "inhibitions" by practicing techniques leading to what he called "excitation" which results in "disinhibition", a state which he described as akin to being slightly drunk. Chapter 8 in "Conditioned Reflex Therapy" contains all of the "exercises" (like the deliberate use of the word "I") leading to a state of excitation. Today, excitation, a term from the Pavlovian lexicon, might be referred to as a combination of "assertion" and "disinhibition". Salter, as did other "behaviorists" of the time, also had his patients learn & practice Edmund Jacobson's technique of "progressive relaxation".


Salter's hypnotic and relaxation techniques were first explained in his book, "What Is Hypnosis?" which was proclaimed a work of genius by Theodore X. Barber, a physiologist who researched hypnotic induction (Barber and Calverley) during the post World War II era.

In 1941, Salter published an article entitled 'Three techniques of autohypnosis'.[1]

Salter wrote an article describing the modus operandi of self-hypnosis but couldn't get it published. None of the professional journals would touch the piece. At length, after many rebuffs, he sent a copy to Professor Clark Leonard Hull, of Yale University's Psychology Department. Hull was the author of a work entitled Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. Hull read Salter's article (though he had never heard of Salter) and was sufficiently impressed to send it along to the Journal of General Psychology, of which he was an editor.[2]

Salter's technique was developed over the space of two years during which he tested the methods with just over 200 subjects. Salter described methods of teaching self-hypnosis by:

  1. Autohypnosis by post-hypnotic suggestion
  2. Autohypnosis by memorised trance instructions (scripted suggestions)
  3. Fractional autohypnosis (part learning)

Salter's behavioral approach, influenced by Hull, was a primitive precursor of modern hypnotic skills training programmes such as the Carleton Skills Training Programme developed by Nicholas Spanos.[3]


Salter is often considered to be the founder of assertiveness training, although he did not use the term himself. His book Conditioned Reflex Therapy (1949) describes many case studies in which he used primitive assertiveness techniques, termed "excitatory exercises", which became the basis of subsequent behavior therapy for assertiveness.


Salter's techniques were revived among college students during the early and mid-1970s at Bernard M. Baruch College (City University of New York) by Richard Rodriguez, a student leader and newspaper Editor-in-Chief of "The (Baruch College) Ticker". Rodriguez was introduced to Salter's work by ex-Marine and fellow student, Brian Guerre. After corresponding with Salter, Rodriguez held training sessions on campus in the office of his "Health Sciences Society" organization which he founded in 1972. Over a two-year period, Rodriguez trained over two hundred students in progressive relaxation and autosuggestion, which improved the students' ability to study and perform better on exams. Mr. Rodriguez's motto was "relax to your purpose". Rodriguez has also advanced the theory that all human conflict is based on each individual's (or group's) unfulfilled (long-term/lifelong) expectations, which may be modified to a limited extent, through Salter's techniques of personality reconstruction.

In a 2008 phone interview, Rodriguez remarked: "Although we now know much more about the workings and chemistry of the brain than was known 65 years ago, Salter's techniques remain extremely effective and life altering. His works remained in print for over 25 years and have been translated in over a dozen languages and his books have earned numerous accolades. Proponents of Behavior Modification, Assertiveness Training, Auto-relaxation, Progressive (Systematic) Desensitization & Psychoprophylaxis have all used principles and applications proposed, developed or applied by Salter, whether or not they acknowledge that reality."


The Salter family has recently promoted the re-publication of "Conditioned Reflex Therapy" which was Salter's most influential work.


Obituary: New York Times

Andrew Salter, Behavior Therapist, 82, Dies

By Karen Freeman (Published: October 9, 1996)

Andrew Salter, a psychologist who helped develop the theoretical underpinnings and clinical applications of behavior therapy decades before the field became popular, died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said Dr. William J. Salter, his son.

Mr. Salter, recognized as a founder of behavior therapy, was one of the first to take the findings from experimental psychology on things like conditioned reflexes and apply those principles to solving people's problems. He rejected psychoanalysis, with its years of probing into the roots of neuroses, arguing in the 1940s that a psychologist could help people who were overly anxious, shy or depressed much more quickly by teaching them to change their behavior.

Dr. Gerald C. Davison, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, wrote that Mr. Salter had been so far ahead of the behaviorist wave of the 1960s that many younger behavioral psychologists were unaware of his work.

He said Mr. Salter's ideas have become so widely accepted that he is often not formally cited when contemporary writers in behavior therapy refer to assertion training, expressiveness training, 'getting in touch with one's feelings,' all early ideas of Mr. Salter's that became popular later.

Dr. Davison made those comments in recommending that the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy present Mr. Salter with its lifetime achievement award, which it will do posthumously, on Nov. 23. He is the second psychologist to win the award.

Mr. Salter took an unconventional path to an unusual career. Born in Waterbury, Conn., he graduated from New York University in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a burning interest in research, but no patience for postgraduate work. I had no desire to spend the rest of my life studying the reactions of rats lost in labyrinths, he once said.

He plunged into research and clinical practice, which was possible with a bachelor's degree at the time, and was allowed to continue to practice when the state later set more rigid licensing standards. He continued his practice until a few months ago.

Hypnosis had captured Mr. Salter's interest in college, and he looked for ways to use it in clinical practice. He developed techniques for self-hypnosis but initially found it hard to publish his work because he did not have the necessary academic credentials. A psychologist at Yale University, Dr. Clark Leonard Hull, helped him publish an article in The Journal of General Psychology in 1941. He came to national attention that year when Life magazine publicized his ideas about short-term psychotherapy. In 1944, he published his first book, What Is Hypnosis?

In 1949, Mr. Salter published Conditioned Reflex Therapy, which took many of the principles developed by those who did watch rats run mazes and used them to develop short-term therapies for neuroses. In an interview, Dr. Davison called it a landmark book in experimentally based psychotherapy.

The therapy Mr. Salter employed encouraged patients to express their emotions and used visual imagery to reduce anxiety. It also moved people past their fears by gradually getting them accustomed to being around the things they feared. [progressive or systematic desensitization]

In 1952, Mr. Salter published The Case Against Psychoanalysis, in which he looked at the scientific basis for that field and pronounced it weak. The book generated much controversy, said Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, a psychology professor at Yale, particularly because Mr. Salter used such vivid language to wield his literary club. One of his phrases was that trying to pin down psychoanalysis was like nailing lemon meringue to a wall, Dr. Kazdin said. But what made him special was that he didn't just criticize. He came up with an alternative, applied it and helped develop a whole movement.

Besides his son William, of Harvard, Mass., Mr. Salter is survived by his wife, Rhoda; another son, Robert, of Tarrytown, N.Y.; a sister, Bertha Seigel of Montgomery County, Md., and three grandchildren.

  • "Andrew Salter, Behavior Therapist, 82, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-12-14.

[Obituary Submitted by Richard Rodriguez (July 23, 2008), with gratitude, admiration and respect]

In the media[edit]

In the original Frank Sinatra film The Manchurian Candidate the Chinese cite Salter's work as their inspiration to brainwash the soldiers.

Conditioned Reflex Therapy was part of a list of books owned by Marilyn Monroe, auctioned at Christies-NY, October 28–29, 1999.


  1. ^ Salter, Andrew (1941). "Three techniques of autohypnosis". Journal of General Psychology. 24 (2): 423–438. doi:10.1080/00221309.1941.10544386.
  2. ^ Freeman, Karen (9 October 1996). "Andrew Salter, Behavior Therapist, 82, Dies". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Sachs, Bernice C. (February 1986). "Stress and self-hypnosis". Psychiatric Annals. 16 (2): 110–114. doi:10.3928/0048-5713-19860201-13.