Hypnosis has been used as a powerful tool for healing for over 200 years. The first modern practitioner did not use the term “hypnosis,” but instead attributed its healing powers to what he called “animal magnetism.” This revolutionary thinker, whose name was Antoine Mesmer (which is the root of the word “mesmerized”), practiced in the late 1700s and achieved dramatic results with his innovative methods.
Mesmer believed that many illnesses are the result of an imbalance in a person’s magnetic field. The remedy for this kind of imbalance was to correct it with a more powerful and healing magnetic force. Mesmer gained a reputation for containing in his body that kind of powerful corrective magnetic field. But he also developed a method of using actual metal magnets to do the work of healing.
Of course, Mesmer’s theory of what was going on proved incorrect, and it came to be known that the power of what later became known as hypnosis was the product not of magnets, but of the inner strength and power of the subconscious mind of the hypnotized subject.
In the early 1800s, before the invention of chemical anesthesia, hypnosis was widely used to anesthetize patients for surgical procedures. Not everyone can achieve the deeper levels of hypnosis necessary to produce total anesthesia. Most people can, however, reach a depth of hypnosis that can considerably relieve pain both during surgery and during the recovery process.
With the advent of chemical anesthesia, hypnosis for pain relief fell out of favor. There have been a number of times in recent history, however, when there has been a revival of its use. One such time was during World War II in London during the German bombings, when chemical anesthetics were in short supply. Numerous physicians resorted to hypnosis, with reportedly surprisingly positive results.
The use of hypnosis as an anesthesia is currently undergoing another revival. A recent CBS news story titled “Hypnosis Is the New Anesthesia” described the increasing popularity of using hypnosis in place of general anesthesia in modern medicine. The story presents a description of a patient who underwent thyroid surgery in a major hospital in Brussels, Belgium. At a number of Belgian hospitals, over 8,000 surgical procedures have been performed using local anesthesia and hypnosis instead of general anesthesia. According to an Associated Press story quoted by the CBS news, the use of hypnosis leads to quicker healing, fewer complications and decreased postoperative bleeding.
Less dramatic but still important uses of modern-day hypnosis include the removal of unwanted habits or patterns of behavior and enhancing positive behaviors. Specifically, hypnosis has proven effective in helping people to gain control over their eating habits, quit smoking, improve memory and concentration, reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep and enhance sports performance among many others.
So how can we understand the nature of this powerful yet seemingly mysterious state of consciousness called hypnosis? Is it true, as many movies and historical pieces of literature suggest, that hypnosis demonstrates the power of a strong-willed hypnotist to control the mind of a weak hypnotic subject? That stereotype is completely false and, as a matter of fact, the best hypnotic subjects are those who have a strong subconscious mind and are able to tap into it through hypnosis for their own benefit.
The best way to describe a modern hypnotic experience is to say that the professional hypnotist guides the hypnotic subject in the effective use of their own subconscious mind to bypass conscious resistances and past failures to achieve their goals. This is accomplished through a process of achieving a deep state of relaxation and focused awareness, where brain patterns slow down enabling access to deep levels of inner strength and resources.
One additional tool that an effective hypnotist uses to help clients is the teaching of techniques of self-hypnosis. Anyone can learn self-hypnosis, but it is most effectively learned when taught during a hypnotic session. Self-hypnosis allows a person to put themselves safely into a calm, relaxed and reinforcing state of mind. This state of mind is similar to some forms of meditation, but is more focused on achieving specific desired results.
In a sense, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis since the goal achievement is always the result of the power of the hypnotized subject’s mind. So hypnosis is not so mysterious after all. It’s an effective and safe ally in the goal of achieving one’s goals.