The History of Hypnosis

Throughout history the principles of hypnosis have been used in one form or another.

In 1775 there was an inquest commissioned by Prince Elector, Max Joseph of Bavaria in 1775, that inquired as to why a Catholic priest by the name of Father Johann Joseph Gassner, who had become famous for curing people from various ailments by exorcising demons from them.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

Mesmer, an Austrian physician, was the man invited to investigate this phenomenon. Mesmer found he was able to produce the same effects as Gassner.
He stated that Gassner was an honest man, but that the cures effected were the result of animal magnetism rather than any exorcism.

Mesmer ignored the notion of imagination being behind the effects, (psychology had not advanced far enough at this stage to for the role of the mind to be taken seriously by the scientific community) and placed his belief firmly in the hypothesis of animal magnetism. Mesmer believed in the influence of the planets on the human body, and also of the influence of one person to another.

In 1784 a committee of inquiry set up by the King of France to test this hypothesis. Composed of the leading scientists of the day, and using good experimental designs, the committee demonstrated that the effect, although present, was not the result of magnetic influence, but the result of imagination and suggestion. With the theory discredited, Mesmer himself lost credibility along with his practice of “mesmerism”, as animal magnetism had come to be known. Amazingly the scientific community seemed so keen to discredit Mesmer, that they ignored the fact that cures had been effected, even if the theory was wrong. This became a case of science throwing the baby out with the bath water. Mesmer was regarded as a fraud and charlatan, and became shunned by the scientific community.

Marquis De Puyseger

Around about 1787 the Marquis De Puyseger described a state that became known as artificial somnambulism. In this state the mesmerist could direct the ideas and actions of the subject.

(Abbe) Jose Custodio de Faria (1756-1816)

Portuguese priest Abbe Jose Custodio di Faria most notable claim to fame, was in his application of mesmerism, in that, after talking to his subjects in preparation, he would suddenly look at his subjects and utter the word “sleep!” At this his subjects would close their eyes and appear to be in an instantaneous sleep. At this point mesmerism was left to the devices of the showmen at travelling shows, and away from where it belonged, in the field of medicine and psychology.

John Elliotson (1791-18618)

Some physicians, however experimented with mesmerism, with some dramatic results, especially in its role in controlling pain in surgery. English surgeon John Elliotson, in 1834 reported performing numerous surgical operations painlessly using mesmeric sleep.

Elliotson had been appointed as professor of medicine at London University in 1931. His discoveries included pollen as the cause of hay fever. He was also the first to adopt the use of the stethoscope in England. (The stethoscope was invented in Frane by Laennec in 1819.)

James Esdaile (1808-1859)

Twelve years later, Scottish surgeon James Esdaile (1808-1859), reported 345 operations performed in India with Mesmerism as the sole anaesthetic agent. Esdaile produced lots of clear documentation to support his claims.

These people suffered a similar fate to Mesmer and became shunned by the medical profession.

James Braid (1795-1860)

It took English physician James Braid to rescue hypnosis, and it is to Braid, that the term hypnosis owes its origin. Braid broke from the concept of magnetism, and considered the state to be one of nervous sleep, and coined the term Hypnotism after the Greek God of sleep, Hypnos. Later he tried to give to the more accurate name of Neurypnology, but the term hypnotism, hypnology and thence hypnosis and already taken root in peoples mind. This move opened hypnosis to greater acceptance in the scientific community.

Jean Martin Charcot (1835-1893), Auguste Ambrose Liebeault (1823-1904) and Hippolyte Bernheim (1840-1919)

A major turning point in the revival of hypnosis took place inFrance, where two rival schools, headed by medical men of sound reputation. Jean Martin Charcot, a distinguished neurologist of his day, from the Saltpetriere school, believed that hypnosis was essentially the result of some abnormality of the nervous system and was essentially hysterical in nature. The Nancy school, led by Auguste Ambrose Liebeault and Hippolyte Bernheim, took the view that hypnosis was a completely natural phenomenon that was influenced by the power of suggestion. The latter has been shown to be much more nearly correct.

Bernheim and Charcot were both highly respected in the medical world. Their differences were considered to be part of normal scientific discussion, and with this new respectability, hypnosis became a matter for scientific investigation and in Paris in 1889, the First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism, took place.

Sigmund Freud

From Bernheim and Charcot we are led to Sigmund Freud, who studied under both schools.

Freud, sometimes thought of as the father of psychology. His work led him into the development of psychodynamic psychology, in which the role of the unconscious was to play a huge part. Psychology has moved on from Freud’s day, but the basic tenets of his work still remain a powerful force in today’s therapies. Indeed it could be said that all modem theories on psychology are either developments of or from his theory, or founded in opposition to his ideas.

Milton Erickson

More than any other individual, Milton Erickson has been responsible for shaping the modern view of hypnosis. His great contribution came from his ability to locate an individual’s inner resources for coping creatively with the real problems of everyday life. Erickson himself endured two bouts of polio, over a year at the age of eighteen and later on in life, indeed he was in a wheelchair throughout much of his later life. He learned to use the healing methods of self-hypnosis to deal with his handicaps and uncover ways of experiencing living at more profound levels.

His lectures and demonstrations in seminars and workshops were not neatly systematic and scholarly. They were usually spontaneous, wide-ranging presentations, with only a very general theme to guide them. The special interests, needs and questions from each group of participants frequently generated ingenious, unpremeditated demonstrations of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

His use of indirect, permissive, conversational hypnosis contributed to a significant shift from the older, authoritarian techniques of hypnosis to these more creative approaches pioneered by Erickson.

Richard Bandler & John Grinder: The birth of NLP

NLP was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder m the early 1970s as they set out to identify the patterns used by outstanding therapists who achieved excellent results with clients. They discovered a number of processes which they fitted into an accessible model to enhance effective communication, personal change and personal development. They attempted to ‘get under the skin’ of Virginia Satir, Fritz Perls and Milton Erickson to understand both how they reached their levels of excellence and how to reproduce their skills.

Bandler and Grinder wanted to be able to communicate and work with people as effectively as possible. They used their path to discovery as a way of showing others how to achieve success too. They began to develop NLP by doing it.