A History of Hypnosis
The History of Hy
The Human Mind
Hypnosis is an inherent and universal trait that is shared by all human beings and that everyone travels in and out of hypnosis daily without even knowing it. We now know that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis and that anyone can put themselves in trace when ever they wish to. This has only been come to be understood in the last several decades. Hypnosis itself has not changed, only our understanding of it.
Many people still believe that hypnosis is an “occult” practice and that hypnotists can perform miracles or control minds. This mindset has been handed down over the centuries, and unfortunately still has roots today. We now know this thought is absolutely absurd, a hypnotist can not make you do anything you do not want to. A hypnotist or hypnotherapist can not make you do anything against, your morals, beliefs or will. The defining point of hypnotism in the West came in the 18th century. Franz Mesmer (whose name is where the term “mesmerize” is derived from) led the transition for hypnotism from an “occult” viewpoint to a “scientific” viewpoint. Mesmer was the first to develop a consistent method for hypnosis. He would dress in a cloak and play ethereal music while performing this ritualistic practice, which led to him becoming a mystical figure. He developed a notion called “animal magnetism” which could be transferred from healer to patient through an etheric fluid. Ultimately, these magical trappings led to Mesmer’s downfall.
For a long time after Mesmer, hypnotism was perceived as “showmanship”, in spite of the evidence that hypnotism worked. Mesmer’s ideas did not disappear after his death. Two factions developed during that time: “fluidists”, who clung to the animal magnetism belief, and “animists”, who believed in more psychological explanations. During the 19th century, experiments by Henin de Cuvillers and Joseph Phillippe Francois Deleuze convinced the Academie de Medecine to investigate the possibilities of mesmerism once again. A report published in 1831 acknowledged the very real results that mesmerism was able to produce, and the possibilities that existed in regards to surgery. John Elliotson, a University College Hospital physician in Britain became interested in the use of mesmerism in the treatment of nervous disorders. He became involved with Jane and Elizabeth O’Key, 2 sisters who had been admitted for “hysterical convulsions”. They were very willing participants, and Elliotson began using them in public displays. The sisters were often accused of faking their transformations. Elliotson defended them, but his credibility was undermined by the fact that he was a fluidist. He was eventually forced to resign from the hospital.
James Braid, who many regard as the “father of hypnosis” was initially a skeptic. However, when he observed a performance in Manchester by mesmerist Charles Lafontaine his interest was piqued.He felt that something during this performance was genuine, and he began to research eye-fixation. He stumbled across an opportunity for experimentation when he discovered a patient mesmerized by the flickering flame of an oil lamp. Braid concluded that eye-fixation was the key to mesmerism. Braid was able to induce trance on his subjects by having them focus their attention on illuminated objects, which produced exhaustion in the eyelids, causing them to close. At first, Braid identified this phenomenon with sleep, to avoid the stigma that mesmerism carried at the time. He needed a new word to describe his discovery, and began to use “neuro-hypnotism”, derived from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, but before long he dropped the neuro, leaving us with the term we still use today.
During the 20th century, hypnosis became accepted as a mainstream medical technique. Joseph Jastrow, and later Clark Hull, had a long running course at the University of Wisconsin on the medical uses of hypnosis. Hull released a book entitled “Hypnosis and Suggestibility”, which is considered a landmark on the subject. Hull also started the “state/non-state” debate which was a topic of academic discussion for much of the 20th century. Proponents of the “state” theory argue that hypnotic trance is a special state of consciousness. Non-State theorists believe the opposite, that there is no special state of consciousness associated with trance, and that all hypnotic actions can be explained by normal psychological mechanisms, such as suggestibility.
Ultimately, the 20th Century saw hypnosis move out of the clinic, into the laboratory, then back again. It has become quite popular and much more available, with marked growth in hypnotherapy as a profession. This is largely due to the work of one man, Milton Erickson.
Erickson graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1928 with an MA in Psychology, as well as an MD. He went on to hold senior psychiatric posts in hospitals across the United States. He ultimately was appointed as Clinical Director of the Arizona State Hospital, from which he resigned a year later to concentrate on teaching.
At first he would seem to be an unlikely candidate to have revolutionized hypnosis. He was stricken with polio at 17, and again at 51. He was also color blind, dyslexic and tone deaf, and spent his later years confined to a wheelchair.
His relationship with hypnosis was very personal. He first encountered it as a way of overcoming his physical limitations. He later conducted experiments on hypnotic phenomena, such as hypnotically induced deafness and color blindness. Erickson was very flexible, adapting his approach to each individual client. A famous story is one of his treatment of a man who was left paralyzed and unable to speak due to a sever stroke. Erickson verbally abused this client so severely that the man got up and walked out of the room, telling Erickson what he thought of him as he left.
He used working with symptoms to bring about change. He sought to change the intensity, frequency or location, from which he could change the entire pattern of the problem.He sought to engage the unconscious mind by any means possible, believing the individual’s unconscious contained all of the resources necessary to bring about a cure for that individual in the present moment.
In Ericksonian hypnosis, language is used to direct the attention inwards on a search for meaning or to verify what is being said. Once that happens, therapeutic or trance-inducing suggestions can be made. Erickson often tacked suggestions onto the end of a series of undeniable truths to give the appearance of logical and natural progression.
From this point on, one can look back and see Erickson's accomplishments as a defining moment in the history of hypnosis, and a definite break from the past. His type of hypnosis is the type most often used today. Erickson’s greatest accomplishment was to bring hypnosis back to the service of the individual, by doing whatever is necessary to make it truly client focused.
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Hypnosis and It's History
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