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What is hypnosis? 

When the word "hypnosis" is mentioned in everyday conversation, it seems to stir many varied reactions in people. These responses range frm disbelief to terror or even laughter. On the other hand, some people believe that hypnosis can work miracles. All these reactions stem from ideas and information that are untrue.


There are many misconceptions about hypnosis. A simple definition of hypnosis is that it is a state of increased suggestibility and concentration. First of all, DO NOT EXPECT TO GO TO SLEEP or lose touch with reality. You will know everything that is going on around you. On awakening, some people express disappointment with the experience. They insist that they have heard everything that was going on or that they were unaffected by the hypnotist. This arises out of misconceptions they entertain concerning the nature of hypnosis. The lack of consciousness and amnesia which they possibly anticipate is not experienced by the vast majority of people. Nevertheless, although the individual may consciously believe that their trance was extremely light or that they had not been hypnotically affected, the suggestions which have been made to them in most cases will exercise influence, unless the person deliberately sets out to prove that the suggestions will not work.


Some people will, on waking, insist that they have not been hypnotized. This attitude may be maintained even though it may be demonstrated to the person that they cannot open their eyes or pull both hands apart, or whatever challenge is put to them. Even then, some people will insist that despite this evidence, they could have opened their eyes or pulled their hands apart, if they had wished to do so.


The majority of people who insist that they have only experienced a light trance or not at all should realize that it is perfectly normal that they should hear external noises and maintain rapport with the hypnotist and remember everything that went on. In other words, on awakening, you should feel no different than you did before being hypnotized, but the effects will be there. To quote the June 1977 issue of "Psychology Today":


People who are hypnotized for the first time are frequently disappointed to find that they experience nothing overwhelming. They feel mildly relaxed but they remain in touch with reality and in control of their thoughts. They may discover that the hypnotist's suggestions are quite resistable. Contrary to what most people believe, a person under hypnosis need not fall asleep, or lose contact with his surroundings or reinquish his will. He is often able to recall everything that happened during the trance and will act perfectly normal.


Physicians, Psychologists, and Hypnotherapists have used hypnosis as a valuable tool in solving such problems as sleep disturbance, concentration and memory, fears and phobias, stuttering and control of pain and asthma. Hypnosis has also been helpful in treating smoking, overeating, alcholism, bust development, skin conditions such as acne and warts, and so on.


Hypnosis is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Remember, the hypnotherapist needs your cooperation, as all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. All the hypnotherapist does is guide you into it.

History of Hypnosis 

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), an Austrian physician, is widely acknowledged as the 'Father of Hypnosis'. He believed that there was a quasi-magnetic fluid in the very air we breathe and that the bodys' nerves somehow absorbed this fluid. As a doctor, his main concern was how to effectively treat his patients, and he considered disease to be caused via a blockage of the circulation of this magnetic fluid in the blood and the nervous system. Curing disease would, in his view, involve correcting the circulation of this liquid. 


Initially, he used a magnet, and later his hand, which was passed over the diseased body in an attempt to unblock the magnetic flow. The hand (and later the eyes) was believed to unblock the fluid by increasing its amount and flow as his hand passed over the affected area. The term 'animal magnetism' was born, and the procedure referred to as Mesmerism. 


The Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825), a pupil of Mesmers, used 'animal magnetism' on a young peasant who entered into a state of sleep while still being able to communicate with Puysegur and respond to his suggestions. When the peasant 'awoke' he could remember nothing of what had occurred. Puysegur thought that the will of the person and the operators' actions were important factors in the success or failure of the 'magnetism', in other words psychological influences were extremely important in the whole process. 


John Elliotson (1791-1868), an English physician holding a chair at University College London was disbarred from the medical profession as a direct result of his demonstrations of animal magnetism, while James Esdaile, a surgeon was operating on his patients using 'mesmeric sleep' as his anesthetic of choice in the 1840s. The medical profession was therefore divided on its opinion of the usefulness of mesmerism. 


It wasn't until 1843 that the terms 'hypnotism' and 'hypnosis' were coined by James Braid (1795-1860), a Scottish surgeon working in Manchester. He found that some experimental subjects could go into a trance if they simply fixated their eyes on a bright object, like a silver watch. 


He believed that some sort of neurophysiological process was involved and that hypnosis was very useful in disorders where no organic origin to the problem could be identified (e.g. headaches, skin problems etc.) He showed that a single stimulus (e.g. a word or an object) was enough to re-hypnotize his subjects. No-one knew how the process of hypnosis 'worked', though there were several theories put forward: 


1. Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), a leading neurologist of his day and head of the neurological clinic at the famous Saltpetiere in Paris, used hypnosis to treat hysterics. He concluded that hypnosis was an induced seizure when his hysteric patients showed epileptic-like symptoms when they were in a trance. 


2. Hippolyte Bernheim (1837-1919), a professor of medicine at the University of Nancy regarded hypnosis as a special form of sleeping where the subject's attention is focused upon the suggestions made by the hypnotist. He therefore emphasized the psychological nature of the process of hypnosis. 


3. By the 1920s, hypnosis became the focus of experimental investigation by psychologists like Clark L. Hull (1884-1952), who demystified hypnosis saying that it was essentially a normal part of human nature (1933). The important factor was the subject's imagination - some people were more responsive or suggestible' than others to hypnosis. 




Support for the teaching of the therapeutic use of hypnosis in medicine finally came in 1955 from the British Medical Association, who was closely followed in 1958 by the American Medical Association. Today, an International Society of Hypnosis coordinates and assesses standards and practices of professional hypnotists across the world. Hypnosis is currently used in dentistry, medicine and psychology and has proved helpful if used alongside more conventional treatments and therapies. 


It has received a 'bad press' of late, mainly due to the unscrupulous practices of some stage hypnotists, but its professional use in treating both physical and mental disorders continues to thrive. Now it is generally seen as a form of 'relaxation', and it is possible to teach individuals how to hypnotize themselves (via progressive relaxation techniques). It is widely used in the treatment of addictions (e.g. in aiding smoking cessation), but should always be conducted by a professional in a controlled setting. 


Misuse of hypnosis can have dire consequences, and may be especially harmful in the treatment of people who were sexually abused as children (as is the case in False Memory Syndrome). Care should always be taken when hypnosis is to be employed and patients should be 'brought out' of the hypnotic trance before they leave the clinic. Historically, the use of 'trances' is much older than Mesmers' findings but it was the Austrian physician who first brought the process to the attention of the medical community.

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