Healing a patient who is in a state of trance is one of the oldest therapeutic arts. Ancient cultures all around the world revered individuals deemed to be in contact with supernatural powers and apparently able to use such contacts to cure the sick and distressed while these people were in a state resembling sleep. The supposed connection with the supernatural powers lies behind many of the prejudices and fears about hypnosis that still exist: the vestigial terror, effectively, of possession by some other entity. But the true value of hypnosis – that it is a state that enables inner connections to be made – has at last begun to be universally accepted.
How Hypnotherapy Began
The Austrian Anton Mesmer tried in the 18th century to harness mental energy – known at the time as “animal magnetism” – to effect cures. His results were variable, but he developed a ritual around his treatment which genuinely hypnotized those who came to him for help. His “mesmerizing” methods received scientific attention throughout the 1800s. When, in 1841, the Scotsman Dr. James Braid saw a demonstration he began to develop his own theories and techniques. He demonstrated that a trance, for which he coined the term “hypnosis,” could be induced very simply, and that hypnotized subjects could not be made to act against their will. The medical profession then began to make some use of hypnosis, particularl, anesthesia during surgery.
By 1900 Dr. Pierre Janet in France had com believe that the effects of hypnosis were partly due to a split in the mind between the conscious and unconscious. He concluded (as Freud did) that new symptoms had a hidden meaning, originating in the unconscious, which could be reached through hypnosis.
Janet’s experiments prompted many medical associations, including the British Medical Association (BMA), to investigate further. Freud had translated and studied most of the French works, but he was unskilled inducing hypnosis himself and dropped it from his psychoanalytical ideology. Most psychoanalysts followed suit, and what was once considered to be a burgeoning and promising field became a therapy for cranks. It wasn’t until the 1950s that its use in mainstream medicine and psychotherapy was accepted. In 1958, the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a useful tool in medicine. Today, in the United States and Britain it has been used to improve physical and mental health at all levels. People suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses can find relief from both the pain and anxiety, as well as other physical symptoms, caused by their condition. Dentists and dental therapists use hypnotheral to enable patients to overcome the common phobia of dentists and allow them to experience virtually pain free treatment.
Many 20th-century scientists have struggled to explain hypnotherapy and how it works. It is one of the few therapies taught in conventional medical school and it is widely considered to be a useful method of encouraging healing and altering behavioral states. From the study of hypnosis has come a host of other therapies, including biofeedback, autogenic training, and relaxation and meditation. Many people now use self-hypnosis techniques to manage stress, pain, anxiety, and conditions such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and addictions.
Hypnotherapy still suffers from a tarnished reputation, due to the continuing tradition of using hypnosis on the stage for its entertainment value (indeed in the wrong hands the therapy can be dangerous), despite the fact that the therapy has been used successfully for generations and is now one of the most scientifically endorsed complementary therapies.