Over the centuries, medicine and healing have gone through hundreds of phases of belief, techniques, approach and theories. In ancient times, the mixing of herbs, solutions and tonics with folk remedies and "old wives tales" produced some recoveries and cures. Life was short and illnesses many, however. Some cultures added observations and empirical evidence to this lore and had better results. Recovery was still hit and miss.
Modern medicine has surfaced in the last few centuries with its own "proven" approach and pharmaceuticals (ground up and mixed herbs) and has added mechanical and electronic devices to aid doctors and practitioners in the ancient art of healing. This same modern medicine has gone through its own phases, from ridding itself of superstitious notions, to relying upon a mechanistic/biological view of the body, to having to adapt to a growing body of evidence that "science, or the scientific method, does not explain everything." Just within the last thirty years allopathic, mainstream medicine expanded into the "body-mind" model (even though there have been pioneers and advocates from the New Thought movement since the 1880s and 1890s). The changes continue. For instance, just as society and politics had to deal with the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s, the medical establishment had to cope with paradigm shifts (changes in group or social perceptions) of what was true or acceptable (as compared with being told what was true by the new scientist-priests). Alternative therapies had arrived. Western medicine advocates had to control their tempers, and righteousness, when Asian medicine, such as acupuncture, became accepted and even earned financial recognition by health insurance providers. Other "quack" procedures such as chiropractic procedures and homeopathy have made great strides forward in general acceptance. We are now coming to see a holistic model of medicine and healing that encompasses an expanded sense of who we are in the "body-mind-spirit" system.
Hypnosis, and its unnamed equivalents, has had its ups and downs, ins and outs, over the centuries too. The ancient Greek healers were incorporating hypnotic suggestions in their healing rituals and ceremonies. Indeed, an aspect of theater, especially tragedies, was cathartic (drawing away the pain or negative) and therefore therapeutic to this ancient people. Shamans and medicine men use rattles, drums and smoke among their "tools" to bring emotions, imagination and spontaneous healings to their subjects; all these methods imply beliefs and suggestions having impacts and results.
In the 18th century a mysterious physician, born in Germany and educated in Vienna, Dr. Franz Mesmer, appeared on the scene. He put people into trance, using nature, water, metals and his own charismatic presence to effect amazing changes and cures in people. Unfortunately for him, this unknown power of electromagnetic ethereal essence that he explained for the phenomena, which he termed animal magnetism, came at the same time as the Age of Reason, and the doctors and scientists of the day were wiping out all things that could not be analyzed under mechanical, biological rules.
Dr. James Braid, an English ophthalmologist, coined the word hypnosis in 1842 after the Greek word for sleep. After he studied the phenomenon, he ultimately desired to change his definition, and the word hypnosis, but by then it was too late and the practice and popularity of this enigmatic art was being used by many people. Also in the 19th century, a European physician by the name of Dr Esdaille, working in India, successfully used hypnosis as anesthesia, even for limb amputations. The practice of using hypnosis in surgery slowly became accepted in the West. An interesting side note is that the use of hypnosis for anesthesia fell from favor only when ether was discovered--which gave more consistent results and fit the accepted medical paradigm reasoning more easily.
Since the 1950s hypnosis has been used more and more in medicine, dentistry and psychology. There have been those established nay-sayers, but a determined and successful group of practitioners and researchers have utilized the tools and techniques of hypnosis to this present day.
There are many facets to approaching and understanding this complex art called hypnosis. Two main views I would like to present here are the active and passive aspects, and uses, of hypnosis. Actively, hypnotherapists use their skills to treat anxiety, depression, trauma, irritable bowel syndrome and eating disorders, among many other illnesses. Hypnotists help people to quit smoking and overcome other negative habits. Dentists and anesthetists use hypnosis for pain management and analgesia. Furthermore, hypnotic regressionists aid cosmic explorers in discovering their past lives. Oftentimes present day illnesses and phobias have their roots in far away times and places, so even these more esoteric uses of hypnosis can actively aid one in healing.
The passive uses of suggestions are quite broad and can be used successfully in positive thinking and affirmations, and are the magic ingredient in the famous placebo effect. If patients believe something is going to work, then it will. Coaches, sports trainers, and professional consultants realize the importance of their words and encouragement. There is, by the way, the opposite of the placebo; the nocebo effect occurs when someone believes some medicine or therapy won't work -- and guess what, it doesn't.
There has been some very fascinating research on hypnosis over the years. I offer two pieces here, below.
"Hypnosis, with its long and checkered history in medicine and entertainment,
is receiving some new respect from neuroscientists," reports Sandra Blakeslee
of the New York Times. "Recent brain studies of people who are susceptible to
suggestion indicate that when they act on the suggestions their brains show
profound changes in how they process information. The suggestions, researchers
report, literally change what people see, hear, feel and believe to be true." -
The exciting possibilities of this research is important, not only for healing and hypnosis, but to the very essence of what we perceive as reality. If you have seen and appreciated the innovative movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know," which deals with the meeting ground of theoretical physics, quantum mechanics and biological mechanisms, then the following ideas gathered by Blakeslee will definitely intrigue you. She continues:
One area that [new research on hypnosis and suggestion] may have
illuminated is the processing of sensory data. Information from the eyes, ears
and body is carried to primary sensory regions in the brain. From there, it is
carried to so-called higher regions where interpretation occurs.
The same processing stream, from lower to higher regions, exists for sounds, touch and other sensory information. Researchers call this direction of flow feedforward. As raw sensory data is carried to a part of the brain that creates a comprehensible, conscious impression, the data is moving from bottom to top.
Bundles of nerve cells dedicated to each sense carry sensory information. The surprise is the amount of traffic the other way, from top to bottom, called feedback. There are 10 times as many nerve fibers carrying information down as there are carrying it up.