There’s no question about it: The history of modem hypnotism begins with Franz Anton Mesmer and his theory of Animal Magnetism, or mesmerism.
But what exactly was Mesmer’s contribution to the field, and what can we learn from him that can be applied in hypnosis today?
What mesmerism is and how it differs from hypnosis.
What modern hypnotists can learn from Mesmer.
How to learn scientific hypnosis based on well-established principles.
What is Mesmerism?
In the mid-18th century, Dr. Mesmer came up with the theory of Animal Magnetism as an alternative to the common practice of bloodletting.
Bloodletting consists of extracting a substantial portion of blood from a sick person supposedly to balance out their “humors,” or bodily fluids. In the present day, we’re well aware this is also ineffective and quite dangerous.
Mesmerism states that magnetic currents run through people’s organs and even interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. When these currents become unbalanced, our bodies suffer from them. From Mesmer’s perspective, many mysterious illnesses at the time were explained by unbalanced magnetic currents in an individual’s body.
Of course, it’s easy to look down on Mesmer nowadays and call his theories many negative things. But at a time when medicine killed more people than it saved, creating a method that doesn’t work more than any placebo, but is also safe, was practically a scientific breakthrough.
Is Mesmerism a Placebo?
Merriam-Webster defines a placebo as a “pharmacologically inert preparation prescribed more for the mental relief of the patient than for its actual effect on a disorder.”
For the placebo effect to happen, this means that when we believe “something” is beneficial, it affects our brains and bodies at a cellular level. It is important to note that the “something” is usually a sugar pill that is entirely inert without any active ingredient and still creates the expected benefits in the patient.
We can’t affirm with 100% certainty that the results obtained by Mesmeric practices result from a placebo, but we’re inclined to believe they are.
There is neither sufficient evidence to support mesmerism nor any viable way to test its theories. To this day, these alleged magnetic currents are unsupported by science. To our knowledge, the results obtained by Mesmerists with their subjects aren’t any better than other kinds of mystical or esoteric medicines.
Hypnosis is Scientific
So far, we have established that Mesmer didn’t contribute to the science of hypnosis in any way. Because, as we stated, no empirical evidence exists to support Mesmer’s proto-scientific theory of Animal Magnetism.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that mesmerism works based on psychological principles well known by science and that hypnosis utilizes much more objectively and effectively.
Furthermore, hypnosis has been a recognized therapeutic modality since the 1950s, and its effectiveness for things like pain management has been extensively studied and documented.
Mesmer was a master, however, at utilizing congruence and prestige.
The Power of Prestige
Mesmer was a charismatic fellow who, when tending to his patients using his theories, would engineer an environment where his patients would be in a constant state of expectation, all of which added to his immense prestige.
With physical and mental diseases alike, but especially with the latter, the power of the mind has shown to be second to none when it comes to effectively improving a person’s current condition and overall quality of life.
The explanation is logical. If a disease is psychogenic, meaning it originates in the mind, it’s logical the mind can fix it as well. The trick is to create an environment where a person has incredible prestige and then use it to generate enough expectation for a powerful placebo effect.
As a hypnotist, you should engineer the setting, wear clothes and behave in a way that will create expectations for your subjects and add to your prestige.
The Mandel Triangle and Congruence
Mesmer was very congruent in his demeanor. He wore weird robes and turbans that seemed ridiculous but were utterly harmonious with how he behaved and presented himself.
As a professional hypnotist with over forty years of full-time experience, our head trainer Mike Mandel spent a lot of time learning a wide variety of techniques he could apply.
Building upon this observation, he developed a set of three interlocked principles that will help therapists do more elegant work, stage hypnotists do better shows, and keynote speakers deliver more engaging talks.
Imagine a triangle with each side labeled with one of these words:
Confidence is something we all want and need. When we feel confident, we know our abilities and resources and believe we can apply them. We radiate optimism.
Congruence occurs when all our systems send one consistent message. Our body language, vocal tone, gestures, internal dialog, and actual words all say the same thing. Humans don’t like incongruence in others. It feels fake.
Conviction is difficult for many people to get their heads around. Think of conviction as intention. It’s about activating your focused willpower. When you have conviction, your confidence, and congruence will also improve.
We model this as a triangle because if you increase the length of any line, the other lines must also increase. And that’s what we’ve noticed happens in real life. If you get better at congruence, you automatically improve confidence and conviction. The triangle gets bigger.
Congruence comes through practice, but you need to calibrate yourself to ensure you aren’t sending mixed messages. If you tell someone you’re happy to see them, but your vocal tone is flat and bored, you’re being incongruent!
Check in with yourself to ensure your verbal and nonverbal communication is always coherent and the messages you send through your words and body language are congruent and support each other.
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