Obeying the orders of hypnotists, impressionable men and especially women fell into a trance, demonstrating dexterity, walking barefoot on hot coals, and having visions believed to be of divine nature.
People believed hypnosis to be a kind of magic or a manifestation of the divine will. But what is it in reality?
Animal Magnetism & Hypnosis in Medicine
From a scientific point of view, the phenomenon of hypnosis was for the first time considered in 1776 by the French physician Franz Mesmer, who developed the theory of magnetism, which states that the healing power passes from doctor to patient at a touch of particular magnetic fluids.
With the use of the mentioned fluids, he performed healing and clairvoyance sessions and put patients into a trance state. Now it is difficult to say whether a genuine recovery was achieved in someone other than ladies suffering from melancholy, but mesmerism becomes a craze all over Europe.
In 1842, physician James Braid linked hypnosis to the manipulation of shiny objects. Parisian psychiatrist Jean Charcot used hypnosis to treat patients with hysteria at the Salpetriere, a hospital for insane women. He believed that the trance state occurs due to disorders of the nervous system and the task of the doctor is to correct these disorders. His opponent Ambroise Liebeault argued that hypnosis has a psychological nature and depends on the patient’s suggestibility. The truth, as it often happens, was hidden in the middle.
As a result, hypnosis came to the medical practice primarily as a tool for post-traumatic treatment and psychoanalytic work with phobias, addictions, and psychosomatic diseases. Hypnosis techniques are used for pain relief in labor, dental procedures, and many other areas.
In parallel with the medical aspect of hypnosis, it is used also for entertainment purposes. In the second half of the 20th century, hypnosis performances were very popular: hypnotists put daredevils from the audience in a trance, and then showed hypnotic catalepsy (immobility in a given position) and made the hypnotized participants make all sorts of tricks: answer questions, draw, sing, balance, etc.
How Hypnosis Is Performed
First of all, a hypnotist makes a person relax, then fixes his attention on some object or a noticeable sound, and finally gives him a command – the so-called rapport. At the beginning of the 20th century, hypnotists often swung a gold watch on a chain in front of the face of a hypnotized person, but any similar object may be used.
The hypnotized person is immersed in a condition similar to sleep – he is relaxed, he cannot control his actions and is subject to the instructions of the hypnotist and usually does not remember anything of what he did in trance.
Hypnosis can remove fear or disgust, relieve fatigue or phobia, make one insensitive to pain or get him to talk about experienced events and feelings. These simple tasks are easy to perform, but experienced professionals know about some other nuances. Thus, with the help of hypnosis, it is easy to determine whether the patient’s paralysis, numbness, or lameness are of physiological nature or are the result of trauma.
Experienced hypnotists suggest the right thoughts and even give assignments that person performs sometime after the session ends. But it is proven that the order to commit suicide, steal something, strip naked publicly, etc. bound to cause a denial or resistance – it is impossible to make a person do things that he would not do with a clear mind.
According to experts, 70% of people are susceptible to hypnosis. A person can be put into a trance during a conversation by touching his body or synchronizing breathing rhythm – these techniques are used by experts in neuro-linguistic programming. But it is impossible to hypnotize a person who is consciously resisting it.
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