I intend this essay to cover the subject matter, ranging from the generally acknowledged Father of Hypnotherapy through to the founder of the Progressive Muscle Relaxation method, describing on the way the scientific advances that help us have a better understanding of Hypnosis, and why relaxation is an important tool in our arsenal.
“And…You’re a Chicken...! ” Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the modern Stage hypnotist, this is the General Public’s opinion of Hypnotism. To better understand today’s modern approach to Hypnosis as a tool used for therapy, we have to go back in time, to a point in the late eighteenth century, when a Viennese Doctor named Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) decided enough was enough with regard to the then contemporary cures for various maladies, some of which caused the patient more pain and distress than the ailment for which they were being treated.
The devotion he showed towards his patients was unusual, most notably in the case of Franzl Oesterline, considered by many to be his “Breakthrough” case. After moving her into his home to provide twenty-four hour attention, he elected to affect a cure for her ill health using theories that he had put forward in his youth, that of “Animal Magnetism” in which he postulated that gravity and tidal influences act upon the human body.
Using a magnet, he “disrupted” the fields of gravity that he believed were causing his patient’s problems, whilst explaining to her that she would feel a sensation such as liquid flooding out of her, taking the illness with it. This was so successful, her recuperation was absolute and, to all intents and purposes, immediate.
Today, we know of course, that the explanation was the true cause of her recovery, being as it was, in essence, a hypnotic suggestion, and it was that which caused the “illness to flood out of her.”
Mesmer believed that he, as a conduit, could replace the levels of “Animal Magnetism” that had dropped to a dangerous point in his patients, with his own supply of magnetic forces that he believed himself to have in plentiful supply, using a magnet and the “Mesmeric Pass,” an intricate set of hand movements and actions which he developed.
As well as being the first person on record to use hypnosis for medical reasons, it could be argued that he was also the first stage hypnotist, as he went on tour, demonstrating his various techniques to the Crowned Heads of Europe. It was this flamboyance, however, that could well have been one of the reasons that other medical professionals sought to discredit his findings, although he himself believed he was being decried because he was getting such positive results in such an unorthodox way.
Unfortunately for Doctor Mesmer, the lobby to discredit him gained momentum as, whilst trying to cure the famous Austrian pianist Maria–Theresa Paradis from psychosomatic blindness, she was removed from his care by her parents, due to concerns of a possible scandal, plus the financial loss of her disability pension. Although her treatment was heralding very positive results, her removal from his care resulted in her blindness returning permanently, giving Mesmer’s critics further opportunity to declare him a fraudster.
It would seem that Mesmer never stumbled upon the true cause of his success with his patients, for whilst he continued to attribute his cures to his theory of “Animal Magnetism,” the trance inducing hand movements and hypnotic suggestions would be the actual cause of the cures he delivered.
However, in spite of all of the negativity that his “Mesmerizing” generated, even after his death in the early nineteenth century, his theories and techniques helped in no small part to develop the applications used today in the administration of modern hypnosis.
So, what is Hypnosis? Well, the first thing we have to accept is that hypnosis, much like medicine, is NOT an exact science. Whilst the leaps and bounds in the