Understanding Hypnosis Part 2 – Origin and History of Hypnosis

This is part 2 of my attempt to demystify Hypnosis. Here I am going to give you a quick background about the origin and the historical development of hypnosis. You can check out my explanation about the different types of hypnosis in an earlier post here.


Tribal Origins

Considering all the many accounts of trance inducing incantations of shamans and medicine men in ancient and current day tribal societies it can safely be assumed that hypnosis in one form or another is probably as old as humanity. Even in post-tribal societies there is a persistent archetypal image of people in need for salvation and healing heading to temples where priests dressed in purple, the colour of nobility and spirituality symbolising magic and mystery, would be holding out their hands, staring into their eyes and speaking to them with low, gravely voices.


Franz Anton Mesmer

In the late 18th century Franz Anton Mesmer seems to have been the first person in western society who was looking for a scientific explanation of a previously mainly spiritual system of healing which had famous and not so famous people wandering the countryside practising magnetism for centuries prior. Even with his scientific background Mesmer seemed to have been well aware of the tradition when he was practising his Animal Magnetism, a combination of magnetism and fascination techniques which later has also been referred to as Mesmerism as the following account highlights.
‘…….Mesmer, wearing a coat of lilac silk, walked up and down amid this palpitating crowd ………….. Mesmer carried a long iron wand, with which he touched the bodies of the patients, and especially those parts which were diseased; often laying aside the wand, he magnetised them with his eyes, fixing his gaze on theirs, or applying his hands to the hypochondriac region and to the lower part of the abdomen…..’ Animal Magnetism; Alfred Binet & Charles Fere, 1894.


Hypnosis in Surgery

Marquis de Puygesur a disciple of Mesmer started combining magnetism with verbal and mental suggestions to deepen the mesmeric trance coining the term Somnambulism.
In the early 19th century some surgeons experimented with magnetism/mesmerism and found that the trance state not only helped people to achieve deep relaxation which allowed for a speedier healing process but also encountered the anaesthetic effect of trance allowing them to perform major surgery without the patients feeling any pain. Additional benefits were a speedy recovery due to reduced blood loss and trauma.

The term hypnotism was coined by the Scottish surgeon James Braid. He initially saw trance as being a nervous sleep and called it from the greek ‘neuro-hypnotism’.
Later Braid simplified the name to ‘hypnotism’ and finally, realizing that ‘hypnotism’ was not a kind of sleep, he sought to change the name to ‘monoideism’ (‘single-idea-ism’), however the term ‘hypnotism’ has stuck.


Therapeutic Hypnosis

In the mid-18th century hypnosis for anaesthetic purposes was replaced by chemical agents like chloroform which had the benefit that they worked faster and had a higher level of certainty. This caused the investigation and use of hypnotism in England to come virtually to a standstill. On the continent however, many serious enquirers continued the work, notably in France, where at Nancy two doctors, Liebeault and Bernheim, did much to demonstrate that the phenomena of hypnosis were of psychological origin thus laying the foundation for establishing hypnotism as an important psycho-therapeutic method.


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Permissive Hypnosis

Some of the old knowledge of fascination, energy transference and magnetism that was known to cause deep trance states was moved to the obscurity of the sideshow alley with the arrival of Dr Milton Erickson in the middle of the 20th century. He introduced a permissive style of hypnosis based on the assumption that trance is a natural state and that for trance to occur, naturally occurring physiological events can be utilised and encouraged to deepen the trance state.


Hypnosis for Healing

However over the past ten years a new interest for traditional hypnosis is growing. I believe that this new interest is mainly fuelled by the scientific recognition of the mind-body connection and of the recognition of neuroplasticity where experiments have shown that thinking, learning, and acting can even turn our genes on or off. These findings are suggesting that by taking control of the unconscious by using the trance state induced by hypnosis could allow for a more direct treatment of illnesses using medicines from the body’s own pharmacy.


I’d love it if you share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Posted in Career Tune-up Resources, Understanding Hypnosis.

Beat Wettstein

Hi, my name is Beat Wettstein. I am a certified Trainer and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as well as a Hypnotist with the Australian Academy of Hypnosis and I have been helping people to be the best they can be for more than 5 years.

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