I think this article serves to shed some light on phenomena like those Holy Rollers (Pentecostals) as well as other cases of "shared" supernatural experiences.
Farewell to hysteria
Jean-Martin Charcot vigorously supported and defended the theory of cerebral localizations in man; several of his outstanding courses dealt with this theory and its application to Jacksonian epilepsy (John Hughlings Jackson, 1835-1911 – Jackson was one of the early appointments to the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, Queen Square, London, now the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, and will be profiled in a later issue of Headlines), aphasia, and Beard’s neurasthenia (George Miller Beard, 1839-1883). Charcot believed that he had discovered a new disease he called "hystero-epilepsy," a disorder of mind and brain combining features of hysteria and epilepsy. The patients displayed a variety of symptoms, including convulsions, contortions, fainting, and transient impairment of consciousness.
Joseph Babinski, his student, however, decided that Charcot had invented rather than discovered hystero-epilepsy. The patients had come to the hospital with vague complaints of distress and demoralization. Charcot had persuaded them that they were victims of hystero-epilepsy and should join the others under his care. Charcot's interest in their problems, the encouragement of attendants, and the example of others on the same ward prompted patients to accept Charcot's view of them and eventually to display the expected symptoms. These symptoms resembled epilepsy, Babinski believed that a municipal decision to house epileptic and hysterical patients together (both having "episodic" conditions) was the cause of the condition. The hysterical patients, already vulnerable to suggestion and persuasion, were continually subjected to life on the ward and to Charcot's neuropsychiatric examinations. They began to imitate the epileptic attacks they repeatedly witnessed.
Babinski eventually won the argument. He persuaded Charcot that doctors can induce a variety of physical and mental disorders, especially in young, inexperienced, emotionally troubled women. There was no "hystero-epilepsy." These patients were afflicted not by a disease but by an idea. With this understanding, Charcot and Babinski devised a two-stage treatment consisting of isolation and counter suggestion.
First, "hystero-epileptic" patients were transferred to the general wards of the hospital and kept apart from one another. Thus they were separated from everyone else who was behaving in the same way and also from staff members who had been induced by sympathy or investigatory zeal to show great interest in the symptoms. The success of this first step was remarkable. Babinski and Charcot were reminded of the rare but impressive epidemic of fainting, convulsions, and wild screaming in convents and boarding schools that ended when the group of afflicted persons was broken up and scattered.
The second step, counter-suggestion, was designed to give the patients a view of themselves that would persuade them to abandon their symptoms. Dramatic counter-suggestions, such as electrical stimulation of "paralysed" muscles, proved to be unreliable. The most effective technique was simply ignoring the hysterical behaviour and concentrating on the present circumstances of these patients. They were suffering from many forms of stress, including sexual feelings and traumas, economic fears, religious conflicts, and a conviction (perhaps correct) that they were being exploited or neglected by their families. In some cases their distress had been provoked by a mental or physical illness. The hysterical symptoms obscured the underlying emotional conflicts and traumas. How trivial a sexual fear seemed to a patient in whom convulsive attacks produced paralysis and temporary blindness every day!
Staff members expressed their withdrawal of interest in hysterical behaviour subtly, in such words as, "You're in recovery now and we will give you some physiotherapy, but let us concentrate on the home situation that may have brought this on." These face-saving counter-suggestions reduced a patient's need to go on producing hystero-epileptic symptoms in order to certify that her problems were real. The symptoms then gradually withered from lack of nourishing attention. Patients began to take a more coherent and disciplined approach to their problems and found a resolution more appropriate than hysterical displays.
Charcot removed his patients from the special wards when he realised his mistake.