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Hypnosis dates right back to the early ages of civilisation. In ancient times, people used it for healing purposes, especially in religious ceremonies. For example, shamans entered in a process of strong visualisation and suggestion during which they used their will to heal the sick person.
In the 1600’s, farmers experimented with ‘animal hypnosis’ and calmed chickens hypnotically using a variety of different methods. In the 1800’s people ‘hypnotised’ birds, rabbits, frogs and other animals.
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 - 1815)
Austrian doctor, Franz Anton Mesmer started the theory of ‘animal magnetism’ and is acknowledged as the ‘Father of Hypnosis’. He believed that there was a quasi-magnetic in the air and that a ‘cosmic fluid’ could be stored in inanimate objects such as magnets. He believed that this could be transferred to patients to cure their illness. He cured a 29 year old woman, who suffered from a ‘convulsive malady’. During one of the woman’s attacks, Mesmer applied three magnets to the patient’s stomach & legs while she concentrated on the positive effects of the ‘cosmic fluid’. Her symptoms subsided when Mesmer gave her this treatment. He believed that it was by restoring the ‘cosmic fluid’ and energy flow in his patient’s body that she regained her health. Mesmer had great success treating thousands of people with ‘animal magnetism’ and the process referred to as ‘mesmerism’.
Marquis de Puysegur (1751 - 1825)
The Marquis de Puysegur, a pupil of Mesmer, used 'animal magnetism' on a young peasant who entered into a state of sleep. During the process, Puysegur noticed that the patient could still communicate with him and respond to his suggestions, but that when the peasant 'awoke' he could remember nothing of what had occurred.
Puysegur thought that the will of the person and the operators' actions were important factors in the success or failure of the 'magnetism', in other words psychological influences were extremely important in the whole process.
John Elliotson (1791 - 1868)
Elliotson is best known for the fact that in 1846, he established the first journal dealing with hypnotism. It was called Zoist, and complete copies of the journal are still obtainable from some sources. He introduced the stethoscope into England together with the methods of examining the heart and lungs. These are still used to this day. Elliotson was excellent in the field of child hypnosis, and worked with many children and childhood diseases, such as St. Vitus Dance, Chorea, tics, and other maladies.
James Braid (1795-1860)
The work of James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, provides the foundation of modern hypnosis.
Braid gave mesmerism a scientific explanation and caused a paradigm shift in understanding by saying that hypnosis was nothing to do with an invisible life force as had previously been believed, but was simply the result of suggestion.
Braid thought that the increase in suggestibility was due to the tiring of the optic nerve and he found that some experimental subjects could go into a trance if they simply fixated their eyes on a bright object, like a silver watch. We now know that the reason for the subjects 'eyes feeling tired' was not only because of physical fatigue, it was also because of the suggestions he was giving.
Although Braid's attempts to explain things physiologically were inaccurate, his ideas about suggestion are important. He demonstrated that hypnosis was useful where no organic origin to the problem could be identified (e.g. headaches, skin problems etc.) No one knew how the process of hypnosis 'worked', though there were several theories put forward.
In 1843 Braid coined the terms 'hypnotism' and 'hypnosis' in an effort to distinguish himself from the mesmerists. The word ‘Hypnosis’ comes from the Greek word 'Hypnos' meaning to sleep.
Dr. Eugene Azam (1822 - 1899)
Dr. Eugene Azam was on the faculty of medicine at Bordeaux as a correspondent for the Academy of Medicine in Paris. Dr. Azam's contribution to the advancement of hypnosis is in his discovery of the splitting of the conscious. It was he who made medical practitioners aware of two levels of awareness. These are now referred to as the conscious and subconscious.
Jean Martin Charcot (1825 - 1893)
French neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot was a leading neurologist of his day and head of the neurological clinic at the famous Saltpetiere in Paris. He used hypnosis to treat hysterics and because his patients showed epileptic-like symptoms when they were in a trance, he concluded that hypnosis was an induced seizure. Charcot believed that hypnosis was a diseased state and categorised it as ‘an abnormal neurological activity’.
Auguste Ambroise Leibeault (1823 - 1904) & Hippolyte Bernheim (1837 - 1919)
Auguste Ambroise Leibeault and Hippolyte Bernheim were the first people who regarded hypnosis as a normal phenomenon.
Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
Sigmund Freud was interested in hypnosis and read Bernheim’s book ‘De la Suggestion’ to find a physiological explanation of suggestion in the nervous system. As he observed patients enter a hypnotic state, he began to recognise the existence of the unconscious. Freud, however, rejected hypnosis as the tool to unlock repressed memories, favouring his techniques of ‘free association’ and ‘dream interpretation’ instead. With the rise of psychoanalysis in the fist half of the 20th century hypnosis declined in popularity.
Clark Leonard Hull (1884 - 1952)
The modern study of hypnosis is usually considered to have begun in the 1930s with Clark Leonard Hull at Yale University in the US. His work ‘Hypnosis and Suggestibility’ was a rigorous study of the phenomenon using statistical and experimental analysis. Hull’s studies demonstrated that hypnosis had no connection with sleep (‘hypnosis is not sleep, … it has no special relationship to sleep, and the whole concept of sleep when applied to hypnosis obscures the situation’).
Dave Elman (1900 - 1967)
Dave Elman was one of the pioneers of the medical use of hypnosis and his definition of hypnosis is still widely used among many professional hypnotists. Elman is known for having trained the largest number of physicians and psychotherapists in America in the use of hypnotism. He is also known for introducing rapid inductions to the field of hypnotism.
Milton Erickson (1901 - 1980)
Milton Erickson is considered to be the father of hypnosis and his work had an enormous influence on the practice & understanding of hypnosis and mental processing.
Erickson recognised that hypnosis was a state of mind that all of us enter into spontaneously and frequently as part of our normal behaviour pattern. He utilised this phenomenon to convey his suggestions in numerous ways, developing an exciting and innovative use of language.
Although Erickson was initially influenced by Freudian theory, his own clinical experience and keen powers of observation enabled him to develop a more practical and holistic view of the unconscious mind. Early in his career Erickson began to question the role of the unconscious, its real function and how best to describe it. His unique insight was that many of us mistake who we consciously think we are for the totality of who we are.
Erickson suggested that everyone had the capacity to go into trance and that trance was an everyday experience. He thought that it was only by getting in touch with the unconscious that could we really make the best decisions for our situation. That's why he said it's so important to ‘trust your unconscious mind’.
Erickson was seen as something of a maverick for much of his early career as he explored hypnosis. Today, however, now his legacy is highly valued and his insight is without parallel.
Ernest Hilgard (1904 - 2001)
Ernest Ropiequet ‘Jack’ Hilgard was a psychologist and professor at Stanford University in America. Hilgard became famous in the 1950s for his research on hypnosis, especially with regard to pain control. Along with André Muller Weitzenhoffer, Hilgard developed the ‘Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales’ from the 1950s onwards.
Hilgard is specifically known for his theory that a so-called ‘hidden observer’ is created in the mind while hypnosis is taking place. This phenomenon was controversial and critics claimed it could be manufactured by suggestions, indicating that it was possibly no more than the result of the instructions given to the research participants.
Ernest Rossi (Born 1933)
Ernest Rossi documented Erickson's life work. He has since provided unique insights into the mind - body connection and his seminal work outlined scientifically how we can influence healing at a sub- cellular level using suggestion. To many, that could sound a little far fetched, however like Erickson, Rossi was simply working from the assumption that the body has the ability to heal, and that sub-cellular communication is happening all the time.
Rossi's psycho-biological model of hypnosis proposes that what seems to be an extension of the normal parameters of mind-body performance skills via hypnosis is actually the optimisation of the individual's normal range of abilities in response to the general process of adaptation to challenge & stress by the nervous and other related systems.
Nicholas P. Spanos (1942 - 1994)
Nicholas P. Spanos, was Professor of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Experimental Hypnosis at Carleton University in America from 1975 to his death in 1994.
Spanos hypothesised that the behaviours and experiences associated with hypnosis are acted out in accordance with the social context and expectations of the hypnotist and the setting by the person undergoing hypnosis, even though they may be sometimes experienced as involuntary. Spanos also contributed to the view that the hypnotic state did not exist at all, and that the behaviours exhibited by those individuals are in fact due to their being ‘highly motivated’.
Irving Kirsch is noted for his research on placebo effects, antidepressants, expectancy, and hypnosis. He is the originator of response expectancy theory, and his analyses of clinical trials of antidepressants have influenced official treatment guidelines in the United Kingdom.
Kirsch’s response expectancy theory is based on the idea that what people experience depends partly on what they expect to experience. According to Kirsch, this is the process that lies behind the placebo effect and hypnosis. The theory is supported by research showing that both subjective and physiological responses can be altered by changing people’s expectancies. The theory has been applied to understanding pain, depression, anxiety disorders, asthma, addictions, and psychogenic illnesses.
Kirsch’s analysis of the effectiveness of antidepressants was an outgrowth of his interest in the placebo effect. His studies in this area are primarily meta-analyses, in which the results of previously conducted clinical trials are aggregated and analysed statistically. His first meta-analysis was aimed at assessing the size of the placebo effect in the treatment of depression. The results not only showed a sizeable placebo effect, but also indicated that the drug effect was surprisingly small. This led Kirsch to shift his interest to evaluating the antidepressant drug effect. Kirsch’s first meta-analysis was limited to published clinical trials. The controversy surrounding this analysis led him to obtain files from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) containing data from trials that had not been published, as well as those from published trials. Kirsch’s analyses of the FDA data showed that the difference between antidepressant drugs and placebos is not clinically significant, according to the criteria used by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which establishes treatment guidelines for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.
Hypnotism became widely used by physicians & psychologists during World War I, World War II and the Korean War where it was merged with psychiatry to treat battle fatigue and mental disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After the wars, scientists found additional uses of hypnotism in clinical treatment.
In 1955, the British Medical Association (BMA) approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesia in pain management, childbirth and surgery. At this time, the BMA also advised that all physicians and medical students should receive fundamental training in hypnosis.
In 1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis. It encouraged research on hypnosis as it recognised that some aspects of hypnosis were still unknown and controversial.
In 1993, New Scientist published results of largest survey ever recorded on stopping smoking methods. Hypnosis was streets ahead of anything else.
During the past thirty years or more, many physicians, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other practitioners have taken up the cause of hypnosis, thereby educating the general public as to its therapeutic values and benefits.