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This article is about the development of concepts, beliefs and practices related to hypnosis and hypnotherapy from prehistoric to modern times.

Although often viewed as one continuous history, it is important to note that the term 'hypnosis' only gained widespread use after James Braid coined the term 'hypnotism' in 1841. Braid introduced the term to contrast his approach with those of the Mesmerists who preceded him. Hence, the use of the expression 'hypnosis' or 'hypnotism' to describe the practices of Mesmerism or practices before 1841 is potentially figurative or speculative.

Hypnosis: early history

Braid on Yoga

According to his writings, Braid began to hear reports concerning the practices of various Oriental meditation techniques immediately after the publication of his major book on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). Braid first discusses hypnotism's historical precursors in a series of articles entitled Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered. He draws analogies between his own practice of hypnotism and various forms of Hindu yoga meditation and other ancient spiritual practices. Braid's interest in meditation really developed when he was introduced to the Dabista-n-i Maza-hib, the 'School of Religions', an ancient Persian text describing a wide variety of Oriental religious practices.

"Last May [1843], a gentleman residing in Edinburgh, personally unknown to me, who had long resided in India, favoured me with a letter expressing his approbation of the views which I had published on the nature and causes of hypnotic and mesmeric phenomena. In corroboration of my views, he referred to what he had previously witnessed in oriental regions, and recommended me to look into the 'Dabistan', a book lately published, for additional proof to the same effect. On much recommendation I immediately sent for a copy of the 'Dabistan', in which I found many statements corroborative of the fact, that the eastern saints are all self-hypnotisers, adopting means essentially the same as those which I had recommended for similar purposes."

Although he disputed the religious interpretation given to these phenomena throughout this article and elsewhere in his writings, Braid seized upon these accounts of Oriental meditation as proof that the effects of hypnotism could be produced in solitude, without the presence of a magnetiser, and therefore saw this as evidence that the real precursor of hypnotism was to be sought in the ancient practices of meditation rather than in the more recent theory and practice of Mesmerism. As he later wrote:

"Inasmuch as patients can throw themselves into the nervous sleep, and manifest all the usual phenomena of Mesmerism, through their own unaided efforts, as I have so repeatedly proved by causing them to maintain a steady fixed gaze at any point, concentrating their whole mental energies on the idea of the object looked at; or that the same may arise by the patient looking at the point of his own finger, or as the Magi of Persia and Yogi of India have practised for the last 2,400 years, for religious purposes, throwing themselves into their ecstatic trances by each maintaining a steady fixed gaze at the tip of his own nose; it is obvious that there is no need for an exoteric influence to produce the phenomena of Mesmerism. The great object in all these processes is to induce a habit of abstraction or concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action."

Sleep temples

Hypnotism as a tool for health seems to have originated with the Hindus of ancient India who often took their sick to sleep temples to be cured by hypnotic suggestion as also found to be the case in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. Hypnotic-like inductions were used to place the individual in a sleep-like state, although it is now accepted that hypnosis is different from sleep.


Avicenna (980-1037), a Persian psychologist and physician, was the earliest to make a distinction between sleep and hypnosis. In The Book of Healing, which he published in 1027, he referred to hypnosis in Arabic as al-Wahm al-Amil, stating that one could create conditions in another person so that he/she accepts the reality of hypnosis.

Magnetism & Mesmerism

Hypnotism evolved out of a sometimes sceptical reaction to the much earlier work of magnetists and Mesmerists.


Paracelsus (1493-1541), a Swiss, was the first physician to use magnets in his work. Many people claimed to have been healed after he had passed magnets (lodestones) over their bodies.

Valentine Greatrakes

An Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) was known as 'the Great Irish Stroker' for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies.

Johann Joseph Gassner

Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779), a Catholic priest of the time, believed that disease was caused by evil spirits and could be exorcised by incantations and prayer.

Father Maximilian Hell

Around 1771, a Viennese Jesuit named Maximilian Hell (1720-1792) was using magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. One of Father Hell's students was a young medical doctor from Vienna named Franz Anton Mesmer.

Franz Anton Mesmer

Western scientists first became involved in hypnosis around 1770, when Dr. Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician from Austria, started investigating an effect he called 'animal magnetism' or 'mesmerism' (the latter name still remaining popular today).

The use of the (conventional) English term animal magnetism to translate Mesmer's magnétisme animal is extremely misleading for three reasons:

1. Mesmer chose his term to clearly distinguish his variant of magnetic force from those which were referred to, at that time, as mineral magnetism, cosmic magnetism and planetary magnetism.

2. Mesmer felt that this particular force/power only resided in the bodies of humans and animals.

3. Mesmer chose the word 'animal', for its root meaning (from latin animus = 'breath') specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged to all creatures with breath; viz., the animate beings: humans and animals.

Mesmer developed his own theory and inspired himself also to the writings of the English physician Richard Mead. Mesmer found that, after opening a patient's vein and letting the patient bleed for a while, by passing magnets over the wound would make the bleeding stop. Mesmer also discovered that using a stick instead would also make the bleeding stop.

After moving to Paris and becoming popular with the French aristocracy for his magnetic cures, the medical community challenged him. The French king put together a Board of Inquiry that included chemist Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin, and a medical doctor who was an expert in pain control named Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Mesmer refused to cooperate with the investigation and this fell to his disciple Dr d'Eslon. Franklin constructed an experiment in which a blindfolded patient was shown to respond as much to a non-prepared tree as to one that had been 'magnetised' by d'Eslon. This is considered to be perhaps the first placebo-controlled trial of a therapy ever conducted. The commission later declared that Mesmerism worked by the action of the imagination.

Although Mesmerism remained popular and 'magnetic therapies' are still advertised as a form of 'alternative medicine' even today, Mesmer himself retired to Switzerland in obscurity, where he died in 1815.

Abbé Faria

Many of the original mesmerists were signatories to the first declarations proclaiming the French revolution in 1789. Far from being surprising, this was almost to be expected, in that mesmerism had opened up the prospect that the social order was in some sense suggested and could be overturned. Magnetism was neglected or forgotten during the Revolution and the Empire.

An Indo-Portuguese priest, Abbé Faria, revived public attention to animal magnetism. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris. Faria came from India and gave exhibitions in 1814 and 1815 without manipulations or the use of Mesmer's baquet.

Unlike Mesmer, Faria claimed that it 'generated from within the mind' by the power of expectancy and cooperation of the patient. Faria's approach was significantly extended by the clinical and theoretical work of Hippolyte Bernheim and Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault of the Nancy School. Faria's theoretical position, and the subsequent experiences of those in the Nancy School made significant contributions to the later autosuggestion techniques of Émile Coué and the autogenic training techniques of Johannes Heinrich Schultz.

Marquis de Puységur

A student of Mesmer, Marquis de Puységur, first described and coined the term for 'somnambulism'.

Followers of Puységur called themselves 'Experimentalists' and believed in the Paracelsus-Mesmer fluidism theory.

Récamier and Reichenbach

Récamier, in 1821, prior to the development of hypnotism, was the first physician known to have used something resembling hypnoanaesthesia and operated on patients under mesmeric coma.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Carl Reichenbach began experiments to find any scientific validity to 'mesmeric' energy, which he termed Odic force after the Norse god Odin. Although his conclusions were quickly rejected in the scientific community, they did undermine Mesmer's claims of mind control. James Braid published an influential book attacking Reichenbach's views as pseudoscientific entitled The Power of the Mind over the Body (1846).

James Esdaile

Dr. James Esdaile (1805-1859) reported on 345 major operations performed using mesmeric sleep as the sole anesthetic in British India. The development of chemical anaesthetics soon saw the replacement of hypnotism in this role.

John Elliotson

Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868), an English surgeon, in 1834 reported numerous painless surgical operations that had been performed using mesmerism.

James Braid

The Scottish surgeon and physician James Braid coined the term 'hypnotism' in his unpublished Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism (1842) as an abbreviation for 'neuro-hypnotism', meaning 'nervous sleep'. Braid fiercely opposed the views of the Mesmerists, especially the claim that their effects were due to an invisible force termed 'animal magnetism', and the claim that their subjects developed paranormal powers such as telepathy. Instead, Braid adopted a sceptical position, influenced by the philosophical school of Scottish Common Sense Realism, attempting to explain the Mesmeric phenomena on the basis of well-established laws of psychology and physiology. Hence, Braid is regarded by many as the first true 'hypnotist' as opposed to the Mesmerists and other magnetists who preceded him.

Braid ascribed the 'mesmeric trance' to a physiological process resulting from prolonged attention to a bright moving object or similar object of fixation. He postulated that 'protracted ocular fixation' fatigued certain parts of the brain and caused a trance, or 'nervous sleep', or, from the Greek, 'neuro-hypnosis'.

Later Braid simplified the name to 'hypnotism' (from the Greek hypnos, 'sleep'). Finally, realising that "hypnotism" was not a kind of sleep, he sought to change the name to 'monoideism' ('single-idea-ism'), but the term 'hypnotism', and its cognate 'hypnosis', have stuck.

Braid is credited with writing the first ever book on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). After Braid's death in 1860, interest in hypnotism temporarily waned, and gradually shifted from Britain to France, where research began to grow, reaching it's peak around the 1880s with the work of Hippolyte Bernheim and Jean-Martin Charcot.

Jean-Martin Charcot

The neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) endorsed hypnotism for the treatment of hysteria. La methode numerique ('The numerical method') led to a number of systematic experimental examinations of hypnosis in France, Germany, and Switzerland. The process of post-hypnotic suggestion was first described in this period. Extraordinary improvements in sensory acuity and memory were reported under hypnosis.

From the 1880s the examination of hypnosis passed from surgical doctors to mental health professionals. Charcot had led the way and his study was continued by his pupil, Pierre Janet. 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.

Holy See

Objections had been raised by some theologians stating that, if not applied properly, hypnosis could deprive a person of their faculty of reason. Saint Thomas Aquinas specifically rebutted this, stating that "The loss of reason is not a sin in itself but only by reason of the act by which one is deprived of the use of reason. If the act that deprives one of his use of reason is licit in itself and is done for a just cause, there is no sin; if no just cause is present, it must be considered a venial sin."

On July 28, 1847, a decree from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy office (Roman Curia) declared that "Having removed all misconception, foretelling of the future, explicit or implicit invocation of the devil, the use of animal magnetism (Hypnosis) is indeed merely an act of making use of physical media that are otherwise licit and hence it is not morally forbidden, provided it does not tend toward an illicit end or toward anything depraved."

American Civil War

Hypnosis was used by field doctors in the American Civil War and was the first extensive medical application of hypnosis. Although hypnosis seemed to be very effective in the field, with the introduction of the hypodermic needle and the general chemical anaesthetics of ether in 1846 and chloroform in 1847 to America, it was much easier for the war's medical community to use chemical anaesthesia than hypnosis.

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault (1864-1904), the founder of the Nancy School, first wrote of the necessity for cooperation between the hypnotiser and the participant, for rapport. Along with Bernheim, he emphasised the importance of suggestibility.

Hippolyte Bernheim

Hippolyte Bernheim is considered by some experts to be the most important figure in the history of hypnotism. Along with Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault he founded the Nancy School which became the dominant force in hypnotherapeutic theory and practice in the last two decades of the 19th century.

William James

William James (1842-1910) the pioneering American psychologist discussed hypnosis in some detail in his Principles of Psychology.

First International Congress, 1889

The First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism was held in Paris, France, on August 8-12, 1889. Attendees included Jean-Martin Charcot, Hippolyte Bernheim, Sigmund Freud and Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault. The second congress was held on August 12-16, 1900.

British Medical Association, 1892

The Annual Meeting of the BMA, in 1892, unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis and rejects the theory of Mesmerism (animal magnetism). Even though the BMA recognised the validity of hypnosis, Medical Schools and Universities largely ignored the subject.

Hypnosis: 20th century

Émile Coué

Émile Coué (1857-1926), a French pharmacist and founder of the New Nancy School, broke away from hypnotism to develop his own method of 'conscious autosuggestion'. He became one of the most influential early 20th century self-help teachers.

Boris Sidis

Boris Sidis (1867-1923), a Ukraine-born American psychologist and psychiatrist who studied under William James at Harvard University, formulated this law of suggestion:

Suggestibility varies as the amount of dis-aggregation, and inversely as the unification of consciousness. Dis-aggregation refers to the split between the normal waking consciousness and the subconscious.

Johannes Schultz

The German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz adapted the theories of Abbé Faria and Émile Coué and identifying certain parallels to techniques in yoga and meditation. He called his system of self-hypnosis autogenic training.

Gustav Le Bon

Gustave Le Bon's study of crowd psychology compared the effects of a leader of a group to hypnosis. Le Bon made use of the suggestibility concept.

Sigmund Freud

Hypnosis, which at the end of the 19th century had become a popular phenomenon, in particular due to Charcot's public hypnotism sessions, was crucial in the invention of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, a student of Charcot. Freud later witnessed a small number of the experiments of Liébeault and Hippolyte Bernheim in Nancy. Back in Vienna he developed abreaction therapy using hypnosis with Josef Breuer. When Sigmund Freud discounted its use in psychiatry, in the first half of the last century, stage hypnotists kept it alive more than physicians.

Platanov and Pavlov

Russian medicine has had extensive experience with obstetric hypnosis. Platanov, in the 1920s, became well known for his hypno-obstetric successes. Impressed by this approach, Stalin later set up a nationwide program headed by Velvoski, who originally combined hypnosis with Pavlov techniques but eventually used the latter almost exclusively. Ferdinand Lamaze, having visited Russia, brought back to France 'childbirth without pain through the psychological method', which in turn showed more reflexologic than hypnotic inspiration.

20th century wars

The use of hypnosis in the treatment of neuroses flourished in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Hypnosis techniques were merged with psychiatry and was especially useful in the treatment of what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

William McDougall

William McDougall (1871-1944), an English psychologist, treated soldiers with 'shell shock' and criticised certain aspects of Freudian theory such as the concept of abreaction.

Clark L. Hull

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1920s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884-1952) at Yale University. An experimental psychologist, his work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis. Hull's studies emphatically demonstrated once and for all that hypnosis had no connection with sleep ("hypnosis is not sleep, it has no special relationship to sleep, and the whole concept of sleep when applied to hypnosis obscures the situation").

The main result of Hull's study was to rein in the extravagant claims of hypnotists, especially regarding extraordinary improvements in cognition or the senses under hypnosis. Hull's experiments did show the reality of some classical phenomena such as hypnotic anaesthesia and post-hypnotic amnesia. Hypnosis could also induce moderate increases in certain physical capacities and change the threshold of sensory stimulation; attenuation effects could be especially dramatic.

Andrew Salter

In the 1940s, Andrew Salter (1914-1996) introduced to American therapy the Pavlovian method of contradicting, opposing, and attacking beliefs. In the conditioned reflex, he has found what he saw as the essence of hypnosis. He thus gave a rebirth to hypnotism by combining it with classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov had himself induced an altered state in pigeons, that he referred to as 'Cortical Inhibition', which some later theorists believe to be some form of hypnotic state.

British Hypnotism Act

In Britain, in 1952, a Hypnotism Act was instituted to regulate stage hypnotists' public entertainments.

British Medical Association, 1955

On April 23, 1955, the British Medical Association (BMA) approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanaesthesia in pain management in childbirth and surgery. At this time, the BMA also advised all physicians and medical students to receive fundamental training in hypnosis.

1956, Pope's approval of hypnosis

The Roman Catholic Church banned hypnotism until the mid-20th century when, in 1956, Pope Pius XII gave his approval of hypnosis. He stated that the use of hypnosis by health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment is permitted. In an address from the Vatican on hypnosis in childbirth, the Pope gave these guidelines:

1. Hypnotism is a serious matter, and not something to be dabbled in.

2. In its scientific use, the precautions dictated by both science and morality are to be followed.

3. Under the aspect of anaesthesia, it is governed by the same principles as other forms of anaesthesia.

American Medical Association, 1958

In 1958, the American Medical Association approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis. It encouraged research on hypnosis although pointing out that some aspects of hypnosis are unknown and controversial.

American Psychological Association

Two years after AMA approval, the American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology.

Ernest Hilgard and others

Studies continued after the Second World War. Barber, Hilgard, Orne and Sarbin also produced substantial studies.

In 1961, Ernest Hilgard and André Weitzenhoffer created the Stanford scales, 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).

Milton Erickson

Milton Erickson (1901-1980) developed many ideas and techniques in hypnosis that were very different from what was commonly practised. His style, commonly referred to as Ericksonian Hypnosis, has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.

Harry Arons

In 1967, Harry Arons, a self-taught professional hypnotist, wrote a textbook, Hypnosis in Criminal Investigation, dedicated to the application of hypnosis in the judicial system. Chapters include such applications such as memory, age regression, induction techniques and confabulation. Arons also travelled the country training law enforcement agencies. His teaching created national acceptance in the legal community and increased positive awareness to the practice of hypnosis for trial applications.

Dave Elman

Dave Elman (1900-1967) helped to promote the medical use of hypnosis in the 1960s. Elman's definition of hypnosis is still used today among some professional hypnotherapists. Although Elman had 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 practitioners.

He placed great stress on what he termed 'the Esdaile state' or the 'hypnotic coma', which, according to Elman, had not been deliberately induced since Scottish surgeon James Esdaile last attained it. This was an unfortunate and historically inaccurate choice of terminology on Elman's part. Esdaile never used what we now call hypnosis even on a single occasion; he used something loosely resembling mesmerism (also known as animal magnetism).

Ormond McGill

Ormond McGill (1913-2005), stage hypnotist and hypnotherapist, was the 'Dean of American Hypnotists' and writer of the seminal 'Encyclopaedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism' (1947). McGill died on October 19th, 2005.

U.S.A definition for hypnotherapist

The U.S. (Department of Labour) Directory of Occupational Titles (D.O.T. 079.157.010) supplies the following definition.,

"Hypnotherapist -- Induces hypnotic state in client to increase motivation or alter behaviour pattern through hypnosis. Consults with client to determine the nature of problem. Prepares client to enter hypnotic states by explaining how hypnosis works and what client will experience. Tests subject to determine degrees of physical and emotional suggestibility. Induces hypnotic state in client using individualised methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client's problem. May train client in self-hypnosis conditioning."

UK National Occupational Standards

National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Hypnotherapy was published in 2002 by Skills for Health, the Government's Sector Skills Council for the UK health industry. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority started conferring optional certificates and diplomas in international level through National Awarding Bodies by assessing learning outcomes of training /accrediting prior experiential learning

Indian restriction

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, vide its letter no.R.14015/25/96-U&H(R) (Pt.) dated 25 November, 2003, has very categorically stated that hypnotherapy is a recognised mode of therapy in India to be practised by only appropriately trained personnel.

U.K Hypnotherapy Professional Unity

On 9th December 2008, under the good offices of The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, a meeting was held between representatives of The UK Confederation of Hypnotherapy Organisations (UKCHO) and The Working Group for Hypnotherapy Regulation (WGHR). At this meeting it was agreed to issue the following joint statement to all hypnotherapy organisations, hypnotherapy training schools and hypnotherapy practitioners.

"We, The Working Group for Hypnotherapy Regulation and the UK Confederation of Hypnotherapy Organisations (UKCHO) agree that both organisations have a central role to play in contributing to the development of the profession of Hypnotherapy. We honour and support each others' contributions to this development to date, and recognise each others' respective achievements. As our profession will best be served by co-operation and unity, we intend to put any remaining differences aside and to explore working together for the purposes of voluntary self-regulation of the UK hypnotherapy profession in the future."

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