History of Hypnosis
A Brief History of Hypnosis
By Cathal O'Briain © Copyright 2010
Modern hypnosis is roughly two hundred years old; but is around since ancient times under different names and used in a wide variety of cultures, by their priests, shamans, healers, medicine men etc. The first person to attempt integrating hypnosis into modern medicine was a charasmatic viennese physician called Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815). Mesmer, who gave his name to mesmerism, believed that the human body had magnetic polarity and he termed this universal force animal magnetism. “Mesmers theory of animal magnetism was a mishmash of astrological and physiological ideas derived largely from the work of Paracelsus (1493-1541) some two hundred earlier.” (Goldsmith, 1934) “Paracelsus assumed that magnets were responsible for curing disease.” (Goldberg, 2005)
Mesmer believed that the human body responded to gravitational forces caused by moving planets in the universe, and that disease is caused by a disruption in this gravitational fluid present in all of us. Mesmer believed that he had an abundance of this gravitational fluid, which he could pass to others. He was a showman with great presence; and going through an elaborate ritual, he would direct magnetic fluid down an iron wand, which he would then wave at his subjects, sometimes putting his wand aside and directing the fluid with his eyes. “Musical instruments played soothing melodies. Mirrors designed to reflect the magnetic fluid were everywhere. Thick drapes let little light in - Mesmer himself was attired in purple silk and he carried a magnetized iron wand as he moved from patient to patient touching them and staring into their eyes.” (Gravitz, 1991, p. 25)
Unfortunately his showmanship drew the attention of the French government, who after an investigation, denounced him as a fraud and a charlatan. Benjamin Franklin came from America to participate in the investigation of Mesmer’s work. Frankln correctly observed that Mesmer’s results were because of the power of imagination (and warranted further investigation). “But he was quickly put on a ship back to America after local scientists found a way to use Franklin’s comments as further evidence to denounce Mesmer.” (Hunter, 2000, p. 40-41) “Dr. Charles D’Elson, one of Mesmer’s protégées, defended his teacher by saying: ‘If Mesmer had no other secret than that he has been able to make the imagination exert an influence upon health, would he not still be a wonder doctor? If treatment by the use of the imagination is the best treatment, why do we not make use of it?’” (Goldsmith, 1934: p. 155) After enjoying considerable popularity and fame for many years, Mesmer retired to Switzerland where he died in 1815.
“The next chapter in the history of hypnosis is the story of one of Mesmer’s very own students, whose name was the Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825). In 1784, at the age of 33 years, the Marquis de Puysegur discovered how to lead a client in to a deep trance state called ‘somnambulism’, using relaxation and calming techniques. The term ‘somnambulism’ is still widely used among hypnotherapists today in reference to a deep hypnotic trance state.’” (Richard MacKenzie, 2006)
After the controversial Mesmer, “The succession was direct and continuous.” (Goldsmith, 1934: p. 212) “These English surgeons, including: John Elliotson; James Braid; and James Esdaile; were successful at using hypnosis as a surgical anaesthetic.” (Goldsmith, 1934)
Scottish-born surgeon James Braid (1796-1860) continued investigating hypnotherapeutic procedures and was responsible for changing the name mesmerism to hypnotism. “Although Braid is credited with coining the term ‘hypnotism,’ others had used this term before him (Gravitz & Gerton, 1984).’”
When Braid discovered later on in his research that the hypnotic state and all its phenomena could be achieved without the subject being asleep, he then realized that he had to change the name hypnosis (which derives from the Greek verb Hypnos meaning to sleep) to monoideism; but by then it was to late, and the name hypnosis remains to this day.
Another scottish surgeon James Esdaile (1808-1859), while working in India, performed thousands of serious operations using hypnosis as the sole pain-killing agent. Persecuted by the authorities, Esdaile suffered a similar fate to others working in this new field, with charges of sacrilege brought against him for removing the pain that God intended us to feel.
In 1831, Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868) was elected Professor of the Principles and Practice of Physic at London University. Like his fellow physicians who practiced mesmerism, Elliotson too suffered the rath of the medical establishment, and so retired to investigate and practice hypnotic techniques further.
Braid, Esdaile, and Elliotson gave hypnosis a more respectable reputation within certain medical arenas; but due to its direct links to mesmerism, hypnosis remained shunned as quackery by the medical, political and religous establishments.
With the introduction of the surgical anaesthetic, hypnosis then entered a quiet period, until its revival in the 1800’s by a French physican named Ambrose Auguste Liebeault (1823-1904). “Liebeault, who first postulated suggestion as a mechanism behind theraputic hypnosis, started the School of Nancy which was clinical in nature (Goldsmith, 1934).” “His integrity, selflessness, devotion to the needy, and success with hypnosis attracted the attention of Hyppolyte Bernheim (1837-1919), a renowned neurologist from Nancy, who, at first skeptical, later became an ardent proponent of hypnosis. Together they developed Braid’s theories and treated over 12,000 patients.” (Goldberg, 2005) Around the same time a second and quite different school of thought emerged with the opening of the Salpetriere School, founded by Jean Martin Charcot (1835-1893), whose aim was to study hypnosis as a neurosis rather than as an actual treatment. Charcot’s discoveries on hypnosis and hysteria were presented to the French Academy of Sciences. Pierre Janet (1859-1947) a French physician, psychiatrist, and philosopher, followed on from Charcot and it was Janet who discovered the dissociation theory of hypnosis. Janet was influential in establishing a true connection between academic psychology and the clinical treatment of mental illnesses.
“It is interesting that Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who of course is considered to be the Father of modern psychology, studied hypnosis at both the Nancy and Salpetriere Schools (Freud, 1963), but then chose to abandon the use of hypnosis almost entirely. Initially, Freud tried to use hypnosis to recover traumatic memories from the unconscious.” (Malcolm, 1982) On one occasion, a female patient of Freud’s threw her arms around him in a moment of ‘love’, aka… ‘positive transference’, to which Freud later wrote, “I was modest enough not to attribute the event to my own irresistible personal attraction, and I felt that I had now grasped the nature of the mysterious element that was at work behind hypnotism.” Freud wasn’t particularly good at inducing the hypnotic state in his patients; and this led him to frustration on many occassions, until he eventually abandoned hypnosis and started using other methods to lift repression. “Ultimately, he developed other ways to achieve his goal, namely to treat neurotic illness by accessing the subconscious via the analysis of transferance and the interpretation of dreams. However, Freud may not have abandoned the technique entirely.” (Gravitz & Gurton, 1981) By the end of the nineteenth century Kraft Ebing, Wetterstrand, Albert Moll and many other famous physicians were also making positive discoveries regarding the clinical use of hypnosis.
Émile Coué (1857-1926), a French Psychologist and Pharmacist, introduced a new method of psychotherapy based on the simple use of auto-suggestion, or ‘self-suggestion’, whereby a person repeats suggestions to themselves in order to spur the imagination. He believed that where there was conflict between the will and the imagination, the imagination invariably wins the battle. So rather than using will power alone, one must also make use of their imagination to better health. He believed that repetition of suggestion increased the likelihood of images being projected into reality; most especially when implanted in the morning, and again before sleeping. Coue learned hypnosis from Liébeault and in 1913 founded the Lorraine Society of Applied Psychology.
By the 1920s, hypnosis was the subject of much experimental investigation by respected psychologists such as Clark L. Hull (1884-1952). But it was not until after World War II that hypnosis became popular once again in the clinical field, used mainly in the treatment of battle related disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, war neurosis etc. As a result of its post war success, it gained the endorsement of several medical authorities around the world, more notably the British Medical Association and the American Medical Association. One man responsible for its widespread recognition back then and its clinical uses in the present was the pioneer Milton Erickson.
Milton Erickson (1901-1980), who is considered to be the father of modern hypnosis, suffered with many handicaps from an early age. He was tone deaf, colour blind, and dyslexic. Paralysed with severe polio at the age of seventeen, his family feared he would not pull through. But Erickson did, and went on to become a doctor, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and world famous hypnotherapist. Even when struck with a second bout of polio later on in life, he used the opportunity to further investigate the use of hypnosis in the treatment of pain. “Erickson said, ‘everyone is as individual as their own thumb print.’ In his practice, he tailored every induction to the client's individual needs and perceptual bias. He believed in the wisdom of the unconscious mind, and in the theory that people have all the resources necessary to make changes inside themselves.” (O’Brien, 2004) Confined to a wheelchair as an old man, Erickson continued innovating, influencing the wider world with his hypnotic techniques and laying the groundwork for future generations wishing to learn proven hypnotic procedures.
“Dave Elman (1900-1967) was another pioneer of the medical use of hypnosis […]. Although Elman had received no medical training, he is known for having trained the most physicians and psychotherapists in America, in the use of hypnotism. He is also known for introducing rapid inductions to the field of hypnotism. One method of induction which he introduced more than fifty years ago, is still one of the favoured inductions used by many of today's masters.” (Wikepedia)
Also in recent history, one of the most prominent figures responsible for the evolution of hypnosis and self-hypnosis was Irishborn Dr. Jack Gibson. “As a surgeon, Dr. Gibson carried out over 4000 procedures using hypnosis instead of anaesthetic. These included major operations, surgical procedures and treatment of dislocations and fractures […]. Jack Gibson graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, in 1933, having won almost every available medal (Gold & Silver in Anatomy and Operative Surgery) [...] After the outbreak of war, he worked in England as a surgeon in the hospitals of the Emergency Medical Service. He treated numerous soldiers, wounded at Dunkirk during D Day and held the most senior surgical post in Ethiopia. (DrJackGibson.com 2004)
Another man worth mentioning is Charles Tebbetts, who earned the title of a “grandmaster teacher” of hypnosis from Dr. John Hugues, a major researcher for an American hypnosis association (Hunter, 2005). Tebbetts, who became legendary for teaching client centered hypnotism, started his hypnosis career in 1927 as a stage hypnotist.
In recent history, Dr. Joe E. Keaney, Course Director and Founder of the Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy Ireland, has been recognised worldwide for his dedicated work in fields of Hypnotherapy, Hypno-Psychotherapy, and Hypnoanalysis. His BCHAP's Model (Brief Clinical Hypno-Analytical Psychotherapy - Solution Focused) is a widely used psychological clinical procedure for the lifting and removal of repression by means of Hypnoanalysis. Time in therapy has been shortened by blending Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, and Psychoanalysis through the BCHAP's Model. Joe E. Keaney currently lectures in the ICHP School. His Foundation course in Hypnotherapy is considered a 'must do' for aspiring Hypnotherapists.
Considering we still only use a portion of our minds’ potential, hypnosis is still in its infancy with regard to its potential. So long as we push our minds further, the evolution of hypnosis will continue to provide new ways to overcome age old problems.
By Cathal O'Briain © Copyright 2010