History of Hypnosis


By Tom Ryan

Hypnotist

Hypnotism is as old Humanity because it is a naturally occurring part of the human condition. It has been used throughout history in many different forms and guises in every part of the world. Primitive societies used drumbeats, chants, ritualistic dances and tribal rites to induce trance states similar to Hypnosis. There are hundreds of references to the use of Hypnotic-like methods and states in the Bible.

The king’s “royal touch” or “divine healing” during the Middle Ages is another form of Hypnosis. Receptive and suggestible individuals eagerly sought to have revered figures touch them and the Hypnotic state was instantly induced. Many yoga practices are pretty obvious forms of Hypnosis. For instance yoga uses breathing and postural exercises to affect physiological responses in the body and altered states of mind. The Greek, Egyptian Priests and Celtic Druids used Hypnosis thousands years ago in the treatment of various ailments of both mind and body.

Modern history of Hypnosis

The modern history of Hypnosis is recognised to have begun with Franz Mesmer in 1773. Mesmer worked with Fr Maximilian Hell a Jesuit Priest the Royal Astronomer in Vienna. They used magnets to successfully treat several cases of hysteria. Fr Hell thought that magnets were responsible for the cure because of their physical properties. Mesmer believed that the cures were produced by the effects of the magnets on the redistribution of bodily fluid. He called this ‘animal magnetism’ to distinguish it from ‘mineral magnetism’. He later abandoned the use of magnets since many people continued to believe his cures were attributed to mineral magnetism.

In Klosters, in the east of Switzerland, not far from the Austrian border, lived a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Father Gassner, who discovered in 1770 that he possessed the power to heal and began practicing ‘faith’ cures. Mesmer observed Father Gassner obtaining cures by the laying on of hands and by making passes over the subject’s body.  In 1775, Mesmer expressed the opinion that Gassner was using animal magnetism without knowing it. Gassner’s bishop soon forbade any further healing of this kind.

Mesmer then decided to elaborate on Gassner’s technique. He theorised that a fluid circulating in the body was influenced by the magnetic forces coming from astral bodies. At that time the theory sounded acceptably scientific. It coincided with Benjamin Franklin’s discovery of electricity and major advances in science and astronomy. Mesmer contended that he possessed this force and that patients could be cured by the magnetic rays flowing from his fingers.

Mesmer Moves To Paris

Public disquiet forced him to leave Vienna, and around 1778 he moved to Paris. There, he set about developing a ‘Bacquet’ a bath-like structure which he lined with iron filings and magnets. When a patient entered the bath, he ‘recovered’ from his ailment. Neurotic people, misdiagnosed, misunderstood and people who felt neglected by their physicians, flocked from all over Europe to Mesmer’s salon. His large following achieved a very high percentage of cures. He soon established a huge reputation that incurred the jealousy and animosity of his colleagues. As a result in 1784, the French Academy appointed a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Lavoisier the chemist, Dr. Guillotine the inventor of the guillotine, and others to investigate Mesmer.

Seeing is Believing

The commission found that certain persons – supposedly very sensitive to animal magnetism – and capable of experiencing convulsive reactions when they touched trees magnetized by stroking, could not tell which tree had been magnetized unless they saw the magnetizing performed. If they were told a certain tree had been magnetized, they would have convulsions when they touched it. The commission declared that the effects attributed to animal magnetism were the results of imagination and denounced Mesmer as a fraud. His reputation was ruined. These so called scientists failed to recognize that the power of suggestion was actually responsible for the cures. Although Mesmer was discredited, he actually laid the foundation for modern Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. His investigations led to a better understanding of the power of suggestion and its benefits.

Development Despite Pressure

Interest in Mesmerism was revived by Dr. Elliotson, a Physician and Professor of Medicine at University College London, who in 1838 introduced the stethoscope to England. Dr. Elliotson was pressurised into to resigning from his college and hospital appointments because of his interest in ‘mesmeric’ phenomena. After his resignation, he and others continued to carry on with their research on Mesmerism. They published their findings in a journal entitled Zoist.

The Name Hypnosis

In 1841, another English physician, James Braid, who had originally opposed Mesmerism, on further enquiry, became fascinated by the subject. He concluded that animal magnetism was not involved in the cures and instead were due to suggestion. He developed the eye-fixation technique of inducing relaxation which he thought was a form of sleep and called it “Hypnosis” from Hypnos the Greek word for “sleep.” Later he recognized his error and changed the name to monoeidismo, meaning concentration on one idea. However the term “hypnosis” had become established and continues to persist despite the fact that it is technically incorrect.

Hypnotic Anaesthesia

In 1845 James Esdaile, a surgeon, working in India, performed hundreds of minor and major surgical procedures using Mesmeric anesthesia. Esdaile’s book, Mesmerism in India, (Esdaile, James, Hypnosis in Medicine and Surgery: originally entitled Mesmerism in India. New York: Julian Press, Inc., 1957) published in 1850, describes over two hundred and fifty surgical operations, many of them extremely formidable, such as leg amputations, removal of huge scrotal tumors weighing from eighty to a hundred and twenty pounds and other comparable surgery. He accurately described many of the phenomena of hypnosis as we know them today. This volume is still a valuable scientific document. Like present-day investigators, he noted the diminution of surgical shock in his Hypnotic patients. He or his Indian assistants mesmerized or hypnotized the patients early in the morning and left them in a cataleptic state. He returned later and swiftly proceeded with the operation. His cases were all documented and observed by local dignitaries and physicians.

Esdaile’s Fate

When Esdaile returned to England and related his experiences he was ridiculed and ostracized by his colleagues. He moved to Scotland and reported many more surgical successes. It is interesting to note that he remarked that it was difficult both to convince people of the validity of his work and to fight public opinion. These words are equally true today.

The Nancy School

Meanwhile, in Nancy, France, Dr. Ambroise-Auguste Liebault, a French physician became interested in Braids work and hypnosis. To avoid being branded a charlatan, he worked without pay. His results were noticed by Hippolyte Bernheim, a famous neurologist, who taught at the medical school. Bernheim sent Liebault a patient suffering from sciatica that he had unsuccessfully treated for six years. Liebault cured him of his sciatica with several sessions of Hypnosis. Bernheim then became interested in Lidbault’s work and together they treated over ten thousand patients. Bernheim wrote the first scientific treatise on Hypnosis “Suggestive Therapeutics” in 1886.

More Controversy

In France, Hypnosis encountered a serious obstacle in the person of Charcot, another French neurologist, who disagreed with Bernheim’s and Liebault’s contention that suggestion was the key factor in Hypnosis. Charcot said that Hypnosis was just another manifestation of hysteria. In a decade, he found only a dozen cases of ‘Major Hypnotism.’ His experiments were performed primarily on just three subjects who were Hysterics. Charcot revived Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism and consequently a bitter controversy raged between the two schools of thought. History proved Charcot to be wrong and Bernheim and Liebault to be correct. At this time many other famous scientists such as Broca, Heidenhain, Krafft-Ebing, and others became interested in the subject of hypnotism.

Freud Failure Sets Back Hypnosis

Freud heard of Liebault’s and Bernheim’s work and in 1890 came to Nancy. He had employed the use of Hypnosis with Breuer, a physician who was interested in using it with mentally disturbed individuals. Freud wanted to develop his own Hypnotic techniques. He studied with Charcot and Bernheim. He was incompetent in the use of Hypnosis and consequently his results were superficial at best and he abandoned Hypnosis.

His rejection of Hypnosis retarded its acceptance for over fifty years. Many however believe that Freud developed his insights into human behavior and the workings of the mind from his early exposure to Hypnosis. He admitted that Hypnotism was a very useful way of recovering buried memories.

His own incompetence with the subject led him away from it and into the development of psychoanalysis. Since Freud was very influential and the flavor of the day therapeutic practice moved with him and away from Hypnosis.

Freud set back the development of Hypnosis in therapy by more than half a

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