When is a Scam not a Scam?
Posted by: Stephen Rigby at 11:34, December 5 2016.

Good hypnotherapists are always on the lookout for ways to improve their practice. This comes from a genuine desire to help people.

New Training Course

I saw a training course recently, not in hypnotherapy but I think it may appeal to many therapists.  The person running the course is a qualified medical doctor (not just someone with a PhD who thinks that using the title Dr gives them additional prestige) and seems sincere.  You may have heard of him and if not him, you will have heard of his celebrity friends in the music industry.

This therapy is based on the flow of a type of energy – compared to the Qi (chi) of Chinese medicine .  He says that this energy flows within and between all matter whether living or inanimate.  The theory is that illness is caused when this flow of energy is interrupted.  Initially he used magnets to remove these blockages and this was so effective that some of his patients were thrown into convulsions as a precursor to recovery.  He later realised that the magnets were not needed to remove these blockages and has developed other, less dramatic techniques to redirect and control these flows.

Documented Effectiveness

There are practitioners of this therapy in many countries of the world.  In the UK this therapy has been used effectively to replace chemical anaesthesia and there is a scientific journal where practitioners can share research and exchange ideas.

If you feel that this is a training course that you would like to attend, there is one small problem – you have missed the registration date by over two hundred years.

The Sting

Nobody likes to feel that they have been tricked, conned, scammed or swindled.  In the classic 1973 film “The Sting”, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, a film about how two men set out to con a rich banker, it was stated that the best sting (con or scam) is where the person being stung never knows that they have been stung.

The course described would have been run by Anton Mesmer (1734 -1815).  The term “mesmerised” comes from the work of Mesmer.  The terms “mesmerised” and “hypnotised” are now used synonymously but Mesmer was no hypnotist although investigation of his work by the Scottish surgeon James Braid lead to an understanding of hypnotism.  It was James Braid that coined the term “hypnosis” to describe the mental state that he observed.

The History

Mesmer used the term “animal magnetism” to describe a fluid that he believed flowed in every living organism.  It was contemporaries of Mesmer that compared it to the energy of Chinese medicine.  Mesmer had the finest medical training of that time but mesmerism never received acceptance by conventional medicine or science and its scientific journal was one created by the mesmerists themselves. Born in Austria, Mesmer was friendly with the musicians Gluck, Haydyn and Wolfgang Mozart.  A scandal, resulting from his absolute belief in animal magnetism, caused him to move from Austria to Paris where he became a bit of a celebrity.  This drew the attention of King Louis XVI who established a team of five scientists from the Royal Academy of Sciences to investigate the existence of animal magnetism.  The team included the famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier and the American Ambassador Benjamin Franklin.  This team proved conclusively that there was no such thing as animal magnetism and it, therefore, did not flow between or through every living organism and Mesmer’s theory that illness was caused by blockages in its flow was disproved.

The disproving of Mesmer’s theories finished Mesmer.  Mesmer moved away from Paris and very little is known of him after that time.

Are We Missing Something Valuable?

But what of mesmerism?  One cannot discount the fact that mesmerism was used effectively in a number of clinical operations to induce anaesthesia and Mesmer undoubtedly helped some people.  On this basis, one might argue that mesmerism is a valuable therapy.  On the other hand, one must realise that mesmerism only worked in those circumstances where Mesmer’s ceremonies induced the hypnotic state – at all other times his patients were paying for nothing more than an expensive show – they were being deceived.  The deception proliferated by Mesmer and his followers conned vulnerable people and people seeking training, out of their money – they were sold a lie.  Personal belief and the observation that sometimes mesmerism was helpful, trapped people in a theory that was fantasy and therefore, prevented the discovery of something far more effective - hypnosis.

Jumping to the Wrong Conclusions

It is extremely easy to jump to the wrong conclusions when one observes a positive outcome.  Richard Bandler (the cocreator of Neuro-linguistic Programming, NLP), in the process of developing NLP, imitated (referred to as modelling) the practice of Fritz Pearls the developer of Gestalt therapy.  Pearls was recognised as being an incredibly effective therapist but Richard Bandler actually became more effective at what Pearls did than Pearls himself.  The difference was caused by Pearls’ theory of how his therapy worked.  His theory was incorrect and it influenced how he worked and therefore made him less effective.  Bandler had no such restriction because he did not know why what he did worked.  It was John Grinder (the other cocreator of NLP) who ultimately worked out what was actually happening – but that is another story.

Was Mesmer a Charlatan?

A scam is deliberate deception but Mesmer’s deception was, most likely, not intentional.  He was a highly educated and respected doctor.  Mesmer had the skill to test for the existence of animal magnetism but chose to believe that it existed because of the change he saw some people experience.  From all accounts, he was sincere in his beliefs.  Unfortunately, sincerity is not, and never has been, an indication of truth.