Hypnosis: A History of Change

Long ago and far, far away…

The stone carvings of ancient Egypt offer pictorial evidence that, as early as 1,000BC, ‘sleep temples’ provided a sanctuary for healing. The temple priests used formal inductions for trance which form the basis of the techniques we use today. Sanskrit writings also tell us of the ‘healing temples’ in India. Europe soon followed and such temples flourished during the period of the Roman Empire.

The practice of ‘laying on of hands’ began to gain popularity and became fashionable as Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066 A.D) practiced his ‘royal touch’. His healing procedures were even formally recognised by the Church of England.

So, during the Middle Ages, as royalty lost interest, fashion changed and the concept of ‘suggestion healing’ became synonymous with tales of sorcerers and the dark arts. It was at this time that many of the misconceptions about trance and suggestion we hear today were formed.

This brings the tale into the 1500’s, when a Swiss MD named Paracelsus began to use magnets for healing. Magnets were also used as healing devices by Valentine Greatrakes during the 1600’s. Healing magnets remained prevalent into the 1700’s. In 1725, a Jesuit Priest named Maximilian Hehl used magnets for healing. It was one of Hehl’s students, Franz Anton Mesmer MD, who really brought the healing power of magnets into the public eye.

Mesmer coined the term ‘animal magnetism’, referring to the magnetic energy within the patient rather than the magnet. Mesmer left his home in Vienna and moved to Paris and during the late 1700’s his client list was the who’s who of French aristocracy. However, Mesmer’s glory days were to come to an abrupt end when the medical community began to challenge his methods.

A Board of Enquiry was convened, the most notable contributors being the chemist Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin and an MD expert in pain control named Guillotin. The Board censured and discredited Mesmer’s work and he returned to Vienna to practice out of the public eye. From 1795 until 1985, the idea of utilising energy as a conduit for healing was discarded by Western medicine and psychology.

The date is now 1840 and an English physician named James Braid became interested in mesmerism after watching a carnival demonstration. Intending to discredit the technique, he initiated a study which captured his imagination. He noticed that eye fixation and pre-framing were important elements in trance induction and coined the phrase ‘hypnosis’ for the first time.

The word ‘hypnosis’ is derived from the Greek ‘hypnos‘, meaning sleep. By the time Braid had realised that this term was inaccurate, it had stuck. Could he have imagined it would still be used in the 21st Century?

Around the same time, while working in India, Dr. James Esdaile, began to experiment with hypnotic anaesthesia, with outstanding success. Whilst the Indian culture conditioned people to respond to hypnosis, the same was not true when he returned to England, and he was discredited by the British Medical Society. With the introduction of chemical anaesthesia in the mid-1800’s, healing through hypnosis returned to the sideshows.

1864 and two medical doctors named Liebault and Bernheim established the Nancy School of Hypnosis in the city of Nancy, France. A young Sigmund Freud studied at the Nancy School for a while, before abandoning Hypnosis for his new ‘talking therapy’ which became psychoanalysis.

In the early 1900’s, a French pharmacist named Emile Coue made an important discovery, the power of autosuggestion. His famous formula was, ‘Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.’  Coue noticed that suggestion only works if it is accepted by the client, thus, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

The world of hypnosis was very quiet for the next 50 years, although studies did continue, the most notable being Clark Hull who, in 1933 wrote ‘Hypnosis and Suggestibility’, Boris Sidis wrote ‘The Psychology of Suggestion’ and Milne Bramwell wrote ‘The History of Hypnosis’.

In 1958, the American Medical Association approved the therapeutic use of Hypnosis. This was a turning point worthy of note.

The great hypnotherapists and writers on hypnotherapy of our time followed. George Estabrooks, Andre Weitzenhoffer, Dave Elman, Leslie LeCron and Milton Erickson. Erickson practiced hypnosis on a daily basis between 1920 and 1980, sometimes seeing 14 clients a day. His learnings changed the face of hypnosis forever.

Today, Jeffrey Zeig and Ernest Rossi keep Milton Erickson’s legacy alive at the Erickson Foundation in Phoenix, USA.

With all of this rich and colorful history, how is it that Hypnosis is still so widely misconceived in the year 2017? The distinction between what we see on the stage and the TV and Hypnotherapy to enable personal change and transformation with professional, experienced and well qualified Hypnotherapists is still very blurred.

Hypnosis in a professional, calm setting is pleasant and effective.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions.

  1. Hypnosis is the domain of the weak-minded and gullible. The truth is that the most intelligent people with strong imaginations and a flair for the creative are usually the best hypnotic subjects. They are able to willfully suspend their disbelief and break through the critical faculty barrier which separates the conscious and the unconscious mind.
  2. Hypnosis means letting go of personal power and revealing secrets. Not so, whilst experiencing any level of hypnotic trance you are actually more aware than in the normal waking state and able to select information accordingly. Your unconscious mind becomes acutely focussed on learning and initiating the required personal change. It hears what it wants to hear and sees what it wants to see in a highly selective manner.
  3. Hypnosis represents a risk of humiliation. We’ve all heard about or been witness to stage hypnosis. A group of very willing individuals submit to hypnotic trance in order to entertain the audience. The individuals who volunteer their involvement are very carefully selected and are completely willing to do something silly in the name of entertainment. Those who are not are quickly identified and sent back to their seats. Stage hypnotists are very skilled at what they do and the best are extremely proficient at initiating rapid inductions. Stage hypnotism is entertainment and we should view it as such. The truth is that your unconscious mind is a very moral mind and if you object to any suggestion, you will choose to ignore it and not comply.
  4. Hypnosis means a loss of control. During an Hypnotic trance, you are totally in control and fully aware of yourself and your environment. In fact, your senses become heightened and attuned to everything that happens around you. You can stop the trance at any time of your choosing, you are totally in control.
  5. Hypnosis is something to fear. The history of hypnosis has clearly demonstrated why there remains a residual fear of hypnosis and its long ago association with ‘the dark side’. The hypnotic state is a normal, natural, relaxed state and is experienced on a daily basis. For example, the driving trance. Every driver, at some time has missed their turning or made a journey without being able to remember the entire drive. This is an example of a light trance state. If an emergency occurred whilst in this state, the unconscious mind would react immediately to keep you safe, as the awareness remains heightened and alert. What about the TV trance, when you have been so involved in a programme, that you have been unaware of someone talking to you? We all enter into a light trance every day, it’s a completely natural state.
  6. Hypnosis means sleep. The only feeling associated with hypnosis which is different from the normal, waking state is one of complete relaxation. Whilst it is true that people who respond really well to hypnosis and are able to reach really deep states of trance may drop off into an energising and revitalising sleep, the general experience is of deep relaxation. Hypnosis is really not about becoming ‘zonked out’ or unaware. As we have already discussed, trance represents a heightened state of awareness. There is also a misconception that there may be an inability to awaken from trance. Remember, hypnosis is not sleep and you can come out of the hypnotic state at any time.
  7. Hypnosis is a gimmick and has no real benefits for personal change. Hypnosis is a willful suspension of disbelief and a vehicle for communication with the unconscious mind. Once great communication links have been forged with the unconscious mind, change becomes easy. Any unwanted and unhelpful states, behaviours or habits can be modified or removed easily and effortlessly, through clear communication with the unconscious mind.
  8. Hypnotists are manipulative. This assumption is a non-truth because of the evidence that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, you just follow instructions offered to you by the hypnotherapist. The hypnotic state is about learning to go into the hypnotic state. Those who boast that “I can’t be hypnotized” are absolutely right. Hypnotic trance is something that you choose for yourself. Nobody can force hypnosis on you, you have to choose to accept it. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.
  9. Hypnosis is brain washing. Brain washing is a very specific 5 step process, definitely not achievable with hypnosis. Firstly, a person is removed from their normal environment, then they are deprived of their senses. They are punished when they disagree and rewarded when they agree and chemical interventions are employed. Definitely nothing to do with hypnosis!

So, your misconceptions allayed, hypnosis is an amazing experience for total relaxation and for enabling incredible transformative personal change. It is a process which is self-initiated, self-controlled and certainly not to be feared. Relax and enjoy.

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