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History of Hypnosis

History of Hypnosis

It struck me how difficult it sometimes was, getting down to my favourite place as a child. Walking through the woods sometimes created images of invisible powerful creatures, lurking and waiting in the shadows. Sometimes the snow was deep and once my father brought me on a sledge with the horse to the local school bus. My country had so much land, and so few people. It was made clear from an early stage, that acquiring knowledge, required persistence, ambitions and power. I was blessed with all these things except that I couldn’t write, count or read when I was sent to school at the age of seven. The countryside school is still vivid and clear in my mind. It reminds me of the importance of the path and not the ultimate goal itself. Your thoughts are powerful tools, and sooner than you think, you might get what you ask for. Are you ready?

When I cured my cat’s broken leg with herbs and sticks, I knew what I wanted to do. Living with animals close to nature gave me a sense of the importance of understanding the difference between the more limited term – ‘to cure’ and healing. To cure means making physical symptoms go away without regard for underlying causes.

Healing originates from the English word haelen, meaning to heal. It is also related to the words health, holy and whole. In our linguistic unconsciousness, health and holiness are linked and these etymologies presage our supposedly modern discussion about spirituality, health and the multidimensional nature of man (context man=woman). But man can only become whole when physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual dimensions are all included and embraced through our work as psychiatrists. Modern hypnosis has survived the controversies, mistrust and open hostility to reach its present position amongst the healing arts.

Hypnotherapy has survived because enough determined people have fought on, and because enough people have benefited from it. We struggle and desperately try to comprehend our own existence, caught as we are between the alienation of existential separation and the promise of spiritual unity. Healers and shamanism have played an important part of human medicine and culture. Through their sometimes ridiculed behaviour, we have managed to perceive a deeper understanding of the psychology beyond cure. We have discovered that healing can occur despite our disbelief and rejection. Shamans of Indian tribes in the Amazons, Dalai Lamas state oracle, the dreamwalker among the aborigines of Australia or the Swedish “Nåjd” ( in sami noadi – wizard ), generally share the same rites and values. They all claim to be in contact with a different reality. During their healing or practice, they are generally considered to be in an altered state of consciousness. Usually through an initial intense phase of excitation they suddenly faint or dissociate, and experience what Pavlov would have labelled reciprocal inhibition. They suddenly start to speak with a different voice or claim to be in contact with another dimension of spirits or healers.


The bible gives us many examples of healers, and throughout history they have played an important role among the commoners, although often dismissed and dishonoured by science and the nobility. The bible is remarkably full of healers and people in different trance and almost hypnotic states. In England John Greatrakes was a well-known healer of Shakespeare’s era, and others would later follow his footsteps. The ancient Hebrews used meditation with chanting, breathing exercises and fixation on the Hebrew letters of the alphabet that spelled their name for God, to induce an ecstasy state called Kavanah. These ritualistic practices are very similar to auto-hypnosis.

In the Talmud, Kavanah implies relaxation, concentration, and correct attention (motivation). People such as fire-walkers, and priests who use the religious practices of laying on of hands to make people faint to the floor, are using auto-hypnosis to bring about an altered state of consciousness by the use of suggestion and expectation.

Eastern techniques survived for millennia, practiced through Qi Gong in China and Prana massage in India. In 2,000 BC the father of Chinese medicine, Wond Tai, wrote about the technique involving incantations and ‘the passing of hands’. The laying on of hands has always been present, although with different contexts. When you are touched by the Queen, you might subconsciously strive for this “healing touch”. Today even doctors and nurses practise the Therapeutic Touch, Kahuna Healing, Reiki, Shiatsu, Prana Healing and Bioplasma Therapy. The last 30 years we have gradually seen an increasing interest in alternative methods like acupuncture. 30 years ago colleagues were suspended from practicing medicine when promoting acupuncture in Sweden. How ignorant – and yet 1970 was not far from medieval condemnation.


In the Egyptian temples of Imhotep (Im-hotep – he comes in peace) an art of healing known as incubation was practiced. It is thought that Imhotep was the architect, designing the first known pyramid for the Pharaoh Djoser around 2700 B.C.


Imhotep developed a reputation as a magician and healer. People with illnesses would go to his temple and sleep there. Some claim he appeared to them in their dreams and healed them. An Egyptian text dating from over 3,000 years ago, the Bent-rosh Stela describes the sufferings a princess endured in a profound experience described as “possession by a spirit.” The ministrations of the local psychiatrist or “artist of the heart” were insufficient to relieve her suffering. However, an immediate cure was affected upon the arrival of a high priest of Thoth who brought with him a great stone statue of the healing moon-deity aspect of the god. His journey had taken nearly a year and a half. These techniques were preserved by the priesthood and also passed through mystery cults associated with the pyramids and sphinx. Perhaps the best source of reference to hypnosis in early Egypt comes from the famous 3rd century AD Demotic Magical Papyrus which was discovered in the 19th century in Thebes.  Column 16 of this papyrus gives instructions for preparation of a lamp which is to be used in a ritual:  It states: You take a boy and sit him upon another new brick, his face being turned to the lamp and you close his eyes and recite these things which are written above down into the boy’s head, seven times.  You make him open his eyes.  You say to him: ‘Do you see the light?’  When he says to you, ‘I see the light in the flame of the lamp’, you cry at that moment, saying ‘Heoue’ nine times.  You ask him concerning everything that you wish. 

(Source:  Hidden Depths – The story of hypnosis by Robin Waterfield)

Although most scholars credit the origin of hypnosis to Mesmer in the eighteenth century, this is not factually correct. At least 2,000 years before Mesmer’s reintroduction of some of the techniques of hypnosis, ancient Egyptian psychiatrist-priests were using them (Muses & Young, 1972).   There is some evidence (Lenz, 1997; Grosso, 1983) that drugs or psychedelics were used to assist the initiate in undergoing the death and rebirth rituals, which were often fatal.

Esoteric writers such as Leadbeater (1986), Hall (1995), and Haich (1965), refer to neophytes and initiates in the Egyptian Mystery Schools who were taught about other dimensions of reality; the mystery teachings were done under a strict code of silence. All of these writers refer to secret initiations in which the initiate – if he or she lived – experienced other levels of reality while being out of the physical body. According to Ring (1985), the initiatory rites of the Osirian and other ancient Wisdom Schools have parallels with the near-death experiences that are occurring today. As people today describe the after effects of their near-death experiences, so it was with those few who survived Initiation: They knew, not from faith but through experience, that they were immortal.












According to old Egyptian terminology they divided the body and consciousness in to different parts:

  • The Bodies   · Khu (also Akh) – the divine intelligence ·

  • Sahu – the immortal body · Higher Ka – the Higher Self ·

  • Haidit (also Khaibit) – the shadow, the unconscious ·

  • Lower Ka – double, animating principle ·

  • Aufu – physical incorporating the above ·

  • Khat – physical body without consciousness

Aspects of Spirit

  • Ba – the immortal soul

  • Ab – the heart or seat of conscience – the seat of the intellect

  • Ren – the name, often conceived as words of power

  • Sekhem – power, will


India with its vast history, far beyond the European culture, has developed a specific terminology about consciousness through Sanskrit. These words have become commonplace in our own contemporary culture and find no adequate English equivalents.






























Asanas: postures used to stimulate flow of life-force through the body and to aid meditation.

Atman: The human soul or spirit — the essence of the inner being.

Ahimsa: The doctrine of non-violence toward sentient beings.

Akasha: The ether; primordial substance that pervades the entire universe; the substratum of both mind and matter. All thoughts, feelings, or actions are recorded within it.

Brahman: Hindu god who represents the highest principle in the universe; the essence that permeates all existence. Brahman is the same as atman in the philosophy of the Upanishads.

Dharma: One’s personal path in life, the fulfillment of which leads to a higher state of consciousness.

Dhyana: The focusing of attention on a particular spiritual idea in continuous meditation.

Guna: A cosmic force or quality. Hindu cosmology maintains that the universe is composed of three such qualities: satvic, meaning

pure or truthful; rajasic, meaning rich or royal; and tomasic meaning rancid or decaying.

Ishwara: Personal manifestation of the supreme; the cosmic self; cosmic consciousness.

Karma: The principle by which all of our actions will effect our future circumstances, either in the present or in future lifetimes.

Mantras: Syllables, inaudible or vocalized, that are repeated during meditation.

Maya: The illusions the physical world generates to ensnare our consciousness.

Moksha: The attainment of liberation from the worldly life.

Mandala: Images used to meditate upon.

Nirvana: The transcendental state that is beyond the possibility of full comprehension or expression by the ordinary being enmeshed in the concept of selfhood.

Ojas: Energy developed by certain yogic practices that stimulates endocrine activity within the body.

Prana: Life energy that permeates the atmosphere, enters the human being through the breath, and can be directed by thought.

Pranayama: Yogic exercises for the regulation of the breath flow.

Samadhi: State of enlightenment of superconsciousness. The union of the individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness.

Sadhanas: Spiritual disciplines. Practical means for the attainment of a spiritual goal.

Samsara: The phenomena of the senses. Attachment to samsara leads to further rebirth.

Siddhis: Powers of the soul and spirit that are the fruits of yogic disciplines.

Soma: A plant, probably with psychedelic properties, that was prepared and used in ritual fashion to enable men to communicate with the gods.

Tantras: Books dealing with the worship of the female deities and specifying certain practices to attain liberation through sensuality, particularly through the heightened union of male and female energies.

Yoga: This is the Sanskrit word meaning union and refers to various practices designed to attain a state of perfect union between the self and the infinite.



In Mesopotamian literature the idea is expressed that the soul, or some part of it, moves out from the body of the sleeping person and actually visits the places and persons the dreamer ‘sees’ in his/her sleep. Sometimes the god of dreams is said to carry the dreamer. The Assyrian king, Assurbanipal (669–633 B.C.), recounted one incident in an ancient dream-book: “The army saw the river Idid’e which was at that moment a raging torrent, and was afraid of crossing. But the goddess Ishtar who dwells in Arbela let my army have a dream in the midst of the night addressing them as follows: “I shall go in front of Assurbanipal, the king whom I have created myself.” The army relied upon this dream and crossed safely the river Idid’e.” This dream seems to have been reported simultaneously by many sleepers.   In times of crisis, ancient kings, priests, or heroes would spend the night in the inner room of the sanctuary of a god. After due ritual preparation, the god would appear to the dreamer and give him a very clear and literal message which would require no further interpretation.

The Romans and Greeks

The Romans also adopted the use of healing sleep/Incubation Temples throughout their Empire. The Romans dedicated their Sleep Temples to the god Apollo – Æsclepius. Sleep Temples even got as far as Britain. Even now in the UK, you can visit a Roman archaeological site at Lydney Park, Lydney, Gloucestershire, where you can see the remains of a Sleep Temple. Sir Mortimer Wheeler excavated the Lydney Temple complex in 1928. One of Sir Mortimer’s assistants was the young Professor J.R.R.Tolkein, who went on to write “Lord of the Rings”; it has been suggested that he based Middle Earth on the landscape surrounding the Temple.





















With the healing God Asklepios, the tradition was carried on in the Greek temples. Sleep therapy survived in the temples of Asklepios, which were constructed by the Greeks in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The temples in his honour were temples of healing dreams. His daughters were Hygea and Panacea. A Klínè was a sacred place or a sacred skin set out around the temple, where the sick person reclined to enter the dream state. From these names we have derived the words, Panacea, Hygiene and Clinic. At the height of the cult’s power, there were 420 temples, spread across the ancient Greek empire. The god Asklepios could perform miraculous cures in the dreams. This sleep would come about by the power of the priests, who used chanting and magical spells to put the patient into a trance. This trance state was known as incubation; incubation is derived from the Latin, In (on) cubare (to lie down). A person could be kept in this state for up to three days, during which time the priests using suggestions would help the person, through their dreams, to make contact with the god, thus helping them to obtain a cure for their illness. The temples were a place of spirits, and mysterious powers, a place to find mental and physical healing.

Today we recognise a lot of what went on in the Temples as suggestion therapy. Over time the priests developed a greater understanding of herbs and their use. They started to move away from the sole use of dream interpretation and suggestion therapy, using their growing knowledge of herbs; they started to develop unguents, tinctures and medicines. Whilst dreams in their early forms involved a direct visit from the god, over time the dreams became more metaphoric, the dream became symbolic of the person’s problems. The attendants became dream interpreters, from these interpretations the priests would make up prescriptions for medicines. Over the past 4000 years, the Sleep Temple, the Priest and Dream Sleep, have slowly evolved in to what has become modern psychiatrists, hospitals and medicine. It is hard to appreciate the enormous influence of the healing temples which dotted the ancient world and served as both hospitals and centres of learning.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, received his training at the temple of Asklepios on the Island of Kos. The sleep temples were well attended by people looking for psychological help. Under the influence of incantation and the performance of religious rituals, sick people were prepared psychologically for suggestion therapy. Today, in some parts of the Middle East and Africa you can still encounter shrine sleep. Sleep temples were and are used for the mentally ill, as a place where priests interpret the sick person’s dreams. Thus, by the use of suggestion, the priests appear to cast out spirits from the minds of the sick. Another form is the Australian natives, aborigines, where the tribes’ shaman practices dream walking. I came across stories still about this, during a visit in Australia 1987. People such as fire-walkers and priests who used the religious practices of laying on of hands to make people faint to the floor, are using Auto-hypnosis to bring about an altered state of consciousness by the use of suggestion and expectation. By rhythmic chanting, monotonous drum beats, together with strained fixations of the eyes, the village shaman or priest was able to induce the state of hypnosis.


Russia is the world’s largest country, also known to contain both good and evil through modern history. The country has a strong tradition with the Russian orthodox church, and also extensive research on subjects like the human aura, bio plasma and energy fields. One famous hypnotist was Rasputin who managed to play a major role in the Tsar family before the communists murdered both him and the Tsar’s whole family.



Animal magnetism could well be regarded as the start of modern hypnosis. Its founder, Frans Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), who was born in near Lake Constance, and, at the age of 32, graduated in medicine in Vienna. Mesmer himself hada great interest in astronomy, and in the works of Maximillian Hell, a Jesuit priest, on the curative effects of magnets. From this interest, Mesmer developed a theory that ‘when the ebb and flow within an organism became out of balance with the universal rhythm mental imbalance or nervous illnesses could result.This was the subject of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Vienna. It was a reasonable hypothesis at the time, as magnetism in Mesmer’s day constituted a challenge to physical science – the solution to which might shed light on the mysteries of the psyche. Mesmer wasn’t ‘a bit short up top’ and indeed he spent 16 years at universities and was awarded two doctorates, one in medicine and one in philosophy.




Mesmer, however, ventured beyond mere hypothesis into the realm of pseudoscience when he began treating patients for a variety of ailments by applying magnets to their bodies. Mesmer soon obtained a number of remarkable cures and listed in his first published report, cures for epilepsy, hysteria, melancholia and fitful fever.

Later he stopped using magnets and maintained that any curative influence emanated from the hands and nervous system of the healer. He believed this influence, which he named animal magnetism, could be transmitted to objects held in or stroked by the hand. It could then be discharged to a patient through a suitable conductor. In 1778 he left Vienna and moved to Paris, maybe because he was involved in a protracted argument that involved unpleasant scenes, with the family of a blind girl who disputed his claimed cure. Together with his partner, Dr Charles d’Eslon, they became so successful using this technique that they often had to turn people away.

In 1784, the French government appointed an official commission to investigate Mesmer. It was composed of several renowned scientists including Antoine Lavoisier, “the founder of modern chemistry” and Benjamin Franklin. They reported to the Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Medicine that the “magnetic fluid” was a myth. Although Mesmer’s techniques did give rise to certain psychophysiological states that might result in the curing of diseases, they agreed with the assumption that Mesmer played upon the imagination of his subjects. Primarily their report stressed the immorality of the healer making magnetic passes over the bodies of his female patients.

But Paris gave him great notoriety with many patients and pupils among the wealthy classes. Due to his success Mesmer set up his salon, and within the year he moved to a house just outside Paris. This is where he set up his famous Baquet, a large round oak barrel which people were able to sit around, holding iron rods dipped into the barrel which was itself filled with water, iron filings and glass. Clothed in a magician’s gown and wand, Mesmer himself moved among the company, making magnetic passes over his patients to a background of soft music and mysterious lighting. Many cures of various diseases were noted. Often they were preceded by convulsive movements and rapturous noises. Numbered among Mesmer’s acquaintances, and possibly his patients, were Mozart and his family, King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, as well as Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. The Baquet made it possible for Mesmer and his assistants to treat many people at once. This could be seen as an early form of group therapy!   Mesmer writes:

“The somnambulist may perceive the past and the future through an inner sense of his. Man is in contact through his inner sense with the whole of nature and can always perceive the concatenation of cause and effect. Past and future are only different relations of its different parts.”  











In 1782 Mesmer and his associates founded the Society of Harmony. This was actually a form of franchise, he had 100 subscribers pay today’s equivalent of £400 and for this they received full instructions of Mesmers methods along with the right to practise these methods in specific towns, much of a similar idea as the Macdonald franchises of today.   Mesmer’s most influential pupil, the Marquis De Puysegur (1757-1828), discovered that patients could be put by “Magnetization” into a sleep-like somnambulistic state in which cures could also be affected. Puysegur emphasized the importance of the will of the therapist as the directing influence behind the mesmerizing process and claimed the ability to put people into a trance telepathically. Ultimately his theories were no less influential than Mesmer’s on the history and development of consciousness.


The rules of magnetizing, based on Puysegur’s theories, were published in 1825 by Professsor Joseph Philippe Francois Deleuze, whom probably for the first time in modern history, demonstrated ‘Post Hypnotic Suggestion’. A post hypnotic suggestion is a suggestion that is given when the patient is actually hypnotised, and acted out after they have left the hypnotic state.

England It was not until the 1840′s that hypnosis got its name. It was James Braid, a well-known Manchester surgeon, who first realised that mesmerism did not involve mysterious magnetic fluids. Whilst people in the hypnotic state may at times seem to be asleep, (which is, in fact, how it got its name, from the Greek Hypnos meaning “to sleep”), they are far from being asleep. The person still has overall control of their own mind, whilst at the same time, being more open to suggestions that may be given by the hypnotist, or indeed, by themselves. It was Braid who gave the trance state the name hypnosis, which soon became hypnology, which gave way to the name hypnotism.

There are four stages of Hypnosis: Light, Medium, Deep and Somnambulistic.

Not long after Braid had coined the word hypnotism, he realised that he had made a grave error in his naming of this phenomena, and tried to rename it monoidism, for that is what hypnosis actually is, people don’t ‘go to sleep’ in hypnosis, rather they direct their attention inwards, to a single point – but unfortunately it was too late as hypnosis had already been accepted and was in common use. When Braid first witnessed mesmerism, he was not impressed as he believed that the Mesmeric effect was nothing but trickery. Braid was invited onto the stage to study the mesmerised subject. Braid, convinced that it was nothing short of a stage act actually forced a pin beneath the subjects finger nail, and was surprised and impressed when the subject showed no sign of discomfort. Braid later discovered that the state of hypnosis was self induced and the hypnotist was only a catalyst for the affair.


In 1837, Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868), invented the stethoscope and developed methods of examining the heart and lungs that are still in use today. He was Professor of Medicine and “Principles and practice of Physics” at UCH London. He conducted public clinical demonstrations of hypnosis and hypnotic phenomena, demonstrating its effects on voluntary and involuntary muscle, somnambulism, analgesia, hallucinations etc., which he attributed to the magnetism theory. When he became President of The Royal Society of Medicine, 1838, hypnosis was forbidden. He was later forced to resign, and began to edit the journal, The Zoist. There, he reported on his protégé James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon working in India, who had performed several hundred operations painlessly using only hypnosis (mesmerism) as an anaesthetic whilst in charge of a hospital in India 1845. Mesmeric analgesia proved to be so successful that it was used extensively by Esdaile during this period; however, he was not the first to use Mesmerism for operations. The first recorded use of the technique during the amputation of a leg by Dr’s Topham. Over a three year period Esdaile carried out thousands of painless operations, no less than 300 of these were major operations and included 19 amputations and also the removal of scrotal tumours. Something truly remarkable in light of no access to modern anaesthesiology! A commission was appointed by the Governor of Bengal to report on the work that Esdaile was doing and indeed reported back very favourably on Esdailes work.


Unfortunately the introduction of ether and chloroform virtually ended the application of Mesmerism dispite Esdailes vigorous defence of his methods. James Esdaile published a pamphlet called “The introduction of mesmerism as an anaesthetic and curative agent into the hospitals of India” 1852; however you’d be very fortunate to be able to lay your hands on a copy of his publication today! Esdaile remained in India until 1851, having completed more than 300 painless surgeries with the use of what he called “mesmerism.”  He was disheartened to learn that the inventor of ether as an anaesthetic was awarded $10,000—and it was described as the earliest anaesthetic. 


Within two years, ether, nitrous oxide, chloroform, and other chemical anaesthetics were widely used in dentistry, and surgery; and anything resembling mesmerism was consigned to the dustbin of history — at least as an approved medical technique.  Indignant, he left his practice in Calcutta and moved closer to his family.  He died at the age of 50 in 1859, allegedly from tuberculosis. Among his many works, Mesmerism in India was later published under the title of Hypnosis in Medicine and Surgery.  This book contains reports of 73 cases of surgery, along with other medical illnesses such as palsy, lumbago, sciatic, convulsions, and tic-douloureaux—all treated with “mesmerism.”  It also contains a summary of his philosophy of medicine, and denigrates the medical establishment who summarily shunned new ideas.

France revisited

Ambroise-Auguste Leibault (1823-1904) and Berheim (1840-1919), two French doctors, founded the so called Nancy school in France in the 19th century, which proved to be very significant in the acceptance of hypnotherapy. Liebeault although often being described as a simple country doctor amassed a considerable amount of experience and expertise in hypnosis by treating, without charge, the peasants of Nancy, a rural French region.Berheim, a fashionable doctor in Paris at the time, began to make frequent visits to Liebault after the Nancy doctor cured a patient that Berheim had previously had no success with.












The two doctors became great friends and although Liebault continued working with the poor, refusing to accept any payment, Berheim made a practice of hypnotising all of the hospital patients who came into his care. After four years, and about five thousand hypnotic inductions, Berheim yielded a 75% success rate – however, several years later, the number of inductions had risen to ten thousand and his success rate had risen to 85%.     


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)   Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, visited Nancy in 1889, and on this visit he became convinced of the ‘powerful mental processes which nevertheless remain hidden from man’. Freud never really got to grips with hypnosis, abandoning it after he discovered ‘positive transference’. This happened when he terminated the hypnotic session of a female patient and she threw her arms around his neck. Freud is reported saying of this event, ‘I was modest enough not to attribute the event to my own irresistible personal attraction’.





Freud was also a neurologist and well-known psychiatrist, and student of Charcot. Freud used Hypnosis to achieve cures which, even to him, seemed like miracles. However, Freud gradually drifted away from Hypnosis, feeling it was cumbersome and too authoritarian. He felt at a loss when he could not explain information patients presented to him under Hypnosis. His collaboration with fellow neurologist and Hypnotist, Josef Breuer (1842-1925) introduced Freud to a technique developed by Breuer to help patients, “the cathartic method.” Freud began to use this method in therapy – both with and without Hypnosis – gradually developing from it his method of free association. Discoveries made by Freud through his utilization of Hypnosis include both the mechanism of repression and the fact that catharsis of repressed ideas brought at least improvement in patient’s conditions.   Freud subsequently developed free association and psychoanalysis. Through these techniques he was able to control and use the transference phenomena.

Jean Marie Charcot (1825-1893

At the same time as Liebault and Berheim were experimenting with hypnosis and its therapeutic use, Jean Marie Charcot, the great French neurologist, had also been experimenting with hypnosis. Charcot put forward the view that hypnosis was essentially hysteria, however the Nancy school opposed Charcot’s view and consequently won acceptance of hypnosis for what it is an essentially normal consequence of suggestion. Charcots pupil, Pierre 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.  During the early decades of the 20th century Emile Coue founded auto suggestion. He also studied at Nancy and is associated with the New Nancy School.


Emile Coue  (1857-1926)

During WW1, 1914 to 1918, the Germans realized that hypnosis could help treat shell-shock quickly. It allowed soldiers to be return to the trenches almost immediately. A formularized version of hypnosis, autogenic training, was devised by Dr. Schultz.


















Modern hypnosis

William James (1842-1910) was a famous psychologist at Harward University, USA.  James was interested in Hypnosis because it seemed to involve alterations in conscious awareness.  He authored a chapter on Hypnosis in his famous Principles of Psychology (1890).

P. C. Young a psychologist did the first systematic experimental work on Hypnosis in his doctoral dissertation completed at Harvard in 1923.

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1930's with Clark Leonard Hull at the University of Wisconsin in the 1920s and continued at Yale into the 1930s.As an experimental psychologist, his work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis.

Van Pelt wrote the “Hypnotism and the power within” and also “Hypnotism and its therapeutic value in medicine”, 1949.

In 1951, a young doctor named Albert Mason, Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, called upon to help a 16 year old boy who was suffering with an extremely bad case of ichthyosis.  This is usually a hereditary condition in which the patient has fewer sweat and sebaceous glands than usual, which causes the skin to become dry and scaly.   The boy’s body was almost covered in a thick, smelly, black layer of hard, dried skin which often oozed with a bloody serum.  He had suffered this condition since birth and conventional medicine had failed to help him.  On two occasions he had been given skin graft operations but each time the new skin flared up like the rest of his body.  It is thought that Dr Mason perhaps did not realize that hypnosis was not intended to be used to heal congenital diseases when he offered to help the boy.  At a hospital in East Grinstead in Sussex, in front of a dozen sceptical doctors, he hypnotised the boy and gave him suggestions that his left arm would become clear.   Five days later the blackened skin became crumbly and fell off to reveal underneath, reddened but otherwise normal skin.  Ten days later the boy’s arm was clear.  Dr Mason proceeded to use hypnosis on the other parts of the boy’s body, achieving remarkable results and the case was reported in the British Medical Journal for 1952.  Three years later Dr Mason wrote a follow up article reporting that the results appeared to be permanent.

Studies continued after the Second World War. Barber, Hilgard (1904-2001), Orne and Sarbin also produced substantial studies. Ernest Hilgard and Andrei Witzenhoffer created the Stanford scales in 1961, a standardised scale for susceptibility to hypnosis, and properly examined susceptibility across age-groups and sex. Hilgard went on to study sensory deception (1965) and induced anaesthesia and analgesia (1975). Hilgard further developed Janet’s earlier work on dissociation into his theory of neodissociation, posing three stages of consciousness within hypnosis:

  • The distorted reality,

  • The hidden observer

  • The observing consciousness.

This model, when brought together with the then contemporary Pain Gate Theory of Melzack and Wall, gave an elegant paradigm which remains just as fresh today, to explain the way in which hypnotic interventions can be so effective.

Other followers like Barber thought that hypnosis was a non specific state, and he did many experiments to prove his point. He gave hypnotised and non-hypnotised volunteers the same suggestions, such as to stop smoking, and was surprised to find that both groups reacted in a similar manner. From this he decided that there was not a specific state of hypnosis, however many people disagree with his non-specific state theory.

John Hartland was a psychiatrist, a member of the BSMDH, and editor of the Journal of Medical Hypnosis. His comprehensive textbook on clinical hypnotherapy, Medical & Dental Hypnosis was published in 1966. Hartland described straightforward techniques for ego, employing direct suggestions of a general nature, aimed at increasing the patient’s self confidence. The book, now in its fourth edition, became a ‘bible’ for the medical or dental student of hypnosis.

The study of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI), the conduits through which our emotions and thoughts may affect our health came into prominence in the 1980s, and a major influence in this study remain Dr Ernest Rossi. In his early years Rossi worked with and co-wrote many papers with Milton Erickson, and is editor of Erickson’s collected papers. In 1986 he published a major book, The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing. His painstaking research into psychobiology and state dependent learning has resulted in a large number of publications in which he describes the mind-body pathways, and applies hypnotic techniques in utilising these pathways to bring about healing.  


















Milton H Erickson was born in 1901 in a poor family and lived his childhood in a farm in Wisconsin. Since the very beginning, many handicaps harden his life and certainly deeply influenced his perceptions. He was colour blind and a specific type of deafness made impossible for him to recognise a rhythm in music. Later, while learning how to read, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. At age 17, after 3 days in a deep coma, polio left his body entirely paralysed. He did not give up and showed an amazing courage and a will of iron. He spent hours in his bed, trying to identify the position of his limbs. He developed uncommon observations capacities by watching and analysing his family members talking together, while their words and body language were expressing different messages. He challenged himself by practicing observation games; who was walking or closing a door out of his sight, and what was the mood of this person at this moment? As his parents forgot him one day in his rocking chair, he started daydreaming and suddenly noticed that the chair was lightly rocking. He fought to recover the control of his muscles. Then, he observed and imitated his baby sister who was starting to walk. One year later, he entered college, walking on crutches. As he was studying to become the brilliant psychiatrist we admire today, he discovered hypnosis. He developed very quickly his own research, therefore creating his personal approach. He never belonged to any specific current, wanting to be open minded, creative and unprejudiced. He collaborated with Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Jay Haley and John Weakland. At age 52, a second episode of polio left him in a wheel chair. He continued to publish and teach until he died in 1980.

Hypnosis, as defined by the American Psychological Association Division of Psychological Hypnosis, is “a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or experimental participant experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behaviour.”


Siberian Shaman


Statue of Imhotep ~ 2700 B.C.


The ancient Egyptian depiction of the soul - Ba


Glow of Hope – S L Haldankar, Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in Jaganmohan Palace in Mysuru, India.


The Bull Lyre. Found in the tomb of Queen Puabi (c. 2680 BC), the lyre was meant to help the Queen fend off loneliness in, and on to the journey to, the afterlife


The Sleep Temple in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire


 Rasputin with his intense gaze


Anton Mesmer


Mesmers famous baquet


Marquis de Puysegur (1757-1828)


Professor John Elliotson (1791-1868)


Ambroise-Auguste Leibault


Hyppolyte Berheim


Charcot gives a lecture on hysteria at the Salpertriere Hospital in Paris  


Emil Coue   


William James 1842-1910


Milton H Erickson (1901 – 1980)


Sigmund Freud with his daughter Anna

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