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A Brief History of Hypnosis
Hypnosis has been around for thousands of years, different cultures from all around the world have used hypnosis in one form or another. The earliest existence was found among Shamans who were also referred to as “Witch Doctors”, “Medicine Men” or “Healers”. The Shaman would place their self in an isolated environment that was not distracting in any way, where he would then begin their ritual. This often meant visualizing a journey downward into an opening in the earth, frequently helped by the accompaniment of drum beats, chanting and singing, all of which had two qualities in common; they were rhythmic and monotonous. This allowed the Shaman’s subconscious mind to become strongly focused and seek out the sick spirit of the patient.
The Shaman actually engaged in a powerful process of visualization and suggestion during which they willed the sick person to be healed.
In the 1700s, an Australian Doctor, Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815) recognized this ancient healing phenomenon and incorporated it into a theory of “animal magnetism”. Mesmer believed that a “cosmic fluid” could be stored in inanimate objects such as magnets and transferred to patients to cure them of illness.
Mesmer’s first big success was with a 29 year old woman who suffered from a convulsive disorder, a condition known as a “nervous disorder”. During one of the young woman’s attacks, Mesmer applied three magnets to the woman’s stomach and legs while she concentrated on the positive effects of the cosmic fluid. In just a short time her symptoms subsided.
Eventually Mesmer discarded the magnets and began to regard himself as a magnet through which a fluid life force could be conducted. This is what Mesmer called “animal magnetism”.
Although no evidence supports the existence of Mesmer’s “cosmic fluids” and “animal magnetism”, his success rate was tremendous. The only explanation for his success is that his patients were literally “Mesmerized” into the belief and expectation that they would be cured. Mesmerism became the forerunner of hypnotic suggestion.
One of Mesmer’s disciples, the Marquis de Puysegur, believed that the cosmic fluid was not magnetic but electric and was generated in all living things including plants. Puysegur held his clinics outside in the natural environment where his patients sat under an elm tree in the centre of the village green. He believed that the tree had an innate healing power and that the force would travel through the tree and down through the cords attached to the tree. The patients would then wrap the cords around their diseased parts of their bodies whilst sitting in a circle and connect to each other by touching thumbs with one another so that the fluid could circulate from patient to patient helping them to heal.
Puysegur noticed that some of his patients entered a somnambulistic state (deep trance) as a result of being mesmerized. The patient could still communicate and be responsive to suggestion; the marquis had discovered the hypnotic trance.
During the 1800s, a leading London physician, John Elliotson (1791-1868), used the hypnotic trance to relieve pain and perform surgical operations. A Scottish surgeon named James Esdaile (1808-1859) also performed many operations including amputation of limbs using mesmerism (or, as he called it, a “magnetic sleep”). After a trance state was induced and posthypnotic suggestions were used to numb the part of the body which was to be operated on. Disassociation suggestions from the pain were also used in the operating room.
In the late 1800’s, an English physician, James Braid (1795-1860), believed mesmerism to be a “nervous sleep” and phrased the word hypnosis, derived from the Greek word Hypnos, meaning sleep. He showed that when a subject was in a trance they were more susceptible to verbal suggestions.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an Austrian neurologist and founding father of psychoanalysis became interested in hypnosis and visited Leibeault and Bernheim’s clinic to learn their induction technique. When Freud studied patients in a hypnotic trance, he began to recognise the existence of the subconscious mind and what a major source of psychopathology it was. Freud eventually rejected hypnosis with the rise of psychoanalysis in the early 1900’s, hypnosis began to decline in popularity.
In the early 1950’s, hypnosis experienced a comeback. Around the same time an American psychiatrist, Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980), specializing in medical hypnosis used indirect suggestions to help his patients make permanent changes and was considered the father of modern hypnosis, hypnosis then made a comeback.