Brief History Of Hypnosis

Hypnosis Through the Ages.

The origins of hypnosis go back many millenia; indeed many ancient cultures and civilisations knew of hypnosis and used it as a therapeutic device. Documents from the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, Chinese, Persians and Sumerians show extensive studies in hypnosis, altered states of consciousness and parasychology. Hypnosis was considered as a cure for many physical and emotional ailments and disorders.

In other words hypnosis is at least more than 6,000 years old; some scholars claim that it could be as old as Prehistory as certain cave paintings show priests apparently in state of trance as well as geometrical designs thought to depict visions seen in an altered level of consciousness.

Although there was some use of hypnosis by the Druids in Ancient Britain and Gaul, the development and introduction of hypnosis to the modern world is attributable to Islamic scientists of the Middle Ages.

Between the 9th and 14th centuries there was a great flowering of civilisation in the Mediterranean and Middle East which laid the foundations of modern science as we know it; medical and philosophical knowledge from Ancient Greece, Egypt and early Eastern civilisations was revitalised. During that revival a deep understanding of human psychology was achieved and therapeutic processes such as analysis, altered states of consciousness and hypnosis were used to alleviate emotional distress and sufferings; thus preceding psychotherapy and hypnotherapy as we know them today by quite a few centuries.

From the 15th and 16th centuries onwards physicians from many nations developed further and refined the concept of hypnosis and its uses. Even though this knowledge spread throughout the European continent and to the British Isles it remained mostly confined to scientists, physicians and Universities and never quite reached the attention of the less educated people.It was “reintroduced” to the West in the 18th century when Western explorers got in contact with the practice of hypnotism in the Middle East and the Far East.

In the 18th century the most influential figure in the development of hypnosis was Dr Frantz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician who was a charismatic and at times controversial personality. He used magnets and metal frames to perform “passes” over the patient to remove “blockages” (ie: the causes of diseases) in the magnetic forces in the body – nowadays we call such forces “life energy” – and to induce a trance-like state. He soon discovered that he could reach equally successful results by passing his hands over the patient which he did for hours at times. He named this method “animal magnetism.”

He worked in Austria, Switzerland and Germany before settling in France; although he achieved many successes he was soon derided and ostracised by the medical community; it is generally thought that his healing sessions held in front of the public and medical practitioners were such theatrical performances that the excessive showmanship displayed led to his work being ridiculed and his tangible results scorned. Another contributing factor to his discredit is believed to be plain and simple jealousy from his medical colleagues as he achieved results with rather unorthodox methods.

However his name survived the passing of time and was immortalised in our vocabulary by the verb “mesmerise”, which means to hold someone’s attention to the exclusion of anything else so as to create a trance state, in other words to hypnotise that person. Not only his name survived in our vocabulary, so did his method which was named mesmerism.

After Mesmers’ death in 1815 one of his disciples, Armand de Puysegur, carried on his work and took it one step further. He discovered that the spoken word and direct commands induced trance easily and noticeably faster than “mesmeric passes” and that a person could be operated upon without pain and anaesthesia when in trance. This technique was used for many following decades by surgeons in France: Dr Recamier who performed the first recorded operation without anaesthesia in 1821 and Dr Cloquet, and in England: Dr Elliotson and Dr Parker who was nicknamed “Painless Parker”!

However the record for surgery under trance belongs to Dr James Esdaile, an English physician, who performed his first operation without anaesthetic in India and reached an incredible tally of 300 major operations and a thousand minor operations using hypnosis or mesmerism as it was still called at the time.

Soon after, chloroform was discovered and mesmerism dropped out of favour as an anaesthetic, it was much faster to inject a patient than induce a state of trance!

The next impulse in the history of hypnosis was given by the Scottish optometrist, Dr James Braid who discovered by accident that a person fixating an object could easily reach a trance state without the help of the mesmeric passes advocated by Dr Mesmer. In 1841 he published his findings, refuted Mesmer’s work and inaccurately named his discovery “hypnotism” based on the Greek word “hypnos” which means “sleep”; it was a total misnomer as hypnosis is not sleep; yet the name remained and mesmerism became hypnotism.

By the 1870’s two schools of hypnosis were created in France, one by Dr Jean-Martin Charcot, in Paris, and the other one in Nancy by Dr Benheim and Dr Liebault. Further progresses were made in refining the concept of hypnosis however it was not without heated debates and arguments! Dr Charcot stated that hypnosis could only be the result of physical or neurological stimulation while the Nancy school’s view was that hypnosis is a natural state available to everyone using free will. Present day use of hypnosis follows the latter belief. Some twenty years later in 1891, the British Medical Association drafted a resolution in favour of the use of hypnosis in medicine but it was not approved until 1955, 64 years later!

Another precursor of modern hypnosis and self development was Dr Emile Coue who, at the end of the 19th century, was a believer in auto-suggestion and in the role of the hypnotist as a facilitator of changes/healing in the client’s condition by involving the total participation of the client in the hypnosis process. His well known self-help statement: “Day by day in every way I am getting better and better”, is still used in most self improvement therapies.

Around the same period Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis, used hypnosis in his early work but soon became disillusioned by the concept. It is believed he did not have the patience necessary for hypnosis and was not a good hypnotist! As we know he focused his attention on analysis and free association. In many ways his “defection” was damaging to hypnosis particularly in the context of psychology as it created enduring prejudices and misconceptions which have only started to fade in recent times.

With the development of psychoanalysis and the use of anaesthetics, the interest in hypnosis somewhat declined; however in the beginning of the 20th century Russian scientists worked on the concept and mechanisms of hypnosis.

The most illustrious one, Ivan P. Pavlov, is best known for his discovery of the conditioned reflex, in spite of the fact he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1904 for his work on digestion!

After World War 1, hypnosis and its therapeutic uses experienced a revival when psychiatrists realized that soldiers suffering traumas (paralysis and amnesia) of a psychological rather than physical origin, were responding well to hypnosis and were rapidly cured.

Despite this renewed interest, European scientists who had previously been to the forefront of the hypnosis saga for centuries devoted much less time and energy to the subject.

Possibly by becoming more accepted and less controversial hypnosis was attracting less passion.

Although hypnosis was officially approved as a tool in medicine by the British Medical Association in 1955, most of the furthering in therapeutic hypnosis in the 20th century, took place in the United States. In 1958, only 3 years after the BMA, the American Medical Association recognised the therapeutic use of hypnosis.

There are many therapists, researchers and scientists – far too many to mention here – who made significant contributions to hypnosis. It is widely believed that in the 20th century, the two main figures in the field were Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) and Dr William J.Bryan Jr (1924-1977).

M.H.Erickson was a psychotherapist who made intensive use of hypnosis in his work. He was a great and fast observer of people and could rapidly build rapport with his clients. Metaphors, imagery, confusing statements, surprise and humour were part of his arsenal of therapeutic tools. His hypnotic methods, nowadays called Ericksonian hypnosis, have, without a doubt, added another dimension to modern hypnotherapy.

William J. Bryan Jr. was the first full time US medical practitioner of hypnosis and created the American Institute of Hypnosis.

In the 1970’s a discovery was made in the field of self improvement and the harnessing of inner resources. Although it is not directly related to hypnosis, many of its techniques can be used with hypnosis or as an aid to hypnotic therapy. It is a simple technique created by Richard Brandler, an information scientist, and John Grindler, a linguistic professor; they named it : NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).

It came about, in large part, by its two founders studying, understanding and developing the methods used by Milton H. Erickson in psychotherapy. NLP is a tool for improvement, using our neurology and thinking patterns (neuro), our way of expressing our thoughts and their influence on us (linguistic) and our patterns of behaviour and goals setting (programming). It has been described as the ultimate software for the brain.

In the last 3 to 4 decades of the last century we have witnessed an abundance of self-help and positive thinking therapies and methods, some of them openly using hypnosis, others more covertly.

Technological advancements, such as television, cassette recorders and tapes, video tapes and the globalisation of information through the Internet, have made the various uses of hypnosis – from hypnotherapy to stage hypnotism – better known, more accessible and popular.