About a Physician Morton Henry Prince: the Subconscious, Hypnotism, and Personality
Morton Henry Prince was born in 1854 in Boston, Massachusetts, and he died in 1929. Prince was a physician; he attended Harvard Medical School and received a medical degree (Prince & Hale, 1975). He was also an American psychologist with a focus on abnormal psychology (Prince & Hale, 1975). Prince was a professor at both Harvard Medical School and Tufts College Medical School, where he taught neurology (Prince & Hale, 1975). In 1906, Morton Prince founded the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and later initiated the Harvard Psychological Clinic in 1927 (Thorne & Henley, 2005).
Morton Prince was not only known for his clinical and psychological matters. Prince followed in his father’s footsteps and was very active in politics (Prince & Hale, 1975). His contributions to politics over the years included multiple analyses of key politicians at the time, including Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm II (Prince & Hale, 1975). He also wrote to the papers to protest against various trials and used his psychological knowledge to help (Prince & Hale, 1975).
At first, Morton Prince solely had an interest in the medical field, specifically neurology, but over time his career path began to change slightly. During his undergraduate years, the talk of psychology started to pick up and the unconscious mind was a hot topic (Prince & Hale, 1975). This is perceived as a major factor for the switch to psychology for Prince. William James began to teach at Harvard around this time as well, which would influence Prince and later the two would work together (Prince & Hale, 1975; Thorne & Henley, 2005). James and Prince had many similar ideas on various topics and this helped Prince grow in psychology. Though he did not agree with Sigmund Freud, one could say that he was still influenced by Freud (White, 1992). Many of Morton Prince’s ideas were in agreement with the views of Pierre Janet and Charcot (White, 1992).
Morton Prince went through different stages within his career, including psychotherapy based on unconscious mental processes, multiple personalities, psychoanalysis and behaviorism, and finally the subconscious, hypnotism, and personality (Prince & Hale, 1975). He made significant contributions to the study of personality in the field of psychology. He discovered that studying everyday people in the same way as patients could greatly enhance our understanding of human nature (White, 1992).
In regard to the subconscious, Morton Prince states that the manifestations of the subconscious are “as old as the hills,” meaning that they have been around for years and have been occurring over time (Prince, 1929). It is only in recent centuries that there has been a theory of the subconscious with an understanding of what is now called abnormal psychology (Prince, 1929). Prior to this, abnormal psychological events of the subconscious could have been seen as witchcraft, demonic possessions, or even a religious experience (Prince, 1929). Prince also used hypnosis as a method of therapy and has conducted ample research on hypnosis (White, 1992). To summarize his research, he discovered a method that would bring the subconscious forward; while participants were in a state of trance, they were able to remember experiences or aspects of experiences that weren’t present to the conscious mind (White, 1992).
Morton Prince also conducted extensive research focused on anxiety disorder. For a time, his work went unnoticed until it was reprinted (Oltmanns & Mineka, 1992). One case study involved a woman with exceedingly complex problems, making correct diagnosis difficult; indeed, she was misdiagnosed multiple times by others (Prince, 1912). Prince discovered that she was experiencing additional depressive symptoms accompanied by obsessive-compulsive and phobic symptoms, which made her case unique (Oltmanns & Mineka, 1992). Ultimately, she was diagnosed with both panic and depression disorders, with panic disorder symptoms being the focus of Prince’s work (Oltmanns & Mineka, 1992). Some of her panic symptoms included a feeling of unreality, a sensation that her limbs were separating from her body, and a fear of death (Prince, 1912). Prince went on to explain that her attacks were so severe that she developed multiple fears such as, riding trains, dark places, walking alone, etc. (Prince, 1912). Prince believed that this woman’s cognitive reactions to certain stimuli in her environment, or in other words, the interpretations she made of these environmental stimuli, could help explain her symptoms (Prince, 1912).
These symptoms are what Prince would consider a functional disorder. Through referencing work by Janet, Prince explains the idea of a subconscious fixed idea, which is closely related to obsession and phobias (Taylor, 1928). He goes on to explain that the significance or meaning of the specific event or stimuli may not be in consciousness, but the effects or the emotional reaction are very much present in consciousness (Taylor, 1928).
Prince talks about how there could be four different levels at which these phobias or obsessions may appear to patients, which can impact their symptoms. The first level is when the phobia or obsession is only a disturbance physically; the second level is when there are physical disturbances that are now accompanied by conscious emotional reactions. In the third level, a specific thought on the situation is added, but there is no logical meaning to this (Taylor, 1928). Finally, the fourth level involves physical disturbance, accompanied by an emotional reaction with a specific thought towards the situation with meaning attached (Taylor, 1928). Each of these levels would show different impacts on the symptoms of a patient and would also require more analysis in order to find the correct diagnosis.
Morton Prince worked extensively with cases of multiple personalities. Through his work, he was able to identify that cases of multiple personalities revealed processes of association and disassociation, as well as potential conflict or strain (Taylor, 1928). While working with these cases, Prince employed hypnosis as a therapeutic tool. He clarified that hypnosis was simply “the dissociation of the personal consciousness” (Taylor, 1928). One of Prince’s famous cases was his work with Miss Beauchamp, who had multiple personalities and was the first person diagnosed with this condition (Prince, 1920). Beauchamp was a student who sought help from Prince after experiencing what she referred to as a nervous disorder (Prince, 1920). Initially, her different personalities would only surface during hypnosis, but soon they began to manifest at will (Prince, 1906).
Prince stated that Beauchamp had three distinct personalities, and she was unaware of the others’ existence (Prince, 1906). He discovered her multiple identities through hypnosis: Prince would mention an action Beauchamp had previously committed, and she would deny it (Prince, 1906). This revelation perplexed Prince, confounding him momentarily before he recognized that he was dealing with two separate personalities (Prince, 1906). As he continued working with Ms. Beauchamp, he identified the existence of a third personality; Prince referred to this personality as ‘Sally.’ Sally continuously strived to ‘open her eyes’ and perceive the world (Prince, 1906). Prince was opposed to this as Sally’s comprehension of her surroundings would enable her to manifest at will. However, not long after this concern was raised, Sally managed to ‘open her eyes’, becoming more independent (Prince, 1906). Sally demonstrated low regard for Ms. Beauchamp’s personality, often resorting to pranks and even exerting a degree of control over her (Prince, 1906).
Later, another personality was showing through, and Prince would call this personality ‘The Idiot’ (Prince, 1906). The three personalities would battle for the spotlight and would take turns being the primary conscious personality, which is very interesting to read. Each personality within Miss Beauchamp was indeed independent of one another and unique in its behaviors (Prince, 1906). This case study set the foundation for future multiple personality disorder research, now called dissociative identity disorder.
Morton Prince contributed greatly to psychology by founding the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which created a place for abnormal psychology research to grow tremendously. Although Prince was independent from Freudian psychoanalysis, very important at the time, his popularity began to decline, and not many of his psychological ideas held. Nevertheless, he remains an important psychological figure (Thorne & Henley, 2005). As time went on, there was not much discussion of his work. We can see his influence in the many extensions of his work by many students and other researchers who worked in the Harvard Psychological Clinic, which Prince founded. His work on personality and multiple personality disorders was extended and organized by Henry Murray, thereby popularizing Prince’s ideas. Although Prince did not have many set theories, which made it difficult for there to be much critique or praise for him, the extensions of his work were significant. His ideas will continue to live on through others.
Oltmanns, T. F., & Mineka, S. (1992). Morton Prince on anxiety disorders: Intellectual antecedents of the cognitive approach to panic? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101(4), 607–610.
Prince, M. (1906). The dissociation of a personality: A biographical study in abnormal psychology. New York, NY: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Prince, M. (1912). Report by Morton Prince. In M. Prince & J. J. Putnam, A clinical study of a case of phobia: A symposium. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 7, 259–276.
Prince, M. (1920). Miss Beauchamp. The theory of the psychogenesis of multiple personality. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 15(2-3), 67-135.
Prince, M. (1929). Clinical and experimental studies in personality. Cambridge, MA: Sci-Art Pub.
Prince, M., & Hale, N. G. (1975). Psychotherapy and multiple personality: Selected essays.
Taylor, W. S. (1928). Morton Prince and Abnormal Psychology. New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company.
Thorne, M., & Henley, T. B. (2005). Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology (3rd ed., pp. 2-21). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
White, R. W. (1992). Who was Morton Prince? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101(4), 604-606.
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