Hypnosis History and Myths

Here you'll find a brief capsulization of hypnosis history and a list of fears and myths.

A Brief History of Hypnosis

Modern hypnosis is credited as having begun with Austrian Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). But hypnosis is truly an ancient practice. The oldest reference to hypnosis dates back 3,000 years to the Evers Papyrus of Egypt. Other examples of early hypnosis come from the sleep temples of the Babylonians and ancient Greeks where healing was practiced. Many cultures have traditions of entering into altered states through such varying techniques as dancing to rhythmic drums, ingesting mind altering drugs, and various forms of meditation. But to get a real understanding of how modern hypnosis evolved, we must go back to the 18th century and Franz Anton Mesmer.

Mesmer received his medical qualification at age 32 and wrote his dissertation on the influence of heavenly bodies on people's health; he imagined this influence to be the result of "animal gravity." This was the grounding on which his philosophy of mesmerism would be founded. One day, Mesmer observed a street magician perform an act in which the magician used magnets and claimed he could make people do his bidding through the power of the magnets. The magician demonstrated his skill to the crowd. Of course, the power the magician demonstrated was the power of suggestion. But Mesmer attributed the magician's success to what he believed was the power inherent in the magnets. And from this belief in the power of the magnets, Mesmer developed his theory of magnetism. He claimed that a person's health depended on the direction of the magnetic flow which could be easily manipulated.

After having some success with patients using his new magnetism techniques, Mesmer moved to Paris when he was 43. Paris would be the scene of his greatest fame. At the height of his popularity, 3,000 patients a day sought treatment from him. To accommodate this great number of patients, Mesmer had to change his techniques. At first Mesmer created a magnetic baquet, a wooden tub with iron rods, in which people would sit in a foot of water and hold onto the iron rods believing the magnetic flow within their bodies would be corrected. But the tubs weren't enough to handle all the patients, so Mesmer touched a tree with his magnetic rod and declared the tree to be magnetized. Mesmer flourished till 1782 when a group which included Benjamin Franklin investigated Mesmer's practice. They decided those people who were cured, were cured by the power of their own imagination. Mesmerism suffered ridicule from the medical and scientific community and lost it's great following. Mesmer eventually moved back near his birthplace of Lake Constance and stayed there till his death in 1815.

But mesmerism would be back; this time in the form of hypnosis. In 1841 Dr. James Braid coined the term hypnosis from the Latin word Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. Dr. Braid, of the School of the Salpetriere in Paris, discovered a fixed gaze technique which could induce a sleeplike state. Others would follow, people like Professor James Charcot, Dr. James Esdaile, and many others. Then in the twentieth century, Milton Erickson began to utilize hypnosis in his psychiatric practice and for the first time hypnotherapy became a legitimate therapeutic technique. And then in 1958, the American Medical Association accepted hypnosis as a legitimate form of treatment.

Today, hypnosis has come a long way from Mesmer's time. Hypnotherapists are plentiful around the globe. There are many hypnosis organizations with thousands of members. More and more medical doctors and psychotherapists use hypnosis in their practices. And there is great interest from people who want to learn self-hypnosis as a powerful self-help tool.

Fears and Myths of Hypnosis

Hypnosis has almost always been looked at with a wary and critical eye. Anton Mesmer was certainly ridiculed in his day by the medical and scientific community. The very mention of the word hypnosis conjures up fear and distrust for many. Much of this stems from a lack of information or understanding about hypnosis. A lot of the misunderstanding has been generated by hypnosis stage shows. Because of stage hypnosis, many people have the impression that a hypnotist can make you do whatever he/she wants you to do. People often have the impression that participants in a stage hypnosis show are in some kind of deep trance in which they have no control over what they may say or do. This is not actually true. Let's start at the beginning to get a clearer understanding of how stage hypnosis works. First off, let's look at those who volunteer for a hypnosis show. Everyone knows the kinds of things that happen at these shows. It's no secret. People are asked by a hypnotist to do some pretty silly, funny things, and they do them. So, the people who volunteer for these shows have some expectation that they're going to be asked by the hypnotist to do some pretty silly things. This is part of what is referred to as the "contract" between a hypnotist and a subject. The hypnotists asks for volunteers from the audience--people who would like to be hypnotized. The hypnotist and the volunteer subjects all have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen and what their role in the show will be. Both the hypnotist and the subjects have agreed to participate in a show. So, those who volunteer have a kind of intention to follow instructions from the hypnotist. This is a very important, critical aspect of a stage show.

What follows next is a weeding out of those who might not be one-hundred percent committed to following the hypnotist's suggestions. We've all seen stage hypnotists ask the volunteers from the audience to do something like lock their hands together tightly and then give them the suggestion that no matter how hard they try, they won't be able to pull their hands apart. Those who don't follow instructions fully or who are able to pull their hands apart are quickly asked to take their seats once again with the rest of the audience. The skilled stage hypnotist takes the volunteer subjects through a series of exercises and suggestions designed specifically to find the best possible subjects for the show--those people who are most willing to follow suggestions, and those who allow their subconscious mind (the non-critical part of the mind) to come forward while their conscious mind takes a backseat for a while. Once this is completed, the show goes on. The stage hypnotist has found the people from the audience who are most likely to follow suggestions and do some silly stuff. It's important to understand that the conscious minds of these volunteers are present at all times. They could decide at some point to not follow the suggestions of the hypnotist. While this has happened, it's rare. It's rare because the stage hypnotist usually does a great job of selecting his subjects from the audience. It's not really the power of the hypnotist that is at work in a stage show. It's the skill of the hypnotist and the willing participation of the volunteer subjects. The same is true in hypnotherapy. Now, let's take a close look at some of the fears and myths associated with hypnosis.

Losing Control--Two things to remember here. First, your conscious mind is always present in hypnosis and you could choose to come out of a trance (relaxed state) anytime you like. Secondly, your subconscious mind will never act upon any suggestions that would violate your ethical and moral codes.

Telling Your Innermost Secrets--It won't happen unless you choose to reveal them. Once again, in a hypnotic state, your subconscious mind will protect your secrets unless you choose to tell them.

Getting Lost in Trance and Not Coming out of It--Won't happen. First off, you are in a perfectly natural state of mind and conscious the whole time. Even if you were to drift off to sleep, you would simply wake up just like you would from a nap.

Can a hypnotist Make Me Do Something Against My Will?--No. First off, you are conscious during hypnosis and could stop a session anytime you wanted to stop. And again, your subconscious mind is very protective of you and would not accept any suggestions that would be harmful to you in any way. Your subconscious mind would not accept suggestions that would violate your moral or ethical codes.

Is Hypnosis Safe?--Yes. Remember, hypnosis is a natural state of mind, and natural states of mind are not dangerous. Of course, when you practice self-hypnosis or listen to a hypnosis CD or tape, don't do so while you're driving a car or taking a bath or operating machinery. Always use common sense.

Only Gullible, Simple-Minded People Can Be Hypnotized--Rubbish. Anyone of normal intelligence who chooses to be hypnotized can enter into a state of hypnosis. As a matter of fact, the more intelligent the person, the better subject they make for self-hypnosis. Being able to concentrate and focus are two of the most important attributes of a hypnotic subject.

The "I Can't Be Hypnotized" Syndrome--A lot of people suffer from the delusion that they can't be hypnotized. They are simply making a choice not to enter into a hypnotic state. They could enter into a hypnotic state if they elected to; they are simply choosing not to. Everyone drifts into the alpha state each night before they go to sleep. The alpha state is a simple, natural, very relaxed state of mind that is relatively easy to access. People who can't be hypnotized are those who do not have the mental capacity to focus--people who are taking certain types of medication, people using alcohol or drugs, and people who have some kind of mental condition that precludes them from being able to concentrate.

There is nothing to fear with hypnosis. Hypnosis is a simple, natural state of mind that offers you the opportunity to learn how to consciously utilize the powerful subconscious level of your mind.

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