Hyponsis Abstract This paper focuses on the history and science of hypnosis. The introduction discusses the origins of hypnosis that date back to pre-historic times and the first people to employ hypnotic-like methods to alter or change human behavior using the power of suggestion. A background and study of Franz Anton Mesmer, the man who most people associate with the beginning of hypnosis, is elaborated on throughout this paper. I will also discuss what hypnosis is, how it is used to explain human experiences, and how research does or does not support the theory of hypnosis. I will also give examples of how hypnosis is applied, why it’s used, and how it has been viewed in the past and present times.
The History and Science of Hypnosis Introduction A brief history of the concept of hypnosis The science of hypnosis, remote from being a practice of modern times, is one that has been studied and pondered over since pre-historic times. The employment of hypnotic-like methods to alter human behavior using the power of suggestion and repetitious incentives to rouse the mind or the spirits were used by numerous ancient civilizations (Baker, 1990, p. 51). These methods were usually associated with a confidence in magic and the occult, and the belief that these procedures were beyond human understanding. According to Baker (1990), priest-physicians of ancient Egypt induced sleep-like states in other people. This practice was also prominent in the sleep temples of classical Greece.
In this case, worshippers attempted to conjure Hypnos, the god of sleep, who it was believed brought them prophetic dreams. Another example of the use of hypnotic-like methods dates back to 2600 BC in China, where Wang Tai, the father of Chinese Medicine, wrote of a “medical procedure that involved using incantations and mysterious passes of the hands over the patient that leaves no doubt about its hypnotic nature (Baker, 1990, p. 51). According to Baker (1990), the use of hypnotic-like techniques and procedures were mentioned in the Hindu Vera, written about 1500 BC, and the Ebers papyrus, which is known to be over 3,000 years old, narrates an expressive method extremely similar to the techniques modern hypnotherapists practice today. Although the practice of hypnosis appears to have begun during these pre-historic times, and there are many more accounts similar to the latter, the fact is that these people of different lands, thousands of years ago, may have known about the strange powers of hypnosis; that it appeared to be magic and it helped cure the sick, but these ancient people knew little about what hypnosis really was (Kennedy, 1979, p. 22) Attempts to provide scientific explanations for the existence and the cure of diseases began in Europe during the 16th century.
Up until this time, the causes and cures for diseases were attributed to supernatural or metaphysical causes. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a physician and alchemist, who was born in Switzerland, was among the first theorists to offer such a scientific explanation. He suggested the idea that magnets and the heavenly bodies-the sun, moon, and stars-possessed healing effects that could be used on the human body (Baker, 1990, p. 53). From this time forward, a number of similar notions motivated the study of physicians, astronomers, physicists, and healers of the sick. Gul Maxwell, a Scottish physician, proposed the idea that a universal and vital force adversely influenced and affected humans, in 1679.
The efforts and studies of Maxwell impacted Richard Mead, an 18th century English physician, and led him to begin studies dealing with the universality of life. Around 1771, Maximillian Hell, who was a Viennese Jesuit, became known for cures that he attained by applying a steel plate to the bodies of people who were sick or diseased. In 1774, Hell met a Viennese physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, and demonstrated to him the healing powers of his magnetized steel poles (Baker, 1990, p. 53). Given all of this information, it is a mystery tome that the history of hypnosis is often associated with Mesmer, and that it is he who is often considered when the beginning of hypnosis is reflected. However, Mesmer did contribute to the further developments and understanding of hypnosis.
In the late 1700’s, Mesmer began using a new kind of medical treatment in Vienna, Austria. “With it, Dr. Franz Mesmer was said to be curing patients doctors called ‘incurable’. Using no medicine, Franz Mesmer was curing these people with magnets” (Kennedy, 1979, p. 25).
It is true that Mesmer was thought to have cured numerous patients through “mesmerism” and “animal magnetism”, but the validity of these claims were uncertain. Mesmer developed the theory “animal magnetism”, and surmised that a universal magnetic fluid existed in all “objects that produced disease when it was out of balance in the human body” (Baker, 1990, p. 53). As a result of this theory and the belief Mesmer had in it, he began to cultivate techniques that he thought would re-establish the equilibrium of the magnetic fluid, and as a result, diseases would be cured. Mesmer based his theories and prospects on his belief that perfect health was dependent upon an individual maintaining a right relationship with the heavenly bodies. Mesmer became convinced that the same powers that held the sun and moon and planets in place regulated human health.
When a magnet was brought into contact with a patient, the subtle and mysterious fluid exuded by the magnet entered the body of the patient and healed him of his complaint. “Animal magnetism” was the name Mesmer gave this fluid (Baker, 1990). The execution of Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” made him famous. He called his way of curing people with this method “mesmerism” (Kennedy, 1979, p. 28).
He passed long iron rods and magnets over the bodies of sick patients to enhance the balance of their fluids. Now that we have a basic understanding of where hypnosis came from and how it transcended into time, I will explain the science of hypnosis. I will talk about how Mesmer applied “animal magnetism” in specific cases, and why his theories were refuted by many scientific and medical communities. Then, I will discuss what hypnosis really is, and how it is used to explain human experiences and what they mean. How research supports or refutes such theories will also be discussed.
The Basic Nature of Hypnotism For a period of about 5 years, animal magnetism was very popular in Paris around 1778. Hundreds of the sick were treated at the clinic that Mesmer and his friend founded in Rue Montmartre, a clinic that was founded with Queen Marie Antoinette’s permission (Baker, 1990, p. 56) In curing his patients, Mesmer walked around them touching each one with a wand, advocating them to yield themselves to the magnetic fluids about. He told them that they could only be cured if they were able to focus on the heavenly powers that existed within their sick bodies. He pressed his clients to “reach further into your mind,” (cited in Baker, 1990, p. 56).
He drove these people to reach what Mesmer called “a grand crisis”, known today as a grand mal convulsive seizure. Mesmer reported that this grand crisis was the reason many of his clients were cured. According to Thornton (1976), the origin of the behavior that is now attributed to hypnosis resulted from the misdiagnosis of the ancient malady epilepsy. Trying to relate Mesmer’s convulsing patients with the characteristics of hypnosis; relaxation and calamity perplexed many. Many did not see Mesmer’s patients as experiencing the same things that hypnosis would evoke from a patient. How did Mesmer’s writhing, convulsing patients come to be classified alongside subjects responding to suggestions for body sway and arm levitation, lifting weights, experiencing hallucinations, committing antisocial acts, falling into a state of profound relaxation and so on (Wagstaff, 1981)? Thornton (1976) concluded that in most cases that dealt with diseases of the nervous system, Mesmer was treating epilepsy.
He believed this to be true because the techniques that Mesmer used to bring about the “grand crisis” are the same techniques that are known to produce epileptic convulsions. “The history of magnetism, from which hypnosis arose, is a comedy of errors (Thornton, 1976, p. 43). It is sad that this comedy of errors occurred because Mesmerists had only a rudimentary understanding of the nervous system. We now have a term “hypnosis” which relates to mimicking of these clinical symptoms, and the bizarre range of extrapolations and exaggerated effects that accompanied and developed from them, by normal people (i.e., non-sufferers from pathological illnesses such as epilepsy). In blunt terms, when “normal” subjects are given modern hypnosis scales they are being asked to perform, to the best of their ability, what really amounts to a parody of epileptic symptoms (Wagstaff, 1981, p.218). Although Mesmer’s animal magnetism was discredited, Mesmer’s role was essential in the history of hypnotism, since it was he who initiated the movement that was taken up later and then modified by others. What Hypnosis Is, What Hypnosis Is Not Today, many medical authorities are convinced that there is no such state of altered consciousness and that what we term hypnosis is in fact a fascinatingly complex combination of social compliance, relaxation, and suggestibility that can account for many esoteric behavioral manifestations (Baker, 1990). Suggestion is the key to hypnosis, and basically the only tool a clinician has to work with when he/she uses hypnosis (Baker, 1990, p.
18). Basically, hypnosis has been centered around the employment of suggestions. “Hypnosis”, as defined by both Hull and Weitzenhoffer, is a state of enhanced suggestibility (Baker, 1990, p. 122). According to Sheehan (1979), responsiveness to hypnosis seems to be related to a person’s ability to use his imagination and fantasize, and “hypnotic …