Hypnotism has had a long and eventful history, with intrigue and mystery surrounding it since the term was first coined back in 1841 by Scottish surgeon James Braid. Over the next hundred plus years, there were a number of innovative thinkers that helped bring hypnotism out of the circus and stage shows and into the field of medical science. Today it helps millions of people around the world overcome bad habits, fears and help change their lives for good.
Franz Mesmer is often considered the original father of hypnosis, after creating a theory of a field of study called animal magnetism. Also referred to as the theory of magnetism, it advances the view that a natural energetic transference occurs between all animate and inanimate objects. It was when Mesmer travelled to Paris that his ideas and theories kicked off, making many famous appearances that wowed the crowds and gained much lauded followers.
Mesmer selected people who were in need of healing. Eventually, he met the American Ambassador Benjamin Franklin and his colleagues, who were asked by King Louis XVI to investigate this Animal Magnetism. The commissioned board of science and medical luminaries were tasked to prove the existence of the metaphysical magnetic fluid that Mesmer claimed was threaded through animate and inanimate objects to create their connection.
The commission didn’t find any evidence of this mysterious mesmerising substance, and suggested that the apparent change and improvement seen in one of Mesmer’s patients as imagined. It was after Mesmer’s discoveries that one of his most stable students in the arts of Mesmerisation theorised a state of consciousness below that of conscious actions. This state of sleeping consciousness - the state of being hypnotised - soon became intriguing to both scientists and the public.
Followers of Magnetism and Animal Magnetism turned to the psychology and physiology of how the mind works. The move from magnetism to modern hypnotism came about due to Braid’s perspective that hypnosis was explained by ordinary psychological and physiological processes such as suggestion and focused attention. This led to a new breed of hypnotists that travelled far and wide displaying their powers to the shocked crowds.
One of these modern hypnotists was Milton H. Erickson, who took the study and practise of hypnotism into the realm of scientific inquiry. In one famous case,Erickson treated a patient who was left paralysed unable to speak due to a stroke. Erickson verbally abused the patient so much that the patient stood up and walked out of the door whilst telling Erickson exactly what he thought of him. An instance of the power and celebrated work Erickson created.
These days the power to perform on stage in front of an audience hasn’t lost its charm, and there certainly exists a wave of hypnotism that looks to entertain rather than help people on a deeper level. But many people also benefit by understanding the benefits of hypnotism and understanding the power of their own mind. Hypnotism has come a long way from its early beginnings to become an alternative form of treatment.