The History of Hypnotherapy (part 1)

It is almost impossible to find the pinpoint the discovery of hypnosis as it seems to me that it has always been around. It is a little like sleeping or dreaming, in so much as it is something we all do and have done since the dawn of humanity. Hypnotherapy is just the use of therapies in conjunction with the hypnotic state, and this seems to have been around almost as long. Trance like states occur in many shamanistic, druidic, voodoo, yogic and religious practices. In 2600 BC the father of Chinese medicine, Wong Tai, wrote about techniques that involved incantations and the passing of hands and in 1500BC the Hindu Vedas mention hypnotic procedures. Modern understanding of hypnosis and hypnotherapy comes from a more scientific view which can be traced back to Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) who, despite having inaccurate theories, was one of the first to use a consistent approach to deliberately induce a trance and test it.

Mesmer was a physician who developed the theory of Animal Magnetism. It should be pointed out Animal comes from the Latin Animus or Breath and Mesmer believed that all living things had a magnetic fluid in them, hence Animal Magnetism. He believed that diseases were the result of blockages in the flow of this magnetic fluid and that he could store his own animal magnetism in baths of iron filings which could then be transferred to his patients with rods or ‘mesmeric passes’. Practitioners would refer to a hypnotised subject as being ‘back animal’ meaning that the person was back in a natural mental state where he/she recovers their most primitive part of the mind. He frequently said that his patients needed to achieve harmony, both with other individuals and with the universe at large. Mesmer was a showman and was responsible for the image of the hypnotist as a man with ‘magnetic’ eyes, a cape and a goatee. This imposing image and the fact the he conveyed that change was going to occur was probably more responsible for any effect he had than in what he actually did. It created and expectation and was both confusional and a form of direct suggestion.

In 1784 King Louis XVI commissioned an investigation into Mesmer’s theories. In one experiment test subjects were given several glasses of water, one of which was infused with the ‘magnetic fluid’. When subjects reacted, but to the wrong glass of water, it was judged that whatever benefit the treatment had produced was attributable to ‘imagination’. In the same year the Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825), one of Mesmer’s most faithful disciples discovered a new state of consciousness he called ‘magnetic sleep’. An employee of his family, Victor Race (23), displayed a sleeping trance which Puysegur described as being similar to sleep walking. Due to this resemblance he described it as ‘artificial somnambulism’ but we would today call hypnosis – a term coined by James Braid in 1842. He is quoted as saying

“The entire doctrine of Animal Magnetism is contained in the two words: Believe and Want.

I believe that I have the power to set into action the vital principle of my fellow-men;

I want to make use of it; this is all my science and all my means.

Believe and want, Sirs, and you will do as much as I.”


If you’d like to benefit from a hypnotherapy session and are in the Coventry area, check out my website

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Filed under Development, Happy, Health, Mental Health, Psychology

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