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The Encarta Encyclopedia defines hypnosis as,”altered state of
consciousness and heightened responsiveness to suggestion; it may be induced
by normal persons by a variety of methods and has been used occasionally
in medical and psychiatric treatment. Most frequently brought about through
actions of an operator, or “hypnotist”, who engages the attention
of a subject and assigns certain tasks to him or her while uttering monotonous,
repetitive verbal commands; such tasks may include muscle relaxation, eye
fixation, and arm leviation. Hypnosis also may be self-induced, by trained
relaxation, concentration on one’s own breathing, or by a variety of monotonous
practices and rituals that are found in many mystical, philosophical, and
religious systems.” Another generally reliable source Webster’s New
Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines it as,”a sleep like condition
psychically induced, usually by another person, in which the subject loses
consciousness but responds, with certain limitations, to the suggestions
of the hypnotist.” As I stated earlier, these two sources are very
reputed and the general population believes that they are correct. Yet,
however often they may be correct, in this case they are not, or at least
not completely. Not according to the scientific community at least. My
sources for this statement are The World Book Encyclopedia, The Wizard
from Vienna: Franz Anton Mesmer, Applied Hypnosis: An Overview, American
Medical Journal, and Hypnosis: Is It For You? Although they state it in
different ways they all basically agree that nobody can give a very accurate
definition or description of hypnosis, or hypnosis. Although some may get
the definition partly correct, the chances of doing so completely are very,
very low. So although I will probably not be able to give a totally accurate
account of hypnosis and its workings, I will try. Although evidence suggests
that hypnosis has been practiced in some form or another for several thousand
years, such as in coal walking, the earliest recorded history of hypnosis
begins in 1734. It begins with a man named Franz Anton Mesmer. Although
he was eventually disavowed by the scientific community because of his
unorthodox methods that made him seem more of a mysticist that a scientist,
he is generally known as the father of hypnotism. Mesmer called his methods
Mesmerism, thus the word mesmerize, but the name didn’t stick, it later
changed to hypnosis, its name being derived from Hypnos, the Greek god
of sleep. He believed that hypnosis was reached by using a person’s “animal
magnetism”. He used “mesmerism” to cure illness. In 1795
an English physician named James Braid, who was originally opposed to Mesmer’s
methods became interested. He believed that cures were not due to animal
magnetism however, but the power of suggestion. This was the generally
accepted opinion of the scientific community. Then in 1825 Jean Marie Charcot,
a French neurologist, disagreed with “The Nancy School of Hypnotism”,
which followed the guidelines of James Braid’s ideas. Charcot believed
that hypnosis was simply a “manifestation of hysteria”. He revived
Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism and identified the three stages of
the trance; lethargy, catalepsy, and somnambulism. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov
(1849-1936) was not a scientist who worked with hypnosis. Although he had
nothing to do with the hypnotic development itself, his Stimulus Response
Theory is a cornerstone linking and anchoring behaviors, particularly NLP
(Neuro-Linguistic Programming). Emily Coue (1857-1926) a physician, formulated
the Laws of Suggestion which are greatly used in the hypnotic community.

Her first law is The Law of Concentrated Attention: “Whenever attention
is concentrated on an idea over and over again, it spontaneously tends
to realize itself”. The second law is- The Law of Reverse Action:
“The harder one tries to do something, the less chance one has of
success.” Finally, the last law is The Law of Dominant Effect: “A
stronger emotion tends to replace a weaker one.” Milton Erickson (1932-1974),
a psychologist and psychiatrist pioneered the art of indirect suggestion
in hypnosis. He is considered the father of modern hypnosis. His methods
bypassed the conscious mind through the use of both verbal and nonverbal
pacing techniques including metaphor, confusion, and many others. He was
definitely a major influence in contemporary hypnotherapy’s acceptance
by the American Medical Association. There are many misconceptions about
hypnosis that are totally without basis. Such as, “Hypnotized persons
will tell secrets or will always tell the truth.” The truth is, hypnosis
will not cause a person to tell information the do not want to tell and
a person under hypnosis can purposefully lie or remember in a distorted
fashion. Another myth about hypnotism is, “Hypnosis won’t work on
highly intelligent people.” In reality innate characteristics such
as intelligence do not at all effect hypnotism. Any person however can
resist being hypnotized either actively or passively, if they desire. I
believe that hypnotism would be a more commonly used method in medicine
if it were not for all the myths going around about hypnotism. They are
probably the result of the very limited knowledge of exactly how hypnosis
works. Hypnosis has been used to treat a variety of physiological and behavioral
problems. It can alleviate back pain and pain that comes from burns or
cancer. It is controversial as to whether this actually works or not, but
it is believed that it can be used to insure normal and safe childbirth.

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Hypnosis sometimes is employed to treat physical problems with a psychological
component, such as a circulatory disease known as Raynaud’s Syndrome. It
has also been used to initiate behavioral changes, for example cigarette
smoking, overeating, insomnia, and the overcoming of phobia’s. Although
hypnotism has shown its uses as a fairly valuable medical tool, in this
modern “technological age” there are very few physicians who
use it. The major use of hypnotism in modern days, is entertainment. Performed
as a sort of “Magic Show” it is used to cause some people to
laugh, and some people to be amazed. Hypnotism has come a long way since
1734 and who knows what future developments will be made in this field?
It may become a commonly used medical tool, or it may come to be thought
of as a completely useless “magic trick”.


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