History of Hypnotherapy

The earliest evidence of hypnosis dates back to Shamans in ancient times.  Trance states were used for by shamans and ancient peoples in rituals and religious ceremonies. It was believed that the induction of a trance state enabled the shaman to focus his attention, making it possible to heal the sick.

As early as 3000 BC, Egyptians used Sleep Temples, which were a sort of hospital for healing a variety of problems,  perhaps many of them psychological. Treatment involved chanting, placing the patient into a trance-like or hypnotic state, and analysing their dreams. Some hypnotherapists use dream analysis to this day.

Greeks and Romans used Aesculapian Sleep Temple for healing, this is similar to Egyptian Sleep Temples and in fact “Sleep Temples” can still be found today in some parts of Africa and the Middle East.

In eighteenth century Europe, Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815) an Austrian physician, developed his theory of  Animal Magnetism, which also became known as  Mesmerism. Mesmer believed that healing could be brought about through a magnetic field that operated in the human body. Mesmer would often use magnets in the healing process. His patients would be asked to sit around a vat containing iron filings holding onto magnetic rods, which were supposed to transmit the healing forces. Later on he discarded the magnets and instead came to regard himself as the “magnet” through which the healing force was transmitted. Despite the fact that there is no evidence for the existence of Mesmer’s theories, he had a remarkable record of success in treating his patients and it is now thought that his patients were mesmerised (hypnotised) into the belief that they would be cured.

James Braid (1795 – 1860) a Scottish surgeon, coined the term ‘hypnotism’ as a radical alternative, in opposition to Mesmerism. He researched hypnosis using a scientific approach and realised that trance could be induced by fixating on a single object, hence the early usage of swinging watches. He published a book Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1818).

James Esdaile (1808 – 1859) a British surgeon in India was pioneer of the use of hypnosis during surgical procedures, including amputations. The preparation of the patient involved the induction of a “magnetic sleep” over a period of weeks before the operation was to take place. The patient would be given posthypnotic suggestions that the area to be operated on would feel numb. Unfortunately, Esdaile was ridiculed on return to Britain,  as clinicians favoured chemical anaesthesia.

However, interest in the phenomenon of Mesmerism continued to grow, and in the late 19th century, another British physician, James Braid offered a more scientific explanation. He was the first to use the hypnosis (from the Greek, hypnos, meaning sleep.)  and he described hypnosis as a “nervous sleep.” Braid showed that hypnotised individuals behaviour could be influenced by verbal suggestions given to the subject.

In 1886 Dr. Ambroise-August Liebeault and Professor Bernheim’s set up the Nancy School of Hypnosis in Nancy France. They believed that the most important factor in hypnosis is the expectation of the subject and that this expectation could be heightened by the appropriate intervention of the hypnotist.

Emile Coue (1857 – 1926) a Frenchman, used auto suggestion and affirmation. The importance of belief, self hypnosis and self healing, placebo affect, and the power of imagination. His followers classed his work as light self-hypnosis.

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) actually visited Liebeault and Bernheim’sclinic to study their techniques. Although Freud recognised the importance of the unconscious mind, he dismissed hypnosis quite early in his studies and instead developed the techniques of free association and dream analysis to help patients uncover repressed memories.  As  psychoanalysis became more widely used in the early part of the twentiethth century, hypnosis declined in popularity.

But hypnosis continued to be used and over the years a revival of interest in hypnosis occurred. In 1933, Clark Hull’s  book, ” Hypnosis and Suggestibility,”  was published. This was a study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis. In the 1950’s Ernest Ropiequit Hilgard (1904-2001) and his wife Josephine, became pioneers in bringing to hypnosis the discipline of scientific study. In 1955 the British Medical Association appointed a sub-committee of the Psychological Medicine Group to report on the use of hypnosis and concluded  “that it is definitely an effective technique in the psychotherapy of neurosis, psycho-somatic conditions and in the alleviation of physical pain.”

In 1958 Hypnotherapy was recognised as a valid medical procedure, by both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

Since 1995 hypnotherapy was recommended as a treatment for chronic pain by the National Institute of Health.

Dr Milton Erickson (1901 – 1980) an American psychiatrist used hypnosis in the 1960’s in his treatments and developed what is known as “Ericksonian hypnotherapy”. Erickson developed the use of “therapeutic metaphor”  and stories in hypnotic trance and used the phrase “brief therapy” to describe his approach of helping his patients make important life enhancing changes in only a few sessions. Milton Erickson is generally regarded as the most important and influential hypnotherapist of modern times.