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Freud on Netflix - A hypnotherapist's review

What did we think of Freud the Netflix Series Freud?

Sigmund Freud is one of the most famous psychotherapist that ever lived, although we'd say not necessarily the best psychotherapist!

So, as psychotherapists ourselves, we were very interested to see Netflix UK release the series, called Freud, on 23rd March 2020.

The series, produced by Netflix Austria, is about a young Sigmund Freud (played by Robert Finster) and his efforts to solve a series of murders, while making clumsy attempts at hypnosis and partnering with an apparent fragile psychic medium (Fleur Salomé, played by Ella Rumpf) .

Freud is currently rated 6.6/10 on IMDb, 50% by Rotten Tomatoes, and apparently 86% of Google Users liked the tv show.

The Guardian's review was titled "Freud review – Netflix revisionist drama is a ridiculous coked-up mess" and refers to the show as a "mindless stew of drunk history".

So, there are a few mixed reviews...

We often use hypnotherapy with our clients, and we'd also heard that hypnotherapy features in the Netflix Freud series.

So we were wondering how close the Netflix Freud series is, to the real Freud and to real hypnotherapy?

Let's find out...

Who was the real Sigmund Freud?

Sigmund Freud was born in 1956 and died in 1939.

These days, Freud is best known for his set of psychological theories and therapeutic techniques that are referred to psychoanalysis. It's an approach that is still used today, by many psychotherapists. Although it's not used by us, as we prefer other approaches to help the subconscious primal mind.

Records show that Freud stood out for various reasons over the years. For example, in 1885, in Vienna, when he released a medical paper that proposed cocaine to be a miracle therapy. Freud was already a well-known user of cocaine, which itself is rarely a good sign for a therapist. His paper highlighted the local anaesthetic qualities of cocaine, without considering the addictive nature of the drug, and was extensively ridiculed by the Austrian medical profession.

In his earlier days, Freud saw that hypnosis can access the unconscious mind, with its hidden memories, thoughts, drives, motives and desires. We'd agree that many neurosis (such as depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and hypochondria) are a result of unconscious (or subconscious) primal mind thinking. Deeper parts of the brain do amazing things for us, without our need to consciously think. Without this, even basic skills like walking, talking or driving would be largely impossible. It's just sometimes they learn the wrong thing, and need a bit of help to correct that.

Freud had learnt that important processing happens in the unconscious mind and developed psychoanalysis, including techniques such as free association and dream analysis, to try and access those thoughts. Although he would tend to bias those views with the suggestion that problems were largely due to repressed sexual urges.

So did Freud use much hypnosis?

Freud documented that he thought hypnotic techniques were easier and shorter to apply than psychoanalysis.

So why didn't Freud just use hypnosis?

It seems as though he struggled to use the approach.

In around 1875, Freud had seen a performance by "Carl Hansen the magnetist". Magnetism (or Mesmerism) was a technique developed by Franz Anton Mesmer, in which it was thought that magnetised objects could create a hypnotic trance. Freud was intrigued!

Later, in 1885/86, he studied under the famous neuroscientist and hypnotist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893). Charcot, who is mentioned a few times in the Netflix Freud series, was already using hypnosis to treat hysteria in those days. Rather than focus on the patient's symptoms, which many doctors of the day did, Charcot focused on uncovering and releasing the original trauma.

We like this idea! It's an approach that we've also found helped many of our clients, with their concerns that included PTSD, childhood trauma, anxiety, emotional eating, weight loss, drug additions and nail biting.

Back in Vienna, Freud’s close friend Joseph Breuer was also using hypnosis to regress clients and uncover earlier repressed memories and forgotten traumas, in what he called "Cathartic" treatments for hysteria. Breuer found that uncovering forgotten traumas could create a strong emotional reaction (often termed abreaction in hypnotherapy) and could elimiate the client's symptoms.

In 1890, Freud was also known to have worked with Hippolyte Bernheim (1840-1919), who was using hypnosis with his patients. Many of those patients were suffering from "organic diseases", he had linked inflammation and tissue damage to neurosis buried deep in the unconscious mind. If there's a hidden neurosis, it can flavour everything we see, hear and feel, and how our body reacts to it.

Even the NHS today, as an organisation that generally shows very little interest in hypnotherapy or the impact that the mind has on physical health, recognises that hypnosis can be used to help IBS, as an organic disease of the bowel.

However, the real Freud has certainly been criticized for being an inexperienced hypnotist over the years.

Freud feared that patients would lose contact with the present situation or become addicted to hypnosis “as though it were a narcotic”, after Freud previously recommended cocaine as a therapy! We're very glad to report that we've never found these problems happen to any of our clients, when using hypnotherapy, nor heard about any of our hypnotherapist peers having these problems.

Freud wrote that that he became frustrated because he could not hypnotize all patients, nor put them into as deep a trance as he would have liked. Also that "even the most brilliant results were liable to be suddenly wiped away if my personal relation with the patient became disturbed.” He seemed very reliant on his patients' perception of him, when he was deciding whether hypnotherapy was working, as though he was seeking approval from a parent.

Freud was also known to want a school of psychology that doesn't just rely on the simplicity of suggestion. People have questioned whether his move to psychoanalysis, with the regular therapy sessions that were held over many months/years, at huge cost, may have been more around a more effective business model, than of resolving issues for patients!

In summary, while Freud made some use of hypnotherapy, it doesn't appear to be something he excelled at.

Certainly if we were to consider great hypnotherapists, we'd be talking about people such as Milton Erickson, James Esdaile, James Braid, Dr Richard Bandler and Paul McKenna.

So, is the hypnosis in Netflix Freud realistic?

General accepance of hypnotherapy has certainly been held back by its associations with stage hypnosis, psychics and mystics over the years. So, we're a little dissapointed that media has entwined the topics so much again.

Hypnotherapy in the film The Prodigy is perhaps more representative, although psychosis (it seems more likely that the child in the film is suffering from split personality, rather than having his mind taken over by a dead Hungarian killer.) is a very different beast to neurosis.

Television rules state that hypnosis can't be fully shown on the television, as audience members could fall into a trance. This assumes the audience isn't already in a trance already, while watching the tv, which happens a lot. It is why adverts on television can work so well, because they can use the trance to plant suggestions.

Some of the greatest hypnotherapists are know to have said that hypnotherapy is often more about getting people out of the trance that they normally live their lives in, rather than creating a new trance!

The Netflix series, Freud, primarily shows two hypnotic inductions.

The first uses a swinging pocket watch, an approach that was used many decades ago, combined with some simple phrases. Variations of this approach certainly can induce a trance over time, although most effective approaches are used these days.

The second uses a tap on the head, while saying the word sleep. This may look and feel similar to what a by-stander may see at a stage hypnosis show, but there would be a lot more work, techniques and audience selection being used at that time.

The Netflix Freud hypnosis approach then tends to use very quick direct suggestion. While change can happen very quickly with hypnosis, clients would typically need suggestions that are constructed more carefully and more time, to create change.

So, there's some good ideas there, but we don't think it's entirely accurate.

That said, an accurate version of hypnosis would probably be less interesting television for most viewers!

Does hypnotherapy work?

Hypnosis certainly does work.

This has been proven over centuries, with more striking examples including:

These start to get into stage hypnosis territory, but help to demostrate that hypnosis can rapidly change the way we think.

We also don't think most towns would have at least one hypnotherapist, if it didn't work. hypnotherapists tend to grow their businesses through referral, from clients that have been helped.

Hypnotherapy, as a therapy, focuses on helping with specific conditions, such as anxiety, IBS, weight loss, smoking, etc.

The speed of change can be amazing.

However, there are many different versions and subleties in hypnotherapy.

Whether it will work for you may depend on how good the hypnotherapist is.

Always check that a hypnotherapists is qualified and regulated by organisations like the UK CNHC.

Could hypnotherapy help you?

Would you like to change the way you (whether consciously or unconciouscly) think or feel, or change unwanted habits? We'd be happy to help. Contact us now, using the form below.

Netflix Freud hypnotherist's review

Freud on Netflix shows a dramatised, mystical version of hypnotherapy. It is suggested that freud tried to use hypnotherapy, but was never very good at it.

FreeYourMind.uk provides help for anxiety; trauma; phobias; stopping smoking; weight loss, online, in London and Guildford (Surrey), using hypnotherapy, EFT, EMDR+ and NLP.