IN VIEW of the countless volumes that have been written about the history of hypnosis, it would be pointless for me to attempt a capsule history in this book. A few historic highlights that have had an effect on the teaching—and learning—of hypnosis do, however, have a place here.
A couple of hundred years ago, a Viennese physician named F. A. Mesmer watched a street magician perform an act with lodestones, or magnets. The magician declared that he could make a spectator do his bidding by touching him with one of these magnets. And he proceeded to put on a demonstration that proved he really could do it. The secret was the power of suggestion, of course. Mesmer believed the magnets actually had a power of their own, however, and out of this belief he developed his theory of magnetism. Good health, he claimed, depended on the direction of magnetic flow, which could easily be reversed.
At one time three thousand patients a day begged to see him, and in order to accommodate them all he had to change his technique. His first technique was to place a tub in the middle of a large room from which protruded a number of so-called "magnetic rods." People sat around the tub holding on to these magnetic rods and believed that the magnetic flow in their bodies would be corrected, thus accomplishing a cure. It was the power of suggestion at work. It was impossible to accommodate three thousand patients a day around these tubs and so he went out into the yard, touched a tree with his so-called magnetic rod and declared the tree to be magnetized. Now, all people had to do was to touch the magnetized tree and they would be miraculously cured of their ills. It was the power of suggestion, again at work. When Benjamin Franklin was in France, he watched a demonstration and pronounced this verdict: "If these people get well at all, they seem to get well by their own imag inings." (Evidently, Franklin understood something of hysterical symptoms and mob psychology.)
Thereafter, mesmerism suffered a decided drop in popularity. But patients in an obvious hypnotic (or "mesmeric") state had been observed, and many doctors studied mesmerism in secret. One of these was an English physician named James Braid. By accident, a patient of Braid's entered the first stage of mesmerism while staring at a fixed light as he waited for an eye examination to begin. Because of the contempt in which mesmerism was then held (the date was 1840), Braid coined a new term—hypnotism—derived from the Greek word for sleep. And he published a paper about obtaining hypnotism through fixation. This paper was published in 165 different languages and dialects.
The next important incident involved J. M. Charcot, an early psychiatrist whose teachings influenced Freud. After watching hypnotic demonstrations performed by a very poor operator, on three psychotic patients, Charcot—brilliant though he usually was—came to the conclusion that hypnosis was only successful with psychotic or pre-psychotic patients. To prove this theory, he put on demonstrations for physicians, using psychotics. These demonstrations became so popular that crowds of laymen began attending them . . . and at least one stage performer believed the same thing could be done with sane people and proved it by adapting the technique for his own use.
Braid's fixation method and its derivatives—monotony, rhythm, imitation and levitation—are still being used. The result was great success for stage performers and frequent failure for doctors. The performer had a chance to practice on thousands of people, with the advantage of stage lighting to help him apply fixation. The doctor had one patient at a time, time-consuming techniques and a suspicion that the whole business might prove to be nonsense.
These historic incidents have led to two deplorable conditions in the teaching of hypnosis today. First, even fairly modern texts have insisted that the only reliable technique is fixation. Second, they have insisted that fixation requires anywhere from three minutes to two hours for induction, and that stage performers who succeed faster than that are faking. As you will see, neither of these beliefs is true.
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Hypnosis is a capital instrument for relaxation and alleviating stress. It helps calm down both the brain and body, giving a useful rest. All the same it can be rather costly to hire a clinical hypnotherapist, and we might not always want one around when we would like to destress.