Hypnosis or Hypnotism’s ability to reach and make connections in the individual’s subconscious makes it a powerful tool for healing. In recent years the benefits of applied hypnosis, in the form of hypnotherapy, have begun to be recognized. However, the history of hypnotism means that many people still regard it with a mixture of fear and skepticism.
Throughout history there have been healers reputedly able to cure the sick after placing them in a state resembling sleep. Modern medicine’s interest in the potential healing powers of hypnosis began in the 18th century as a result the work of the Austrian physician Franz Mesmer. Mesmer, who lived and worked in Paris, pioneered the uses of both hypnotism and psychoanalysis (a technique elaborated by Sigmund Freud more than 100 years later) in medicine.
Mesmer believed it was possible to harness mental energy and developed rituals around his treatments that hypnotized, or mesmerized, his patients. His ideas were fashionable for a time but he was later denounced as a fraud by the French Academy of medicine.
In the 1840s, however, Mesmer’s work was taken up by Scottish physician James Braid. Braid showed that a trance could be induced easily and that, while in this condition, individuals could not be forced to act against their will. As a result, the medical profession began to take a serious interest in hypnotism and for many years, until the introduction of safe anesthetics, it was used to reduce pain during surgery.
At the end of the 19th century Freud used hypnotism to help patients remember traumas in the childhood but then abandoned the technique in favor of psychoanalysis. Hypnotism fell into decline until the 1950s, but in 1958 the American Medical Association approved hypnotism as a useful medical tool.
Since then, hypnotherapy has been used to treat a great number of physical and psychological problems, including chronic pain, migraine, headaches, muscle tension, anxiety states, stress related conditions, depressions, addictions and phobias. Dentists often use hypnotherapy to overcome a patient’s fear of pain, while obstetricians frequently employ the technique to reduce pain during childbirth.