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A Brief History of Hypnosis

Hypnosis has been a tool that many civilisations have used, either to control the many or guide, cure and develop the individual. Here are a few of the people who pioneered the use of hypnosis.


Franz Anton Mesmer

The first well known use of hypnosis in our modern records was with the physician Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). His theory was one of animal magnetism this included the passing of hands over parts of the subject's body, which was supposed to help effect a cure. A number of his patients reported that they believed that he was transferring a magnetic force that travelled around their bodies dispelling illness. It was through Mesmers use of hypnosis that the phase mesmerism or mesmerised came to be known.

Dr James Esdaile

Dr James Esdaile (1808–1859), also stands out as a notable figure in the history of mesmerism and hypnosis. In 1830 he was an assistant surgeon to the East India Company where he treated a convict patient who was described to be in such pain that Esdaile decided to try mesmerism upon him as an analgesic for the second operation. Esdaile successfully rendered his patient analgesic and carried out the operation with little pain to the convict, following this Esdaile began to experiment with mesmerism both as a means of producing analgesia in surgical cases, and as a method of treatment for medical ones. By his own admission, Esdaile had never seen a mesmeric act, but given the level of pain of this specific patient, and the understanding that he had gained from what he had read about Mesmer, it occurred to him that mesmerism might be of great value. Esdaile replicated Mesmer's trance-induction techniques and bettered them. In the course of 300 surgeries, including amputations, abdominal surgery and various types of suturing for assorted wounds, the mortality rate fell from 50% to 8%. Thus, Esdaile was using hypnosis to induce unconsciousness and from this the concept of a "coma" state or what later became known as the Esdaile state was apparently derived. Esdaile and his supporter John Elliotson were shunned as charlatans by the British medical establishment of their day, notwithstanding this remarkable breakthrough; both were ruined and died bitterly disappointed.

Dr James Braid

Another physician and surgeon James Braid (1795 –1860) was an important and influential pioneer of hypnotism and hypnotherapy. Braid is regarded by many as the first genuine "hypnotherapist" and the "Father of Modern Hypnotism". Dr Braid discovered by accident that a person fixating an object could easily reach a trance state without the help of the mesmeric passes. In 1841 he published his findings, refuted Mesmer's work and inaccurately named his discovery "hypnotism" based on the Greek word "hypnos" which means "sleep"; this was a mistake on his part as hypnosis is not sleep; yet the name remained and mesmerism became hypnotism.

Dr Emile Coue

Another pioneer of modern hypnosis and self-development was Dr Emile Coue (1857 – 1926) a French psychologist and pharmacist who introduced a method of psychotherapy and self-improvement based on autosuggestion. He coined a well known self-improvement saying of "Day by day in every way I am getting better and better", and is still commonly used in self improvement therapies today. His theory was curing some of our troubles requires a change in our subconscious thought, and can only be achieved by using our imagination.

Milton H. Erickson

Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) was an American psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy.Erickson has greatly influenced hypnosis and (NLP) neuro-linguistic programming he is considered by mant as the father of modern hypnosis, His ability to rapidly observe people and build rapport with his clients. Metaphors, imagery, confusing statements, surprise and humour were part of his therapeutic toolkit. Erickson’s hypnotic methods, nowadays known as Ericksonian hypnosis, have, without doubt, createded another dimension to modern hypnotherapy.

Ainslie Meares

Another person worth mentioning as a pioneer of hypnosis especially here in Australia is Ainslie Meares (1910 –1986) a psychiatrist, scholar of hypnotism, psychotherapist, authority on stress and an author who lived and practised in Melbourne. He gained the Diploma in Psychiatric Medicine (London) in 1947; and, on the basis of his presentation of a collection of 17 published papers relating to medical hypnotism he was awarded the higher degree of Doctor of Medicine by the University of Melbourne in 1958. Meares became an internationally acclaimed expert in the medical uses of hypnotism and authored a textbook describing his methods. He came to use meditation as a means of treatment of psychosomatic and psychoneurotic illnesses in the late 1960s. He also lectured and tutored on the subject of clinical hypnotherapy.

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