Soon Freud realized that hypnosis had its limitations. To begin with, not all patients were receptive to his hypnotic power. In fact, in some cases, Freud ran into patients who opposed resistance to being hypnotized, either an active resistance (such as punching him in the face) or a passive resistance. This one consisted in that the patient opposed, to the penetrating gaze of the hypnotist, a still more penetrating gaze, engaging both in a duel of gazes that the hypnotist did not always win. When Freud was the loser in this duel, his wife Martha noticed it right away. Small details revealed to her sharp discernment that, on that occasion, the hypnotist had succumbed to the hypnotic gaze of his patient. She deduced it from her husband’s nudity when he came home, or from his crawling like a snake, or from his goose-stepping. Or from his non-recognition of her (then he started shouting that there was an intruder in the house). Or from… Phenomenology is very diverse, no need to continue. The point is that the patient’s victory over the doctor in these duel of gazes was more frequent than would be desirable.
Also in those cases where Freud prevailed and managed to hypnotize his patient, sooner or later problems arose. One of the most frequent problems was that, since psychoanalytic sessions could last several hours and, during that time, Freud remained focused on trying to extract from the unconscious memory of the patient the trauma that had generated his hysteria, the psychoanalyst forgot the word used as a spring for plunge the patient into hypnotic trance. That word was the key to get the patient out of his lethargy, so such forgetfulness was a serious problem. In those cases, Freud used to resort to the dictionary: starting with the letter “a”, he would pronounce each word aloud (omitting its meaning) until he came up with the word in question. On those occasions, Freud arrived home very late. Up to three days late sometimes, because he had a predilection for words that began with the letter “w”, so that most of the times he was forced to recite all the words in the dictionary.
These tedious sessions of recitation of words, casually, gave Freud an alternative method to hypnosis for the analysis of the unconscious. In effect, Freud realized that, when he said a word, often the patient reacted and began to relate an event of his past buried in his subconscious: an event brought to light by the word in question. Freud called this technique “association of ideas”. And in this way, hypnosis was relegated in his clinical practice to desperate cases, such as that of the patient we will call Mrs. X… Mrs. X came to Freud’s office desperate because she was unable to jump from heights greater than ten feet. Freud did not have a hard time figuring out the hidden trauma behind that inability. Through hypnosis, he managed to bring to the surface a traumatic event in his patient’s past: as a teenager, her favourite doll had fallen off the table and had broken her leg. And, although her father could stick it again and leave it as new, this accident suffered by her doll caused Mrs. X a trauma so deep that, as a defense mechanism, she buried it in her subconscious. From that moment, she became unable to jump heights greater than ten feet, which greatly limited her existence. By bringing this trauma to light, Ms. X completely lost the fear of jumping from great heights, which she became very fond of despite the risks that this hobby involved. (In fact, Ms. X died a few months after the treatment as a result of a jump from the top of a cliff.)