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Hypnosis - Myths and Reality
by Geoffrey Knight

Hypnosis has remained a fascination to the western mind ever since Mesmer performed his theatrical hypnotic shows in Paris before the court of Louis XVI curing patients of hysteria. Mesmer was really in the entertainment business, but he cured patients suffering from retention of urine, toothache, earache, depression, temporary blindness and attacks of paralysis which the medical profession considered to be incurable. In Vienna, Mesmer treated the daughter of the private secretary to the Archduke of Austria who had suffered blindness since childhood.

Maria-Therese Paradis had become a brilliant pianist and was acclaimed throughout the concert halls of Europe. The medical experts of the day failed to restore her sight so Dr. Mesmer was consulted. By using hypnosis, his treatment was successful (she was blind through hysteria), and one can imagine the chagrin of the medical profession. And you can also imagine their delight when she relapsed, for once sighted she lost that sixth sense that made her a genius on the keyboard. Poor Marie had been receiving a state pension for her blindness, but this was withdrawn when she could see. Not surprisingly she became blind again and the medical profession hounded Mesmer out of Vienna whereupon he moved to Paris.

After curing many people in Paris, the medical profession became jealous and hostile. (What's new!) They forced King Louis to appoint a commission to investigate mesmerism and among its members was Benjamin Franklin. The Commission concluded that Dr. Mesmer's treatments were harmful and he nearly lost his head and had to leave France in a hurry. Another member of the commission sitting alongside Benjamin Franklin was one Dr. Guillotin, a famous chemist, who history has made more famous for his invention of the machine for chopping off so many heads, including Mesmer's had he not flown.

The entertainment business (alongside the medical profession) has abused hypnosis for a long time - and has been responsible for creating, in the public mind, a collective illusion about what hypnosis can and cannot do. Television - more accountable than any other medium for trivialising most things it touches - has introduced millions of viewers to a deep and serious subject in such a shallow manner that it is hardly surprising that most of the population regards hypnosis as little more than "dangerous" entertainment. Television has been detrimental to the serious, dedicated and well-trained profession of hypnotists who apply their knowledge and skills to greatly assist people with a wide range of problems.

There are many fears and misunderstandings about the use of hypnosis, and the myths and mystery that surround it are completely undeserved. It is very normal, non-magical, and has generally predictable results. Although hypnosis is induced by the therapist's voice, it is you - the subject - who puts yourself into hypnosis (into what is often incorrectly called the hypnotic trance). All hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and the hypnotist is merely the facilitator.

Hypnosis is a perfectly natural state, and each day we experience it in a very light state - when we go into and come out of sleep; sometimes when we drive the car and cannot recall the journey at all; performing everyday tasks; on "auto-pilot" reading a book or watching television, and sometimes even when making love.

Certainly, you will not "lose control" at any time, nor can you be manipulated in any way.

When hypnotized you are not unconsciousness, and nobody can be induced to do anything that they do not want to do. In fact, a person in hypnosis is aware of everything that is happening around them, aware of themselves and the therapist, and will retain afterwards a full and accurate memory of everything that was said and happened in the session. If you do not like any suggestions made to you during the session, you can simply come out of the hypnotic state by opening your eyes. If you don't want to reveal things that are private, you won't.

So who can be hypnotized? The simple answer is just about everyone can be hypnotized, with the exception of the mentally ill or subnormal, very young children or the very old, or anybody under the influence of hard drugs or large quantities of alcohol.

Hypnosis is a partnership between therapist and client - otherwise it does not work. It requires the client's single-pointed concentration which leads to a deep state of relaxation. You probably will not think you are in a hypnotic state - but you will be aware of a particularly pleasant feeling of mental and physical relaxation.

There are two types of treatments using hypnosis: suggestion therapy and analytical therapy. Suggestion therapy is used for simple problems such as smoking, nailbiting, pre-exam nerves, slimming, relaxation, confidence boosting, etc. Usually these problems require one or two sessions only, with perhaps a booster later.

Analytical therapy is used to discover the underlying causes of psychological problems. Every problem or symptom must have a cause, and hypno-analysis reveals and then removes the cause, and by doing so relieves the symptoms. Analytical therapy is used for a multitude of problems from eating disorders (such an anorexia and bulimia nervosa), phobias of all types, depression, addictions to drugs and alcohol, lack of self-esteem, etc.

Hypnosis is a very powerful and therapeutic tool. It is an altered state of consciousness like meditation or Yoga, but the difference is that you take an active and positive role in making changes in your belief systems buried deep in your unconscious mind.

Geoffrey Knight is a clinical hypnotherapist with a practice in Northwest Portland, and can be reached at 503-246-7300, or e-mail Web site: