Hypnosis Myths and Miracles
The history of hypnosis helps us to understand the benefits and explore the fears of its use. Hypnosis as a therapeutic process has been linked to many miraculous cures of human ailments. Though it is the tool that has helped many, the myths that surround hypnosis serve to limit its use. Many falsehoods associated with hypnosis are the result of the entertainment industry, dating back to the late 1700’s.
Many plays of the period fed off the mystery, success and rumors of what was called ‘magnetism’ or ‘mesmerism’. Even today, many confuse the hypnosis used on the stage for entertainment with clinical hypnotherapy used to relieve many patients of disorders that other therapies and medicines can not. The media of past and present have cast a shadow over a powerful discipline which purpose from the beginning was to heal the sick. Yet patients today still benefit from its use.
The man credited with the discovery of the mental state now called hypnosis was Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, a man so famous for his healing ability the terms “mesmerizing” and “mesmerized” were coined based on his work. Dr. Mesmer had ideas well ahead of his time and maybe even ahead of this enlightened age. Dr. Mesmer believed that good health was a result of the harmonious ebb and flow movement of a magnetic fluid within the body, and that disease was the result of a blockage of this fluid. He believed that since the heavenly bodies of the universe affected areas of the earth (like the moon affects tidal movements of the ocean) this universal influence must also affect the animals upon the earth. This fluid he called ‘Gravitas’ or animal magnetism.
His practice started with the discoveries made by a man named Paracelsus, the physician, whose real name was Philippus Aurealus Theophirastus and who lived 100 years or so prior. Paracelsus had success in curing disease with the use of magnetized iron. Dr. Mesmer was fortunate to live in a day when magnets, as we know them, were just starting to being manufactured in various sizes and shapes. With this new technology and older wisdom, Dr. Mesmer was successful in curing a number of disorders by stroking the magnet over the diseased area of the sick person’s body.
Later experiments led Dr. Mesmer to believe the magnet wasn’t as important as the magnetic energy, which he called magnetic fluid, that flowed from his hands, thus creating the distinction between the healing power of organic magnetism (magnetic energy of the magnet) and animal magnetism (magnetic energy which flowed from an individual). Both processes proved extremely successful in curing the so-called un-curable. As this news spread, hundreds of patients came to Dr. Mesmer’s home clinic to be relieved of their disorders even when help was available from other medical techniques.
The attention given to Dr. Mesmer’s practice by the European royalty, as well as the commoner, led the medical community to attempt to discredit the effects of ‘magnetism’. Many of the misunderstandings of hypnosis we have today began with rumors spread by those who wanted Dr. Mesmer branded a charlatan. The polarization of the community led to a royal commission to be assembled to prove or disprove Dr. Mesmer’s theories. The commission was made up of a number of notable scientists within Europe and included Benjamin Franklin of The United States. The commission findings were that the patients appeared to be cured of their ailments, yet the commission was convinced that in each case the cure was all in patient’s mind.
These findings were not in Dr. Mesmer’s favor, because in those days even if the symptoms were relieved, a patient was not considered cured unless the cure was provided by a proven medical remedy. Despite this, Dr. Mesmer and others who believed in his doctrine continued their practices, and formed The Society of Harmony as a means to educate others in the use of magnetism. Dr. Mesmer continued practicing animal magnetism on into his eighties.
The other magnetists (as they were called), were also successful using Dr. Mesmer’s methods. Some found their success in the hands on healing art of Animal Magnetism, others in the use of magnets, and others influencing the patient’s mind to facilitate healing. The most notable of these was a man named Marquis de Puseyger. The Marquis believed in the healing power of the patient’s mind. He was also the man history credits with discovering ‘induced somnambulism’, a state of deep hypnotic trance. Although reaching this unconscious state is not needed to receive the benefits offered by hypnosis, it is the deepest state achieved in a hypnotic induction.
The Marquis would induce the somnambulistic state in his patients, and then ask them what would be needed to cure their illness. The patients would prescribe their own remedies. Not only would this be successful in healing the patient, the patient would also correctly tell the Marquis when their healing would fully take place, and other futuristic information.
This is where hypnosis got in trouble with the Church. Many hypnotherapists, even today, are told that hypnosis is the work of the devil or that a patient will lose their God-given right to free will. These beliefs, were created by playwrights, movies and storybooks, that failed to reveal a person in the hypnotic state will never do anything that is against their moral character. The actual reason the Church condemned the use of hypnosis was, ‘The Vatican finally condemned the practice of inducing somnambulism (hypnosis) in 1841 and in 1856, prohibiting this means of predicting and divination’. (The encyclical is in Binet, A. and Fere, C. (1908) Le Magnetisme Animal (5th Ed.), Paris p.38.) Just like it was prohibited at that time for anyone to read and interpret The Bible, only priests were allowed to foretell or predict the future.
Practitioners in the field of psychology later changed the name of magnetism, and induced somnambulism, to the term hypnosis. Even though some found the use of hypnosis valuable, it received another blow, this time from an influential man. It has been reported, Sigmund Freud attempted to use hypnosis in working with the subconscious mind. However, due to a speech impediment was unable to use it successfully, and denounced the value of its use.
Despite the myths of hypnosis, many pioneers still created miracles with its use. The latest and most famous of these was Dr. Milton Erickson, a medical doctor who through the use of self-hypnosis relieved himself of polio. His polio left him trapped in a wheel chair, yet allowed him to study human behavior as maybe no man before him or after him. This extraordinary study led Dr. Erickson to refine hypnotic techniques to the healing tools they are today. Patients from thousands of miles away came to Phoenix, Arizona to seek this man’s help in healing their mental or physical ailments, and Dr. Erickson helped them in some cases by just telling a simple, yet hypnotic story. Dr. Erickson’s well respected career spanned from the 1930’s to the 1980’s, and those who instruct in his methods teach Ericksonian hypnosis.
The use of hypnosis today, as in the past, can be a major help to anyone who wants to enrich their life or improve their health. It is as natural a process as sleep. In fact to achieve, or awaken from, the deeper state of sleep, we must first cross through the hypnotic state. Daydreaming is a popular form of self-hypnosis. Many hypnotherapists, following the Ericksonian model, believe that life is one hypnotic trance after another, and these states of being are forming our personal realities. When visiting a hypnotherapist, what you are actually doing is using hypnotic techniques to pull yourself out of a current, undesired trance state and, with help from your therapist, create a new reality or experience of life, one that lets you achieve your goals and aspirations to live life more fully.