Long ago and far, far away… all the best stories begin in this way, don't they? The story of hypnosis is one that reaches back through millennia and is rich in the detail of how modern day hypnosis came to its genesis. Let's begin, in Ancient Egypt...
The highly elaborate stone carvings of the ancient world offer up clear, pictorial evidence that, as early as 1000 BCE, ‘sleep temples’ provided sanctuary for healing. The temple priests used incantations to elicit altered states in the sick and mentally needy, restoring them back to health. Sanskrit writings also tell us of similar ‘healing temples’ in India. Europe soon followed and such temples flourished during the period of the Roman Empire and so it began.
It was during the Middle Ages that the concept of ‘suggestion healing’ became synonymous with tales of sorcerers and the dark arts. It was at this time that many of the misconceptions about hypnosis, trance and suggestion you will hear today, were formed. Enter Franz Anton Mesmer in the year 1725. You will have heard the term, to be 'mesmerised' many times, everybody has, haven't you?
It was Mesmer, a medical doctor, who really brought the healing power of the human body into the public eye. Mesmer coined the term ‘animal magnetism’, referring to the 'magnetic' energy which he observed to be active within the physiology of his patients and which could be manipulated to cause healing. Mesmer left his home in Vienna and moved to Paris and during the late 1700’s his client list was the who’s who of French aristocracy. However, Mesmer’s glory days were to come to an abrupt end when the medical community began to challenge his methods. After all, he was having outstanding success, healing many patients, all without the use of drugs! How dare he!
A Board of Enquiry was convened, the most notable contributors being the chemist Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin and an expert in pain control named Guillotin (Yes, really!). The Board censured and discredited Mesmer’s work, saying 'there was nothing they could see' that would cause the miraculous healing they observed therefore, it couldn't be real. Mesmer returned to Vienna to practice out of the public eye. From 1795 until 1985, the idea of utilising energy as a conduit for healing was discarded by western medicine and psychology. A great loss.
Now let's jump forward in time to the year 1840 and turn our attention to a Scottish physician named James Braid who became interested in the techniques now known as 'Mesmerism'. He initiated a research study at the University of Manchester where he studied and the results surprised and delighted him in equal measure. He noticed that eye fixation and pre-framing were important elements in trance induction and he coined the phrase ‘hypnosis’ for the first time. The word ‘hypnosis’ is derived from the Greek ‘hypnos’, meaning sleep. Could he have imagined it would still be used in the 21st Century?
Around the same time, while working in India, another British physician, Dr. James Esdaile, began to utilise mesmeric practice to induce hypnotic anaesthesia, with outstanding success. The Indian Government were so impressed by his results that they funded an entire hospital just for his practise. He carried out many complex surgeries, all without the costly chemical anaesthesia. The patients felt no pain during their procedures, their post-operative recovery was rapid and their healing time was significantly reduced when compared to the patients who had received chemical anaesthesia.
It's now 1864 and two medical doctors named Liebault and Bernheim established the Nancy School of Hypnosis in the city of Nancy, France. A young Sigmund Freud studied at the Nancy School for a while. Hypnotic practice wasn't easy for Freud, owing to his false teeth! it wasn't easy for him to look directly at his patient and speak clearly as his ill-fitting teeth rattled in his mouth. He eventually abandoned Hypnosis for his new ‘talking therapy’ where he could sit with his back to the patient! This later became what we know today as psychoanalysis.
In 1958, the American Medical Association approved the therapeutic use of Hypnosis. This was a massive turning point as Hypnosis once again entered into the world of science as a serious addition to the healing process.
With such a rich and colourful history, how is it that Hypnosis is still so widely misconceived in the year 2023? After all, the history is one of centuries of scientific research in the medical community, hypnosis is science driven! The distinction between what we see on the stage and the TV and true Hypnotherapy to enable personal change and transformation with professional, experienced and well qualified Hypnotherapists is still very blurred. Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions, I know you will have some of them yourself and it's a good thing to allow new learnings to take shape.
Hypnosis is the domain of the weak-minded and gullible. The truth is that the most intelligent people with strong imaginations and a flair for the creative are usually the best hypnotic subjects. They are able to wilfully suspend their disbelief and break through the critical faculty which separates the conscious and the unconscious mind.
Hypnosis means letting go of personal power and revealing secrets. Not so, whilst experiencing any level of hypnotic trance you are actually more aware than in your normal waking state and are able to select information accordingly. Your unconscious mind becomes acutely focussed on learning and initiating the required personal change. It hears what it wants to hear and sees what it wants to see in a highly selective manner.
Hypnosis represents a risk of humiliation. We’ve all heard about or been witness to stage hypnosis. A group of very willing individuals submit to hypnotic trance in order to entertain the audience. The individuals who volunteer their involvement are very carefully selected and are completely willing to do something silly in the name of entertainment. Those who are not are quickly identified and sent back to their seats. Stage hypnotists are very skilled at what they do and the best are extremely proficient at initiating rapid inductions. Stage hypnotism is entertainment and we should view it as such. The truth is that your unconscious mind is your moral compass and if you object to any suggestion, you will choose to ignore it and not comply.
Hypnosis means a loss of control. During an Hypnotic trance, you are totally in control and fully aware of yourself and your environment. In fact, your senses become heightened and attuned to everything that happens around you. You can stop the trance at any time of your choosing, you are totally in control.
Hypnosis is something to fear. The history of hypnosis has clearly demonstrated why there remains a residual fear of hypnosis and its long ago association with ‘the dark side’. The truth and reality is that the hypnotic state is a normal, natural, relaxed state and is experienced on a daily basis. For example, the driving trance. Every driver, at some time has missed their turning or made a journey without being able to remember the entire drive. This is an example of a light trance state. If an emergency occurred whilst in this state, the unconscious mind would react immediately to keep you safe, as the awareness remains heightened and alert. What about the TV trance, when you have been so involved in a programme, that you have been unaware of someone talking to you? We all enter into a light trance every day, it’s a completely natural state.
Hypnosis means sleep. The only feeling associated with hypnosis which is different from the normal, waking state is one of complete relaxation. Whilst it is true that people who respond really well to hypnosis and are able to reach really deep states of trance may drop off into an energising and revitalising sleep, the general experience is of deep relaxation. Hypnosis is really not about becoming ‘zoned out’ or unaware. As we have already discussed, trance represents a heightened state of awareness. There is also a misconception that there may be an inability to awaken from trance. Remember, hypnosis is not sleep and you can come out of the hypnotic state at any time.
Hypnosis is a gimmick and has no real benefits for personal change. Hypnosis is a wilful suspension of disbelief and a vehicle for communication with the unconscious mind. Once great communication links have been forged with the unconscious mind, change becomes easy. Any unwanted and unhelpful states, behaviours or habits can be modified or removed easily and effortlessly, through clear communication with the unconscious mind.
Hypnotists are manipulative. This assumption is a non-truth because of the evidence that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, you just follow instructions offered to you by the hypnotherapist. The hypnotic state is about learning to go into the hypnotic state. Those who boast that “I can’t be hypnotised” are absolutely right. Hypnotic trance is something that you choose for yourself. Nobody can force hypnosis on you, you have to choose to accept it. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.
Hypnosis is brain washing. Brain washing is a very specific 5 step process, definitely not achievable with hypnosis. Firstly, a person is removed from their normal environment, then they are deprived of their senses. They are punished when they disagree and rewarded when they agree and chemical interventions are employed. Definitely nothing to do with hypnosis!
So, your misconceptions allayed, hypnosis is an amazing experience for total relaxation and for enabling incredible transformative personal change and whole body health. It is a process which is self-initiated, self-controlled and certainly not to be feared. Experience it for yourself. Choose a well qualified and experienced hypnotherapist and ask to see their Ethical Code. Then relax and enjoy.
Learning the art and science of Hypnosis is a deeply rewarding experience. You can become a ABH accredited Practitioner of Hypnosis as part of our Enhanced NLP Coach Practitioner Certification Training.
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