Martin Kiely interviews Dr Jack Gibson
Dr. Jack Gibson was born on the 3rd November 1909, in the village of Ranelagh, on the south side of Dublin, Ireland. He graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons Dublin, in 1933, having won almost every available medal.
He gained the Fellowship in 1934 (the youngest ever to be awarded this distinction, at the age of 25) and the Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from London in 1935. He was a surgeon for forty years, and he worked in Ireland, England, Aden, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and in the Channel Islands.
He performed over 4,000 procedures using hypnosis as an anaesthetic without any pain. When he retired in 1979 he continued to work as a hypnotist.
It’s January 2005 and Dr. Gibson, at the age of 95, continues to treat patients using hypnosis. His private practice is at his home, St. David’s Castle, in Naas, Co. Kildare, Ireland. This 800 year old castle has historical significance as the Irish Parliament was once held in the castle. For almost 40 years St. David’s Castle has been home for Dr. Gibson and is the location where the following interview took place.
MK: Dr. Gibson, before we begin I would like to say that it’s an honour and privilege to have this opportunity to interview you for the Journal of Hypnotism and to celebrate the inauguration of World Hypnotism Day.
Dr. Gibson: Thank you.
MK: World Hypnotism Day gives hypnotists an opportunity to increase awareness and understanding about hypnosis. Hypnotists around the world present classes, lectures, and demonstrations of hypnotism to improve the awareness of the uses and benefits of hypnosis. What are your thoughts about World Hypnotism Day?
Dr. Gibson: It’s a great initiative.
MK: You endorse the concept of getting the word out about the benefits of hypnotism?
Dr. Gibson: Absolutely.
MK: When did you first become interested in hypnotism?
Dr. Gibson: When I was 16 years old, there was a clergyman who used hypnosis for people who were getting seasick, and he cured them. I was most impressed by him. Later on when I took up medicine, I began to realize how so much of human misery had its origin in the mind. I began to develop an unquenchable desire to tap the subconscious, which I recognized as a great source of potential energy.
It was while I was practising surgery in the Middle East as a young graduate that I first encountered the beneficial effect of the controlled use of the subconscious mind. A Bedouin tribesman had a growth on his leg which tracked down between the muscles. He knew it would have to be removed. But he said ‘I won’t have any anaesthetic’. I offered him a local anaesthetic but he refused it. I operated on him, I myself felt that he must be suffering great pain. I actually felt the pain myself. When the operation was over, he said calmly, ‘may I see it before you put the dressing on?’ It was only later when I learned to operate with hypnosis that I realised that he hadn’t suffered any pain at all.
MK: Up to this point in your career you had a minor understanding of the phenomenon of hypnosis. Was this demonstration of mind control the catalyst that led you to learn more about the subject.
Dr. Gibson: Yes.
MK: Tell us about your first training in hypnotism?
Dr. Gibson: It was when I was working in Durban, South Africa in 1938, when I first started my study of hypnotherapy. I found the greatest enlightenment in regard to hypnotic techniques in the use of hypnosis for public entertainment. As a medical person I saw how the hypnotic phenomenon presented on stage could be used for the treatment of disease. The pursuit of a greater understanding of hypnosis and its medical application encouraged me to learn more and apply what I was learning.
I heard of a doctor in Pretoria, 500 miles up country, who worked with hypnosis in a hospital. He was a psychiatrist, I contacted him and I went to stay in Pretoria and learned what he had to teach. When I came back to Durban I started treating asthma and all kinds of conditions.
MK: Can you recall your first patient that you hypnotized?
Dr. Gibson: Yes, in Africa, I was in a practice there, I was the surgical part of the practice. I went to see a man who had a bad chest, his bed was burnt from going to sleep smoking a cigarette at night. I was afraid of him setting the house on fire, for he had children in the house and it was a long way from anyone. I thought the children could be burnt to death. So I thought I’d hypnotized him, he was my first case. I was new to the work and there are many things I now would have done differently but nonetheless he went very deep. I was thrilled by it, and after that I got into hypnotism in a big way.
MK: I believe your second case soon followed.
Dr. Gibson: Yes. Three days later a person rang up. She had a paralysed leg and I couldn’t help but think it was psychosomatic. I went to see her and it was and she got over it in about half an hour. I had enough sense to try to get her to face up to the things that made her get a paralysed leg. Also, a few weeks later her baby was due, and she had the baby under hypnosis. It was absolutely marvelous. I became so enthusiastic about hypnosis that when I was called out to anyone I tried to see in what way they could get better by mind control.
MK: You continued to work with more patients and the efficacy of hypnosis in medicine was confirmed and so, your career as a hypnotist was truly established. This eventually led you to using hypnosis in surgery. Can you give us some details about using hypnosis in surgery for the first time.
Dr. Gibson: One of my first operations using hypnosis was performed in the McCord Zulu Hospital in Durban, where I worked just before the Second World War. A young lady in her late teens was painfully disfigured by lumps, blackheads, minute scars and pustules. I trained her in self-hypnosis, so that she was able to produce the correct hormones from the various glands that control the condition of the skin. She was also trained to take away all feeling from her face so that an operation could be carried out with ease. This involved, firstly, removing pieces of skin from over the small abscesses and then a ‘sandpapering’ treatment to remove the surface skin from the entire face.
When the operation was over, she sat up and had her face dressed. She declined a lift home, saying that she felt perfectly well. She was a great person and I was fortunate that I had a cine-camera with me and I had given it to one of the doctors to record the whole procedure, which he did, and it is now a video titled ‘The Power of the Sub-conscious’.
MK: You continued your work in Africa for some time. In 1959, you left Durban and returned to Ireland.
Dr. Gibson: That’s correct. On returning to Dublin my first post was in Dr. Steeven’s Hospital. I was presented the opportunity of doing hypnosis for the senior surgeon and he was spellbound. He would come in and see me with a patient, sit quietly and watch. He asked me if I would teach him hypnosis, but he was old and of such a nature that I could not teach. This post was short lived as I moved to Naas General Hospital, in Co. Kildare, to take up the position of county surgeon
MK: It was during your tenure in Naas General Hospital that you performed more than 4,000 operations using hypno-anaesthesia.
Dr. Gibson: Yes, and that includes all the simple operations as well. I used it all of the time, for dislocations, for fractures, for people injured in car accidents.
MK: So, the use of hypnosis improved the quality of care.
Dr. Gibson: Absolutely. Hypnosis can lessen the anxiety before an operation and the pain afterwards. It proved invaluable in accident work, for instance in children’s fractures, without the almost inevitable delay which is necessary to allow the stomach to empty before giving a general anaesthetic. Under hypnosis, it is possible to operate without delay. For painful dressings, repeated anaesthetics may be dangerous, whereas hypnosis usually becomes more successful each time it is applied. Instead of the patient feeling sick after the general anaesthetic, he feels fitter after hypnosis properly performed.
For twenty years, up until my retirement as a surgeon in 1979, I worked to try and introduce hypnosis into surgical wards as an accepted form of treatment.
MK: Briefly, can you explain your method of inducing hypno-anaesthesia?
Dr. Gibson: I will start from the beginning. I pick up the hand very gently. I tell them “If you relax you will feel less pain. And if you relax very deeply, you may actually feel no pain at all". I then, holding the arm in the gentlest way, wash around the wound with an antiseptic such as iodine which can cause pain, but I am very careful not to let a drop fall into the wound. Then I get an antiseptic that doesn’t hurt and gently put it into the wound. But the whole time I’m telling them, “If you relax it will help you. Relax deeper and deeper". And then when I start to stitch, I pick up a needle, I say to them “I can give you an injection now and you won’t feel any pain but the injection won’t take the pain away completely because when the effect wears off you will feel the pain again. But if you relax deeply enough for the stitching not to be felt it will be grand. I can stitch the wound, then you will have no pain and no pain afterwards". By this time the person is probably hypnotised. I can pick out any pieces of dirt that are in the wound without causing pain. Now the person is becoming deeply hypnotised and I can dispense with the anaesthetic and put in a stitch and they won’t feel any pain at all. At the same time it may be necessary to cut the edges of the wound off to make them even and less ragged. This will be done without any pain whatsoever. When I have finished the stitching, the person is feeling very well. They have enjoyed, actually enjoyed the feeling of the arm being numb and the wound being stitched. They will accept the feeling of being free from pain and even be free from pain later on when the stitches are removed.
MK: What was the reaction of the doctors in the hospital when they saw you using hypnosis?
Dr. Gibson: Positive. I had no complaints in twenty years of working. All the thinking leading doctors that I know, believe that hypnosis has a great deal of use and should be used more.
MK: In the 1960’s and 1970’s the media were fascinated by the use you were making of hypnosis in surgery and many articles were written about it. However, your name was not allowed to be published or anything about the hospital or the work you were doing there. Can you explain the reasoning behind this?
Dr. Gibson: The medical profession is bound by many ethical rules, some written and some unwritten, the rules have been somewhat relaxed but in those days no doctor in competitive practice was allowed to reveal his name in any medium if it would help in building up a practice, unless the withholding of his name might do the public a disservice and out-weight the importance of anonymity.
The Irish Medical Association (IMA, as it was then) only permitted doctors to go public provided that we observed two golden rules: first, that no doctor’s name be mentioned nor that of the hospital, and second, that any correspondence sent to the media should be returned to the sender.
MK: What changes have you seen since you started? Which ones do you think were the best or worst?
Dr. Gibson: I think we have been far too slow to take on the fact that we have a subconscious mind. In my book ‘Relax and Live’ I say, when I gave my lecture to the Medical Society at University College Dublin, that the medical profession was influenced by the body snatchers and we learnt about how the body works, but the dead body has no mind. And still today we spend years teaching how the body works but only a few minutes teaching how the mind works. We need to realise that the mind is just as important as the body. Very early on in my career, I found that I had been very well taught in the physical side of medicine, but I had received almost no training in the causes or treatment of most of the illness I met in practice. We were taught to treat asthma with cortisone and bronchial dilators. I saw the attacks disappear for a time but they nearly always returned. I gave pain killers to migraine suffers, but their migraine returned. I treated insomniacs with sedatives, but none was cured of the underlying cause of their inability to sleep. I saw the addicts of drugs, alcohol and nicotine listen to my advice only to reject it. This led me to realize just how much of human misery has its origins in the mind. To get to the root of the problem we have to be able to tap into the power of the subconscious mind and to release the faulty learning’s often contained there.
MK: It has always been your hope that eventually hypnosis will assume a much larger role in the workings of hospitals of the future. Are you optimistic that this will become a reality?
Dr. Gibson: It depends on whether hypnotism is incorporated in the medical curriculum or whether students are going to study the subject even if it’s not, or pending on the time when it is incorporated.
MK: What do you see as the future of hypnotism/hypnotherapy?
Dr. Gibson: I think it has a tremendous future in Ireland, as well as everywhere else.
MK: What types of things should a person do that offer the best chance of success?
Dr. Gibson: The subconscious mind is something we can explore and harness to our advantage or ignore at our peril. Nurture a real burning desire to learn all you can about hypnosis and work with real enthusiasm. This is the thing that brings a person right to the top. It’s not always the person that has the brains that gets to the top, it’s frequently the person who has that real burning desire.
MK: Where can a person go to get help and support?
Dr. Gibson: People can contact me through my website: .
MK: And your website includes testimonials from satisfied patients, including one woman who had both legs amputated, one under anesthetic and one under hypnosis. She suffered no post-operative “ghost pains” after the latter operation. Can you explain how you deal with “ghost pains”?
Dr. Gibson: Phantom pains or “ghost pains” are due to the subconscious mind failing to grapple with, and adjust to, a new situation. Having no computed information it allows the sensory part of the brain to register each electrical impulse that travels up the severed nerves to the brain. The brain does not know what to do with these impulses and it registers them as coming from the parts which have been severed. By reaching the subconscious mind, we can get it to realize that these sensations should not be transmitted. Phantom pains, to the sufferer, are no different than ordinary ones. They feel just as real.
MK: It would take too long to discuss case histories in this article. However, if readers wish to read more about the many fascinating case histories using hypno-anaesthesia, they can do so by visiting your website or by obtaining a copy of your book ‘Relax and Live’ a practical guide.
Dr. Gibson: Yes, I wrote ‘Relax and Live’ as a Self Help book and as an educational reference for the medical profession. It has been translated into a number of languages and sold internationally, proving so popular, an Indian surgeon uses it as an educational aid to his pupils.
MK: What is your favourite book, video, or audio concerning hypnotism?
Dr. Gibson: At aged 90, I published my biography, ‘Memoirs of an Irish Surgeon’. But ‘Relax and Live!’ has a special significance for me. The whole world needs to relax and almost everybody feels the need. It is one thing to be told to relax and another thing to be able to do so. My aim is to make people aware of the principles of relaxation and to show them how they can relax as deeply as a person who allows himself to be operated on while in hypnosis.
MK: Do you find any phase of hypnotism or hypnotherapy to be of greater interest to you?
Dr. Gibson: Working with children, as they are very receptive to suggestions and change. Asthma, particularly among children, is a universal complaint from which thousands die each year. It would be difficult to count the number of those who progress to bronchial asthma, often dying from worn-out hearts which for years have been straining to pump blood through constricted lungs. Having dealt with many asthma cases, there is one factor common to all allergies and that factor is subconscious fear. While it may be useful, at least until a patient is over the immediate attack, to give drugs and hormones, it is the cause that must be found and cured. It is only in reaching of the subconscious mind, the erasure of the erroneous information stored there and its replacement with the true facts, that a cure will be effected. In the meanwhile, a patient can control his asthma by learning the methods or relaxation that will give freedom from attacks.
MK: Over the years you have devised and produced a series of self-hypnosis recordings as a post-treatment aid for patients. I believe you have about 35 titles.
Dr. Gibson: Yes. Generally, the recordings discuss the nature of the particular problem and then explain how to practice deep relaxation in relation to that problem.
MK: Incidentally, in 1969, you launched a record called ‘How to Stop Smoking’ which went straight to number one in the Irish Pop charts for six whole weeks. The hit single deprived ‘The Beatles’ of the No 1 spot
Dr. Gibson: That’s correct.
MK: A lifetime of experience has convinced you that control of one’s mind, the subconscious, is the answer to many of today’s dis-ease. You have used self-hypnosis to benefit you personally. Can you explain more about this?
Dr. Gibson: In 1991, I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma – a skin cancer – which showed up on my forehead. Concerned cancer specialists attached to St. Luke’s Cancer Hospital in Dublin informed me that I would have to attend a five-week, intensive radiotherapy programme of treatment if I were to have any hope of being cured. I refused the medical treatment and decided to try and cure myself using only the power of my subconscious mind. My doctors were sceptical but were amazed it worked and now I’m totally cured. It took about six months of self-hypnosis during that time I travelled over to India twice and learned about a breathing technique which I believe ultimately helped to cure me. I totally relaxed the mind and imagined the blood supply being cut off from the cancer growth and the body’s immune cells, killing the cancer. I have been given the all clear by startled cancer specialists. The cancer has been gone for 2 years now and there are no signs of it returning.
Also, I have suffered from varicose veins for over 25 years, an ailment which necessitated having to wear uncomfortable surgical stockings. Using relaxation and visualisation techniques I was able to cure the condition.
MK: You have felt it important to accept invitations to address meetings and spread the word about hypnotism.
Dr. Gibson: Holding the belief, as I do, that medical curricula should be based on the fact that the vast majority of illness spring from the mind, and feeling that insufficient time is allotted to psychomatic disorders, I have always felt it important to accept invitations to address medical meetings. The Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, sometimes invite me to speak to prospective surgeons about hypnotism. Also, it is important to spread the word about hypnotism generally.
MK: For 20 years practising both surgery and hypnosis you retired as a surgeon in 1979, aged 70. You then concentrated fully on the practice of hypnotism.
Dr. Gibson: Yes, I had so many hypnotherapy cases I was glad to retire. My enthusiasm for the practice of hypnotism keeps me motivated. It is now 2005 and I’m 95. I wish I were younger, because there are so many things I would like to do in the field of hypnotism, but obviously my time is limited. The use of hypnosis is only in its infancy and there are many exciting developments occurring.
MK: Yes, exciting developments worldwide, but unfortunately we have limited time today to discuss these further. I would like to thank you for your assistance and for taking the time to participate in this interview. For your support for the ‘First World Hypnotism Day’. Your personal history is truly fascinating and it has been an educational experience for me.
Dr. Gibson: Thank you.
To conclude, the use of hypnosis for surgical purposes obtained its greatest celebrity from the work in India of James Esdaile (1808 – 1859), a Scottish surgeon. Dr. Gibson informed me that he is planning to go to Calcutta where James Esdaile worked as a surgeon before chemical anaesthesia was discovered. Esdaile performed numerous major operations with practically no death rate. When he returned to England the medical profession rejected his reports of operations using hypno-anaesthesia, and branded him a liar.
It is Dr. Gibson’s belief that a great injustice and disservice was committed against James Esdaile. Through Dr. Gibson’s work it has been demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that the contribution and the work of James Esdaile should be re-established in its rightful place in the practice of medicine.
It is my sincere hope that in writing this article it will help, in some way, to contribute to the historical recognition that Dr. Jack Gibson deserves. His dedication to the practice of hypnotism and his unquenchable desire to tap the power of the subconscious is palpable today at 95 years of age.
All photographs published with the kind permission of Dr. Jack Gibson. Finally, I wish to extend a special thank you, to Pauline Curran for her assistance in making this interview possible.