Mesmer & The History of Hypnotism

The history of hypnosis started long before David Braid coined the term ‘hypnotism’ in 1841. While David Braid’s study of hypnotism have greatly influenced the modern aspects of hypnosis, his studies have been a refinement of skills that have been use in Indian for thousands of years.

The history of hypnosis begins with hypnotism being a form of meditation that was used to help influence the body’s ability to heal. By instilling the subconscious belief that the body was healing and the pain was receding, the stresses on the body were lowered which often resulted in an easier recovery by those who were ill. This form of hypnotism, also called mesmerism, happened in places called sleep temples, where priests in India would treat the ill. This is the earliest known use of hypnotherapy, although this was strictly a physical use of the skill.

Hypnosis was not only used in India. While the history of hypnosis is cloudy, there are accounts of Arabic nations using hypnotism on patiences as well.

It is believed that modern hypnotism comes from two forms of work done by Magnetists and Mesmerists. These two sects of people form the foundation of the history of hypnotism, although the skills were not used as they are today. Today, hypnotism is often used to conquer habits and change ways of thinking. In the past, magnetism and mesmerizing were used to conquer physical ailments.

An example of a famous Magnetist is Irishman Valentine Greatrakes, who was known for his ability to lay on hands and use magnets over a patient to cure him. Greatrakes lived between 1628 and 1666.

The original Mesmerist was Dr. Franz Mesmer, who lived between 1734 and 1815. His efforts in establishing the art of animal magnetism and mesmerism were later debunked as the workings of the imagination.

While neither Magnetists or Mesmerists of the early days of the modern history of hypnosis were able to fully succeed, the motivation of the ancient Hindu temples provided ample motivation to continue research into hypnotherapy. While the initial years are often viewed with scorn by the scientific community, some forms of modern hypnotism are known to work well with medical scientists. Hypnotism is most commonly used now with modern scientists as an alternative to pain medications where the medications would interfere with surgeries or treatment. 

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that hypnotism was accepted by the Catholic church as a legitimate medical treatment. It is at this point that the study of hypnotism and its acceptance became widespread.

Defining the Background of Hypnosis 

You have probably seen a number of movies or read books where a character is hypnotized to recall facts from a crime scene or to even stop smoking or lose weight. To a certain extent, some of that is fiction but hypnosis is a valid treatment for a variety of conditions and hypnotherapy is a term coined to describe the use of hypnotism for these treatments.

The history of hypnosis is often disputed but most agree that some form or fashion has existed long before history was written down. The mystics or monks of India and other Asian countries have long practiced meditation for centuries, producing trance-like states within themselves. Observing this, some doctors started employing different techniques to induce patients into a hypnotic-type state in order to conduct medical procedures and other treatments.

It wasn’t until the 1840s that a Scottish doctor James Braid coined the term “neuro-hypnotism” to describe his own technique which greatly differed from other medical practitioners. Of course, today’s hypnotism and hypnosis terms are derived from Braid’s wording. The doctor used a shiny object to engage a patient’s attention until they reached a suggestive state. Braid believed that staring at this shiny object tired the nervous systems, leaving it open to suggestion.

Later in the 19th century, a number of notable doctors including Sigmund Freud starting using hypnosis to help get rid of symptoms of mental conditions. In fact, the use and study of hypnosis is what earned Freud the honor of being called the father of psychoanalysis. In World War I, a Dr. Schultz discovered that hypnotizing soldiers that had some form of post traumatic stress would calm them and ease their symptoms so they could return to fighting more quickly.

As time went on, more of the medical community and practitioners of hypnosis therapy believed that hypnosis was not a true state of unconsciousness mimicking sleep but rather a heightened state of attention and susceptibility to suggestion. Basically, hypnosis clears away the entire excess minutia that normally jumbles the brain so a hypnotherapist can get to the true root of the problem, whether it is clearing misconceptions about eating for weight loss or emotional triggers to help quit smoking.

While many people try a number of treatments first, hypnosis is often used to supplement or enhance them.  It is non-invasive as there are no drugs used to create side effects of any kind. However, it is important to point out that hypnosis does not work for everyone as some people simply cannot relinquish any type of control in order for it to work.

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