The trouble hypnosis historically had is that you can’t see it. You can’t put it under a microscope and look at it either. You can’t touch it or smell it or taste it. It’s invisible and yet it works very well and it has done for a very long time. Because of its invisibility hypnosis has been difficult to study. It has been, for a very long time, difficult to understand exactly how it works and even more difficult to communicate any understanding of the subject to others.
People are naturally afraid of the unknown and when the affect of something is not understood, it’s usually treated with suspicion. This is just human nature, even when working with seemingly intelligent people. In the eighteen hundreds a Hungarian doctor by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that a huge reduction in deaths could be achieved at pregnancy clinics if doctors washed their hands in a chlorinated lime solution. Even though the effect of his discovery was self evident, he couldn’t explain why it worked and because germs are invisible to the naked eye his theory was rejected by his peers. Sadly, many more women died in child birth than was necessary until germ theory was later confirmed by Louis Pasteur. Fortunately, such lessons have taught us to pay attention to the things we can’t see.
The world has changed tremendously since the eighteen hundreds. In the past, invisible things didn’t matter. We now know that invisible things do matter and are in fact the source of matter. In 1973 Max Planck, largely regarded as the father of quantum mechanics, announced: “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as the result of my research about atoms this much: THERE IS NO MATTER AS SUCH! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
Of quantum mechanics Einstein said, “The more success the quantum mechanics has, the sillier it looks.” To physicists raised on Newtonian Law it must indeed have seemed at least as silly as surgeon’s not washing their hands before going into surgery. The mysterious force Planck referred to is consciousness. But it really doesn’t seem all that silly anymore. The current generation of people living on this planet has grown up with “silly” and “invisible” being perfectly normal. Radio waves, TV signal, microwaves are all invisible and normal. Fax machines are obsolete to us but I’m sure they would have freaked Newton out just a little. Electricity, invisible, is old hat. Now it’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Sat Nav and a growing list of technologies that are all connected by the invisible.
As our understanding of information and consciousness has grown, related applications and technologies have grown proportionately including hypnosis. We now live in the information era and hypnosis, synonymous with consciousness has come of age. People are no longer afraid of these technologies and they are becoming more common-place by the hour. While this has been a great help to humankind in many ways including medicine, it hasn’t helped the pharmaceutical industry all that much. In fact it’s probably done the opposite.
In 1955, the same year Einstein died, an anaesthetist by the name of Henry Beecher published a paper entitled "The Powerful Placebo." A placebo is a harmless substance containing no medicine that’s prescribed to a patient as a medicine in order to reinforce the patient's expectation of getting better. It’s basically a way to deliver to a patient an encapsulated suggestion that the patient will get better. Beecher had personally observed this effect when treating badly wounded troops during the Second World War. Morphine supplies had run critically low and so he was astounded to watch a nurse inject salt water into an injured soldier while telling him that it was a pain killer. The salt water relieved the soldier’s pain and prevented the soldier from going into shock. The mere suggestion that it was morphine being injected into his body caused him to get better.
Thanks in part to Beecher’s work pharmaceutical companies now need to produce medicines that perform better than a placebo. The trouble is, due to our growing trust in the invisible, placebos are becoming more powerful! Pharmaceutical companies are finding it increasingly difficult to get new medicines approved because placebo’s work as well and sometimes better than the medicines they are testing. Even some older medicines that originally outperformed placebos are now failing to beat placebos in follow-up testing.
Partly because placebos are becoming more powerful, pharmaceutical companies have been unable to produce many new medicines that are effective enough to qualify for patenting. Many of the patents they hold on their old medicines are about to expire which means that these medicines will be produced far more cheaply as generic medicines. Of course this means fewer profits for the pharmaceutical companies triggering a crisis labelled “the big patent cliff”. Pharmaceutical companies are resorting to scaling down their operations and outsourcing to other countries.
If a placebo is just a simple suggestion for a patient to get better, it should come as no surprise that placebos work better for children. Children are far more accepting of the invisible than grown-ups. It is foreseeable that as grown-ups in our culture grow more comfortable with the technologies of suggestion such as hypnosis, greater use of these technologies will be made. In a sense hypnosis has been better tested than any other modern medicine on the planet, because every modern medicine on the planet is tested against placebo, the simple suggestion that a sugar tablet will make you better. Increasingly the simple suggestion wins!
If simple suggestion increasingly beats the very best efforts of the greatest pharmaceutical minds and medicines in the world, our culture will inevitably give greater consideration to how powerful sophisticated and individually tailored suggestion in the form of hypnosis can be. The people entrusted with the state of our society’s health are under increasing pressure to find faster, cheaper, safer and more effective alternatives to what’s clearly not working in modern health care. They are finding answers in hypnosis.
Hypnosis is increasingly used to treat chronic illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome because it works. As more physicians become impressed with the results, they increasingly refer their patients to hypnotherapists. This is just evolution in action and the outcome is inevitable. The institutions that historically shunned hypnosis have realized that hypnosis is here to stay and is increasingly relevant. These institutions are rapidly lowering barriers to hypnosis and hypnotherapy and the rush to welcome these technologies is growing.
As more and more studies are freely made available to our culture confirming that chronic illnesses generally have an origin in the mind, so hypnosis will increasingly become the treatment and cure of choice in these illnesses including cancer and other so called dread diseases.