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Stross, L. Shevrin, H. (1969). Hypnosis as a Method for Investigating Unconscious Thought Processes—A Review of Research. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 17:100-135.

(1969). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 17:100-135

Hypnosis as a Method for Investigating Unconscious Thought Processes—A Review of Research

Lawrence Stross, M.D. and Howard Shevrin, Ph.D.


For some time, the value of hypnosis as a tool for scientific investigation was obscured by its dramatic therapeutic effects. Hypnosis played a critical role in revealing the relationship between unconscious thinking and neurotic symptoms by providing Freud with a microscope of the psyche to observe what was heretofore unobservable—the traumatic memories with their strange connections to symptoms. Unfortunately, as the limitations of the cathartic method became evident, hypnoanalysis was abandoned by Freud and with it interest was lost in using hypnosis as a method for investigating mental processes. Our historical review of studies involving hypnosis was organized around and focused attention on two points: the notable methodological advances and theoretical contributions that came out of the Breuer and Freud clinical innovation of listening to patients talk freely while in hypnosis, and what we delineated as a basic pattern or schema between apparently widely divergent and unrelated observations and studies, with particular emphasis on the mediating role of language.

Hypnosis may have been superseded as a therapy, but the advantages in using hypnosis as a research instrument remain. By examining in detail, as we have in this paper, the clinical observations and experiments using hypnosis through the years, one can better appreciate the striking role and unique part played by hypnosis in making available otherwise unknown relationships between such things as posthypnotic suggestion phenomena, dreams, symptom formation, and certain experimentally induced behavior. Without the purchase provided by hypnotically retrieved reminiscences, it is unlikely that the nature of unconscious

processes following different rules of thought as compared to those of conscious processes could have as easily been discovered and identified by Freud. Despite some of the limitations of the studies described in this paper, when reviewed together they form an impressive series in which the findings are generally positive and suggest many further research possibilities. We described our own use of subliminal stimuli with multiple levels of potential associative responses as an experimental method that appears to hold promise as a systematic, controlled means of studying the nature of thinking in hypnosis and other states of consciousness.

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