Scientific Hypnosis in Finland

Hannu Lauerma, MD, PhD. Medical Director of Psychiatric Hospital for Prisoners, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Turku, Finland.

Hypnosis has been used in medical context in Finland at least since 1888, when doctor Berndt Gustaf Hahl from Turku reported successful treatment of several patients after a visit to a Swedish doctor Otto G. Wetterstrand, who had published a thesis Hypnotismens användande i den praktiska medicinen (Use of hypnotism in practical medicine). Already in the early 1880´s Finnish doctors like later professor of surgery Max af Schulten (1847-1899) and an internationally well known neurologist Ernst Homen (1851-1926)had visited Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris, and in a few years after 1888 several reports concerning therapeutic use of hypnosis were published in the leading Finnish medical publication Duodecim. Benefits, limitations and complications of the method were described in a scholarly manner. In Finska Läkarsällskapets Handlingar there was also a detailed description of a complicated religious-ecstatic epidemy in the county of Nilsiä, originally thought to be a case of epidemic ergotism, in Swedish dragsjuka. Bachelor of Medicine J.W. Hjelmman who was sent to Nilsiä was able to notice the absence of ergot fungus Claviceps purpurea in grain and identify community-wide hysteric phenomena similar to those described by Charcot.

Hypnosis has ever since 1880´s been a method used by a relatively small group of physicians and dentists and a growing number of psychologists in Finland. In 1920´s prominent scientists like professor of psychiatry Christian Sibelius and the founder of experimental psychology in Finland Eino Kaila were involved in using the concepts of hypnosis and suggestion to explore the role of ecstatic preaching, those days partly linked with criminality in a case of sleep preacher Maria Åkerblom, whose cult was developed to be destructive.

In 1952, a surgeon Claës Cedercreutz published his thesis concerning hypnosis as a treatment of phantom pain of amputated limbs. Most of his patients were World War II veterans, and the relatively good results became internationally known. Another well known clinician and researcher was psychiatrist Reima Kampman, who made bold experiments on healthy subjects to explore the role of hypnotically induced “multiple personality”. Kampman also became a docent of hypnotherapy in University of Tampere after Cedercreutz.

The Society of Scientific Hypnosis in Finland was founded in 1959 for physicians, dentists, psychologists and certain other health-care professionals, who have a theoretical or applied interest in hypnosis. One of the founders was Leo Hilden, a hypnotherapist who was active in cowork with doctors already before there were any clinical psychologists or psychotherapists. The Society has grown close to 200 members. It organises twice a year two-day weekend meetings and provides stipendia for scientific work. It belongs to The Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, established in 1899, which is a national co-operative body for learned societies in Finland.

Traditionally, several professors of psychiatry and other clinicians have either occasionally or once a year taught the basics of hypnosis in medical faculties. The more profound education of hypnotherapy for health care professionals only is organised by The University of Tampere together with Society of Scientific Hypnosis. This includes basic courses and a three-year education in hypnotherapy under the direction of Martti Tenkku, Ph.D., Reijo Kauppila, Ph.D, Satu Heinonen, licenced psychologist and psychotherapist, and the author undersigned Hannu Lauerma, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry. Visitors from Sweden, England, Italy and USA have enriched local knowledge concerning different aspects of hypnosis.

After the theses of Cedercreutz and Kampman there have been three academic dissertations concerning explicitly hypnosis: Reijo Kauppila 1999, Sakari Kallio 2003 and Tuukka Raij 2005. Additionally, there are three academic dissertations which are closely connected with hypnosis (Aarni Voipio 1921, Hannu Lauerma 1994 and Tapio Lipsanen 2004). The scientific research of hypnosis has by no means been limited to these dissertations; e.g. Sakari Närvänen and coworkers were active in the research of metabolic effects of hypnosis in the 1980´s. Also during recent years, several scientific articles concerning theory, brain mechanisms and clinical use of hypnosis have been published in peer-reviewed international journals.

Since there is no specific legislation concerning hypnosis in Finland, the field has been open to anyone. Among many benevolent lay hypnotists there have been and there still are persons who make themselves guilty of harassment and maltreatment of their clients. There have been false doctors and persons involved in trade of illicit drugs and sexual abuse of minors and patients even in central positions of a Finnish lay hypnotist organisation, a fact that has been verified in court. The present state of medicolegal control to protect patients, especially children and those in need of psychiatric treatment, is poor. This has been recently noted in public by the Society of Mental Health in Finland, and actions of the state representatives responsible for this field are expected.