Mesmer developed a general theory of disease he called “animal magnetism,” which held that every living thing carries within it an internal magnetic force, in liquid form. Illness arises when this fluid becomes blocked, and can be cured if it can be coaxed to flow again, or so Mesmer’s thinking went. To get that fluid flowing, as science journalist Jo Marchant describes in her recent book, Cure, Mesmer “simply waved his hands to direct it through his patients’ bodies” — the origin of those melodramatic hand motions that stage hypnotists use today.”
A 2006 declassified 1966 document obtained by the US Freedom of Information Act archive shows that hypnosis was investigated for military applications. The full paper explores the potentials of operational uses. The overall conclusion of the study was that there was no evidence that hypnosis could be used for military applications, and no clear evidence whether "hypnosis" is a definable phenomenon outside ordinary suggestion, motivation, and subject expectancy. According to the document:
“With hypnosis, you might help someone stop smoking by suggesting the taste or smell of cigarettes is worse than it actually is. But a hypnotherapist can also use age regression to examine the impulse that fuels the client’s habit and discover old conclusions and behaviors. The healing will take place when the client creates new conclusions about old memories and chooses new behaviors rather than smoking.”
Before long, hypnotism started finding its way into the world of modern medicine. The use of hypnotism in the medical field was made popular by surgeons and physicians like Elliotson and James Esdaille and researchers like James Braid who helped to reveal the biological and physical benefits of hypnotism. According to his writings, Braid began to hear reports concerning various Oriental meditative practices soon after the release of his first publication on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). He first discussed some of these oriental practices in a series of articles entitled Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered. He drew analogies between his own practice of hypnotism and various forms of Hindu yoga meditation and other ancient spiritual practices, especially those involving voluntary burial and apparent human hibernation. Braid's interest in these practices stems from his studies of the Dabistān-i Mazāhib, the "School of Religions", an ancient Persian text describing a wide variety of Oriental religious rituals, beliefs, and practices.
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Most relaxation techniques require daily practice to be effective. A variety of formats for teaching relaxation and meditation exist, including classes as well as individual sessions. Relaxation can be taught in 1 session by conducting and audio taping a relaxation session. Using the audio tape, patients can then practice the techniques daily at home. Methods such as progressive muscle relaxation are easy to learn; yoga, tai chi, and meditation can take years to master completely.
Changes in brain activity have been found in some studies of highly responsive hypnotic subjects. These changes vary depending upon the type of suggestions being given. The state of light to medium hypnosis, where the body undergoes physical and mental relaxation, is associated with a pattern mostly of alpha waves However, what these results indicate is unclear. They may indicate that suggestions genuinely produce changes in perception or experience that are not simply a result of imagination. However, in normal circumstances without hypnosis, the brain regions associated with motion detection are activated both when motion is seen and when motion is imagined, without any changes in the subjects' perception or experience. This may therefore indicate that highly suggestible hypnotic subjects are simply activating to a greater extent the areas of the brain used in imagination, without real perceptual changes. It is, however, premature to claim that hypnosis and meditation are mediated by similar brain systems and neural mechanisms.
One obvious risk to patients is the insufficiently trained therapist. The inadequately trained therapist can cause harm and distort the normally pleasant experience of hypnotherapy. A second risk for patients is the unscrupulous practitioner who may be both inadequately trained and may have some hidden agenda. These rare individuals are capable of causing great harm to the patient and to the profession. As mentioned above, the patient should carefully scrutinize their chosen therapist before submitting themselves to this dynamic form of therapy.
Once the person is in the trance state, and is in a safe seated position, you can use the power of suggestion on your hypnotized subject. For example, you can tell them that when you count to three that they will open their eyes but that they will not remember their name. Then count to three and tell them to open their eyes. When their eyes are open, ask them to tell you their name. They will be amazed that they can't remember their own name.
But how does the suppression mechanism decide what to suppress? In this study, movie content but not movie context was influenced by PHA. Memories involve the “what,” “how,” “when” and “where” of an event interwoven together, such that distinctions between content and context may be blurred (for example, “Was the movie shot with a hand-held camera?”). To make such fine discriminations, the brain’s suppressor module presumably needs to process information at a sufficiently high level. Yet this module needs to act quickly, preconsciously suppressing activation of the information before it even enters awareness. Brain imaging technologies with superior temporal resolution to fMRI, such as magnetoencephalography (MEG), might help to resolve this seeming paradox of sophisticated, yet rapid, operations.
In Test 1 Mendelsohn and colleagues found that people in the PHA group (who could experience PHA) forgot more details from the movie than people in the non-PHA group (who could not experience PHA). But in Test 2, after the suggestion was cancelled, this memory loss was reversed. People in the PHA group correctly recognized just as many details from the movie as people in the non-PHA group. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the suggestion to forget was selective in its impact. Although people in the PHA group had difficulty remembering the content of the movie following the forget suggestion, they had no difficulty remembering the context in which they saw the movie.
Following the French committee's findings, Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the "Scottish School of Common Sense", encouraged physicians in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1818) to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of "animal magnetism" with a new interpretation based upon "common sense" laws of physiology and psychology. Braid quotes the following passage from Stewart:
In the 1950s, Milton H. Erickson developed a radically different approach to hypnotism, which has subsequently become known as "Ericksonian hypnotherapy" or "Neo-Ericksonian hypnotherapy." Erickson made use of an informal conversational approach with many clients and complex language patterns, and therapeutic strategies. This divergence from tradition led some of his colleagues, including Andre Weitzenhoffer, to dispute whether Erickson was right to label his approach "hypnosis" at all.