An Explanation of Hypnotherapy
Many people have a general misconception about hypnosis. They tend to think of the high energy stage performer who jokes around and makes people quack like ducks. While hypnosis is often used as a form of entertainment at corporate events, night clubs and on cruise ships, true clinical hypnotherapy is a far cry from that line of work.
Hypnotherapists are trained counselors who use hypnosis to help clients deal with various emotional or mental challenges they have. Hypnosis is an extreme state of physical relaxation coupled with a heightened state of mental awareness. From this state of deep calm, the subconscious mind is willing to accept ideas and suggestions that the conscious mind might normally block out, as it is constantly analyzing, judging and filtering out possible solutions.
Contrary to popular belief, even though a person’s body is extremely relaxed and more suggestible to hypnotically used words or phrases, their mental awareness is fully intact and they never lose control of their own free will. Being in the state of hypnosis simply allows them to lose a bit of their inhibitions and resistance to change.
Hypnotherapists must be licensed or certified to practice in most states. Hypnosis has sometimes been used by psychologists and medical doctors to aid in the healing of physical or emotional traumas that don’t seem to respond to traditional forms of treatment. Even the police department and the American Judicial System have used master hypnotists to help solve some of their most trying cases.
The mental state of hypnosis was first widely recognized in the late 1700s through the practices and discoveries of Austrian physician Anton Mesmer. Mesmer, influenced by the work of a local Jesuit professor, believed that cosmic energies had a strong effect on fluids in the human body. He postulated that if there was an imbalance of energy or “animal magnetism,” as he called it, it could quite possibly cause internal fluid blockages that resulted in illness or a general state of malaise.
In order to remedy this imbalance, Mesmer had the idea to use either magnets placed at strategic points throughout the body or a solution of magnetized liquid to redistribute bodily fluids and release the blockages that were causing the illness.
Mesmer’s experimentation with magnets was initially well received and celebrated among common-folk, aristocracy and even heads of state. His magnetic cures appeared to work wonders and he was in great demand by a long line of would-be patients. Eventually, however, Mesmer’s flamboyant displays and arrogant demeanor caused him to fall out of favor. King Louis XVI ordered Mesmer’s work to be evaluated by a specially appointed committee of world renowned doctors and scientists, one of whom was author, inventor and politician, Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The committee’s findings were that Mesmer’s methods were ineffective, dangerous, and subsequently the public’s interest in his theories and techniques began to wane.
In the mid-1800s, James Braid a Scottish surgeon, took up the research where Mesmer left off and coined the term “hypnotism” in order to distance himself from the stigma of Mesmer’s animal magnetism antics. The word hypnotism was derived from Hypnos, the Greek God of sleep and “neuro-hypnotism”, which means“nervous sleep”.
Braid’s idea of magnetism differed from Mesmer’s in that he didn’t believe there was any correlation between distribution of bodily fluids and energies that flowed from one person or object to another. His assessment of a person’s change in physical or mental wellness was that the change had more to do with brain physiology and the phenomena of hyper-focused mental attention which would, in turn, cause a change in the person’s nervous system.
Although Braid’s work was instrumental in laying the foundation for the use of hypnosis in psychological research, the association of magnetism with psychic mediums and flamboyant stage demonstrations left the idea of hypnosis in bad favor throughout the latter part of the 1800s. It would be almost another century before the clinical use of hypnosis gained respect and acceptance as a therapeutic treatment.
Some notable figures that helped usher in the change of popular opinion about hypnosis included Charles Richet, a French physiologist, Jean- Martin Charcot, a Parisian doctor, Hippolyte Bernheim, a professor at the Faculté de Médicine at Nancy, and Pierre Janet, a French philosopher and clinical researcher.
Today, hypnosis and hypnotherapy have evolved into a respected alternative form of medical treatment that is used by many mental health professionals and health care providers around the world. Techniques such as guided imagery, regression therapy and progressive relaxation are often used under a licensed practitioner’s care to complement other forms of medical or psychological treatment.
Over the years, people have used hypnosis to overcome challenging issues such as weight loss, smoking cessation, test anxiety, fear of public speaking, chronic pain, and low self-esteem.