A Brief History of Hypnotism
Throughout recorded history, various cultures and minority groups have made references to the use and performance of rituals that can best be described as hypnosis. Even ancient Egyptians and Greeks have recorded and described experiences that refer to hypnosis as well. Mention of St. Peter in a trance is also recorded in the Bible.
The development of hypnotism (hypnosis) on a scientific level began with the efforts of Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer, an Austrian physician, became well-known for his work on what he called animal magnetism during the 1770's.
During that time, there were those who believed that sickness develops when invisible magnetic fluids surrounding the human body were cut off or improperly distributed. In his animal magnetism technique, Mesmer used water tubs and magnetic wands to direct the hypothetical fluids towards his patients. Unbelievably, many of his patients claimed that the treatment is effective and cured them. This prompted a French commission in 1784 to investigate and evaluate the claims of Mesmer and his patients. The final report made by the commission negated Mesmer’s claim on the existence of such magnetic fluids. However, the same commission explained that the reported cures of Mesmer’s patients are a product of the imagination. Some of Mesmer’s patients helped spread the principle of animal magnetism, which later became popularly known as mesmerism, and continued to work with his methods.
In the mid-1800’s a study on suggestion and hypnosis undertaken by a British doctor, James Bird, determined that hypnosis can be scientifically studied. Braid’s study on hypnosis and suggestion reveal that hypnosis is markedly different from sleep as many people believed. Bird’s research reveals that hypnosis is a physiological response to stimuli and not the result of magical powers. During this same period, hypnosis was used as an anesthesia in performing major surgery by a Scottish doctor, James Esdaile – he performed approximately 200 operations which included leg amputation, with the aid of hypnosis as anesthesia.
It was the French neurologist Jean Martin Charcot who performed landmark experiments involving hypnosis. In his experiments, Charcot discovered and scientifically established that hypnosis relieves nervous disorders. His work on nervous disorders and hypnosis gained widespread acceptance from the noted French psychologist Alfred Binet including Dr. Sigmund Freud.
In the latter part of the 19th century, Doctors Hippolyte Bernheim and Ambroise Auguste Liebeault explored the role and impact of suggestibility in hypnosis. In the course of their research, they used hypnosis in treating more than 12,000 patients.
Charcot’s and Bernheim’s work fascinated Freud immensely that he also used hypnosis in his early studies of the unconscious, which made him change his negative views on hypnosis.
Russian physiologist and psychologist Ivan Pavlov also sought to discover a physiological basis of hypnosis and in the course of his research concluded that hypnosis affects certain nerve impulses in the brain.
Doctors and psychologists use hypnosis to treat battle fatigue and mental disorders suffered by combatants and civilians in areas of conflict like Vietnam, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Middle East. Today, scientists, psychologists, and mental health researchers continually discover and refine additional uses of hypnosis in clinical treatment.
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