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The Mind Body Connection

Many healers have long believed that body, thoughts and emotions can influence one another. Therefore it is possible to influence a physical sickness by working on and realizing particular emotions and by changing thoughts and behavioral patterns. The Romans said "mens sana in corpore sano", healthy mind in healthy body. This saying seems to confirm that for many centuries it has been believed that physical and emotional well being had an effect on one another. To put this in perspective, one only has to consider how our health declines after periods of stress or as a consequence of radical events. The division between body and mind in medicine is something that only took place around 1750, with the scientific developments from Newton. Since then the mind and spirit have been considered to be under the jurisdiction of the church and the body under the jurisdiction of science. This is also the reason why non-Western kinds of medicine see the human being as a whole consisting of body, mind and soul. Traumatic experiences are not only stored on an emotional level but also on the physical level. The emotional charge of the different traumas can influence our immune system and health conditions. Through processing old traumas and the emotional charges that are connected to a certain sickness it is possible to find resources inside of us that could help us start the healing process.

Hypnotic Pioneers

Modern hypnosis began with an Austrian physician, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815) in the 18th Century. Mesmer (whose name the word 'mesmerism' is derived) was a medical graduate from the famed medical school of Vienna and after studying as a Jesuit priest, he became interested in magnetism. Mesmer became Europe's foremost expert at magnetic healing, where magnets where passed over the body to effect a healing. His results where fabulous and so he became very famous. Mesmer believed all living things contained a kind of magnetic 'fluid' and if a person had enough of this fluid, they would be healthy. This is where the term “animal magnetism” comes from. Mesmer would stand his subjects quite still while he swept his arms across their body, sometimes for hours on end. Mesmer forgot his magnets one day and so just made passes over the patient with his hands and was surprised to find that they got better. From there on, he thought he had sufficient magnetic fluid in himself to effect the cures. Mesmer was also responsible for the popular image of the hypnotist as a man with magnetic eyes, cape and goatee beard.

Another forward thinker was John Elliotson (1791 - 1868), a professor at London University, who is famous for introducing the stethoscope into England. He also tried to champion the cause of mesmerism, but was forced to resign. He continued to give demonstrations of mesmerism in his own home to any interested parties, and this led to a steady increase in literature on the subject.
The next real pioneer of hypnosis in Britain appeared in mid nineteenth century with James Braid (1795 - 1860). Primarily a Scottish eye doctor, he developed an interest in mesmerism quite by chance. One day, when he was late for an appointment, he found his patient in the waiting room staring into an old lamp, his eyes glazed. Fascinated, Braid gave the patient some commands, telling him to close his eyes and go to sleep. The patient complied and Braid's interest grew. He discovered that getting a patient to fixate upon something was one of the most important components of putting them into a trance.

The swinging watch, which many people associate with hypnosis, was popular in the early days as an object of fixation. Following his discovery that it was not necessary to go through all the palaver of mesmeric passes, Braid published a book in which he proposed that the phenomenon now be called hypnotism.

Meanwhile, a British surgeon in India, James Esdaile (1808 - 1859), recognized the enormous benefits of hypnotism for pain relief and performed hundreds of major operations using hypnosis as his only anesthetic. When he returned to England he tried to convince the medical establishment of his findings, but they laughed at him and declared that pain was character building (although they were biased in favor of the new chemical anesthetics, which they could control and, of course, charge more money for). So hypnosis became, and remains to this day, an 'alternative' form of medicine.

The French were also taking an interest in the subject of hypnosis, and many breakthroughs were made by such men as Ambrose Liebeault (1823 - 1904), J. M. Charcot (1825 - 1893) and Charles Richet (1850 - 1935).

The work of another Frenchman, Emile Coue (1857 - 1926), was very interesting. He moved away from conventional approaches and pioneered the use of autosuggestion. He is most famous for the phrase 'Day by day in every way I am getting better and better'. His technique was one of affirmation and it has been championed in countless modern books. A man of enormous compassion, Coue believed that he did not heal people himself but merely facilitated their own self-healing. He understood the importance of the subject's participation in hypnosis, and was a forerunner of those modern practitioners who claim, 'There is no such thing as hypnosis, only self-hypnosis.'

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) was also interested in hypnosis, initially using it extensively in his work. He eventually abandoned the practice - for several reasons, not least that he wasn't any good at it! He favored psychoanalysis, which involves the patient lying on a couch and the analyst doing a lot of listening. He believed that the evolution of the self was a difficult process of working through stages of sexual development, with repressed memories of traumatic incidents the main cause of psychological problems. This is an interesting idea that has yet to be proved. Freud's early rejection of hypnosis delayed the development of hypnotherapy, turning the focus of psychology away from hypnosis and towards psychoanalysis. However, things picked up in the 1930's in America with the publication of Clark Hull's book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility.

In more recent times, the recognized leading authority on clinical hypnosis was Milton H Erickson, MD (1901 - 1980), a remarkable man, and a highly effective psychotherapist. As a teenager he was stricken with polio and paralyzed, but he remobilized himself. It was while paralyzed that he had an unusual opportunity to observe people, and he notice that what people said and what they did were often very different. He became fascinated by human psychology and devised countless innovative and creative ways to help people. He healed through metaphor, surprise, confusion and humor, as well as hypnosis. A master of 'indirect hypnosis', he was able to put a person into a trance without even mentioning the word hypnosis.

Dave Elman brought some measure of acceptance to hypnosis from the medical profession in the USA when the Council on Medical health of the American Medical Association accepted the use of hypnotherapy in 1958.

Over the years hypnosis has gained ground and respectability within the medical profession. Although hypnosis and medicine are not the same, they are now acknowledged as being related, and it is only a matter of time before hypnosis becomes a mainstream practice.