At last, it’s official. Hypnotism really does work – and it has an impact on the brain which can be measured scientifically, according to one of America’s leading psychiatrists. David Spiegel, from Stanford University, told the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science that he had scanned the brains of volunteers who were told they were looking at coloured objects when, in fact, they were black and white.
A scan showing areas of the brain used to register colour highlighted increased blood flow, indicating that the volunteers genuinely ‘saw’ colours, as they had been told they would.‘This is scientific evidence that something happens in the brain when people are hypnotized that doesn’t happen ordinarily,’ Mr Spiegel told delegates.He added that there were ‘tremendous medical implications’ and envisaged people being able to manage their own pain and anxiety.Well, I am relieved to know that the people I have hypnotized on stage down the years were not just putting it on to please me and the audience. And, more importantly, that those I have cured of fears and phobias were genuinely cured.I am delighted that this research confirms what professional hypnotists, such as myself, who have been successfully using the technique for medical purposes, have known all along – hypnotism has a genuine effect on the functioning of the mind, as well as the body.
Let me give you one example of my recent work in New York. Patricia was a high-flying business executive who had put off having a child for many years because her career came first. Now the biological clock had clicked in and she desperately wanted a baby, but she could not get pregnant.There was no physical reason for her infertility, and I soon came to realize that she had simply done a fine job of self-hypnosis, programming her body to reject pregnancy.
I re-hypnotized her to switch that part of her body back on, and within a couple of months she was pregnant and now has twins.Another area in which hypnosis works is pain control. We can all remember concentrating desperately hard on, say, putting up a shelf.Your screwdriver slips, you cut your finger – and it hardly registers. It is only when you have finished that you realize the finger hurts intolerably, and you notice blood running down your arm.
I have used that principle to help several women to have painless childbirths by hypnotising them into concentrating on things other than the forthcoming pain.
And it is even possible for self-hypnosis to do the trick. I know from experience that it is possible to teach that technique.
Recently I was talking to Dr Roger Bannister, the man who ran the first four-minute mile back in the Fifties. It had been deemed an unbreakable barrier. But within a year or so of his epic feat, some 30 other runners had done the same.
Had the world suddenly produced a new breed of supermen-Of course not. What had happened was that Roger’s astonishing feat had changed the mindset of many runners.
Instead of saying ‘That’s impossible’ they were now saying ‘You know, I could just do that’. And the mental shift impacted on their bodily functions.
Much of the work I now do with leading athletes involves that principle. I hypnotize them into accepting that they could do even better than they are doing.
Do I succeed? All I can say is that many of those sportsmen and women report back to me that their performance has improved, and they send their friends to consult me – which is the highest compliment.
The other area in which, in my experience, hypnotism works well is in curing irrational fears and phobias – as well as addictions such as smoking or overeating.
A good hypnotist can rid you of anxieties within half an hour, and in New York I conducted a televised experiment which proves it.
I hypnotized Gina, a young lady who had a morbid fear of flying. Then I took her up in a C111 transport plane and at 3,000ft opened the rear door and stood with her (harnessed of course) a mere 12in from the drop, while she calmly enjoyed the breathtaking view of the city.
As far as I am concerned, anything which says to the skeptics that hypnotism is more than either a showbiz con or a simple matter of the weak-minded ‘victim’ being influenced by the stronger-willed hypnotist is worthwhile.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have no worries about hypnotism as entertainment. That is how I started out, and I still love to perform on stage and television, although it can involve drama and hype and a slightly contrived, spooky atmosphere.
But, like many others, I soon came to realize that there is much more to the art than merely persuading people to do foolish things as a bit of fun.
As I looked into the history of hypnotism I learned that in its modern form it was first practiced as ‘animal magnetism’ some 200 years ago in Vienna by one Dr Franz Anton Mesmer (hence the word mesmerised).
He was highly successful but he ended up ruined and driven out of the city by the medical establishment, having been accused of faking and practising magic.
Or take the case of 19th century surgeon James Esdaile. He practiced in India and, as a matter of necessity, performed dozens of operations, including major amputations, without anesthetic and without his patients feeling pain.
He claimed a 95 per cent success rate, at a time when most surgeons killed some 40 per cent of their patients. But when he came back to this country and tried to interest his colleagues in his discovery, he was laughed out of court by the medical authorities.
Is it any wonder then that those who discovered they had the power to hypnotise soon found they could do better by taking their skill on to the stage rather than into the consulting rooms?
Now I hope that the research conducted by David Spiegel and others will finally enable hypnotism to take its proper place as a serious part of medical science. It is high time.