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The term hypnosis has been defined many different ways. Almost every different source has a different definition of the word. Some sources will even say that since hypnosis can not be scientifically proven there is no such thing as hypnosis at all. However, some specialists have come up with a working definition for lack of a better one: Hypnosis is a particular state of the nervous system in which the organized inhibition of certain areas permits unaccustomed action. The trance can constitute one of its characteristics. Suggestibility can be one of its elements, and perhaps conditioned reflexes (Dauven 74-75).
Hypnotism is not a new technique. It has its origins far back in time. Many documents recording ancient cultures have references to hypnotism, including the Old Testament in the Bible and the Jewish Talmud. Hypnotism was not scientifically developed until the late eighteenth century, when Franz Anton Mesmer became prominent. The work he performed was called animal magnetism. He believed that diseases were caused by disturbed magnetic fluids in the body. His theories on magnetism were proven false and the cures he provided were said to be a product of his patients’ imaginations. In the 1800's, a British physician named James Braid stated that hypnosis was not the result of magical powers, but rather a physiological response in the subject. At the same time, Scottish doctor James Esdaile performed nearly two hundred surgeries using hypnosis as anesthetic. During the late 1800’s, Jean Martin Charcot found that many nervous conditions could be treated with hypnosis. In the same period, Hippolye Berheim and Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault studied suggestibility in hypnosis. In the early 1900's, Ivan Pavlov attempted to find a physiological basis of hypnosis. During World War I and World War II, hypnosis treated battle fatigue and mental problems brought on by the war. During this century, many new advances have been made in the area of hypnosis. It is now proven that hypnotized people can maintain several mental activities at once, it is a heightened form of suggestibility, it can be used to treat stroke victims, and that it contains physiological and social factors. However, these advances are not alone. Many other advances have also been made in this field (London n.p.).
Induction, the provoking of hypnotic sleep, can be carried out in a number of ways. However, all of these ways are very similar. Most are variations of the same basic method. In this method, the subject is asked to relax and focus on a particular thing, usually an object. Suggestion follows that he or she will become increasingly relaxed and eyes and body will become tired. The subject will noticeably follow the suggestions and go into a state resembling sleep. Then it will be suggested to the subject that he or she cannot open his or her eyes. At this point, the induction is completed. The hypnotist may then alter the subject’s experience virtually, or obtain information from him or her. Processes such as age-regression or role-play can be suggested and carried out now (Orne n.p.)
Sometimes subjects have difficulty being hypnotized. Most of the time this is due to their inability to relax. Some subjects find it difficult to trust the hypnotist. They fear that they will be taken advantage of or harmed during the process. Some subjects fear that once they are in the hypnotic state they will not be able to “wake up” and that they will remain that way forever. Some think that hypnosis is a non-Christian practice associated with witchcraft. All of these scenarios make the subject resist hypnosis because he or she is uneasy and incapable of relaxation. If a person cannot relax then he or she cannot be hypnotized, as relaxation is necessary for induction (Dauven 93-97).
When a person seems unable to be hypnotized some doctors resort to using drugs to aid induction. Various drugs have been used to aid in this process. Among them are thiopental, known as “truth serum,” alcohol and several other drug types (London n.p.). At times, a light anesthetic will be used in order for a subject to lower resistance and promote relaxation. However, many hypnotists are cautious, if not hostile towards the use of induction-aiding drugs (Dauven 113). Some hypnotists prefer to give their subjects placebos (sugar pills), telling them that they
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Hypnosis, Suggestibility, Hypnotherapy, Trance, Suggestion, James Braid, Relaxation, Ambroise-Auguste Libeault, Hypnosis in popular culture, Posthypnotic amnesia
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