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Get a good foundational understanding of hypnosis, along with some standard inductions for the most common situations.
History of Hypnosis
Hypnosis has a wide and varied background and few people are aware or its ancient origins. Some of man’s earliest history is filled with allusions to the existence of the hypnoidal state. It’s been pointed out that Cave Paintings depict humans dabbling in trances over five thousand years ago. A Grecian cult, the cult of Aesculapius, cured insomnia through apparently hypnotic trances.
In preparation for healing, a shaman adhered to certain practices that allowed his powers of concentration to be heightened. Because the shaman needed to feel focused, he would place himself in an environment that was not distracting in any way. It was not uncommon to find him in a dark, quiet room or an isolated place in the forest or in a cave. There, the shaman made himself as comfortable as possible and began his descent into what he called the lower world. This often meant visualizing an opening in the earth and journeying downward into that opening. More often than not, the journey was accompanied by the rhythmic and monotonous beating of drums, singing or chanting.
It is thought that the Egyptian priests used the sleep temples and ritualistic ceremonies to cure illness. In a British Museum, there is a base-relief from a tomb in the Thebes showing the Egyptian Hypnotist practicing his art. It’s been pointed out that in the ancient Greece temple of comedy and tragedy were used for the healing of various maladies. The comedians were highly respected by the community because of their ability to use positive suggestions for promotion of cures.
The Celtic Druids used the magical sleep for various purposes. Even Hippocrates stated that cures could be effected in the ill by passes. Of course this trance state lost a lot of its popularity during the Salem Witch Trials. I’d like to note that it was recently discovered that certain “witch’s salve”, when applied to the skin, will cause extensive numbness and a floating sensation. This, coupled with suggestion, could easily account for the numerous reports of self-proclaimed witches that they could fly to the Sabbath on some dark foreboding night.
It was in the late 1700’s that scholars, men of reason and science began to explore the unlimited possibilities of hypnosis and the practice took on credence in the scientific world. In Paris, a man from Vienna named Anton Mesmer, was producing what were to be considered impossible cures left and right through and eerie process that he labeled animal magnetism. Taking his theory and process from the core of the ancient Shamans, Mesmer, and Austrian physician, attributed his successes to an invisible force that was transmitted from the healer to the patient. He used a set of magnets to make mysterious passes over his patient’s bodies. The French academy of Science admitted that his cures worked, but disputed his theories adamantly. They refused to allow him to practice in Paris. But, by the time they had managed to stop him, he had already become a big hit, popular with virtually every class of the French populous.
Mesmer would put on a dramatic show in a dark room, thick with carpets and heavy with music that would slowly crescendo into a frenzied climatic state. He would parade amongst his patients, staring into their eyes of one while touching another with an iron wand. Women were known to faint. Some would fall into a deep trance while others would cling to a huge oak tub that was filled with iron fillings and water. They would jerk and tremble as if thousands of volts of electricity were flowing through them.
But even with all the razzle-dazzle, Mesmer himself was quite sincere in his efforts. He truly believed that some unseen force was transmitting from him into his patients and that this force had curative properties.
Mesmer even felt that his powers could be transmitted into inanimate objects like the magnetic tub. He would siphon the water from the tub and provide it to his patients, professing it had curative powers. Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Joseph Guillotine (the man who created the famous beheading device) joined a few other men of science in drinking the water and declared it useless as a curative means. And, of course today, we know it was the hypnotist and not the water that was the device. Since Mesmer wasn’t present at the time of consumption nor had he done an induction on any of these men prior to the consumption, it proved worthless.
But the French committee and Mesmer did discover one important fact. The healing had something to do with a person’s thought process. The committee stated that the imagination played a part in the effects produced by animal magnetism.
Mesmer eventually did away with his magnets. He had discovered that he could get the same effect by staring into his subject’s eyes. In a confidential report issued by the committee, there was a slight hint that in Mesmer’s technique there could be suggestions or feelings of sexual attachment. Sigmond Freud also indicated that the relationship between hypnotist and subject could be likened to that of lovers. No doubt this type of thought mode led to the mounting anti-Mesmer cartoons of the day. Some of which depicted sex orgies in his animal magnetism parlors.
It was one of Mesmer’s students, the Marquis de Puysegur, who discovered the role that the power of suggestion played in the healing properties of hypnosis. He was using the standard animal magnetism techniques with a twenty-three year old peasant, Victor Race. Victor was being treated for inflammation of the lungs. Instead of reaching the usual emotional and physical catharsis through the hysterical excitation and jerks so common to Mesmer’s work, the young man fell into a peaceful and sleep-like state and began to talk. He spoke his troubled and even physically trembled a little as he described his impressions.
Puysegur had never seen this type of hypnotic trance before and therefore played it by ear. He stopped Victor’s tragic ramblings and began to give him positive suggestions. In this he began to inspire him with more cheerful things. This was an easy task and the peasant soon showed every sign of happiness. He began hopping in his chair and miming a song. The next day he could not even recall the visit he had with Puysegur but he did state that he felt better.
Traveling mesmerist shows toured Europe and the United States and became popular for their entertainment value as well as their sought-after healing benefits. It was in the 1820’s that a Portuguese abbot, Abbe Faria, changed the way that history was to view hypnosis. He did way with the magnets, iron rods, oak tubs, and music. He discovered that hypnotism had nothing to do with the external forces acting upon the subject. The receptivity of the subject to the induction technique was the key. As a result, the Abbe Faria developed the first instant hypnotism technique. He merely clapped his hands loudly and commanded “Sleep!” The subject would immediately drop off into a deep hypnotic state!
How did it work? First, the subject had to believe in the Abbe Faria’s power to hypnotize. Second, the loud clap distracted the subject’s conscious mind and alerted it to the fact that something important was about to happen. And third, all senses were immediately thrown wide open and receptive so that the suggestion to sleep was strongly implanted in the subject’s subconscious mind.
It was only a slight variation to Abbe Faria’s research that enabled stage hypnotists to cause their subjects to drink a glass of water and believe they had drunk pure vodka. Or to eat a raw onion while believing it was a juicy apple. Or even to tear off a shirt while they were frantically searching for an imaginary snake! At about the same time of Abbe Faria’s research, Dr. James Braid labeled the process hypnosis, from the Greek word hypnosis, meaning sleep.
In 1860, hypnotherapy finally took root in the practice of Dr. Ambrose-Auguste Leibeault. A country doctor, he heard the presentations of Dr. Braid’s works in Paris and was so impressed by them that upon returning to his own clinic in Nancy, France, he made an offer to his patients. He told them that he would treat them with drugs as he’d always done, (Chloroform had been discovered by then) or they could be treated with hypnosis. The drugs would cost them, the hypnosis was free. Needless to say, the clinic was packed with hypnosis patients!
Unlike those before him, Dr. Ambrose-Auguste Leibeault realized that hypnosis and the hypnotic induction technique was not in itself a healing device. The technique was what was needed to get in touch with the mind and body.
Dr. Hippolyte Bernheim, a physician of national repute who originally scoffed at Liebeault’s research, became a student of his after Liebeault cured his patient of sciatica. Bernheim, who had been unable to cure the patient, dove into his studies.
Sigmond Freud witnessed the work of both Liebeault and Bernheim and was impressed. But in later years he rejected the use of hypnosis in his own psychoanalytic work when he found he couldn’t control the fantasy aspect of the hypnotic state. When he asked his hypnotized patients to recall certain incidents in their lives, rather than tell him they couldn’t remember, he made things up and recounted these fantasies as fact. Still, the neurologist Jean Martin Charcot, who gave countless hypnotic demonstrations, astounded Freud. Charcot, in fact, was less interested in the healing end of it as he was in the putting on fantastic shows for his students. Freud received a fellowship to study under him and was greatly influenced by his demonstrations.
Charcot dealt mainly with what was then called hysterical phenomena. Hysteria is a Greed word meaning “womb”. It was widely believed that only women suffered from hysterical conditions. Further, it was believed that a detached uterus that had strolled over another part of the body was the cause of this condition. Removal of an ovary was the prescribed treatment for the condition until the late 1800’s.
Charcot and his students believed, as did Mesmer, that hypnotic power emanated from the hypnotist in unseen rays that could influence the subject. They even went so far as to bring back the old magnetic props. Researchers like Bernheim and Liebeault were horrified at what they saw as an abuse in hypnosis. While Freud was forever influenced by Charcot’s work, he ceased to use suggestions in his practice and opted for free association instead. Patients were allowed to speak about their difficulties eventually revealing the core of the problem.
In 1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) publicly accepted hypnosis as a useful medical tool. Much to the dismay of the hypnotists, they also stated that since it was being recognized as a Medical Device, they wanted only medical professionals to use hypnosis as a therapy in their practice. As a result, surgeons, dentists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists are using hypnosis in a wide variety of ways. From surgical anesthesia, to childbirth, to dentistry. It has even been reported to have been used successfully in the treatment of cancer. But what about the Hypnotherapist?
To top things off, in 1958 the AMA condemned the use of hypnosis for entertainment purposes. In 1961 the American Psychiatric Association did the same. In England and America both, it was made illegal to give a public demonstration of hypnosis on television because of the fear that people at home might become hypnotized.
Today, about 35% of the American medical colleges, 40% of the graduate schools in clinical psychology and 30% of dental colleges offer hypnosis study. And of course, there are hundreds of lectures in the field of hypnosis being held at state colleges and universities all over the US.
It is not necessary to be a physician to be a Hypnotherapist. Nor do you have to be a stage performer. A Hypnotherapist is a teacher. They teach their clients how to use a simple process that gets the body and mind communicating. They teach their clients how to better take control of themselves and their lives. That’s why they’re so well paid.
The unfortunate reality is that anyone can call himself or herself a Hypnotherapist. Although the AMA recognizes it as a viable medical tool, it is still not isolated as a viable business and therefore not regulated in many states. Therefore, depending upon your state, anyone who decides to hang a shingle outside their door and proclaim himself or herself a Hypnotherapist, can do so with no repercussions.