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Mesmer was the first to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis.

Although we now know that his notion of “animal magnetism”, transferred from healer to patient through a mysterious etheric fluid, is hopelessly wrong, it was firmly based on scientific ideas current at the time, in particular Isaac Newton’s theories of gravitation.

The future of hypnosis will be to fully realise the incredible potential of our natural hypnotic abilities.

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This conundrum – does hypnosis have a real, physical basis, or not? Important shifts were happening elsewhere, however. First of all, the centre of hypnotic gravity moved from Europe to America, where all the most significant breakthroughs of the 20th century took place.

Secondly, hypnosis became a popular phenomenon, something that was increasingly available to the layman, outside of the laboratory or clinic.

At the same time, the style of hypnosis changed, from a direct instruction issued by an authoritarian figure (a legacy of the charismatic mesmerist) to a more indirect and permissive style of trance induction, based on subtly persuasive language patterns.

This was largely due to the work of therapists such as Milton H. More importantly, perhaps, hypnosis became increasingly practical, and regarded as a useful tool for easing psychological distress and bringing about profound change in a variety of situations. Advances in neurological science and brain imaging, together with the work of British psychologists Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell who linked hypnosis to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM), have also helped to resolve the “state/non-state” debate, bringing hypnosis and hypnotic trance firmly into the realm of everyday experience.

Thanks to their persistence and efforts, by the end of the century hypnosis was accepted as a valid clinical technique, studied and applied in the great universities and hospitals of the day.

This trend continued into the 20th Century, although in some ways, hypnosis became imprisoned by its own respectability, as it became mired in endless academic debate about “state” or “non-state”.

From a Western point of view, the decisive moment in the history of hypnosis occurred in the 18th Century (coinciding with the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason).

The work of Franz Mesmer, amongst others, can be seen as both the last flourish of “occult” hypnosis and the first flourish of the “scientific” viewpoint.

Mesmer was also the first to develop a consistent method for hypnosis, which was passed on to and developed by his followers. Mesmer himself, for instance, liked to perform mass inductions by having his patients linked together by a rope, along which his “animal magnetism” could pass.

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