Barry D Cooper BSc DipCHP HPD AdvDPLT MNCH(Acc) MBPsS

Who Was Who in Hypnosis

Although the word “hypnosis” is relatively modern, the concepts of trance and altered states of consciousness are ancient: archaeological evidence suggests that shamanic techniques, for example, are at least 20,000 years old. The following notes outline the major influences in the development of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

Ancient Greece
In sleep temples dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of healing, rituals led to healing by suggestion and prophetic dreams.

Galen of Pergamum (c. 131 – 201 AD)
Galen propounded the concept of illness being an interference in the flow of “life force”, invisible fluids flowing through the body. Restoring the balance could result in a cure.

Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)
Paracelsus believed that disorders of the mind should be treated by physicians rather than the clergy. He advocated natural healing techniques and was an early proponent of the use of magnets in healing.

Athanasius Kircher (1602 – 1680)
Kircher combined the ideas of Galen and Paracelsus to suggest that men could influence each other through the use of magnetic powers.

Fr Maximilian Hell (1720 – 1792)
Hell was a follower of Paracelsus who treated patients with magnetic plates and made a set for Mesmer.

Franz Mesmer (1734 – 1815)
Mesmer experimented with Hell’s magnetic plates but concluded that the healing force was not true magnetism and eventually discarded them. He proposed the idea of a universal force, which  he termed “animal magnetism”; disturbances in the flow of this force in the body were responsible for illness, and, following the ideas of Galen and Kircher, he believed he could control this flow, using his body as the “magnet”. In a similar way to those of the ancient Greek sleep temples, his treatments involved the use of elaborate rituals, utilising, unknowingly, the power of suggestion.

Marquis de Puységur (1751 – 1825)
A student of Mesmer, de Puységur preferred a relaxed, calm state of mind in his patients, in which their ideas and actions could be directed by the practitioner; this state was termed “artificial somnambulism”. He was one of the first to recognise the psychological basis of this state.

Abbé Jose Custodio de Faria (1756 – 1819)
De Faria rejected the concept of animal magnetism and instead proposed a state of “lucid sleep”. He eliminated the ritual paraphernalia used by Mesmer and induced lucid sleep by verbal induction alone.

John Elliotson (1791 – 1868)
A London physician, Elliotson was the leading exponent of mesmerism in Britain, and lost his professional chair as a result, although he was later reinstated. He pioneered the use of mesmerism for pain control as an anaesthetic, although this fell into disuse when chemical anaethesia was introduced.

James Esdaille (1808 – 1859)
Esdaille was a Scottish surgeon who, influenced by Elliotson’s work, used mesmerism extensively as a surgical anaesthetic. A believer in animal magnetism, he used magnets to induce trance.

James Braid (1795 – 1860)
Another Scottish medical practitioner, Braid achieved excellent medical and surgical results by asking his patients to focus on a bright light – the first “eye fixation” induction. He rejected the concept of magnetic fluids and, initially considering the trance state to be a form of sleep, introduced the term “neurypnology” (nervous sleep), later replacing it with “neuro-hypnotism”, afterwarads shortened to “hypnotism” or “hypnosis”. He concluded that the results were subjective  – “The phenomena were due to suggestion alone, acting upon a subject whose suggestibility had been artificially increased”. Braid is generally considered to be the “father” of hypnosis, being the first to place its use on a scientific basis.

Ambrose Liebeault (1823 – 1904)
Nancy physician Liebeault was the first to carry out a large-scale study on the medical uses of hypnosis, offering his patients the choice of expensive conventional treatments or free treatment by hypnosis – many chose the latter.

Jean Charcot (1835 – 1893)
A leading Parisian neurologist and surgeon, Charcot observed that hypnotic phenomena were similar to neurotic symptoms on hysterical patients, and that he could produce or reduce these symptoms with hypnosis. He concluded that hypnosis was similar to hysteria and therefore abnormal and a sign of mental illness.

Hyppolyte Bernheim (1837 – 1919)
Professor of Medicine at Nancy, Bernheim was introduced to hypnosis by the work of Liebault and rejected Charcot’s idea that it was a sign of abnormality. He saw hypnosis as heightened suggestibility, with hypnotic phenomena as magnified versions of everyday ones.

Pierre Janet (1859 – 1947)
A French psychologist, Janet considered hypnosis to be a dissociation of the unconscious from the conscious part of the mind, either spontaneous or brought about deliberately.

Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)
Pavlov is best known for his learning theory based on the “conditioned reflex” observed in his experiments with dogs – an early example of what is now known as “anchoring”. Pavlov considered that hypnosis was another form of the conditioned response to suggestions by the therapist and proposed that hypnosis dampened down the higher brain centres.

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
Although Freud experimented with hypnosis, he concluded that other techniques, such as free association, were more effective and abandoned its use. Freud’s negative opinion of hypnosis was a major handicap to its development, and coupled with the rise in behaviourism in psychology, led to a decline in the use of therapeutic hypnosis. Until the 1950s, hypnosis was relegated to a stage entertainment.

Dave Elman (1900 – 1967)
Elman began his career as a stage hypnotist but later established a reputation as a hypnosis trainer for the medical and dental professions, specialising in “rapid” induction and “hypnoanalysis” (regression work). His course textbook, Hypnotherapy (1964), is still a major reference.

John Hartland (1901 – 1977)
English psychiatrist John Hartland was the editor of the British Journal of Medical Hypnosis and author of the major British textbook Medical and Dental Hypnosis and its Clinical Applications. Currently in its fourth edition, this is an extensive manual intended for the use of health professionals.

Milton Erickson (1920 – 1980)
A major influence on modern hypnotherapy, Erickson developed an indirect and non-authoritarian approach to suggestion far removed from stage hypnotism, using verbal techniques such as deliberately vague language, plays on words, non-sequiturs and confusion techniques to induce trance.

Richard Bandler and John Grinder (contemporary)
Bandler and Grinder are the developers of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (“NLP”), a system of techniques derived from “modelling” the work of Erickson, Virginia Satir and Fritz Perls. NLP codifies the language patterns introduced by Erickson and includes other valuable techniques often used along with hypnotherapy, including anchoring and parts integration.