World Hypnotism Day

4 January is World Hypnotism Day. It’s an important day to help dispel the myths and misconceptions around Hypnotherapy and to promote it as the powerful and useful technique that it really is. Now if you are reading this you already know a bit about Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. But I wanted to write a blog post to mark the occasion. So, I have decide to share a little about the history of Hypnosis.

History records many stories of rituals that from a modern viewpoint look a lot like Hypnotism. Be it “healing passes” of the ancient Hinduism, biblical stories and sources from ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Rome. These are often described as magical or religious practices, but their goal was to cure people of ailments and help them to lead better lives.

The 17th and 18th centuries in Europe was known as the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason. It was an intellectual and philosophical movement that spawned many ideas and theories that are valid today. It was at this time that the early pioneer of hypnosis, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815), from whom we get the word ‘mesmerise’, was born. As a young man, Mesmer studied theology and law before later moving into medicine. His doctoral thesis, completed at the University of Vienna in 1766, contained the origins of modern day hypnosis.  

He was the first to propose a rational basis for how hypnosis works and develop a consistent method for hypnotising patients. Sadly, he also included a great deal of ritual practices and other showmanship which has hampered the adoption and use of Hypnosis to this day.

Fortunately the fact that hypnosis works kept it alive as an idea. In the 19th Century surgeons and physicians began to explore the subject again. For example, John Elliotson (1791 –1868) who was the first in Britain to use and promote the stethoscope and one of the first to use acupuncture. In 1849 he founded the London Mesmeric Infirmary.

Initially a sceptic, James Braid (1795-1860) who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, became intrigued by the phenomenon. His research and dedication helped to removed hypnosis from the questionable associations of mesmerism by demonstrating the physical and biological mechanisms at the heart of Hypnosis.  This meant that by the end of the 19th century hypnosis was accepted as a valid clinical technique.

This trend continued into the 20th Century with an important shift in focus.  Hypnosis became a more popular and accessible, something that was increasingly available to the public and not reserved for the laboratory or clinic. Although there remains some elements of the media who still regard is as some sort of magic. As Derren Brown (English Mentalist and Author) said, “It used to frustrate me when I’d get celebrities on my shows and I had to meet them as this ludicrous magician character rather than as myself”.

Also in the 20th century, the style of hypnosis changed significantly. Instead of a direct instruction issued by an authoritarian figure (a throwback to the old fashioned charismatic mesmerist) a more indirect, conversational and permissive style of trance induction, based on subtly persuasive language patterns became common.  This was largely due to the work of practitioners like Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980).  He graduated from the University with an MA in Psychology and a Medical Degree, and went on to hold senior psychiatric posts in hospitals across America.

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