History of Hypnotism

Hypnosis or hypnotism is one of the least understood areas of knowledge by the common man. People have different notions varying from scientific understanding to the magical or mystical impressions. Some people categorize it as a newly evolved subject while some other call it a centuries old subject. Of late reputed health bodies and different countries have started giving consideration to hypnosis as a subject of immense importance and use. Let’s understand chronological development of the hypnosis starting from the ancient times.

Hypnosis during Ancient Times

Blessings, curses, magical touch and divine healing are some of the popular names used for the processes of influencing human behavior. A select group of people, called saints or spiritual gurus had their own ways of affecting behavior of the people. Mere words spoken by them or a mere touch were used as effective tools to strengthen internal power of the individual for healing. Special places were marked for worship, meditation and healing purposes. These days also healing is done in many religious places, and people come to take blessings with devotion at these places in different parts of the world. For centuries hypnosis was kept and projected as a mystery to the common man. The image then created still has influence on the minds of the people across the globe.

During Eighteenth Century

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) was the first person to use trance for clinical purposes. He used power of suggestions to take the people into trances.  Mesmer was able to evoke, from a number of his clients, entertaining behaviors such as sleeping, dancing, etc. He basically did what today’s hypnotists do in the showroom and the clinic, and what faith healers do in the religious places. His healing theory was very popular among healers, religious people, spiritual people and scientists. This actually was recognition of power of mind in the healing process.

During Nineteenth Century

Dr. James Braid, Manchester Surgeon, coined the term ‘hypnosis’ in 1843. He like many other scientists recognized interesting psychological phenomena, in hypnosis, requiring further research. The scientists soon realized role of human imagination in the process rather than any physical forces or capacities of the healer. This was very important finding as mesmerism had attracted lots of criticism due to associations with occultism. Two thoughts of schools developed with the visible effects of hypnosis. Some people called it a system of ‘medical treatment’ while other called it a tool for personal ‘spiritual fulfillment’. In his early studies, Dr. Braid thought that hypnotic induction would yield a unique condition of the nervous system that was linked somehow to certain cures by suggestion. But later, he rejected the physiological explanations of hypnosis, and emphasized upon the “mental” factors

During Twentieth Century

Many researchers gave their own interpretations such as Charcot called hypnosis manifestation of hysteria. His belief later turned out to be wrong.  Liebault and Bernheim elaborated a theory of hypnotic suggestion based on ideomotor action. Ideomotor action theory says that ideas suggested by the hypnotist lead automatically to actions. What qualified acceptance of hypnosis in medicine that we have today is largely due to the efforts of Clark Hull and Milton Erickson. Dr. Hull emphasized upon the measurable correlates and standardized procedures while Dr. Erickson stressed upon the complex subjective inner processes operating in hypnosis. Dr. Hull is mainly known for his contribution in learning theory while Dr. Erickson is closely associated with clinical hypnosis today. Erickson defined hypnosis as a state of altered consciousness rejecting the notion of sleep during hypnosis. This is one of the most accepted explanations of hypnosis.

Modern View

In 1955, the British Medical Association convened an investigation into Hypnosis and its techniques and applications, and, subsequently approved the use of Hypnosis as an extremely valuable tool. Today Hypnotherapy is highly recognized, respected and sought after invaluable tool for healing, and for changing the behavior patterns. Hypnosis is therapeutically applied to help people to combat Fears, Phobias, Smoking and Weight Problems, Addictions, Habits, Pain and even improve upon such crippling conditions such as Arthritis.

The subject of hypnosis is still open to research regarding its need, utility and related mental and physiological processes.


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