A Brief History of Hypnosis

A Brief History of Hypnosis …

In one form or another, hypnosis has existed since the beginning of time.Franz Anton Mesmer

For example, animals that hibernate are practicing one type of hypnosis. They are practicing self-hypnosis by closing down their bodies while allowing their mind and physical being to renew.

Prior to the 1400’s, when a person was sick it was thought to be intentionally caused by the gods as punishment to mortal man. The healers of the time would have rituals that involved an altered state of mind, either in the sick person or the healer.

Every ritual was different, but they typically involved natural remedies from the forest, fire, music and chanting.

A common thread in these treatments is that the ill person would be trying to reach a mental place where the mind would take over the body. This would begin the process of body healing. By believing they were being healed, the power of the mind was unleashed.

There was mention in written documentation of hypnosis as early as the 3rd century in Egypt.

The 18th century was a popular time for hypnosis, when Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian doctor, found he was capable of healing people of illnesses without surgery or medicine. His studies led him to believe that the body was regulated by a magnetic force, and the use of magnets and hypnosis healed people. The term Animal Magnetism resulted from his work to describe the attraction that living organisms have to each other.

This type of hypnosis, was called “Mesmerism”, and was very popular and successful. The term “Mesmerized” was used to describe the state where people would “daydream” or “zone out” into a hypnotic state.

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1920s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884–1952) at Yale University. An experimental psychologist, Hull’s studies emphatically demonstrated once and for all, that hypnosis had no connection with sleep.

In 1958, the American Medical Association approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis. It encouraged research on hypnosis although pointing out that some aspects of hypnosis are unknown and controversial.

Milton Erickson
Milton Erickson

Milton Erickson (1901 – 1980) is considered by many, to be the Pioneer of modern day hypnosis. His approach treats every client as an individual, adapting the technique to the client rather than measuring the subjects against the technique.

He no longer viewed trance, as something strange that had to be induced with a formula, Erickson saw trance as a natural experience which everyone engages in on a regular basis. Thus, rather than trying to force people into trance and program them for the behaviors he wanted, Erickson sought to “utilize” whatever behaviors his patients presented and shift them into a trance which is more useful than the one they’d been experiencing.

Unlike the Freudian view, that the unconscious is a dark and scary place, from which our problems arise, Erickson viewed the unconscious as a wise, powerful, and benevolent resource from which the solutions to our problems would arise.

Since that time, a great deal of scientific study of the mind and brain has provided much greater insight into what happens on the physical and electrical level, during hypnosis, but there are still many unanswered questions.

In the 1970s, Richard Bandler and John Grinder co-founded a school of thought called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), in which they drew on ideas from several successful therapists and scholars, including Milton Erickson. They carefully analyzed Erickson’s utterances in order to develop language patterns they found to be useful in facilitating change, without a formal hypnotic induction.

Modern hypnosis techniques, have been documented in many scientific studies to be effective in assisting people to overcome the negative effects of afflictions or issues such as:

  • Labor and childbirth
  • Irritable Bowl Syndrome discomfort
  • Post-op surgery bleeding and pain
  • Dental treatment recovery
  • Migraine headaches
  • Chemotherapy nausea/vomiting
  • Weak immune systems
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin diseases
  • Asthma
  • Negative behaviors:
    • eating disorders
    • smoking
    • drug use
    • bedwetting
  • Anxiety disorders, stress
  • Atopic and psoriasis dermatitis
  • Phobias
  • Mindfulness

Hypnosis is not a “medical treatment” or in any way intended to replace physician care, or prescribed treatments or medications for any affliction.  Instead, hypnosis is often used, in conjunction with, prescribed medical treatment to enhance the results.

Recommended Reading:

  • Esdaile, James (1846). Mesmerism in India, and its Practical Applications in Surgery and Medicine. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.
  • Forrest, Derek (2000). Hypnotism: A History. London: Penguin Books.
  • Pintar, Judith, and Steven Jay Lynn (2008). Hypnosis: A Brief History. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Rosenfeld, Saul Marc (2008). A Critical History of Hypnotism: The Unauthorized Story. Self-Published.
  • Waterfield, Robin (2002). Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis. London: Macmillan.
  • Winter, Allison (1998). Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian England. Chicago: U of C Press.

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