What Is Hypnosis?

How long hypnosis has been in use among us depends upon the definition one is willing to adopt. If you are comfortable with the idea that hypnosis means focused concentration, either on objects such as the flames of a campfire or on a particular idea, we can agree that hypnosis has been practiced since long before recorded history began. We do know that since the beginning of recorded history healers and other practitioners have induced hypnosis by means of chanting, dancing, ritual and prayer, so it might be safe to say that hypnosis is not some sort of “new age” innovation, but simply a beneficial use of the mechanism of the mind that has been with us for a long, long time.

That it has been refined and redefined many times, improved upon with psychological advances, belittled, misused, confused and also taken to great heights of healing power has been well documented over time. But perhaps of most interest to the modern seeker after methods of healing would be the fact that for the last two hundred years or so, hypnosis has been accepted by the world’s psychotherapeutic community as a helpful means of establishing beneficial behavioral change. Hypnosis was accepted by the American Medical Association (AMA) as a viable medical treatment in 1958. Thousands of research studies have been—and continue to be—conducted with establishments such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Psychological Association (APA), the British Psychological Society, Harvard University and others far too numerous to include here.

From Franz Anton Mesmer (whose name gave us the word “mesmerize” meaning to fix our attention on something specific, to the exclusion of all else, for a finite duration) to James Esdaile who developed a technique in 19th century India wherein hypnosis was successfully used as an anesthetic for amputations and invasive surgery, and on to Sigmund Freud who began his professional life as a hypnotist and only later moved on to psychoanalysis, hypnosis has both fascinated and tantalized us with its potential—in sensational literature and (usually) bad movies—for evil, but mostly for good, with its promise of making use of the mind to heal itself.

Here we come to the age of the therapeutic hypnotists such as Dave Elman, Milton Erickson, Steven Parkhill, Fritz Perls, and Charles Tebbetts whose research and writings have motivated the present generation of hard-working, tireless professionals who are dedicating their lives to helping others improve their own. Contemporary hypnotism recognizes history in the making with prolific written and existential contributions (a dozen or more world renowned books or training programs) from Gerald Kein, C. Roy Hunter, and Drake Eastburn.

It might seem like a long journey from staring into the flames of a primitive campfire to gather strength and endurance for battle or hunting foray to relaxing in a comfortable recliner while a trained and highly skilled hypnotist helps you to break a 30-year smoking habit, but the same fundamental principle is at work:

Given the desire and the opportunity, the human mind will find a way to accomplish anything.