history of hypnosis and hypnotherapy

The history of hypnosis and hypnotherapy as a powerful healing tool for the benefit of mankind

The history of hypnosis and hypnotherapy as a powerful healing tool for the benefit of mankind

The use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool is as old as man himself.

As far as can be traced back through time, we can find records of hypnosis being used to heal and to make change.

Hypnosis has been used under many different names down through the centuries and the use of hypnosis for healing can be traced back to around 3000 BC in Egypt.

Both the new and old testaments of the Bible speak of what could be deemed to be hypnosis, and the ancient Greeks and Romans had sleep temples where those seeking healing would be put into a trance like sleep.

Their dreams, would be interpreted by the priests. By rhythmic drumming and monotonous chanting together with eye fixation, the Shaman of today can still produce catalepsy of the body and this helps to give the shaman the appearance of having magical powers just as they have done for centuries.

Much of what has been done in the past by the village witchdoctor, shaman or wise woman, can be attributed to the fostering of a strong belief, conviction, expectation and imagination in the one being healed, and the chanting and singing often takes the form of what we would term as suggestion.

After all, if the most powerful and magic person you know tells you will become well, you are very likely to do just that. Of course in many cases where such an individual administered to a sick person they would have recovered eventually anyway and this intervention just speeded up the healing process.

It has long been believed by many healers that body, thoughts and emotions can influence one another. Therefore it is possible to influence a physical sickness by working on and realizing particular emotions and by changing thoughts and behavioural patterns.

The Romans said ‘MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO’, healthy mind in healthy body.

This saying seems to confirm that for many centuries it has been believed that physical and emotional well-being have an effect on one another. To put this in perspective, only has to consider how our health declines after periods of stress or as a consequence of radical events.

The division between body and mind in medicine is something that only took place around 1750, with the scientific developments from Newton. Since then the mind and spirit have been considered to be under the jurisdiction of the church and the body under the jurisdiction of science. This is also the reason why all other kinds of medicine see the human being as a whole consisting of body, mind and soul.

Traumatic experiences are not only stored on an emotional level but also on the physical level. The emotional charge of the different traumas can influence our immune system and health conditions.

Through processing old traumas and the emotional charges that are connected to a certain sickness it is possible to find resources inside of us that could help us start the healing process.

Modern hypnosis began with Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815) in the 18th Century. Mesmer was a medical graduate from the famed medical school of Vienna and after studying as a Jesuit priest, he became interested in magnetism. Mesmer became Europe’s foremost expert at magnetic healing, where magnets where passed over the body to effect a healing.

His results where fabulous and so he became very famous. Mesmer believed all living things contained a kind of magnetic ‘fluid’ and if a person had enough of this fluid, they would be healthy. This is where the term ‘Animal Magnetism’ comes from.

Mesmer forgot his magnets one day and so just made passes over the patient with his hands and was surprised to find that they got better. From there on, he thought he had sufficient magnetic fluid in himself top effect the cures.

James Braid (1795-1860) coined the terms ‘hypnotism’ and ‘hypnosis, in 1843. He was a Scottish surgeon working in Manchester. He found that some people could go into a trance if there eyes where fixated on a bright object like a pocket watch for instance.

He believed that a neurological process was involved and that the process could be very useful when no organic origin could be found for a persons disorder.

James Esdaile (1808-1859) another Scottish surgeon working in India would use ey fixation to prepare a patient for surgery and slow sweeping motions, putting them into a deep hypnotic sleep, causing full amnesia throughout the body.

James Braid and James Esdaile were among the first who could be called ‘scientific’ in their research and use of hypnosis. These pioneers removed hypnosis from the realms of ‘mysticism’, and started experimenting with what could really be done with it to help people with their disorders.

Other scientific pioneers include, Liebeault, Bernheim, Brewer and Freud. Unfortunately the great man himself, Freud, was responsible for hypnotherapy being shelved by many for some time when he abandoned it’s use.

Amongst those individuals who have been fundamental to the current view of hypnosis are: Milton Erikson, Ormond McGill, Charles Tebbetts and Dave Elman.

Ormond McGill was, it is true a stage hypnotist, but he preserved the public interest in hypnosis, but then the great Charles Tebbetts was involved in stage hypnosis in the early part of his career, but these where different times to those we live in today and the stage hypnosis would prove to engender a desire to know more about this curious art and therefore bring many of the people who moved the therapeutic use of hypnotherapy forward through the last (20th) century.

Dave Elman brought some measure of acceptance to hypnosis from the medical profession in the USA when the Council on Medical health of the American Medical Association accepted the use of hypnotherapy in 1958.

Probably the most important contributor to the acceptance of hypnotherapy as both an art and a science, was the grandfather of hypnotherapy – Dr Milton Erikson. Dr Erikson was a psychiatrist and hypnotherapist with outstanding professional credentials and because of his solid medical background he had credibility within the medical profession.

Other people worthy of note for their contribution to the advancement of hypnotherapy as a healing art and as a science in the 20th century are: Rosen, Abramson, Menninger, Shenek, Magonet, Wolberg, LeCron, Bordeaux, Wetzenhoffer, Erwin and Simonton, who continues to do amazing things with cancer patients using mental imagery and focusing on beliefs and belief systems amongst other things.

Hypnotherapy is not magic but it sometimes seems magical!


Alan Crisp Clinical Hypnotherapist


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