Hypnosis, what is it and what is it not? A brief history and explanation.
Hypnotherapy has been around for hundreds of years; Franz Mesmer was one of the first to create a lot of notice for what hypnotherapy could do. This was back around 1770. It was from Franz Mesmer the word mesmerised was born.
Franz would travel around doing what he called animal magnetism; he believed erroneously that the changes he would help create in people was through a change in magnetic forces, rather than through the power of suggestion. This was proven incorrect by a team of experts including Benjamin Franklin, who is better known for his achievements in what is now the United States of America.
This for a while led to a throwing a baby out with the bathwater attitude towards the positive effects of suggestions, as although Mesmer theory of why what he did worked was disproved, his results spoke for themselves and many thousands of people benefitted, still with the disproval of Mesmer’s theory for a while, mesmerism fell out of favour.
James Braid a Scottish surgeon coined the term hypnotism, meaning sleep of the nerves. Braid fiercely opposed the view of the Mesmerists who claimed it came from as aforementioned some form of animal magnetism. Instead, he established his theory in well-established schools of physiology and psychology.
He theorised that concentrated ocular fixation fatigued part of the brain and caused neuro-hypnosis. He realised that hypnotism was not a type of sleep but intense focus; he tried to change the name and term to monoideism (single thought-ism). But the term hypnosis and hypnotism have persisted. This has, of course, led to misconceptions even to this day.
Many doctors and senior medical professionals continued to use and build upon the acceptance of hypnotism for help with a variety of medical issues from anxiety, pain relief and even as an alternative to chemical anaesthesia.
One of the biggest contributors to modern hypnotherapy is undoubtedly Dave Elman. Dave Elman taught more dentists and physicians than anybody else during and before his lifetimes in America. He also introduced rapid and instant hypnotic induction techniques in to the field of hypnotism. Elman techniques and training are still available and done to this day by his son Larry Elman.
Last but not least another notable figure in hypnotherapy is Milton Erikson. A prominent American psychologist and psychiatrist, he is commonly known as the father of hypnotherapy. He fathered indirect suggestion as he discovered it could affect positive changes in his patient’s lives. Where hypnotism had traditionally been authoritative, Eriksonian approach was permissive. So for weight loss for example where a direct suggestion would be “you will lose weight” an Eriksonian approach would be something along the lines of “let’s discuss alternatives to eating”.
Erikson had such a massive effect that even authoritative hypnotists still use indirect methods and many hypnotherapists like myself use a meta model of hypnotherapy, taking a view that all these great hypnotherapists through history have something to offer and take from many schools of hypnotherapy, to tailor their approach to the needs of the client in front of them.
So what is hypnosis and what is not hypnosis? There has been a lot of debate on this subject and a lot of nonsense. To begin with I’ll explain the science and end with my opinion on the matter. Hypnosis is a state of focus, when measured with an EEG (Electroencephalogram) which records brain activity. For simplicity sakes during normal waking state our brainwave pattern is called Beta, this is fast activity in the brain, when we go into hypnosis our brain wave pattern slows and changes to either alpha or theta. You might think that these states are unique in hypnosis, but this is far from the truth and we all go in and out of these states every day, without the need of hypnosis.
So how and why do we reach these states and why do hypnotherapists want to guide us to them? Well as aforementioned hypnosis is a state of focus and the reason for that being when we focus on one or two things intently the normal background ‘noise’ of our mind takes a back seat. This means that we tune out to our usual activity of did I feed the cat? Did I send that email at work? What shall I make the kids for tea and all the other thousands of things that go through our mind on a daily basis.
We do this naturally every day, from being engrossed in a good book, being mesmerised (there is that word again) by our favourite TV program and even when we drive on a well-known route and don’t remember much of the journey from A to B and in hundreds of other situations.
Often knowing that hypnosis is a state you have been in thousands of times without even thinking about it or realising, puts people at ease and helps demystify some of the nonsense and lies that you see, usually for entertainment in TV programs and films where hypnosis takes on magical properties.
This also easily debunks the myth that hypnosis is mind control, as if that was the case you would buy a lot more products from TV adverts and bank robbers would be using it, why carry a gun if it was possible to just walk in and give the right hypnotic suggestion and the clerk would hand over all the cash. This is, of course, is total nonsense and hypnosis can’t do that.
So why do hypnotherapists want to get you into these different brainwave states? What’s the point? Hypnotherapists believe as do some psychologists, doctors, psychiatrists and other medical professions that the mind is made up of several parts. Even Freud created his own theories on this decade’s ago with the ID, Ego and Super Ego model.
Because of this hypnotherapists guide their clients in to these altered brainwave states because through education and experience they have learnt that in these states the hypercritical conscious mind which is brilliant for analytical tasks but rather poor at emotional understanding takes a back seat, it is of course still active, but to use a metaphor it’s just taking a little siesta. This allows the subconscious; some hypnotherapists call it the unconscious or non-conscious mind, the part that deals with our emotional state to be more directly affected by suggestion.
It is in this state that a skilled hypnotherapist applies the suggestions and metaphors to assist their client to achieve their personal goals. This is also I believe why it is so effective at rapid change work compared to other talking therapies. We know for instance in the case of arachnophobia (fear of spiders) simply saying that UK spiders are not dangerous or venomous to humans will not take away that fear of spiders. But a skilled hypnotherapist can help the client remove that fear, even in as little as a single session.
However, should a hypnotherapist give a suggestion their client did not agree with or find any moral objection with, they still have conscious control and can reject the suggestion, remember it is called a hypnotic suggestion, not a hypnotic command. They would also naturally find their mind becoming more active and going out of the more relaxed brainwave states associated with hypnosis back into the Beta brainwave state.
This makes hypnotherapy a safe talking therapy that in properly trained hands allows its practitioners to help their clients make positive and powerful changes in their client’s life. Usually, these changes happen in less than five sessions and sometimes in as little as one session. However as per every talking therapy, it is an alliance between the therapist and their client, the client has to be ready and willing to change and hypnotherapy cannot do it all by itself, again this is because it is not mind control. Without the clients own effort and involvement in the process the chances of success are reduced.
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