In this essay I am going to look at what hypnosis is. I will look at the definition of the word hypnosis and how it relates to the practice of hypnotherapy. I will then go on to look at the history, paying particular attention to Franz Mesmer and James Braid. We will look at the difference between hypnosis and meditation and the common myths surrounding hypnosis. And also the physical effects hypnosis can have on patients.
Hypnosis comes from the Greek word “Hypnos” which means “to sleep.” Hypnosis is a state of relaxation where the state of awareness is elevated by suggestion. Forms of hypnosis have been used as long ago as forth century BC, with evidence to support it being used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
We will now look at Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815) who was born in Iznang, Germany. Mesmer originally studied medicine, where he published his doctoral, “On the influence of the planets on the Human Body.” The dissertation discussed the relationship between the human body and disease in relation to the moon and planets. Although this was later thought to be plagiarised from the work of Richard Mead (1673 – 1754)
In 1768 Mesmer married wealthy widow Anna Maria Von Posch and moved to Vienna, where he began his work on what he would later call “animal magnetism.”
“Mesmer had always been convinced that he had more magnetic power than most people, and so could work the cures better”
(Waterfield, 2004: 88)
Mesmer’s work with Franziska Osterlin in 1774, involved her swallowing iron and then placing magnets on the different parts of her body. The patient claimed to feel fluid flowing through her body and several hours later her symptoms had gone. Mesmer however did not believe that this was due to the magnets alone and that it was the “animal magnetism” that had in fact relieved her of her symptoms.
By 1776 Mesmer was surrounded by a scandal after he attempted to restore the vision of Maria Theresia Paradis, a musician who had been blind since birth. Mesmer attempted to restore the musicians sight but subsequently she lost all ability to play the piano and was taken away by her parents and Mesmer was then under speculation of using magic. Mesmer then left Vienna and moved to Paris where he started a medical practice. Whilst in Paris Mesmer worked with individuals and groups, by 1780 Mesmer had too many patients and therefore used a treatment called “baquet” where he would treat up to 20 people at a time.
In 1784 and at the request of King Louis XVI a series of experiments were conducted by members of the Faculty of medicine to distinguish if Mesmer had in fact discovered a new “physical” fluid. However there was no evidence to prove this and that it was in fact down to the imagination. Mesmer died in 1815 of a stoke and in his last 20 years no one knows of any further work that Mesmer may have done.
Alexandre Bertrand (1795 – 1831) work was of huge significance to the history of hypnosis. He did not agree with Mesmer’s theory of a mystical fluid and believed that it was the art of suggestion.
James Braid (1795 – 1860) began working on his own method of mesmerisation after witnessing a demonstration which showed subjects going into a physical state quite different to their normal behaviour. After much work Braid changed his theory of it being a sleep-based physiological theory to a psychological theory. Braid believed that hypnotism was a nervous sleep which could be inflicted by staring at a bright object, although much later Braid stated that only a small minority could be affected (only 10%.) Braid used the word “hypnosis” which led to much confusion as people believe that they would in fact be asleep, Braid did try and later re-name this to “monoeidism” but people continued to use the word hypnosis, which is what it is still referred to today. Later Braid stopped using bright objects after realising that he could achieve the same outcome simply by talking to his patients with suggestion.
“He distinguished the shallow and deep phrases or layers of the trance states; the first he called ‘sub-hypnotic’ and claimed that it was this that the electro-biologists could produce; the second he called the ‘double conscious’, because he found his subjects to be dissociated (as we would now say) from their normal states.”
(Waterfield, 2004: 203)
A strong follower of Braids work was Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault (1823 – 1904) who was the founder of the Nancy School, also known as the “Suggestion School” believed that the verbal suggestion was a powerful tool in successfully treating medical conditions and believed that everyone could be hypnotized. Due to the controversy surrounding hypnosis and the difficulty in obtaining consent from his patients Liebeault gave his patients a choice. They could either pay for the traditional treatment or consent to hypnotherapy which they could get for free, due to most of Liebeault’s patients being poor many agreed to hypnosis, allowing Liebeault to continue to develop hypnosis.
Many people have the incorrect belief that meditation and hypnosis are in fact the same thing; however it is important to distinguish the differences. Whilst they do share similar techniques such as visualisation and breathing, meditation is used to free the mind from conscious thought, whereas hypnotherapy is used for a specific outcome. Therefore whilst meditation and hypnotherapy both aim to relax the patient, hypnotherapy will then lead the patient through therapeutic suggestions. This technique can then be used to change the sub-conscious mind, e.g. telling a person who wants to quit smoking that smoking is bad for them. Hypnotherapy is a tool that can be used to deliver messages to the sub-conscious mind.
There has been much research done on the physical aspects of hypnosis. A number of scientists who have done such research on this subject believe that there are no physical differences to being under hypnosis and those who are not. These scientists state that although the heart rate who slower this was the same for those who were in a relaxed state. However what has been found to be different is the brain activity. Electroencephalographs or EGG’s are used to measure a person’s electrical brain activity, the first recorded was in 1929 by Hans Barger. Brain waves look consistently different in people who as awake compare to those who are asleep, and people who are relaxed compare to those who are at full alert. Neurologists believe that the brain has two sides, the right side controls a person’s creativity and the left is the logical control centre. Whilst under hypnosis, scientists have found that the left side of the brain has a reduced level of activity. There are four types of brain waves, beta, alpha, theta and delta.
Beta brain waves are when a person is awake and fully conscious. Like I am now whilst writing this, I am fully alert and my conscious mind is in control.
Alpha brain waves are what everyone has throughout the day. This is when a person day dreams or closes their eyes to relax. In alpha the subconscious mind is being more dominant over the conscious mind. A person is in a light trance, it is in this state that hypnotic suggestion can have effective results.
Theta brain waves can be present when meditating, dreaming or being “in the zone.” The subconscious mind is totally in control. A hypnotherapist can take you to past experiences and where emotions can be found. Theta brain waves can also be present when doing tasks that a person does often. Such as driving home from work, it’s a journey that you are used to and know the roads well, but a person can bring themselves out of theta in these situations is order to “drive carefully.” It is quite common when going into theta on a familiar drive that you can’t actually remember part of the journey.
Delta brain waves are when we go into our subconscious and no other brain waves are present. Delta is what we experience when we are asleep. Most people do not fall asleep when they are under hypnosis, if this does happen then the client can come back into theta state where they can follow the suggestions given by hypnotherapist. If a client stays in delta then suggestion will not work and it will not be effective in the subconscious mind.
There are many myths surrounding hypnosis, which still leads people to be dismissive of this form of therapy. This includes the popular belief that hypnotists have some sort of “Special Powers” and that they can use these powers to get their patients to do silly things, e.g. cluck like a chicken every time the door bell rings or to say or do something that they do not wish to do. This is not the case and everyone under hypnosis is in control and will not do anything they do not wish to do. If you are under hypnosis and someone tells you to do something that you do not wish to do you simply will not do it and it most cases it will actually bring you out of the hypnotic state. Another myth is that people who have hypnosis are weak minded, it is true that the best patients are those that have a creative imagination and are open to the idea of hypnosis will go into the relaxed state easier and deeper but it is true that everyone is suggestible and therefore it is not that it will only work on weak minded people. It is also a common belief that hypnosis can make a person physically stronger or a better athlete. However hypnosis can only enhance a person’s existing physical capabilities. There are many more myths surrounding hypnosis which still leave people reluctant to try this form of therapy, these myths will only disperse once people fully understand what hypnosis is.