Credibility, respectability, suggestibility, and spirit travel: Lurena Brackett and animal magnetism.

The abstract of this article by Quinn addresses the belief that education & knowledge exempts, or somehow insulates, one from being duped and manipulated – in this case by a traveling hypnotist. This scenario can also be seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder whereby educated women are often viewed as not falling prey to psychotherapies that defy logic and reason.
An informal survey published by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation found that most women who fell prey to illogically minded therapies were educated above the high school level. It also found that the families usually had parents who were married for decades ( indicating that single parents are probably not the reason women fled to therapy) and generally enjoy an upper-middle class life.
In the case of Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder & Internal Family Systems therapies we see respectable “teachers/researchers/professors” held in high-esteem as though obtaining a medical degree and a license to practice psychotherapy exempts one from peddling nonsense when in fact the opposite may be true.
As the old saying goes: in the graduating class of 100 medical doctors, someone came in 100th yet student #100 still obtained the degree, prestige and status of “doctor” who advises, makes decisions, and offers opinions and decisions on the mental health care of others.
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by Sheila O’Brien Quinn
In: History of Psychology, Vol 15, Issue 3, Aug 2012, 273-282.
In the 1830s, when 20-year-old medical student Charles Poyen (1815–1844) began the demonstration tour that led to the popularization of animal magnetism in New England, he met with considerable resistance from both the medical profession and the general public.
Skeptics argued that the phenomena apparently demonstrated during mesmeric sessions were so extraordinary that they had to be the result of intentional deception. The deception argument was bolstered by referencing the then popular prejudices against the working-class women who served as mesmeric subjects.
Conveniently, these prejudices included belief in a special talent for deception that was not found in women from more respectable backgrounds.
Mesmerists defended themselves against accusations of dishonesty by publicizing the achievements of Lurena Brackett (1816–1857), a young woman who escaped the prejudices associated with the working-class mesmeric subjects but still demonstrated apparently extraordinary mesmeric phenomena.
Lurena’s supporters argued that her respectable background made deception impossible.
This article uses Shorter’s work on the history of hysteria and Trembinski’s analysis of the history of trauma to argue that some of the seemingly extraordinary phenomena observed during a mesmeric séance can be better understood with reference to conversion disorder and the concept of hypnotic suggestion rather than intentional deception. While Lurena’s respectability made her audience ready to accept her credibility, a conversion disorder would have produced the physical symptoms that responded so convincingly to mesmerism.
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