Hypnosis seems to exist under a veil of mystery. Mesmer and Dr. Erikson were the leading candidates of this elusive practice, making it what it is today. The concept of hypnosis could be considered to date back as far as the ancient sleep temples of Asia and particularly Egypt, however, most modern ideologies hold a strong connection to an Austrian physician named Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer.
Mesmer’s theories encompassed a belief in a universal agent (or magnetic fluid). He believed this fluid to be responsible for all living processes including planetary movements. It was actually by studying the tides (ebb and flow) that lead Dr. Mesmer to his initial discovery that the changes in planetary alignments can actually determine the symptoms of some chronic illnesses.
Slowly this evolved into a strong intellectual movement in the late 18th century of “magnetists” through central Europe, moving westward, adopting the name “Animal Magnetism” (approximately 1775). The word “mesmerize” also came from this movement, as it related to Mesmer’s entrancing demeanor. He often used fascination or fixation of a patient’s or group’s attention in order to lead people into a “trance”. Mesmer marked the beginning of his career with the discovery of “Animal Magnetism” and hence fourth was seen as both a powerful healer and a charlatan.
It is marked that his work gave sight to a girl who was borne blind, but she was very frightened and confused, as she could not describe her experience of sight as being clear or coherent. Mesmer’s work continued, as directed by the girl’s parents, to return the girl to her original blindness, just as she had been before. Continuing his career he, left Austria and moved to France, continuing his fame through banquets and supposed miracles. Mesmer is not to be forgotten, and is remembered as both a myth and a charlatan, however it is most important to retain his image as an innovator and healer.
Why Is it Called “Hypnosis”?
The term “hypnosis” did not come into effect until an individual named James Braid influenced the public understanding of trance. He rejected Mesmer’s idea of animal magnetism, but embraced that hypnosis involves sleep (“Hypnos” is the Greek God of sleep). So, the term seemed to stick, even though some speculate that there could have been, or are better words to define the phenomenon, especially considering the differences between sleep and a hypnotic state.
The Dawn of “Hypnotherapy”
An important change occurred in the history of hypnosis as Dr. Milton Erikson (1901-1980) entered the scene. Dr. Erikson was a primary influence in the evolution of hypotherapeutic theory. Erikson’s approach was greatly different from that of the norm, as it embraced an indirect approach. He labeled the more common authoritarian approach as direct. Many practitioners today rely on copying and mimicking his tone, gestures, and use of language in their own therapeutic practices.
His influence is still felt today, as there is a branch of hypnotherapy called “Eriksonian Hypnotherapy”. The fundamental key of Erikson’s theory is that the therapist embraces and utilizes all behaviors of the client. Stories, metaphors, and embedded suggestion also serve as primary techniques for the Eriksonian practitioner.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: Now and Beyond
The field of hypnosis continues to grow, particularly in a therapeutic context. Many avenues of homeopathy or natural healing embrace hypnotherapy as a practical and useful tool, as hypnotherapy is accepted as a form of CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). It is a flexible skill that can be both simple and eternally complex, depending on the viewpoint of the individual. Hypnotherapy will continue to change, adjust, and develop to the growing psychological and emotional needs of society, with a mixed contribution of science, mysticism, and personal opinions.