I have a relative in Ireland, who has a doctorate is some weird realm of science (hydrography – or some such.) Recently, he stayed with us for a few days. When he asked, I tried to explain to him the function of my clinic. I say ‘tried to explain,’ because, initially at any rate, his scientific mind was closed to such explanations. As soon as I mentioned the ‘H is for hypnotherapy’ word, he made some deprecatory comment about leprechauns and faerie folk.
For many in the modern day world, if something has not got a scientific explanation, it simply doesn’t exist. What could be more like a figment of the imagination than a discipline such as hypnotherapy, which deals almost entirely in the contents of people’s imaginations?
And of course, until recently, hypnotherapy’s inexplicability was always the case. If it could be explained at all, it had to be put down to witchcraft, or to another of the black arts.
The first ‘modern day’ hypnotherapist was Dr Franz Mesmer (from whose name comes the word ‘mesmerism.’) Dr. Mesmer was practising as a medical doctor in Vienna in the early 1800s and, through the use of hypnotherapeutic techniques, was effecting remarkable cures. Unfortunately for him, given the primitive state of science at the time, he was unable to offer any convincing scientific explanation for his cures. Consequently, his co-professionals called him a charlatan and laughed him out of his practice. Thus, hypnotherapy started off with a bad professional rap.
Despite this, eyes could see, even if brains could not explain. Hypnotherapy provides a remarkably effective treatment for many conditions, including those, for which conventional medical treatments are often unsuccessful. For that reason, others pioneering spirits carried on from where Dr Mesmer had left off.
Even by the late 1960s, though hypnotism was by then quite widely practised, particularly as a stunt to provide staged entertainment, scientific studies and explanations were largely lacking. Hypnotherapy was for the credulous, not for those, such as my Irish relative, of serious scientific mind.
Though great strides were made in the study of the mind, from the early 1970s onwards, it wasn’t until the late 1990s, that fMRI brain-imaging technology finally became available to those researching into the function of the brain.
Since the late 1990s, there has been a flood of papers giving scientific descriptions of what happens within the human brain. The physical changes as people enter the altered states of consciousness that are characteristic of the deep relaxation that can be induced by a hypnotherapist can now be observed and accounted for.
Though today, hypnotherapy has entered the mainstream of scientific understanding, as is so often the case in times of rapid change, many people, including some medical practitioners, remain stuck in their ignorance. The old ‘what cannot be explained, cannot exist,’ attitude to this fast developing field of treatment, sadly persists in many quarters. This is much to the disadvantage of those for whom the treatment could otherwise provide great relief.
The roles have been reversed. Today, It is those, who give no credence to the powers of hypnotherapy that are still living in a state of superstition.
If you google image search for ‘brain scan hypnosis’ you come up with several of these illustrating the scientific work being done and showing how the brain alters its state under hypnosis.
Going back to my relative, despite his deprecatory comments, I offered a session to get rid of his long standing pain in his ankle from a past injury. After hemming and hawing he finally agreed even though he was totally convinced that it wouldn’t work! I put him into a quick trance, and when he was brought out he was pretty amazed he had no pain. I’m positive that he will no longer use the words faeries and leprechauns when he hears the word ‘hypnotherapy’!