Hypnosis is today recognized as a safe, medically accepted therapy that can be both a pleasant and effective solution to many problems requiring behavior modification. This appreciation of the potential of hypnotherapy, however, is fairly recent, for through the years hypnosis has never enjoyed a very positive image. Even today, despite the AMA's endorsement of hypnotherapy in 1958, to many people hypnosis still conjures up visions of the occult, the supernatural, the unknown, and, thus, the dangerous.
The ancient Egyptians had healing rituals involving what they called "sleep temples," and many primitive religions still employ techniques that could only be called hypnotic. Although I do not wish to offend the reader who may prefer another explanation, it is my opinion that many of the "miracles" mentioned in the Bible can be better understood in terms of hypnotic phenomena. To apply the label of "hypnotic phenomena" does not, in my view, in any way lessen the wonderful nature of the healing. We have but replaced one miracle with another.
Hypnosis, or some form of suggestive therapy, then, must be as ancient as mankind. The honor of more or less rediscovering this phenomena in the 18th century, is given to an Austrian quack named Anton Messmer. He believed that illness was caused by a "universal fluid" that was somehow related to magnetism. He played the role of wizard, both in dress and demeanor, causing an association between hypnosis and the occult that, for many, still lingers.
Mesmer's healing, we know now, occurred only because of the power of hypnotic suggestions. Having no appreciation of the true nature of his therapy, however, he attributed his success to "animal magnetism" and other concepts that today seem bizarre. In fact, Mesmer's insights were so faulty, his misunderstandings so profound, and his errors so spectacular, that serious students of hypnosis have spent about 200 years in overcoming the misconceptions codified in his theories. I would not recommend their study today, unless, of course, one was interested in documenting delusional thinking and the profound influence that "scientific" nonsense can sometimes exert. That Mesmer and his theories were demonstrably silly did not keep them from becoming the rage of Europe, but they have very little relevance to hypnotherapy today.
A Scottish physician, Braid, later gave the name "hypnosis" to the phenomena that had been called mesmerism. In a sense, this name, too, is unfortunate, as it is derived from the Greek word for "sleep," and, as we shall see, hypnosis and sleep are very different states.
Freud, a pioneering prober of the sub-conscious, used hypnosis in his early career, but later abandoned it and moved on to his own, now largely discredited, theories of psychoanlysis. Perhaps because of Freud's disinterest in hypnosis, it was largely ignored by the early researchers in the new science of psychology.
During this period there was one group that kept alive and employed a knowledge of hypnosis--the so-called "stage" hypnotists. Demonstrations of hypnotic phenomena, became a popular item for theatrical performers, especially during the era of vaudeville.
These performances might, or might not, be legitimate demonstrations--certainly, there was no obligation on the part of showmen to adhere to any strict ethical code with regard to deception. The pseudo-hypnotist was essentially playing a part, and needed no skill beyond that of being able to be convincing in his role. Often the vaudeville or stage hypnotist was also a magician or a mentalist. Even today, such performers may well combine their hypnotic demonstrations with so-called "experiments" involving pseudo-telepathy or other forms of alleged extra-sensory perception. People who understand the simple truth that public displays of ESP always involve trickery, have often made the unfounded assumption that hypnosis, too, must be fraudulent. For this reason, if no other, the average person is likely to have formed an association between hypnosis and vaudeville fakery--an association that often persists.
A few brave souls risked the scorn of their colleagues in academia and studied hypnotic phenomena before it was endorsed by the AMA in 1958. But not many did. And it would be fair to characterize the century following the Civil War as a period of little scholarly interest in suggestive therapy. Even those who did study its medical uses usually went to great lengths to attribute their techniques and successes to something other than mesmerism.
Beginning with the 1970's, however, there has been an acceleration in the number of scholarly studies concerned with cataloging and examining hypnotic phenomena. While there is room for regret at the frequent lack of practicality in some such experiments, they do, presumably, enhance our theoretical understanding and do increase the body of scientific wisdom. Some universities, and medical schools, now offer courses in hypnosis, and virtually every introductory psychology textbook in use today, includes a section on hypnotherapy. While this increased scientific acceptance and curiosity is encouraging, it should be pointed out that it has not yet been translated into wide-spread public acceptance. It remains unfortunately true that despite its long history of usefulness, a majority of the general public continues to harbor many misunderstandings about hypnosis and its varied applications.
THE ABOVE IS AN EXCERPT FROM, "HYPNOSIS: CLINICAL, SOCIAL, AND THEATRICAL USES," BY E. R. HUTCHISON. MR. HUTCHISON HOLDS THREE DEGREES FROM SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY WHERE HE WAS A REGENT'S SCHOLAR. HE HAS BEEN A PSYCHOTHERAPIST, PROFESSOR, AND WRITER. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS BOOK OR HYPNOTHERAPY IN GENERAL