Autosuggestion - Clinic Of Emile Coue
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE clinic of Emile Coué, where Induced Autosuggestion is applied to the treatment of disease, is situated in a pleasant garden attached to his house at the quiet end of the rue Jeanne d'Arc in Nancy. It was here that I visited him in the early summer of 1921, and had the pleasure for the first time of witnessing one of his consultations.
We entered the garden from his house a little before nine o'clock. In one corner was a brick building of two stories, with its windows thrown wide to let in the air and sunshine—this was the clinic; a few yards away was a smaller one-storied construction which served as a waiting-room. Under the plum and cherry trees, now laden with fruit, little groups of patients were sitting on the garden seats, chatting amicably together and enjoying the morning sunshine while others wandered in twos and threes among the flowers and strawberry beds. The room reserved for the treatments was already crowded, but in spite of that eager newcomers constantly tried to gain entrance. The window-sills on the ground floor were beset, and a dense knot had formed in the doorway. Inside, the patients had first occupied the seats which surrounded the walls, and then covered the available floor-space, sitting on camp-stools and folding-chairs. Coué with some difficulty found me a seat, and the treatment immediately began.
The first patient he addressed was a frail, middle-aged man who, accompanied by his daughter, had just arrived from Paris to consult him. The man was a bad case of nervous trouble. He walked with difficulty, and his head, arms and legs were afflicted with a continual tremor. He explained that if he encountered a stranger when walking in the street the idea that the latter would remark his infirmity completely paralysed him, and he had to cling to whatever support was at hand to save himself from falling. At Coué's invitation he rose from his seat and took a few steps across the floor. He walked slowly, leaning on a stick; his knees were half bent, and his feet dragged heavily along the ground.
Coué encouraged him with the promise of improvement. " You have been sowing bad seed in your Unconscious ; now you will sow good seed. The power by which you have produced these ill effects will in future produce equally good ones."
The next patient was an excitable, over-worked woman of the artisan class. When Coué inquired the nature of her trouble, she broke into a flood of complaint, describing each symptom with a voluble minuteness. " Madame," he interrupted, " you think too much about your ailments, and in thinking of them you create fresh ones."
Next came a girl with headaches, a youth with inflamed eyes, and a farm-labourer incapacitated by varicose veins. In each case Coué stated that auto-suggestion should bring complete relief. Then it was the turn of a business man who complained of nervousness, lack of self-confidence and haunting fears.
" When you know the method," said Coué, " you will not allow yourself to harbour such ideas."
I work terribly hard to get rid of them," the patient answered.
"You fatigue yourself. The greater the efforts you make, the more the ideas return. You will change all that easily, simply, and above all, without effort."
I want to," the man interjected.
" That's just where you're wrong," Coué told him. " If you say ` I want to do something,' your imagination replies ` Oh, but you can't.' You must say ` I am going to do it,' and if it is in the region of the possible you will succeed."
A little further on was another neurasthenic—a girl. This was her third visit to the clinic, and for ten days she had been practising the method at home. With a happy smile, and a little pardonable self-importance, she declared that she already felt a considerable improvement. She had more energy, was beginning to enjoy life, ate heartily and slept more soundly. Her sincerity and naïve delight helped to strengthen the faith of her fellow-patients. They looked on her as a living proof of the healing which should come to themselves.
Coué continued his questions. Those who were unable, whether through rheumatism or some paralytic affection, to make use of a limb were called on, as a criterion of future progress, to put out their maximum efforts.
In addition to the visitor from Paris there were present a man and a woman who could not walk without support, and a burly peasant, formerly a black-smith, who for nearly ten years had not succeeded in lifting his right arm above the level of his shoulder. In each case Coué predicted a complete cure.
During this preliminary stage of the treatment, the words he spoke were not in the nature of suggestions. They were sober expressions of opinion, based on years of experience. Not once did he reject the possibility of cure, though with several patients suffering from organic disease in an advanced stage, he admitted its unlikelihood. To these he promised, however, a cessation of pain, an improvement of morale, and at least a retardment of the progress of the disease. " Mean-while," he added, " the limits of the power of auto-suggestion are not yet known; final recovery is possible." In all cases of functional and nervous disorders, as well as the less serious ones of an organic nature, he stated that autosuggestion, conscientiously applied, was capable of removing the trouble completely.
It took Coué nearly forty minutes to complete his interrogation. Other patients bore witness to the benefits the treatment had already conferred on them. , A woman with a painful swelling in her breast, which a doctor had diagnosed (in Coué's opinion wrongly), as of a cancerous nature, had found complete relief after less than three weeks' treatment. Another woman had enriched her impoverished blood, and increased her weight by over nine pounds. A man had been cured of a varicose ulcer, another in a single sitting had rid himself of a lifelong habit of stammering. Only one of the former patients failed to report an improvement. " Monsieur," said Coué, " you have been making efforts. You must put your trust in the imagination, not in the will. Think you are better and you will become so."
Coué now proceeded to outline the theory given in the pages which follow. It is sufficient here to state his main conclusions, which were these: (I) Every idea which exclusively occupies the mind is trans-formed into an actual physical or mental state. (2) The efforts we make to conquer an idea by exerting the will only serve to make that idea more powerful. To demonstrate these truths he requested one of his patients, a young anaemic-looking woman, to carry out a small experiment. She extended her arms in front of her, and clasped the hands firmly together with the fingers interlaced, increasing the force of her grip until a slight tremor set in. " Look at your hands," said Coué, " and think you would like to open them but you cannot. Now try and pull them apart. Pull hard. You find that the more you try the more tightly they become clasped together."
The girl made little convulsive movements of her wrists, really doing her best by physical force to separate her hands, but the harder she tried the more her grip increased in strength, until the knuckles turned white with the pressure. Her hands seemed locked together by a force outside her own control.
" Now think," said Coué, " ` I can open my hands.' "
Slowly her grasp relaxed and, in response to a little pull, the cramped fingers came apart. She smiled shyly at the attention she had attracted, and sat down.
Coué pointed out that the two main points of his theory were thus demonstrated simultaneously : when the patient's mind was filled with the thought " I can-not," she could not in very fact unclasp her hands. Further, the efforts she made to wrench them apart by exerting her will only fixed them more firmly together.
Each patient was now called on in turn to perform the same experiment. The more imaginative among them—notably the women—were at once successful. One old lady was so absorbed in the thought " I cannot " as not to heed the request to think " I can. With her face ruefully puckered up she sat staring fixedly at her interlocked fingers, as though contemplating an act of fate. " Voilà," said Coué, smiling, " if Madame persists in her present idea, she will never open her hands again as long as she lives."
Several of the men, however, were not at once successful. The whilom blacksmith with the disabled arm, when told to think " I should like to open my hands but I cannot," proceeded without difficulty to open them.
" You see," said Coué, with a smile, " it depends not on what I say but on what you think. What were you thinking then? "
He hesitated. " I thought perhaps I could open them after all."
" Exactly. And therefore you could. Now clasp your hands again. Press them together."
When the right degree of pressure had been reached, Coué told him to repeat the words " I cannot, I cannot. . . ."
As he repeated this phrase the contracture increased, and all his efforts failed to release his grip.
" Voilà," said Coué. " Now listen. For ten years you have been thinking you could not lift your arm above your shoulder, consequently you have not been able to do so, for whatever we think becomes true for us. Now think ` I can lift it.' "
The patient looked at him doubtfully.
" Quick ! " Coué said in a tone of authority. "Think ` I can, I can ! ' "
"I can," said the man. He made a half-hearted attempt and complained of a pain in his shoulder.
" Bon," said Coué. " Don't lower your arm. Close your eyes and repeat with me as fast as you can, 'Ca passe, ça passe.' "
For half a minute they repeated this phrase together, speaking so fast as to produce a sound like the whirr of a rapidly revolving machine. Meanwhile Coué quickly stroked the man's shoulder. At the end of that time the patient admitted that his pain had left him.
"Now think well that you can lift your arm," Coué said.
The departure of the pain had given the patient faith. His face, which before had been perplexed and incredulous, brightened as the thought of power took possession of him. " I can," he said in a tone of finality, and without effort he calmly lifted his arm to its full height above his head. He held it there triumphantly for a moment while the whole company applauded and encouraged him.
Coué reached for his hand and shook it.
" My friend, you are cured."
" C'est merveilleux," the man answered. " I believe I am."
" Prove it," said Coué. " Hit me on the shoulder."
The patient laughed, and dealt him a gentle rap.
Harder," Coué encouraged him. " Hit me harder —as hard as you can."
His arm began to rise and fall in regular blows, increasing in force until Coué was compelled to call on him, to stop.
" Voilà, mon ami, you can go back to your anvil."
The man resumed his seat, still hardly able to comprehend what had occurred. Now and then he lifted his arm as if to reassure himself, whispering to himself in an awed voice, " I can, I can."
A little further on was seated a woman who had complained of violent neuralgia. Under the influence of the repeated phrase "ça passe " (it's going) the pain was dispelled in less than thirty seconds. Then it was the turn of the visitor from Paris. What he had seen had inspired him with confidence; he was sitting more erect, there was a little patch of colour in his cheeks, and his trembling seemed less violent.
He performed the experiment with immediate success.
" Now," said Coué, " you are cultivated ground. I can throw out the seed in handfuls."
He caused the sufferer first to stand erect with his back and knees straightened. Then he asked him, constantly thinking I can," to place his entire weight on each foot in turn, slowly performing the exercise known as " marking time." A space was then cleared of chairs, and having discarded his stick, the man was made to walk to and fro. When his gait became slovenly Coué stopped him, pointed out his fault, and, renewing the thought " I can," caused him to correct it. Progressive improvement kindled the man's imagination. He took himself in his own hands. His bearing became more and more confident, he walked more easily, more quickly. His little daughter, all smiles and happy self-forgetfulness, stood beside him uttering expressions of delight, admiration and encouragement. The whole company laughed and clapped their hands.
" After the sitting," said Coué, " you shall come for a run in my garden."
Thus Coué continued his round of the clinic. Each patient suffering from pain was given complete or partial relief ; those with useless limbs had a varying measure of use restored to them. Coué's manner was always quietly inspiring. There was no formality, no attitude of the superior person; he treated everyone, whether rich or poor, with the same friendly solicitude. But within these limits he varied his tone to suit the temperament of the patient. Sometimes he was firm, sometimes gently bantering. He seized every opportunity for a little humorous by-play. One might al-most say that he tactfully teased some of his patients, giving them an idea that their ailment was absurd, and a little unworthy; that to be ill was a quaint but reprehensible weakness, which they should quickly get rid of. Indeed, this denial of the dignity of disease is one of the characteristics of the place. No homage is paid to it as a Dread Monarch. It is gently ridiculed, its terrors are made to appear second-rate, and its victims end by laughing at it.
Coué now passed on to the formulation of specific suggestions. The patients closed their eyes, and he proceeded in a low, monotonous voice, to evoke before their minds the states of health, mental and physical, they were seeking. As they listened to him their alertness ebbed away, they were lulled into a drowsy state, peopled only by the vivid images he called up before the eyes of the mind. The faint rustle of the trees, the songs of the birds, the low voices of those waiting in the garden, merged into a pleasant background, on which his words stood out powerfully.
This is what he said :
"Say to yourself that all the words I am about to utter will be fixed, imprinted and engraven in your minds; that they will remain fixed, imprinted and engraven there, so that without your will and knowledge, without your being in any way aware of what is taking place, you yourself and your whole organism will obey them. I tell you first that every day, three times a day, morning, noon and evening, at mealtimes, you will be hungry; that is to say you will feel that pleasant sensation which makes us think and say : ` How I should like something to eat ! ' You will then eat with excellent appetite, enjoying your food, but you will never eat too much. You will eat the right amount, neither too much nor too little, and you will know intuitively when you have had sufficient. You will masticate your food thoroughly, transforming it into a smooth paste before swallowing it. In these conditions you will digest it well, and so feel no discomfort of any kind either in the stomach or the intestines. Assimilation will be perfectly performed, and your organism will make the best possible use of the food to create blood, muscle, strength, energy, in a word--Life.
" Since you have digested your food properly, the excretory functions will be normally performed. This will take place every morning immediately on rising, and without your having recourse to any laxative medicine or artificial means of any kind.
" Every night you will fall asleep at the hour you wish, and will continue to sleep until the hour at which you desire to wake next morning. Your sleep will be calm, peaceful and profound, untroubled by bad dreams or undesirable states of body. You may dream, but your dreams will be pleasant ones. On waking you will feel well, bright, alert, eager for the day's tasks.
"If in the past you have been subject to depression, gloom and melancholy forebodings, you will hence-forward be free from such troubles. Instead of being moody, anxious and depressed, you will be cheerful and happy. You will be happy even if you have no particular reason for being so, just as in the past you were, without good reason, unhappy. I tell you even that if you have serious cause to be worried or depressed, you will not be so.
If you have been impatient or ill-tempered, you will no longer be anything of the kind; on the contrary, you will always be patient and self-controlled. The happenings which used to irritate you will leave you entirely calm and unmoved.
If you have sometimes been haunted by evil and unwholesome ideas, by fears or phobias, these ideas will gradually cease to occupy your mind. They will melt away like a cloud. As a dream vanishes when we wake, so will these vain images disappear.
" I add that all your organs do their work perfectly.
Your heart beats normally and the circulation of the blood takes place as it should. The lungs do their work well. The stomach, the intestines, the liver, the biliary duct, the kidneys and the bladder, all carry out their functions correctly. If at present any of the organs named is out of order, the disturbance will grow less day by day, so that within a short space of time it will have entirely disappeared, and the organ will have resumed its normal function.
"Further, if in any organ there is a structural lesion, it will from this day be gradually repaired, and in a short period will be completely restored. This will be so even if you are unaware that the trouble exists.
" I must also add—and it is extremely important —that if in the past you have lacked confidence in your-self, this self-distrust will gradually disappear. You will have confidence in yourself ; I repeat, you will have confidence. Your confidence will be based on the knowledge of the immense power which is within you, by which you can accomplish any task of which your reason approves. With this confidence you will be able to do anything you wish to do, provided it is reasonable, and anything it is your duty to do.
" When you have any task to perform you will always think that it is easy. Such words as ` difficult,' impossible,' ` I cannot' will disappear from your vocabulary. Their place will be taken by this phrase : ` It is easy and I can.' So, considering your work easy, even if it is difficult to others, it will become easy to you. You will do it easily, without effort and without fatigue."
These general suggestions were succeeded by particular suggestions referring to the special ailments from which Coué's patients were suffering. Taking each case in turn, he allowed his hand to rest lightly on the heads of the sufferers, while picturing to their minds the health and vigour with which they would soon be endowed. Thus to a woman with an ulcerated leg he spoke as follows: Henceforth your organism will do all that is necessary to restore your leg to perfect health. It will rapidly heal ; the tissues will regain their tone; the skin will be soft and healthy. In a short space of time your leg will be vigorous and strong and will in future always remain so." Each special complaint was thus treated with a few appropriate phrases. When he had finished, and the patients were called on to open their eyes, a faint sigh went round the room, as if they were awaking reluctantly from a delicious dream.
Coué now explained to his patients that he possessed no healing powers, and had never heated a person in his life. They carried in themselves the instrument of their own well-being. The results they had seen were due to the realisation of each patient's own thought. He had been merely an agent calling the ideas of health into their minds. Henceforth they could, and must, be the pilots of their own destiny. He then requested them to repeat, under conditions which will be later defined, the phrase with which his name is associated : " Day by day, in every way, I'm getting better and better."
The sitting was at an end. The patients rose and crowded round Coué, asking questions, thanking him, shaking him by the hand. Some declared they were already cured, some that they were much better, others that they were confident of cure in the future. It was as if a burden of depression had fallen from their minds. Those who had entered with minds crushed and oppressed went out with hope and optimism shining in their faces.
But Coué waved aside these too insistent admirers, and, beckoning to the three patients who could not walk, led them to a corner of the garden where there was a stretch of gravel path running beneath the boughs of fruit trees. Once more impressing on their minds the thought of strength and power, he induced each one to walk without support down this path. He now invited them to run. They hesitated, but he insisted, telling them that they could run, that they ought to run, that they had but to believe in their own power, and their thought would be manifested in action.
They started rather uncertainly, but Coué followed them with persistent encouragements. They began to raise their heads, to lift their feet from the ground and run with greater freedom and confidence. Turning at the end of the path they came back at a fair pace. Their movements were not elegant, but people on the further side of fifty are rarely elegant runners. It was a surprising sight to see these three sufferers who had hobbled to the clinic on sticks now covering the ground at a full five miles an hour, and laughing heartily at themselves as they ran. The crowd of patients who had collected broke into a spontaneous cheer, and Coué, slipping modestly away, returned to the fresh company of sufferers who awaited him within.