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What Is Hypnotism Used For?

History of Hypnotism

From time immemorial forms of hypnotism appear to have been known, e.g. certain states of ecstasy which are more or less self-induced are related to hypnotism, and while affected, the individuals appear capable of resisting what would be pain and fatigue under normal circumstances. Definite investigations of the state have been made since the 16th century: Paracelsus at the end of that century showed to his own satisfaction the existence of a sympathetic system between the human and the stars and other objects.

In 1774 Mesmer, a Viennese physician, gained a large measure of success in the treatment of certain disorders. He went to Paris in 1778, where, by continued successes, he gained a large following. His suggestion of the actual transference of a 'magnetic fluid' continued in vogue until quite recent times. His treatment necessitated much apparatus, such as magnets and connecting wires, with usually a central tub of water or other liquid round which the patients were seated.

A pupil, Marquis de Puysegar, in 1780, proved that the accessory apparatus was unnecessary. The claims of 'mesmerism' became so insistent that a French commission was appointed in 1785 to investigate the matter fully . Their report was unfavorable, and this, coupled with its later association with the notorious Cagliostro, brought it into disrepute.

In 1831 Bertrand showed the affinity of magnetic sleep to somnambulism, and suggested its use as a therapeutic agency, and a second French commission of that year reported rather more favorably. In 1841 Dr Braid, a Manchester physician, discovered that a subject could be entranced by gazing at a bright object, and he suggested the name 'hypnotism', from the Greek hupnos sleep. On the Continent, schools of hypnotism were established under the direction of the distinguished French physiologist Richet and such physicians as Charcot, professor of neurology at the University of Paris. In Britain Dr Elliotson used hypnotism to protect patients from pain during operations. But the discovery of chloroform in 1848 meant the possession of an anesthetic of wider application and more certain results, and, in consequence, hypnotism tended to become neglected. In 1882 Gurney carried out investigations on the subject, and the British Medical Association, after a long period of doubt and vacillation, reported favorably on its use in 1892. In 1907 the Medical Society for the Study of Suggestive Therapeutics was founded.

Hypnotic Methods

The usual methods employed to bring about the hypnotic condition are either peripheral, as in the gazing at a bright object so placed as to cause some slight muscular eye strain, flashing of mirrors, slow monotonous 'mesmeric' passes and even the ticking of a watch in very sensitive persons, or central stimulation, as by verbal suggestions. Frequently there is a combination of these methods as when the operator places a bright object slightly above the level of the subject's eye and suggests to him the idea of sleep, at the same time making hand passes before the face. It is found in practice that about 90 per cent of persons are susceptible to hypnotism, and the proportion always seems to be higher in individuals trained to obey, such as soldiers, sailors, or school children, than in others, though it bears little relation to age, sex or intelligence. The persons who give exhibitions of hypnotism on the stage are in reality not specially gifted: it is quite possible for a trained person to induce equally profound hypnosis, but lighter stages are more suitable for purposes of healing. Many animals can be hypnotized.

Hypnosis Symptoms

There are three well marked stages of hypnosis.

In slight hypnosis the voluntary muscles are affected, without loss of consciousness in the patient and without amnesia on returning to the normal condition. In deep hypnosis, the symptoms vary greatly; the sensory system is affected, there may be contractions of the muscles or marked flexibility; there is frequently an increase of muscular strength, or a maintenance of an awkward attitude without muscular fatigue; there may be paralysis of one side, or one organ, by open or overt suggestion, or suggestion may be used to cause alterations of sensation. This stage is usually marked by amnesia on waking, though a second hypnotic state will generally contain memories of the first. No satisfactory explanation has been given of post-hypnotic suggestion, by which the subject can be made to carry out some action (not foreign to his nature) after the lapse of a given interval; for example, the hypnotized person may be told to write his name, note the time, or purchase some article, after the expiration of say, 5000 minutes, and although on waking he may have no awareness of the command, yet punctually to time he will endeavor to carry out the suggestion, usually doing so with some more or less plausible explanation. The third stage is somnambulism, in which the subject rarely makes any response to suggestions; this condition is seldom reached in the first experiments with a new subject.

Uses of Hypnotism

Hypnotism can be made to yield sleep without the use of drugs, which is a valuable property, and during this sleep the subject is peculiarly open to suggestion, so that definite advantage follows its use in cases of hysterical blindness, loss of speech or paralysis. Pain can be relieved during childbirth, surgical operations, or in cases of painful disease. Its use has been suggested as an educational agent and for the reformation of criminals. It is sometimes possible by hypnotism to produce alterations in unconscious attitudes underlying psychological symptoms (with disappearance of the symptoms) and analysis of emotional problems may often be expedited by the use of hypnotism (hypnoanalysis).

Exaggerated statements have been circulated as to the extent of control consequent on hypnotism, and experiments show that it is extremely difficult, in many cases impossible, to induce an individual to carry out actions which are normally abhorrent to his character, for instance, hypnotism cannot make a normal individual commit a crime, though an unbalanced mind may be rendered criminal.

Theories About Hypnotism

Numerous theories have been advanced, but the nature of the hypnotic state is still uncertain. It has been considered (amongst other theories) to be (1) an abnormal state of the brain; (2) due to a temporary abolition of some cortical functions; (3) a psychoneurosis, allied to hysteria; (4) due to the establishment of a special rapport between hypnotist and subject; and (5) due to the establishment of conditioned reflexes.

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