Hypnotherapy: a very brief history

Posted by Phil Edwards on


Hypnosis is a fascinating subject and probably as old as human intelligence itself. Over 2,000 years ago, the scholars and practitioners of Yoga described the different the various powers of the mind, including ‘psychic’ abilities. They knew that the subconscious mind has total recall of every experience of the individual and that these experiences can be accessed by the conscious mind.

The development of hypnotism in the west can be traced back to an 18th century Austrian physician, Frantz Mesmer, from whom we get the term ‘mesmerise’. Mesmer learned much of what he knew from a
Catholic priest with the rather unfortunate name of Maximilian Hell! Mesmer developed a theory of what he called ‘animal magnetism’, which became very influential in Europe.

Mesmer was an eccentric genius whose personal style still influences the popular notions of a hypnotist as someone who works mysterious magic through personal charisma and the power of their intense, compelling eyes. He wore a purple robe and he treated patients in his clinic in the dark, to the accompaniment of background music. His influence can still be seen in the antics of today’s stage hypnotists and he himself enjoyed playing to an audience, using a metal rod to wave over his patients who would manifest impressive trance states. He became so popular that his clinic could not handle the crowds who turned up, so he would ‘magnetise’ a tree outside and people would stand around it to absorb the benefits.

Mesmer became famous for achieving outstanding results, including restoring the sight of a famous singer and pianist. He gained many followers and students, including a number of aristocrats. This interest in electricity and magnetic force as the basis for many physical phenomena continued throughout Victorian times.

The term ‘neuro-hypnotism’ – derived from the Greek god of sleep ‘Hypnos’ - was coined by James Braid, a 19th century Scottish surgeon. He was convinced that it was a psychological phenomenon rather than the result of ‘animal magnetism’. He and other pioneers, such as James Esdaile, surgeon to the government of India, went on to use hypnosis to carry out successful surgeries, including amputations, without using any medication. Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychotherapy, also used suggestion hypnosis successfully with many of his patients and in the 20th century, Irish surgeon, Dr Jack Gibson, performed over 4,000 operations using only hypnosis as anaesthesia.

As we enter the 21st century, people are increasingly turning to holistic approaches to complement modern medical treatment. Hypnotherapy is one of the best established methods of using the mind to improve performance and overcome a wide range of physical and mental conditions.

Gulf Daily News


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