Hypnosis – a brief history

What is Hypnosis? A brief history

Hypnosis, a phenomenon utilised in diverse forms across various cultures throughout history, has been a subject of both acclaim and disapproval. The technique has captivated human interest since ancient times.

Franz Anton Mesmer, a prominent figure in the history of hypnosis during the 1700s, was an early practitioner who delved into understanding its workings. Coined from Mesmer’s name, the term “mesmerism” originated from his approach involving what he termed as animal magnetism. Mesmer incorporated dramatic elements, such as magnets and iron rods in water, in his treatments. Despite his contributions, his theories faced discredit, leading to his later years in seclusion. However, Mesmer’s exploration paved the way for others who recognised the therapeutic potential beyond the theatrical aspects.

In the mid-1800s, Dr. James Braid, a Manchester-based physician, coined the term “hypnosis” from the Greek God of Sleep, Hypnos. He observed that individuals in a hypnotic state appeared as if asleep, a misconception that persists today. Simultaneously, Dr. James Esdaile, working in India, applied hypnosis for anesthesia during surgical procedures. Despite successful outcomes, his work met minimal enthusiasm.

Dr. John Elliotson, practicing around the same period, demonstrated the use of hypnosis in British Medicine, achieving success in various surgeries. However, his work faced contempt, possibly due to undermining established medical practices, and hypnosis as anesthesia lost ground to the public’s preference for chloroform.

In the late 19th century, Sigmund Freud posited that many adult problems, both mental and physical, stemmed from unconsciously repressed memories and sexual desires, some involving unconventional thoughts about one’s parents. This psychological context may have contributed to the hesitancy towards hypnosis during that era.

Moving into the 20th century, Milton Erickson, a hypnotherapist in Arizona, played a pivotal role in making hypnotherapy more acceptable in Western medicine. He employed hypnosis in diverse situations, helping patients deemed “incurable” by other therapists. Erickson’s innovations in indirect and direct suggestion form the basis for many modern hypnosis scripts.