Émile Coué, a French psychologist and pharmacist in the late 19th century, was one of the first individuals to make use of optimistic autosuggestion as a popular form of psychotherapy and self-improvement.
His most famous method – the Coué Method – involved saying the positive affirmation, “Everyday, in every way, I am getting better and better” at the beginning and end of each day. It was meant to be repeated in a clear and focused state of mind.
Coué believed that through the use of autosuggestion and imagination an individual could motivate their self to better living habits and health. Émile Coué noticed that he could improve the effectiveness of a drug by praising its effectiveness to his patients. This discovery eventually became known as the placebo effect.
These kinds of findings turned Coué’s interests towards hypnosis and digging deeper into the nature of suggestion. Coué observed that the main obstacle to hypnosis and autosuggestion was willpower; in order for the suggestions to be most effective the individual had to reserve judgment and accept the suggestion based on an element of faith.
This could explain why hypnosis can be so hard to study reliably using the scientific method. Because each individual has their own degrees of suggestibility, and the hypnosis-patient relationship is so crucial to the effectiveness of the treatment; which makes it difficult to establish a good control group.
The power of suggestion has proven to play a huge yet perplexing and largely unexplained role in human psychology. According to a recent article by Wired Magazine, placebo drugs have been getting more effective over time. Perhaps this is due to society’s growing acceptance of pills as a convenient “cure-all” for all of our problems? On a related note, one blog by a U.K. neuroscientist even reports on placebo side effects, which could theoretically account for some of the side effects common in various medical treatments, not just psycho-pharmaceuticals.
It seems only natural that with all of this evidence on the power of suggestion that scientists should begin to seek what factors play a role in making a particular suggestion powerful. Hypnosis should not just be seen as a tool that only works on “highly suggestible” persons, but also a tool that can be learned and applied by everyone.
Coué himself claimed that he was not a healer, but one who taught others how to heal themselves. To read more about Émile Coué I highly recommend this blog entry by UK Hypnosis, which gives a very fascinating and in-depth analysis to Coué’s practices.