History of hypnosis
Hypnosis has been known since ancient times. The priests of ancient Greece and Egypt used it for religious purposes, strengthening their authority with “miracles” and healings. The ancient Hindus, Fakirs and the shamans of Central Africa were able to self-hypnotize by contemplating the tip of their nose or navel. In this state they lost sensitivity to pain or heat and could be pierced or cauterized.
In 1700, the Swiss physician Franz Anton Messner, starting from the study of Paracelsus’s texts, began to use hypnosis after the discovery that some selected patients responded satisfactorily to light strokes on the arms and on the suffering parts and to suggestion of sleep. He attributed these results to the transfer to patients of a quality of “mineral and animal magnetism”, elaborating the theory that in every substance there was a fluid with healing properties and body modification. If the fluid did not circulate well, then, the man could get sick. Mesner’s hypnotic therapy utilized magnets / magnets that were placed on different parts of the body and restored the original fluid.
The psychological understanding of the phenomenon began in 1841 with James Braid who first opposed it but then became its most ardent supporter. It was he who invented the term Hypnotism and who tried to establish a scientific validity.
In 1800, the neurologist Charcot, a professor at the Salpetriere school, formulated the theory on the genesis of hypnosis based on an energetic concept, considering it as a neurotic state produced experimentally or pathologically inducible in hysterical persons. Acting manually on some cutaneous areas (head, ovaries) and on the imagination (with puffs of air on the face or fixation of a flame) it was possible to reproduce hysterical states with immobility, eyelid closure and complete insensitivity.
Freud also used hypnosis before developing psychoanalysis; he had sensed that it was a valid form of suggestion, but then abandoned it by considering it too directive. The evolution of hypnosis to the form in which it is now practiced clinically, is due to the physician and psychiatrist M. Erickson (nicknamed Mr. Hypnosis) who used hypnosis creatively until his death in 1980. He used a series of standard rituals based on a particular communicative style; he observed the slightest signs of the body, adapting to them his own suggestions, using the patient’s individuality, his uniqueness. He was able to induce a trance starting from stories, memories, episodes of his life or unusual facts that seemed not to be connected at all to the problem of the patient, who was then dismissed without reminding anything of what happened. The purpose of his hypnosis was to access the unconscious potential and the natural ability to learn of the subject.
What is hypnosis?
There are various definitions associated with hypnosis.
HYPNOSIS etymologically means “sleep”. However, it can not be defined as such but, in general, as a mode of functioning of the nervous system, an “altered state of consciousness”, different from both natural sleep and wakefulness, which as a result of precise stimuli activates a mental process and an involvement of the body.
Hypnosis is also a therapeutic technique that leads the subject from a condition of “drowsiness” to one of “apparent sleep”, with integrity of consciousness up to a condition of “deep sleep”.
At the neuropsychological level hypnosis is thus placed within the continuum of the levels of vigilance of the individual, in which the excitation and inhibition of the cerebral cortex, that is, of the higher nervous activity, grow in a different way. The hypnotic process is distinguished from that of wakefulness, sleep and the REM phase (dream), precisely because it is determined by cerebral structures that are different from those of the other three processes, and in different ways.
Hypnosis can be classified either according to a quantitative criterion (of hypnotic sleep depth) or according to a qualitative criterion: we then have lethargic, cataleptic and somnambulic hypnosis.
- In the lethargic phase the subject sinks into a state of stupor with a tendency not to react to strong external stimulations such as noise or stress to the body.
- The catalytic phase is that in which it induces a stiffening of the musculature that allows to maintain the suggested positions for a long time. For example, the subject’s hand, raised by the hypnotist, remains in the position in which it was placed without the subject giving any sign of fatigue, until the therapist drops it down or orders it to lower it.
- In the somnambulistic phase, the person can move, walk, react to the therapist’s stress and look awake. It is only at this stage that it is possible to induce automatism phenomena such as scratching ones skin and such.
What is not hypnosis?
- Hypnosis can not be induced by a magnetic look or by a fluid emitted by the hypnotist.
- Hypnosis is not a cure but a set of tools that can be used to alter a person’s state of consciousness.
- Hypnosis is not a “spectacular” practice.
How does it act on the brain?
Hypnosis temporarily lowers the state of consciousness of the left hemisphere and “speaks” directly to the right. It also creates a bridge between mind and body through the action of the hypothalamus that is found in the limbic system. In the left hemisphere, the dominant one, is the conscious and rational part of the mind, in the right one the unconscious and irrational part based on pleasure, fantasy and emotions.
The hypothalamus, under the effect of the suggestions given in hypnosis, converts the nervous impulses of the mind into hormonal messages through the pituitary gland.
Hormonal messages modify the body’s reaction also acting on immune defenses.
Are there any subjects predisposed or not suitable for hypnosis?
Many hypnotic phenomena escape a rigorous analysis because hypnosis can not be studied if the subject is not taken into account as a concrete and unique reality as a whole. To “enter” deep within a person, therefore, it is necessary to have as much information as possible, in addition to respecting his individuality and willingness to treatment.
Certainly there is a greater or lesser susceptibility to develop hypnosis. In this sense, the factors linked to the environment in which it is activated, the personality of the patient and that of the hypnotist are important. Within this form of approach an important role are the real and implicit expectations of both subjects (therapist-patient) and the degree of empathy established between the two.
Regarding the patient, we must consider the skills that Hilgard calls “involvement”, that is, of total, intense participation of the whole person in particular experiences (music, reading, art) motivations, expectations. Among those referable to the hypnotist there are the ability to understand the needs of the subject, to be sure, clear and simple, to feel part of the other within certain limits. In some situations, for example, when the only motivation is to eliminate pain, there is a greater chance of success, provided that the appropriate induction is used.
Does hypnosis hurt?
Hypnosis is harmless in itself. However, there are situations in which it should not be used, as well as others in which it can be used, provided that is avoided the application of certain techniques and adopting appropriate conduct.
It is generally contraindicated in the presence, in the individual, of deep psychological problems or when the ego is weak or strong unconscious conflicts are present. In this case, hypnosis could aggravate the psychopathological state. Since it is a technique that dissociates the two cerebral hemispheres, it is contraindicated to those who suffer from psychiatric disorders.
Also to be avoided is its use for the elimination of somatic symptoms, expression of defense mechanisms and compensation, such as certain diarrhea and hypertension; finally, the induction of conflicts and age regressions in hypertensive, hyperthyroid, cardiopathic patients of a certain severity in which violent emotions can have serious repercussions is inadvisable.
Although the contraindications are not many, it is still necessary to have adequate information both from those who are induced to hypnosis and from those who induce it.
Can the state of hypnosis be induced on the elderly and children?
Until a few years ago, it was believed that the elderly were refractory to hypnosis, due to the greater rigidity of their cerebral cortex. On the other hand, clinical experience has shown that good results are achieved, above all in seeking to restore feelings of vitality and enthusiasm.
As for children, the availability to hypnosis is very high in children from 6 to 8 years of age, reaches the maximum at 10 and then gradually decreases up to 14 years, when it acquires stability.
For hypnosis with children one can easily exploit the symbolic language of fairy tales; in pediatrics hypnosis is used mainly for dermatitis and respiratory problems.
What happens in a hypnosis session?
During a session of hypnosis the relationship of the individual with the external world and with motility is inhibited, that is the musculoskeletal activity controlled by the ego. In these conditions the subject lives the relationship with his body in a different way from the daily experience according to the limited participation of the ego.
Is self-hypnosis possible?
Yes. With training, correct practice, motivation and serious involvement in the process you can direct the will and cooperate in the process, producing a spontaneous relaxation.
What is trance?
Trance is a condition of responsive attention, a dissociation of the ego that, depending on the peculiarities of the subject, can result in a form of deep meditation, an artistic creation or a state of sleepwalking with consequent amnesia of what happened . Images, metaphors and verbal suggestions are generally used to trigger the “trance”.
STAGES OF AN HYPNOTIC PROCESS
The transition from the “normal” state of consciousness to the “modified” state according to a defined hypnotic level, can be obtained with various modes and techniques. Generally they are evoked by the hypnotist, emotions, sensations, visualizations, mental associations in which there are symbolic elements (fire, water, etc.).
Through such evocations, a certain intimacy will be created between therapist and patient, a prerequisite for the success of hypnosis. Through hypnotic relaxation, visualizations and other processes, the subject experiences new modes of expression and communication, catharsis, different ways of relating to the body, etc.
Induction can be carried out through words or objects. The paths take place gradually and affect the auditory system, the optical system and finally the muscular system. In some cases, the therapist can touch the subject with his hand and stimulate the skin receptors as well.
A mode often used for hypnosis is the one called imaginative distension and is performed in 3 phases:
Contraction-distention: the subject is trained to learn the difference between tension (linked to muscle contraction) and relaxation (absence of muscular activity).
Contraction-distension displayed: the subject learns to visually represent himself without doing any contraction-relaxation exercise learned in the previous phase
Body Inventory: the subject must orient his mind on the various parts of his body, experiencing the imaginative possibilities related to this exploration.
The most widespread opinion is that in a session of hypnosis, the hypnotized and put into a trance person can come out of this state only after a command of the hypnotist.
In part it may be so, but we must consider that the will of the subject always remains afloat, so without the consent of the patient the hypnotic process is in vain and does not actually achieve the objectives. The clarity of objectives, the sharing of intent and optimal context are the fundamental prerequisites for the success of hypnotic inductions.
USE OF HYPNOSIS
Hypnosis has proved to be very useful in obstetrics, anesthesiology, surgery and dentistry with different purposes.
Hypnosis and obstetrics
In obstetrics hypnosis can be a valuable help both in the period of gestation and at the time of birth, events that can be experienced with great calm, serenity, self-confidence, if you have managed to establish the right psychosomatic balance, to facilitate the discharge of aggressive drives and enhance motivations through active and conscious behavior. Hypnosis can also help to overcome gestation-related disorders such as nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia and the “pain” component linked to childbirth.
Hypnosis and anesthesiology
Hypnosis can, in some particularly receptive subjects, completely substitute pharmacological anesthesia, when it is contraindicated, or be associated with minor doses of anesthetic not only in minor surgery but also in caesarean sections, as well as in hysterectomies or in other interventions. In psychological pain, the psychological and relational components often prevail; in hypnosis these components can be used as information to induce relaxation and visualizations. A new technique used is the progressive decrease of the brain map, learning to make it progressively blurred and then inactive in transmitting the pain.
Hypnosis and surgery
In surgery, hypnosis should allow the intervention, to reduce cardiorespiratory fatigue, liver and kidney, to reduce or reduce postoperative symptoms such as cough, vomiting, urinary retention and to shorten the postoperative period with greater safety and less anxiety.
Hypnosis and dentistry
The field of work of the dentist is the mouth: a mine of sensations, impulses, emotions and feelings. There are frequent feelings of anxiety in going to the dentist; here then is the importance of helping the patient to face what concerns him by shifting the attention from one perceptual plane to another, that is from the kinesthetic to the auditory plane. In dentistry, through hypnosis, you can eliminate vomiting, you can get the immobility of the tongue and cheeks, you can reduce salivary secretion, facilitate the taking of imprints and radiographs as well as reduce anxiety and fear even in children.
Hypnosis is also taken into consideration in eating disorders, smoking control and disorders related to impotence and frigidity.
The medical applications of hypnosis are increasingly growing: use of hypnosis in the treatment of chronic pain, in oncological treatment, replacing anesthesia during surgery, during delivery or during dental treatment.
This is not magic, it is simply the effect that is obtained through the use of the resources of the subconscious or unconscious mind and through the activation of the body’s self-healing power.
The good news is that hypnosis can be learned and experienced even in the inner space of one’s uniqueness. This is how we can practice self-hypnosis.
Sarah is part of the Team ELC and she helps people discover what makes their life happy, meaningful, and full of ease. She is a writer, meditator and loves painting, an art she happily gets to practice a lot in her spare time.