How did Hypnosis come about?


Many people have queried the history of Hypnosis and how it became a modality to be used to communicate with the unconscious mind. Here is a version of the history of hypnosis taken from the book ‘Hypnosis A comprehensive Guide; producing Deep Phenomenon’ written by Tad James, Lorraine Flores and Jack Schober (2000).

Hypnosis has been practised for thousands of years. There is evidence in ancient Sanskrit writings of the use of healing trances and healing temples in India. Ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls tell of the use of sleeping temples and the use of trance inductions for healing.

In the 1500s, Paracelsus, the Swiss medical doctor who discovered the mercury cure for syphilis, was also the first physician known to use magnets for healing. He passed a magnet or lodestone over a person’s body to initiate the healing process. People were cured of many diseases by Paracelsus’s work with magnets.

In the 1600s, an Irishman named Valentine Greatrakes healed people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies. They called Greatrakes the ‘Great Irish Stroker’ and he was famous for stroking or massaging problems out of the body.

In 1725 a Jesuit priest named Maximilian Hehl was using magnets to heal people. He might have remained unnoticed if it had not been for one of his students, a young medical doctor from Vienna named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer took magnets back to Vienna for use in his practice. In those days, one of the major interventions in medicine was bloodletting. Mesmer would open a patient’s vein and let the patient bleed for a while. When the procedure was finished, he would make passes over the cut with a magnet and the bleeding would stop. One day as Mesmer was bleeding a patient, he reached for one of his magnets and they were nowhere to be found. So he picked up a stick and passed it over the patient’s cut and the bleeding stopped.

After his early successes, Mesmer made a claim that would later spark great controversy, saying that it was not the energy of the magnet that caused the bleeding to stop, but the magnetic energy that came from the patient. He called this energy animal magnetism. The levels of energy transmitted in mesmerism were not detectable by instruments of that time which were used to measure conventional magnetism and the name Animal Magnetism would eventually discredit Mesmer.

At the height of his fame in Vienna, Mesmer moved to Paris and became a favourite of the French Aristocracy. In the late 1700s everyone who was anyone went to Dr Mesmer for one of his magnetic cures. Mesmer became very successful…so much so that the medical community at the time challenged his methods and claimed he was a fraud.

Mesmer requested an Inquiry, unfortunately it didn’t go in his favour with the opinion being that they could not see anything flowing from Mesmer’s hands and therefore concluded that Mesmerism must be a fraud. Mesmer thus discredited, left Paris and went back to Vienna to practise mesmerism or Animal Magnetism. From 1795 to 1985 the notion of energy as a healing art form was left out of mainstream western medicine and psychology. However to some extent, mesmerism was still practised. The Marquis de Pusseguyr in France coined the term somnambulist meaning sleepwalker which we still use today to describe the deepest state of hypnosis. De Pusseguyr chose that term after he noticed that subjects in a very deep state of trance were, in essence, somnambulistic.

James Braid wrote the first book on hypnosis in 1843, entitled Neurypnology. James Esdaile, a medical doctor in India wrote a book entitled Mesmerism. Esdaile outlined the use of mesmerism in the process of controlling and getting rid of pain. He developed his techniques before the advent of the anaesthetic chloroform that would later be widely used in surgery. Esdaile performed over 500 operations, many of which would have been extremely painful without an anaesthetic…and found that many patients healed in less than the normal recovery time.

In 1864, a doctor named Liebault, in the city of Nancy, France, developed a system of therapy using hypnosis. A medical colleague named Bernheim sent a patient with sciatica to visit Liebault, and the patient was cured almost overnight. Bernheim decided to investigate this strange thing called hypnosis and soon after formed a partnership with Liebault to establish the Nancy School of Hypnosis.

The young Sigmund Freud studied with Liebault and Bernheim at the Nancy School and initially used hypnosis in his practice. In the early 20th century two main schools of Psychology developed. On the one side the followers of Freud along with Jung and Adler formed an analytical branch of psychology. On the other side were the behaviourists, who reacted against the psychoanalytical processes Freud had introduced.

The early 20th century did not see further dramatic developments in hypnosis from a medical or psychological standpoint until 1943 when Clark Hull at Yale University published his classic work Hypnosis and Suggestibility. This book was one of the first psychological studies on hypnosis. One of Hull’s most important observations was that “anything that assumes trance, causes trance”. This is a fundamental principle, which makes anything possible in creating hypnosis.

Hull is also notable for his influence on the young Milton Erickson who was present at some of Hull’s early researches. Erickson practised hypnosis almost daily from 1920 to 1980, seeing up to 14 clients a day for 60 years. Erickson’s profound learnings were to change the face of hypnosis forever.

Other influential hypnotherapists of the time which have greatly influenced hypnotherapy today include George Estabrooks, Andre Weitzenhoffer, Leslie LeCron and Dave Elman. Contemporary writers and researchers today include Jeffrey Zeig, head of the Erickson Foundation in Phoenix and Ernest Rossi who keep the Erickson legacy alive. Their contributions are drawn upon by thousands of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other practitioners throughout the world.

Medical Hypnoanalysis was developed by a group of physicians on the West Coast of America in the 60’s and 70’s and originally only physicians were permitted to be trained in its use. As time progressed training was expanded to all individuals who were licensed to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The practitioner of Medical Hypnoanalysis requires a training background in the basics of psychology, developmental psychology, psychopathology and psychotherapy as well as hypnosis.

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