When we think of hypnosis, a certain image immediately springs to mind, one that is very much grounded in fiction.
We think of a slow, swinging pendulum, droopy eyelids, heightened vulnerability to suggestion, the trademark therapist couch, and people walking around with both their arms stretched forward, completely unaware of their actions.
Unfortunately, fiction does nothing to alleviate us of our misconceptions and in fact, uses the trope to further convince us that hypnotism is not only ‘bad’ but can be nothing but a hoax, used by psychics and magicians to hoodwink you.
Time to bust some myths with cold, hard facts.
Nothing could be further away from the truth, folks.
In fact, the history of hypnotism is oddly both interesting and entertaining. The practice began with the doctoral dissertation of a German physician called Franz Mesmer.
Mesmer theorized that there existed an invisible fluid within the human body that obeyed the laws of magnetism, he called this animal magnetism and further added that this animal magnetism could be controlled using magnets by anyone trained in this kind of manipulation.
For Mesmer, diseases occurred because the invisible fluid was being obstructed by something in the body, thus preventing it from flowing freely. The manipulation of animal magnetism using magnets then came to be known as Mesmerism.
It was a widely practiced therapeutic technique, mostly employed by Mesmer in curing female hysteria. However, soon the Viennese physicians grew suspicious and later drove Mesmer to flee from Germany and instead settle in France. Little is known about whether Mesmer was a fraud or not, however, it’s worth mentioning that his ideas later led to the development of a legitimate, therapeutic treatment that we now know as hypnosis.
Hypnosis is commonly defined as ‘…the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction.’ However, in psychology, it is regarded as ‘…a state of highly focused attention or concentration, often associated with relaxation, and heightened suggestibility.’ The difference between the two common definitions is simple, hypnosis does not cause the person in a trance to lose control of themselves, it is wrong to assume that you can manipulate a hypnotized person into doing things that they would object to in real life.
Hypnotherapy has a number of valid applications and is mostly used because it makes patients highly susceptible to suggestions, allowing psychologists to use positive affirmations and suggestions to their advantage, successfully reinforcing positive behaviors and thoughts in their clients. However, it should be noted that while the applications and benefits of hypnotherapy are many and valid, it does not last long and the procedure usually has to be repeated for it to be successful.
It should also be noted that for hypnosis to actually work, the client must be willing to be put into a trance. Similarly, it should be recognized that certain people will be immune to hypnotism and that this immunity to treatment might be inherent. For the therapy to work, a lot of factors have to come together to make sure that the treatment is effective and this is one of the biggest drawbacks of this kind of treatment.
It’s not all pendulums and spirals up here!