The History of Hypnosis goes back to the dawn of history. What we now know as “hypnosis” and “hypnotic” state was used by healers as a tool to heal, comfort, motivate, relax and focus their patients’ attention in a way that accessed and used physical and mental mechanisms to influence and alter sensations, attention, perspective, blood flow, temperature, motivation, memory and thoughts.
The first widely accepted “modern” use of these techniques was by Mesmer in the late 1700’s. Mesmer proclaimed that his process worked on the basis of vapors in the body that were redistributed by the mesmerist’s animal magnetism.
Mesmer’s successes immediately generated a group of followers “Mesmerists”. Mesmer and mesmerists reported successful use of mesmeric techniques in curing almost every type of disorder known at the time. This lead to an investigation by the French government but the commission proclaimed mesmerism a fraud saying it did not function on the basis of Mesmer’s theories about animal magnetism and concluded that the therapeutic benefits of Mesmerism were actually due to imagination.
Mesmer and mesmerists and their theories about animal magnetism and magnetic vapors were declared frauds, but scientists continued to study the use of techniques to relax, focus attention and then foster patients’ abilities to use imagination to access otherwise inaccessible bodily processes and mental abilities. To avoid the stigma of fraud associated with the term “mesmerism,” another term was created to describe these basic techniques: “hypnotism.” The term comes from the greek word hypnos which means “sleep”.
Sigmund Freud, around the turn of the century, used hypnotism in his attempts to gain understanding of his patients hidden conflicts and trauma memories but he later declared it too powerful a technique to be safely used.
Modern hypnotic methods in medicine were researched, developed, publicized and popularized worldwide by Dr. Milton Erickson during the middle third of the 20th century. He was fascinated and impressed by the power and potential of hypnosis. He demonstrated that a variety of simple verbal stratagems and guided imageries could be used to help patients access their own inner abilities with profound results in healing and optimizing functioning in any or all areas of their lives. Erickson promoted and popularized the use of methods that indirectly and permissively accessed subconscious processes to promote healing and functioning.