Émile Coué (February 26, 1857,Troyes, France – July 2, 1926, Nancy) was a French psychologist and pharmacist who introduced a method of psychotherapy, healing, and self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion.
The application of his conscious autosuggestion, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better" (Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux) is called Couéism or the Coué method.
The Coué method depended on the routine repetition of such expressions, according to a specified ritual, at the beginning and the ending of each day.
Life and career
Coué was of Breton
stock. He graduated with a degree in pharmacology in 1876. He learned hypnosis from Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault
, the founder of the Nancy School
In 1913, Coué and his wife Lucie (née Lemoine) founded The Lorraine Society of Applied Psychology (La Société Lorraine de Psychologie appliquée). His book, Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion was published in England (1920) and in the United States (1922).
Although Coué’s teachings during his lifetime were more popular in Europe than in the United States, many Americans who adopted his ideas and methods, such as Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Shuler, and W. Clement Stone, became famous in their own right by spreading his words.
Emile Coué's Innovation
Coué's fundamental theory is a "U" turn of what almost everybody thinks -- "By will power we can do anything" or "Will power is the controlling factor". Instead Coué attributes his success in curing people to the basic principle that to get cured by autosuggestion one must do away with one's will power(Conscious) and instead use one's imagination or idea (Unconscious). The imagination(Unconscious) is the only controlling force. The use of Will power(Conscious) (unfailingly) sets in the "Law of Reversed Effort".
Effect of Coué's method
Coué noticed that in certain cases he could improve the efficacy of a medicine by praising its effectiveness to the patient. He realized that those patients to whom he praised the medicine had a marked improvement over those patients to whom he said nothing. This began Coué’s exploration of the use of hypnosis and the power of the imagination.
Initially his method of choice for treating patients was hypnotism. He discovered that subjects could not be hypnotised against their will, and more importantly, that the effects of hypnotism waned when the subjects gained consciousness. So he turned to autosuggestion.
As Coué puts it:
"Autosuggestion is, as I said above, an instrument that we possess at birth, and with which we play unconsciously all our life, as a baby plays with its rattle. It is however a dangerous instrument; it can wound or even kill you if you handle it imprudently and unconsciously. It can on the contrary save your life when you know how to employ it consciously."
By using autosuggestion consciously he observed that the subjects could cure themselves by replacing in their mind "thought of illness" with "thought of cure". Repeating words or images causes the subconscious to absorb them, according to Coué.
His opinion was that willpower is the biggest obstacle in any cure. The cures were the result of using imagination or "positive autosuggestion" to the exclusion of one's willpower.
"The first patient he addressed was a frail, middle aged man with a bad case of nervous trouble. ... Coué encouraged him with the promise of improvement. "You have been sowing bad seed in your unconscious; now you will have to 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, overworked woman. When Coué inquired as to the nature of her trouble, she broke into a flood of complaint, describing each symptom with a voluble minuteness. 'Madam,' he interrupted, 'you think too much about your ailments, and in thinking of them you create fresh ones.'
Patients of all sorts would visit him. The list of ailments included kidney problems, diabetes, memory loss, stammering, weakness, atrophy and all sorts of physical and mental illnesses.
From a journal entry of his, dated 1916, he found a patient of his who was supposedly cured of uterus problems and "violent pains in the head." The journal entry is as follows:
"Mme M-----, aged 43, Rue d'Amance, 2, Malzeville , comes at the end of 1916 for violent pains in the head from which she suffered all her life. After a few visits they vanished completely. Two months afterward she realized that she was also cured of a prolapse of the uterus which she had not mentioned to me and of which she was not thinking when she made her autosuggestion. (This result is due to the words 'in every way' contained in the formula used morning and evening.
Émile Coué's imprint on the modern world
Most of the information on Coué available on the internet concerns his "magic mantra", but fails to explain the results Coué found using his method.
Patients would come to Coué for cure, and be treated free of charge. Before coming they would have heard about his magical cures and most patients came with receptive and open minds. Coué always spoke to his subjects in commanding tone, not giving them a chance to think about what they were told, and it required a receptive mind to be affected by Coué's techniques. Patients would wait in line and watch while Coué continued with his experiments and explanations. Many patients would achieve immediate partial success. A person living in morbid fear of death was smiling, laughing. A person with severe weakness was now found running in the garden.
Basics of Coué's method
The basis of Émile Coué's method (which he once called a trick
) is the following principle:
- "Any idea exclusively occupying the mind turns into reality,"
but only if the idea is within the realms of possibility. If a person:
- Without a hand thinks that his hand will grow – obviously this won't happen
- Thinks that their asthma is fast disappearing – it happens, limited only by how fast the body can cure it;
- Thinks they can't remember a name, then as long as they hold onto this idea in their mind, it will be just impossible to remember the name.
Coué observed that the biggest roadblock to auto-suggestion is nothing else but willpower
. The use of willpower must be absolutely done away with, otherwise the law of reversed effect creeps in and one gets the opposite of what is desired.
Parallel this with a student who has forgotten an answer to a question in an exam. What's the idea in his/her mind? "I have forgotten the answer". Now as long as the student has this idea in mind he/she can't recollect it. The more he/she tries the more the answer flees. If the thought is changed to "It will come back to me" the answer is more likely to come.
Children always grasped his method at once. "Clasp your hand and you can't open them" Coué would instruct a child, and immediately he or she would follow. It's because lack of will power in them.
This can be described as conflict between willpower and the idea in the mind. You try to sleep. But you become more awake. This is called "Conflict within ourselves". In short, doing away with willpower altogether or using Coué's method will bring peace and confidence within oneself. The more a smoker tries to quit smoking, the more he or she smokes.
As Coué puts it - Always Imagination or the idea in the mind wins, and will power against it increases all the more. As per Coue 80% people are in conflict with themselves.
Efficacy of Coué's method
A few people would be cured just by visiting him and listening to him speak. For example one patient who used to stammer stopped stammering. A woman suffering from acute neurasthenia, was cured. Whoever visited him achieved a minimum of some progress to complete cure. If a person was going to die due to severe cancer in 20 days, his or her life would be lengthened by 10 or more days. Ablacksmith who could not raise his hand beyond the shoulders for 20 years, he was cured in single visit. Just because Coué made him change in his mind the idea from "I can't" to "I can".
Coué explained to the patients that "he possessed no power, the power lies within themselves". The cures were not limited to the above. There were people suffering from painful bladder, a lady who was not able to open one eye for many years, a person who could not walk for many years, a diabetic, a child with a heart problem, a patient with palpitations, patients with kidney problems, children wanting to increase their talent level.
Coué always spoke of medicines and autosuggestion as being complementary to each other. A person suffering from a serious accident or injury would be treated by a surgeon first. The healing could be hastened by use of autosuggestion.
According to Coué, the easiest people to cure were children because they lacked the Conscious (will power) which is the main hurdle for autosuggestion. They were (almost) always cured quickly. Persons with physical illness like heart problem, blisters, diabetes were far easier to cure than persons with psychological problems -- phobias, neurasthenia, unable to walk, crippling, stammering, tensions etc.
Coué's method -- hand clasp experiment --- The Real Essence
Coué clearly puts it -- "It is however a dangerous instrument; it can wound or even kill you if you handle it imprudently and unconsciously. It can on the contrary save your life when you know how to employ it consciously". In short just like any other training (pilot, military, driving) it too must be learned from a learned trainer. C. Harry Brooks seems to have underestimated the importance of hand clasp experiment since he himself was never a patient to Emile Coue. He wrote the book based on his observations and Coué's remarks.
The essence of learning Coué's method is the hand clasp experiment. Coué advises against doing it alone and should be done before an expert trainer. However in the current world, there are hardly any trainers. Every patient whoever it may be(kids, man, woman) with all sorts of ailments(diabetes, chest pain, drinking..) were first taught the hand clasp experiment. Some needed one sitting only. Some would need a couple of sittings. As one learns this method the biggest part is done. Because the subject will clearly learn and understand:
- 1) That when the idea of "I can't" is there in one's mind one can't open one's hands no matter how much force one applies (idea or imagination always wins)
- 2) The more one tries to open the hands the tighter it clasps (use of will power against the idea or imagination)
- 3) Mere change of idea from "I can't" to "I can" will unclasp the hands immediately (you can change the idea in your mind easily)
C. Harry Brooks has mentioned a pendulum experiment in his book. How effective it is in training the so called method is not known nor listed by the author nor any accounts of this method seems to be listed any where else. However Coué would definitely have approved this experiment.
One conclusion can be drawn is that if one is having conflict with one's will power, then understanding his principles without doing the hand clasp experiment will be of no much use. Maybe that's the reason why Couism could be practised by any trainer during his time or in the present time as teaching without the "hand-clasp" experiment may not be of any use. Another corollary is that if one does not have conflict with will power, then without doing Coué's "hand-clasp" experiment one may use autosuggestion to cure oneself.
Medicines and autosuggestion
The use of autosuggestion is intended to complement use of medicine, but no medication of Coué's time could save a patient from depression or tension. Coué recommended that patients take medicines with the confidence that they would be completely cured very soon, and healing would be optimal. Conversely, he contended, patients who are skeptical of a medicine would find it least effective. Coué's method is also described and its use encouraged in Dr. John A. Pagano's book, 'Healing Psoriasis
In popular culture
- Coué is mentioned good-naturedly in the dialog of the film Barcelona.
- "Bättre och bättre dag för dag" (= Better and better day by day), a 1923-24 hit song for Swedish revue star Ernst Rolf was directly inspired by Coué and even referred to him in its first verse. The lyrics were written by Anita Halldén, and the music was written by the English songwriter and composer Mark Strong (?-1946).
- John Lennon included the Coué mantra in his lyrics for "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" on the album Double Fantasy.
- "Keep Yourself Alive" by the band Queen has the following lyrics: "Do you think you're better every day? No, I just think I'm two steps nearer to my grave".
- Artist Sandy Smith has used variations of the original Coué mantra in much of his work, most noticeably in the installation "All the time I was making this I was thinking of you".
- Inayat Khan, a Sufi Mystic and younger contemporary of Coué, refers to him in a lecture on Mental Purification
- The Coué mantra is repeated by Inspector Dreyfuss in the movie "The Pink Panther Strikes Again".
- Robertson Davies references the Coué method in his novel "Fifth Business".
Books By Coué
- How to Practice Suggestion and Autosuggestion
- My Method: Including American Impressions
- Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion
- 1922. La maîtrise de soi-même par l'autosuggestion consciente (Autrefois: De la suggestion et de ses applications). Société Lorraine de psychologie appliquée. (full text in French from Wikisource)
Books about Coué and his method
- Brooks, C. Harry, 1922. "The Practice of Autosuggestion by the Method of Émile Coué''. George Allen and Unwin.
Books on lines of Couism (based on Coué's principles)
- Joseph Moccia, "The Miracle Within - Secrets of Self-Healing and Self-Improvement", Vantage Press(ISBN 0-533-08457-1)