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Indian & Egyptian sleep temples[]

Hypnotism as a tool for health seems to have originated with the Hindus of India who often took their sick to sleep temples to be cured by hypnotic suggestion as also found to be the case in Egypt and Greece. The book the Law of Manu, which was the ancient Sanskrit Science of the Indian people, categorized different states of hypnosis discerning different levels of gradation: the "Sleep-Waking" state, the "Dream-Sleep" state, and the "Ecstasy-Sleep" state. Hypnotic-like inductions were used to place the individual in a sleep-like state, although it is now accepted that hypnosis is different from sleep.

Magnets and other healing objects[]

Paracelsus and "Magnet" healing[]

Paracelsus (1493-1541), a Swiss medical doctor who is also known for his discovery of the mercury cure for syphilis, was the first physician to utilize magnets in his work. Many people were healed after he passed magnets (or lodestones) over their body.

Valentine Greatrakes and Johann Joseph Gassner[]

An Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) was known as "the Great Irish Stroker" for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies.

Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779), a Catholic priest of the time, believed that disease was caused by evil spirits and could be exorcised by incantations and prayer.

Father Maximilian Hell[]

Around 1771, a Viennese Jesuit named Maximilian Hell (1720-1792) was using magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. One of Father Hell's students was a young medical doctor from Vienna named Franz Anton Mesmer.

Franz Anton Mesmer and "Animal Magnetism"[]

Western scientists first became involved in hypnosis around 1770, when Dr. Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician from Austria, started investigating an effect he called "animal magnetism" or "mesmerism" (the latter name still remaining popular today).

The use of the (conventional) English term animal magnetism to translate Mesmer's magnétism animal is extremely misleading for three reasons:

  • Mesmer chose his term to clearly distinguish his variant of magnetic force from those which were referred to, at that time, as mineral magnetism, cosmic magnetism and planetary magnetism.
  • Mesmer felt that this particular force/power only resided in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • Mesmer chose the word "animal", for its root meaning (from latin animus = "breath") specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged to all creatures with breath; viz., the animate beings: humans and animals.

Mesmer developed his own theory and inspired himself also to the writings of the English physician Richard Mead. Mesmer found that, after opening a patient's vein and letting the patient bleed for a while, by passing magnets over the wound would make the bleeding stop. Mesmer also discovered that using a stick instead would also make the bleeding stop.

After moving to Paris and becoming popular with the French aristocracy for his magnetic cures, the medical community challenged him. The French king put together a Board of Inquiry that included chemist Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin, and a medical doctor who was an expert in pain control named Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Mesmer refused to cooperate with the investigation and this fell to his disciple Dr d'Eslon. Franklin constructed an experiment in which a blindfolded patient was shown to respond as much to a non-prepared tree as to one that had been "magnetised" by d'Eslon. This is considered to be perhaps the first placebo-controlled trial of a therapy ever conducted. The commission later declared that Mesmerism worked by the action of the imagination. (H.F.Ellenberger, "The Discovery of The Unconscious", Basic Books, 1980).

Although Mesmerism remained popular and "magnetic therapies" are still advertised as a form of "alternative medicine" even today, Mesmer himself retired to Switzerland in obscurity, where he died in 1815.

French Revolution in 1789 and oriental hypnosis of Abbe Faria[]

Many of the original mesmerists were signatories to the first declarations proclaiming the French revolution in 1789. Far from being surprising, this was almost to be expected in that mesmerism opened up the prospect that the social order was in some sense suggested and could be overturned. Magnetism was neglected or forgotten during the Revolution and the Empire.

An Indo-Portuguese priest, Abbé Faria, revived public attention to animal magnetism. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris. Faria came from India and gave exhibitions in 1814 and 1815 without manipulations or the use of Mesmer's baquet. Unlike Mesmer, Faria claimed that it worked by the power of expectancy and cooperation of the patient, now known as suggestion.Later Ambroise-Auguste Liébault, the founder of Nancy School,developed this theory.

Marquis de Puységur and somnambulism[]

A student of Mesmer, Marquis de Puységur first described and coined the term somnambulism. As a sidenote, followers of Puységur called themselves Experimentalists and believed in the Paracelsus-Mesmer fluidism theory.


In 1821, Récamier was the first recorded use of hypnoanesthesia and operated on patients under mesmeric coma.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Carl Reichenbach began experiments to find any scientific validity to "mesmeric" energy, which he termed Odic force. Although his conclusions were quickly rejected in the scientific community, they did undermine Mesmer's claims of mind control.

Mesmerism in its later guise of hypnotism contained a clear implication that many saints might be hysterics, leading The Roman Catholic Church to ban hypnotism until the middle of the 20th century.

Beginnings of Formal Medical Research[]

James Braid and "Hypnotism"[]

The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to coin the term and develop the procedure known as hypnosis in 1842. Popularly titled the "Father of Modern Hypnotism", Braid rejected Mesmer's idea of magnetism inducing hypnosis, and ascribed the creation of the 'mesmeric trance' to a physiological process—the prolonged attention on a bright moving object or similar object of fixation. He postulated that "protracted ocular fixation" fatigued certain parts of the brain and caused the trance, "nervous sleep."

At first he called the procedure neuro-hypnosis and then, believing sleep was involved, to hypnosis. Realizing that hypnosis was not sleep, he later tried to change the name to monoideaism, but the term hypnosis had stuck.

Braid attempted to use hypnotism to treat various psychological and physical conditions. He had little success, notably in his attempts to treat organic conditions. Other doctors had better results, especially in the use of hypnosis in pain control. A report in 1842 described an amputation performed on a hypnotized participant without pain. The report was widely dismissed and there was strong resistance in the medical profession to hypnotism, but other successful reports followed.

Braid is credited for writing the first book on hypnosis in 1843 titled Neurypnology.

John Elliotson[]

Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868), an English surgeon, reported numerous painless surgical operations using mesmerism in 1834.

James Esdaile in India[]

Dr. James Esdaile (1805-1859) reported on 345 major operations performed using mesmeric sleep as the sole anesthetic in British India. The development of chemical anesthetics soon saw the replacement of hypnotism in this role.

The deaths of Braid and Esdaile curbed the interest in hypnotism. Experimentation was revived into the 1880s, mainly in continental Europe where new translations of Braid's work were circulated.

Beginnings of Formal Psychological Studies[]

Jean-Martin Charcot[]

The neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) endorsed hypnotism for the treatment of hysteria. La méthode numérique("The numerical method") led to a number of systematic experimental examinations of hypnosis in France, Germany, and Switzerland. The process of post-hypnotic suggestion was first described in this period. Extraordinary improvements in sensory acuity and memory were reported under hypnosis.

From the 1880s the examination of hypnosis passed from surgical doctors to mental health professionals. Charcot had led the way and his study was continued by his pupil, Pierre Janet. Janet described the theory of dissociation, the splitting of mental aspects under hypnosis (or hysteria) so skills and memory could be made inaccessible or recovered. Janet provoked interest in the subconscious and laid the framework for reintegration therapy for dissociated personalities.

Holy See of 1847[]

Objections had been raised by some theologians stating that, if not applied properly, hypnosis could deprive a person of their faculty of reason. Saint Thomas Aquinas specifically rebutted this, stating that "The loss of reason is not a sin in itself but only by reason of the act by which one is deprived of the use of reason. If the act that deprives one of his use of reason is licit in itself and is done for a just cause, there is no sin; if no just cause is present, it must be considered a venial sin."

On July 28, 1847, a decree from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy office (Roman Curia) declared that "Having removed all misconception, foretelling of the future, explicit or implicit invocation of the devil, the use of animal magnetism (Hypnosis) is indeed merely an act of making use of physical media that are otherwise licit and hence it is not morally forbidden provided it does not tend toward an illicit end or toward anything depraved."

Later, in 1956, Pope Pius XII gave his approval of hypnosis. He stated that the use of hypnosis by health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment is permitted. In an address from the Vatican on hypnosis in childbirth, the Pope gave these guidelines:

  1. Hypnotism is a serious matter, and not something to be dabbled in.
  2. In its scientific use, the precautions dictated by both science and morality are to be followed.
  3. Under the aspect of anaesthesia, it is governed by the same principles as other forms of anaesthesia.

American Civil War[]

Hypnosis was used by field doctors in the American Civil War and was the first extensive medical application of hypnosis. Although hypnosis seemed to be very effective in the field[citation needed], with the introduction of the hypodermic needle and the general chemical anesthetics of ether in 1846 and chloroform in 1847 to America, it was much easier for the war's medical community to use chemical anesthesia than hypnosis.

Ambroise-Auguste Liébault[]

Ambroise-Auguste Liébault (1864-1904), the founder of the Nancy School, first wrote of the necessity for cooperation between the hypnotizer and the participant, for rapport. He also emphasized, with Bernheim, the importance of suggestibility.

First International Congress, 1889[]

First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism was in Paris, France August 8-12, 1889. Attendees included Jean-Martin Charcot, Hippolyte Bernheim, Sigmund Freud and Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault. The second was in August 12-16, 1900.

British Medical Association Approval, 1892[]

The Annual Meeting of the BMA, in 1892, unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis and rejects the theory of Mesmerism (animal magnetism). Even though the BMA recognized the validity of hypnosis, Medical Schools and Universities largely ignored the subject.

Emile Coué and the Laws of Suggestion[]

Emile Coué (1857-1926), a French pharmacist, popularized the following laws of suggestion:

The Law of Concentrated Attention 
Whenever attention is concentrated on an idea over and over again, it spontaneously tends to realize itself.
The Law of Reversed Effect 
The harder one tries to do something, the less chance one has of success.
The Law of Dominant Effect 
A strong emotion/suggestion tends to replace a weaker one.

Modern Applications[]

Crowd psychology[]

Gustave Le Bon's study of crowd psychology compared the effects of a leader of a group to hypnosis. Le Bon made use of the suggestibility concept.

Psychoanalysis and Hypnotherapy[]

Hypnosis, which at the end of the 19th century had became a popular phenomenon, in particular due to Charcot's public hypnotism sessions, was crucial in the invention of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, a student of Charcot. Freud later met Liébault and Hippolyte Bernheim. Back in Vienna he developed abreaction therapy using hypnosis with Josef Breuer. When Sigmund Freud discounted its use in psychiatry, in the first half of the last century, stage hypnotists kept it alive more than physicians.

Platanov, Pavlov and Russian Applications[]

Russian medicine has had extensive experience with obstetric hypnosis. Platanov, in the 1920s, became well known for his hypno-obstetric successes. Impressed by this approach, Stalin later set up a nationwide program headed by Velvoski, who originally combined hypnosis with Pavlov techniques but eventually used the later almost exclusively. Ferdinand Lamaze, having visited Russia, brought back to France "childbirth without pain through the psychological method," which in turn showed more reflexologic than hypnotic inspiration.

Hypnosis in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War[]

The use of hypnosis in the treatment of neuroses florished in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Hypnosis techniques were merged with psychiatry and was especially useful in the treatment of what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

William McDougall (1871-1944), an English psychologist, treated soldiers with "shell shock".

Clark Hull[]

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1930s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884-1952) at Yale University. An experimental psychologist, his work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis. Hull's studies emphatically demonstrated once and for all 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"). The main result of Hull's study was to rein in the extravagant claims of hypnotists, especially regarding extraordinary improvements in cognition or the senses under hypnosis. Hull's experiments did show the reality of some classical phenomena such as hypnotic anaesthesia and post-hypnotic amnesia. Hypnosis could also induce moderate increases in certain physical capacities and change the threshold of sensory stimulation; attenuation effects could be especially dramatic.

Andrew Salter[]

In the 1940s, Andrew Salter (1914-1996) introduced to American therapy the Pavlovian method of contradicting, opposing, and attacking beliefs. In the conditioned reflex, he has found what he saw as the essence of hypnosis. He thus gave a rebirth to hypnotism by combining it with classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov had himself induced an altered state in pigeons, that he referred to as "Cortical Inhibition", which some later theorists believe to be some form of hypnotic state.

The British Hypnotism Act of 1952[]

In 1952, the Hypnotism Act was brought by United Kingdom government to regulate the public demonstrations of stage hypnotists for entertainment.

British Medical Association Approval, 1955[]

On April 23, 1955, the British Medical Association (BMA) approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesia in pain management in childbirth and surgery. At this time, the BMA also advised all physicians and medical students to receive fundamental training in hypnosis.

American Medical Association Approval, 1958[]

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.

American Psychological Association Approval, 1960[]

Two years after AMA approval, the American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology.

Recent Innovators and Current Applications[]

André Weitzenhoffer and Ernest Hilgard[]

Studies continued after the Second World War. Barber, Hilgard, Orne and Sarbin also produced substantial studies. Ernest Hilgard and André Weitzenhoffer created the Stanford scales in 1961, a standardized scale for susceptibility to hypnosis, and properly examined susceptibility across age-groups and sex. Hilgard went on to study sensory deception (1965) and induced anesthesia and analgesia (1975).

Milton Erickson and Authortarian vs. Permissive styles[]

Milton Erickson (1901-1980) developed many ideas and techniques in hypnosis that were very different from what was commonly practiced. His style is commonly referred to as Ericksonian Hypnosis and it has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.

Harry Arons[]

In 1967, Harry Arons, a self-taught lay hypnotist, authorized a textbook, Hypnosis in Criminal Investigation, dedicated to the application of hypnosis in the judicial system. Chapters include such applications such as memory, age regression, induction techniques and confabulation. Arons also traveled the country training law enforcement agencies. His teaching created national acceptance in the legal community and increased positive awareness to the practice of hypnosis for trial applications.

Dave Elman[]

Dave Elman (1900-1967) was one of the pioneers of the medical use of hypnosis. Elman's definition of hypnosis is still widely used today among many professional hypnotherapists. Elman coined the term "Esdaile state" after the operations of Dr. James Esdaile to describe a new state that he had discovered, which featured a complete anesthesia of the subject without suggestions for removing discomfort. Elman believed that he had found the state that Esdaile had written about in his medical journals. This is also known as the "coma" state, although the subject is not actually in a coma and can be awakened at any time.

Ormond McGill[]

Ormond McGill (1913-2005), stage hypnotist and hypnotherapist, was the "Dean of American Hypnotists" and writer of the seminal "The Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism" (1947). McGill died on October 19, 2005.

Jeffery Zeig[]

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