A Brief History of Hypnosis

The History of hypnosis begins in the early days of civilization.

In ancient times, people used it for healing purposes, especially in religious ceremonies.  Prior to the 15th century, disease was often considered to be a punishment from God (or gods).  Healers (shamans, priests, etc) would induce an altered state to help with healing or for spiritual rituals by using a variety of techniques from chanting & drums to fire & dancing.

Ancient Egyptians had Sleep Temples Sleep, and the Greeks had Shrines of Healing - both were places where people sought healing and were given suggestions while in an induced "sleep".  

Austrian doctor, Franz Anton Mesmer (1733-1815), who is acknowledged as the “Father of Hypnosis” started a theory of “animal magnetism“. He believed that there was a quasi-magnetic in the every air we breathe and a “cosmic fluid” could be stored in inanimate objects, such as magnets and transferred to patients for curing their illness.

He cured a 29-year-old woman, who suffered from a convulsive malady. During one of the woman’s attacks Mesmer applied three magnets to the patient’s stomach and legs while she concentrated on the positive effects of the “cosmic fluid”. Her symptoms subsided when Mesmer gave her this treatment. Mesmer believed that “cosmic fluid” was directed through his patient’s body, her energy flow was restored and she regained her health in this way.

Mesmer had great success treating thousands of people with “animal magnetism” and the process referred to as mesmerism.

One of Mesmer’s pupils Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825) used “animal magnetism” on a young peasant. During the process he noticed that the patient could still communicate with him and respond to his suggestions. Puysegur thought that the will of the person and the operator’s actions were important factors in the success or failure of the magnetism and he believed that a “cosmic fluid” was not magnetic, but electric.

An English physician, John Elliotson (1791-1868) reported 1,834 surgical operations performed painlessly.

A Scottish surgeon James Braid (795-1860) gave mesmerism a scientific explanation. He found that some experimental subjects could go into a trance if they simply fixated their eyes on a bright object. He believed that mesmerism is a “nervous sleep” and coined the word hypnosis, derived from the Greek word hypnos which means sleep.

French neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893) used hypnosis to treat hysterics and categorized it as an abnormal neurological activity.

Auguste Ambroise Leibeault (1823-1904) and Hippolyte Bernheim (1837-1919) were the first who regarded hypnosis as a normal phenomenon.

Freud interested in hypnosis and read Bernheim’s book on hypnosis “De la Suggestion” to find a physiological explanation of suggestion in the nervous system. As he observed patients enter a hypnotic state, he began to recognize the existence of the unconscious. However, Freud rejected hypnosis as the tool to unlock repressed memories, instead favoring his techniques of free association and dream interpretation. With the rise of psychoanalysis in the fist half of the 20-th century hypnosis declined in popularity.

The modern study of hypnosis is usually considered to have begun in the 1930s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884-1952) at Yale University. His work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis. Hull’s studies demonstrated that hypnosis had no connection with sleep (“hypnosis is not sleep, … it has no special relationship to sleep, and the whole concept of sleep when applied to hypnosis obscures the situation“).

Hypnotherapy has been widely used in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Hypnosis techniques were merged with psychiatry and were especially useful in the treatment Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 1955 British Medical Association (BMA) recognized hypnotherapy and in 1958 the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a report on the medical use of hypnosis.  Two years after AMA approval, the American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology.

Milton Erickson (1901-1980) developed many tips and techniques in hypnosis that were very different from what was commonly practiced. His style is known as an Ericksonian Hypnosis, which has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.

Dave Elman (1900-1967) was one of the pioneers of the medical use of hypnosis. Elman’s definition of hypnosis is still widely used among many professional hypnotists. He is known for having trained many physicians and psychotherapists in America in the use of hypnotism.  Elman is also known for introducing rapid inductions to the field. One method of induction which he introduced more than fifty years ago is still one of the favored inductions used by many of today’s masters.

Gerry Kein first became a student of Dave Elman as a teenager.  Gerry Kein is world renown for his contributions to the field of modern hypnosis and has trained thousands of practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds.