Hypnosis - What is it? What can it do?

by David Reeves

Hypnosis! What is it? One thing it is not is magical, nor is there anything mystical about it. Hypnosis has many uses. On this web site you can learn the art of self-hypnosis, enabling you to become a much more calm and relaxed person. There is no need for you to tolerate something inside of yourself but outside of your control, provided you are prepared to devote time, effort and self-discipline to free yourself of your problem. The use of conscious hypnosis can dramatically change the way you perceive and manage stress and its effects. Results can be achieved in just a few weeks. Whilst hypnosis is not, in itself, a therapy, it is a powerful tool for good when used by a professional therapist. Hypnosis is increasingly being used as an aid to doctors and dentists as an alternative to drugs for anaesthesia, to accelerate the healing process, to relieve stress, and to help with the control of pain. Hypnosis is also used by Hypnoanalysts to help uncover the cause of people's deeper psychological problems, thus enabling them to be better able to cope in life.

The trance state that we call hypnosis has been used for thousands of years. In fact, from the study of primitive peoples' religious and healing ceremonies there exists the elements essential to place people into a hypnotic state. By rhythmic chanting, monotonous drum beats, together with strained fixations of the eyes, the village shaman or priest was able to induce the state of hypnosis. This helped to give the shaman the appearance of having magical and mystical powers given to them by the gods.

One of the psychotherapeutic methods of ancient Egypt was temple sleep, or incubation. Temple sleep was associated with the name of Imhotep. Imhotep (I-em-hotep - he comes in peace) is the earliest known physician in history. He was the physician vizier to the pharaoh Zoser (2980 - 2900 B.C.) The sleep temples were well attended by people looking for psychological help. Under the influence of incantation and the performance of religious rituals, sick people were prepared psychologically for suggestion therapy. Today, in some parts of the Middle East and Africa you can still encounter shrine sleep. Sleep temples were and are used for the mentally ill, as a place where priests interpret the sick person's dreams. Thus, by the use of suggestion, the priests appear to cast out spirits from the minds of the sick.

People such as fire-walkers and priests who used the religious practices of laying on of hands to make people faint on to the floor, are using Auto-hypnosis to bring about an altered state of consciousness by the use of suggestion and expectation.

Frans Anton MesmerThe father of modern hypnosis may well have been Frans Anton Mesmer, who was born in 1734 near to Lake Constance, and, at the age of 32, graduated in medicine in Vienna. Mesmer left Vienna in 1778 and went to work in Paris. He believed that the body of a patient could be manipulated by magnetised iron rods or plates. He took to wearing a long pale lilac silken robe, and to having a short iron wand in his hand. He would pass slowly through the ranks of patients, fixing his eyes upon them, waving his wand and touching them with it. A lot of his patients did not notice anything different about themselves, but some felt as if insects were running over their skin. Some of them, especially young women, would go into convulsions and then fall down, mesmerised.

It was not until the 1840's that hypnosis got its name. It was James Braid, a well known Manchester surgeon, who first realised that mesmerism did not involve mysterious magnetic fluids. Whilst people in the hypnotic state may at times seem to be asleep, (which is, in fact, how it got its name, from the Greek Hypnos meaning "to sleep"), they are far from being asleep. The person still has overall control of their own mind, whilst at the same time, being more open to suggestions that may be given by the hypnotist, or indeed, by themselves. It was Braid who gave the trance state the name hypnosis, which soon became hypnology, which gave way to the name hypnotism. There are four stages of Hypnosis: Light, Medium, Deep and Somnambulistic.

You may have seen a stage hypnotist going through his act on the T.V. or in a theatre. Whilst this seems at times to trivialise hypnosis, if used sensibly and correctly, stage hypnosis can be fun. It may seem to the onlooker that the hypnotist is controlling the people on the stage, but, if he were to suggest that they did anything against their will, or belief, they would soon be shocked out of the hypnotic state. There is absolutely no question of you being controlled or manipulated whilst in the state of hypnosis.

It is not possible that you could be made to do anything that you did not want to do, and you would not blurt out any of your secrets. The person under hypnosis may experience their senses more, and their memory may well be enhanced. The state of hypnosis is a most pleasant and particularly relaxing, natural phenomenon, during which a person can converse quite easily. It is inconceivable that any harm could befall you. It is something that we all go through twice a day. First thing in the morning, just as you are waking up, when you are neither awake nor asleep, you can hear all of the sounds around you, but it does not bother you one way or the other. You can make the decision to roll over and go back to sleep, or to get up. The second time is just as you go to sleep at night, when you are neither awake nor asleep. If somebody called your name you could, if you wished to, answer them, or take no notice - you are in control.

Over the last two hundred years, hypnosis has been in and out of fashion. At the moment it is becoming more and more popular with the general public as an adjunct to orthodox medicine. Most people's perception of hypnosis is of something that is used to stop people from smoking, but it can be used to help people to control their stress, and may also help with a wide range of psychological and physical problems.

The British Medical Association has only recently (1994) had a significant about-turn in its attitudes to complementary therapies, including hypnosis, by non-medical practitioners. Although the B.M.A. had for years opposed the use of complementary therapies, they are now recommending the acceptance of some properly regulated complementary therapies, and that doctors should seek more information to help meet the growing demands from the general public for treatment.

Even today, experts may disagree on what hypnosis is, or if it even exists, but they all agree that it is not magical or mystical. A professional hypnotist does not use flowing robes or swinging watches, just the expertise to help people with some of their problems. So, to answer the question "What is hypnosis?" A good definition is: "A deep state of relaxation and concentration resulting in an altered state of mind, which is induced by suggestion, given by a hypnotist, or by the person themselves".

© David Reeves

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