Hypnotism is popularly supposed to be a mysterious psychological

process by which susceptible subjects are brought under the influence

of a person possessing some marvelous power over others' minds and

wills. According to this supposition, during the periods in which the

subjects are under this influence, they either have some new source of

energy transferred to them from the operator's strong personality, or

else they share to some extent in the will power possessed by him. In

the midst of the sub-consciousness which characterizes the hypnotic

condition, then, they are in some way endowed with new strength, which

enables them to overcome obstacles to physical or mental health, some

of which seemed at least quite insurmountable under their normal


As a matter of fact, hypnotism is much simpler than this, consisting

merely of a state of mental absorption in which all distracting

thoughts are for the moment warded off, and only such thoughts as are

suggested by the hypnotist reach the consciousness of the patient. The

essence of hypnotism is the concentration of mind on one idea or only

a few ideas dictated by the hypnotist. This mental concentration

produces the effect of greater strength, whether apparent or real, to

carry out the purposes connected with those thoughts. It is usually

considered that hypnotism involves sleep, and in some cases it does.

This is often undesirable. True, therapeutic hypnosis leaves at least

certain senses of the subject open to perceive such things as are

presented by the hypnotist's suggestion though these senses may be,

and usually are, quite closed to all other perceptions. In a great

many cases, though there is a real hypnotic condition, a state

resembling true sleep does not occur. There is only a more or less

complete concentration of attention on the suggestions of the

operator, and a complete cessation of all spontaneous thought, or of

all suggestions that might come in ordinary ways from the subject's

own senses.

Effects of Hypnotism.--Most people have a very erroneous notion with

regard to the effects of hypnotism. Some expect that the hypnotic

sleep will work miracles. Nothing is more common in the experience of

one who is known to employ hypnotism, even occasionally, than to have

a patient who is addicted to some habit, alcoholic, drug, or sexual,

ask, "Do you hypnotize?" If an affirmative answer is given, the

patient proceeds to say that he has heard that one can be hypnotized,

and then all the tendency to fall back into the old habit is

immediately lost, and he has no further bother from it. This supposed

miraculous effect of hypnotism in supplanting the necessity for using

the human will has been cultivated very sedulously in the public mind

by quacks and charlatans of various kinds and even exploiters of

hypnotism who belong to the medical profession. But there is nothing

in it. Hypnotism will not change character unless it be for the worse,

since the habit of it sometimes leads to dependence on suggestion

rather than spontaneous motives. Hypnotism cannot be substituted for

weakness of will. The suggestions given in the hypnotic state are

practically no stronger than those given in the waking state, if the

patient would only equally concentrate his mind to receive them, and

would be as ready in response. It is the readiness of response which

comes in cumulative fashion, in the midst of the utter abstraction

from other thoughts, that characterizes the hypnotic condition.

This is, of course, quite a different valuation of hypnotism from the

very strong expressions, with regard to the power of hypnotists to

influence the human will, which have at various times been made. These

exaggerated claims have been no stronger than those often made for

remedies of various kinds that have been long since discredited. I

have heard a serious though young professor of psychology declare that

he was not sure whether he was justified in using all the power that

he possessed by hypnotism to influence men's wills to keep them from

indulging in liquor to excess, because after all men had a right to

their free will, even in a matter of this kind, and it would be wrong

to take it away from them. He added very philosophically that no human

being had the right to play the role of Providence in directing

others' actions even for good, unless they themselves were perfectly

satisfied. If there was any such force in hypnotism as is thus

suggested, the reformation of the world, or still more its

deformation, at the hands of some of the strong-minded practicers of

hypnotism, would be a comparatively easy process. As a matter of fact,

however, the hypnotizer has, except as regards abnormally suggestible

people, only as much influence over the person hypnotized as the

subject permits, and the subject retains all his personality as an

individual with all his weaknesses. After he has been helped away from

his weaknesses by hypnotism, he is just as likely as ever to yield to

them again, unless, during the interval of conquest, he has succeeded

in bracing up his will to resist them.

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