Autogenic (meaning self-generated) Training (AT) was developed in Germany early in the 20th century as a method of moving at will into a state of calm. Today AT fits into positive psychology and self-help approaches to therapy.
AT’s developer, Johannes H Schultz, was a neurologist and psychiatrist settled in Berlin. Between 1894 and 1904 he studied with Oscar Vogt, a physician and hypnotherapist. It was Vogt’s, his colleague Brodmann’s, and Schultz’s research into hypnosis, in particular, that formed the basis for Schultz’s development of Autogenic methods, which were his lifelong work.
Schultz developed AT with the goal of eliminating people’s reliance on a therapist in favour of teaching people to actively regulate their own experience by entering and coming out of deep relaxation by themselves.
Schultz carried out a large number of studies on the effects of AT. Whilst most of these involved taking measurements from individuals, such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, Schultz also did some studies with groups of people who were learning AT. Many of these studies are documented in Schultz’s writings of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Schultz remained in Germany throughout the war period and we are aware and acknowledge that there is criticism of Schultz’s war time activities. However, his work continued to spread.
Given its effectiveness, its ease of learning, ease of use, and the low cost of teaching it in groups, AT quickly spread throughout Europe and to North America and the Far East by the 1940’s. AT was first used in the National Health Service in the late 1950s (Haward, 1965)
By the 1970’s, Dr Herbert Benson, an American cardiologist and founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, had AT included in his list of passive calming processes which induce what he called the ‘Relaxation Response’ (Benson, 1974).
In the early 1980s the British Autogenic Society was born, and by 1984 Medlik and Fursland, clinical psychologists in the NHS, reported in The British Journal of Medical Psychology on its use as a cost effective treatment for stress and anxiety.
The Autogenic Training Department at the Royal London Hospital for Integrative Medicine (formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital) has been providing group AT on the NHS for over 250 people a year for over 20 years and it is also taught privately by registered practitioners throughout the U.K.