There’s an awful lot of misunderstanding between Mesmerism and hypnosis. I think one of the problems is the confusion people cause when they fail to differentiate between Mesmerism proper, and the Transcendental Mesmerists of the nineteenth century.
Considering the dictionary’s partial description of the word ‘transcendental,’ as “one concerned with what is independent of experience,” we may disregard this particular movement.
Mesmer himself concluded, and brought into fashion, the term ‘animal magnetism.’ He was considerably influenced by the writings of Paracelsus and rationalized that just as the planets influence the tides, so too did they have influence on the fluids contained in the human body. Further, that they were of an occult nature.
Notwithstanding, Dr. James Braid gave Mesmer considerable credit for his theories of the benefits of putting people into a trance-like state and from there, attempting to heal them.
Arguably, the first person to use hypnosis in modern times was a Father Johann Gassner, a Catholic priest born in Klosters, Switzerland. It’s known that he used hypnosis as a method to exorcise members of his flock.
It seems that Mesmer was witness to a number of these sessions, but refused to believe Gassner’s theory that these people were possessed by demons. His feeling was that the metal crucifix Father Gassner used to combat the poor person’s evil possession was in fact magnetizing him or her. It appears that this was the switch, as it were, for turning on Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism.
However, apparently the placing of magnets on patients’ bodies produced remarkable results. A 28 year old lady, Miss Franziska Osterlin was the first person upon whom he tried the experiment. She suffered from hysteria.
Nowadays, among other names, the illness is known as Conversion Disorder, but the name comes from the Greek, ‘hustera,’ which means uterus. It was thought to be a condition where the uterus became detached. Understandably, if a situation like that did occur, it would be enough to send the strongest woman into hysterics.
Anyway, the young lady was cured. I leave it to the readers’ imaginations as to some of the curative methods used by so-called physicians of the time. One supposes that her uterus became reconnected. But Mesmer didn’t credit the magnets themselves with the cure. He considered them simply as agents for this idea of his of the planetary ebb and flow of the body’s fluids.
But enough, I think, of its esoteric beginnings. We live in more enlightened times, and while hypnosis isn’t considered a treatment that stands alone, it is used with great effect with other treatments and therapies that help a wide range of conditions.
Hypnosis, also known as hypnotherapy or hypnotic suggestion, must not under any circumstance be confused with what we might call ‘stage hypnotism.’ Therapeutic Hypnosis is used with great effect to improve one’s health and well-being and while you’re more open to suggestion during these interludes, there is no difference to your free will and you certainly don’t lose control over your behaviour.
Used with other therapies, it has great benefit with certain mental health conditions, stopping smoking, childbirth, asthma, allergies and skin conditions as well as a number of other maladies. There are no risks, but make quite sure you’re treated by a licensed, fully trained and experienced therapist.