What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is an altered state of awareness in which the deeper or subconscious parts of the mind can be accessed. The deeper or subconscious parts of the mind contain the memories, thoughts, feelings, everything that the person has ever experienced. In this state of mind the person is receptive to taking on board new ideas. Trance is the same mental brainwave state as hypnosis (as is meditation). Everyone has experienced trance. There are many natural states of trance. Daydreaming is a light trance state, and is in fact part of the natural body cycles. We tend to go into a daydream every one and a half to two hours throughout the day, although we may not be consciously aware of it because it is so natural. When you are familiar with driving a specific route in the car, you can often arrive at your destination with very little conscious memory of the journey. This is a natural trance. Prior to falling asleep or as you begin to rouse from sleep you go through a state of trance. Watching a great movie or listening to a piece of music are other naturally occurring times when we can commonly go into trance. You can often be pleasantly surprised by how much time has passed when you are in this state of mind. This is because our perception of time can distort in trance. In fact a person can be put into trance and have the experience of reading a whole book within minutes, in real time this would be impossible using standard reading techniques.
History of Hypnosis?
Although, healing in a hypnotic trance state can be traced back to the beginnings of time, the origins of modern hypnotherapy stem from the mid –18th century and mesmerism, or magnetism as it was originally called. Dr Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) was born in Austria and attracted a great deal of fame in Vienna and later Paris, with his dramatic and almost miraculous ‘cures’ of people regarded as “incurable”, by his medical establishment colleagues.
His approach was very theatrical. The patients were ushered into a dimly lit room hung with mirrors, to the sounds of violin music. Dressed in a pale lilac, silk robe he would enter with a long wand in his hand.
Although the presentation was very theatrical, he achieved impressive results. His fame spread and people traveled from every part of Europe to see him. Less impressive was the theory he developed to explain the phenomenon. It was far-fetched and impossible to prove scientifically. In 1784, Louis XVI of France set up a commission to investigate mesmerism. They naturally discredited his theories. The consequences of this were quite dramatic, leading to the University of Paris threatening to revoke the licenses of doctors who practiced his techniques. Mesmer left Paris and the use of hypnosis fell into decline.
Advances were made slowly as a few pioneers developed techniques for inducing trance and more scientific theories. But the medical establishment’s antagonism continued.
In Britain, the University College in London sacked the physician Elliotson (1791-1868), from his professorial post for offering to give a talk on the phenomenon. Whilst James Esdaile (1808-1859) another physician, sent a report detailing how he had used it successfully in place of anesthetic in seventy-five operations. His letter was ignored. In 1841 the Frenchman Lafontaine visited Manchester, England to conduct a hypnosis demonstration. A local surgeon, James Braid (1795-1860), went along to expose the man and his techniques as fake. But to his own astonishment he was unable to do so. He began to study the phenomenon and experimented with it. He renamed the phenomenon from magnetism/ mesmerism to neurypnology and then to hypnotism. (Hypnos is the Greek god of sleep). Within a year his views on the phenomenon were so changed that he offered to give a talk to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The offer was rejected and his work was ridiculed.
Two Frenchmen, Ambroise Auguste Liebault (1823-1904) and Professor Hippolyte-Marie Bernheim (1837-1919) began to advanced hypnotherapy. Both men published books, Bernheim in 1886, De la Suggestion (About Suggestion), and Liebault, Le Sommeil Provoque (Induced Sleep) in 1889. Through their concerted efforts, the medical establishment could no longer ignore hypnosis.
In the late 19th century Joseph Breuer and Sigmund Freud began experimenting with its usage and found that hypnosis could be used for directly removing symptoms as well as eliminating the cause. Unfortunately, Freud became disappointed with hypnotherapy and rejected it in favour of his own form of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis!
However by 1914-18, it re-emerged. With the Great War, came a need for a briefer form of therapy. Hypnosis filled that slot.
The 50’s saw a great step forward for hypnosis. In 1952, The Hypnotism Act was passed in Britain, which curtailed the use of hypnosis in stage demonstrations. At about the same time dentists in Britain formed the British Association of Dental Hypnosis. In 1953, a subcommittee of the British Medical Association’s Psychological Group Committee found Hypnosis to be the treatment of choice for certain psychosomatic and psychoneurotic illnesses, as well as advocating that hypnosis training be given to all postgraduate psychiatric trainees.
Even though hypnosis was now recognized by the British Medical Association (BMA), it was still largely neglected in medical training courses in the UK.
This lead to the growth of lay (non medical) hypnotherapy schools. This continued throughout the 1970’s and with it, the growth of associations for the lay practitioners. The 80’s also brought an attempt to limit the scope of lay practitioners by further amending the Hypnotism act. This was supported by the BMA and a variety of other organizations. This failed.
Hypnotherapy is more widely accepted today then it has ever been. Recent moves within hypnotherapy have led to organizations being founded to encourage more scientific research as well as efforts to standardize the training of therapists.
Common Myths about Hypnosis
Myth – I will be like a zombie
No, in trance a person can think very clearly
Myth – I can get stuck in trance
There is no possibility of being stuck in trance. You can however drift into sleep if left and you would wake from that sleep naturally, feeling perfectly OK.
Myth – I won’t remember what happened
Generally most people do remember what happens during trance, unless the therapist puts in the suggestion for them not to remember. There can be many reasons why the therapist might use this suggestion to stop the conscious mind remembering. The most likely reason would be because the conscious mind might hinder the effectiveness of the therapy.
Sometimes people go so deep that they do not remember.
Myth – I can open my eyes so I’m not in trance
The eyes do not have to be closed for you to be in trance. Children are a good example of this. If you have ever looked at them whilst they are watching a cartoon you’d notice their eyes are generally wide open, but their mind is elsewhere. They are in a natural trance.
Myths – Hypnotherapists swing pendulums to put you into trance
This myth was perpetuated in the old movies, when the hypnotist would swing a pendulum in front of the subjects face. You can use a pendulum, if you want repetitive strain injury. Why go to this extreme, personally I prefer to just talk it is quite sufficient. Hypnotherapists may use pendulums to communicate with the unconscious mind. The pendulums sole purpose being to magnify minute muscle movements.
Quotes About Trance
“…..felt like I was in a warm cocoon…..lovely….(like) immersing myself in warm water, but with gaps between myself and the heat…like being in a vacuum….”