Hypnosis is the induction of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction (Pintar & Lynn, 2009). It continues to be a promising art when it comes to reducing pain and soothing anxiety. It has been in use since the ancient times up to today. There has been significant research on hypnosis though the research is not inconclusive about its success in smoking cessation (Gaul, 2012). This article describes the history of hypnosis and its use in the modern days.

The history of hypnosis is just like the history of breathing. It is a universal trait that everyone possesses. The only difference with hypnosis is that there are different ways of controlling it. Hypnosis itself has not changed since the ancient times, what has changed is our understanding on hypnosis and ways of controlling it. The history of hypnosis is, therefore, the history of change of perception (Hunter, 2011).

The history of hypnosis dates from the prehistoric times to the present time. Although it might be seen as a continuous history, it only gained widespread use in the late 19th century. It was used in the 18th century too though not to a great extent. It was initially used in France.

According to Hunter, hypnosis is a phenomenon that dates back for millennia. Some of the ancient methods used were such like temple sleep, magnetism, and mesmerism. Temple sleep was originally used by the Hindu in Ancient India. They took their patient to the temples or hypnosis. This is what they referred to as ‘temple sleep’. They stayed the night in the temple in a session of self-meditation and communication with their gods. Avicenna, a Persian psychologist, and physician tried to explain the difference between sleep and hypnosis. In his work, The Book of Healing, he explained that hypnosis was a phenomenon that could create conditions in another person making them accept the reality of hypnosis.

The art of magnetism and mesmerism was supported by psychologists like Paracelsus, Valentine Greatrakes, Johann Gassner, Father Maximilian Hell, John Elliotson, James Esdaile, Recamier and Reichenbach, Abbe Faria and Marquis de Puysegur.

Paracelsus, a Swiss physician used magnets in his work. He passed lodestones through the bodies of his clients to relieve pain and depression. Many claimed to have been healed after he did this to them. Valentine, on the other hand, laid people down and passed magnets, over their bodies. This made people refer to him as “the Great Irish Stroker.” The use of magnets was applied by Father Maximilian Hell as well. He was a Viennese Jesuit who used steel plates and magnets on the naked bodies of his clients to cure their diseases. He was the tutor and instructor of Franz Mesmer, who later became a great psychologist.

Johann Gassner, who was a catholic priest, believed that evil spirits were the cause of illnesses and therefore believed that the only solution was prayer. He performed incantations and prayers on his clients to send away the evil spirits of disease.

A decisive moment of hypnosis occurred in the 18th century. It coincided with what Franz Mesmer and others called Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. People started changing their perspective of hypnosis as the occult and started embracing its scientific viewpoint. Mesmer was the for psychologist to propose a rational basis for the effects of hypnosis (Gaul, 2012). He developed a consistent method popularly known as the ‘animal magnetism’ that was adopted and developed by his followers. He decided to use this term to differentiate his variant of magnetic force from the other types of magnetic forces that were used during those days. They included planetary magnetism, mineral magnetism, and cosmic magnetism. This is because he felt that some certain magnetic forces resided in animal bodies. The practice was very ritualistic where he performed mass induction on his patients. he used to tie them with a rope along which the ‘animal magnetism’ could pass. He also came up with a discovery that he claimed was effective in curing more diseases. the theory he developed was that passing magnets over a wound stopped bleeding. The practice, however, led to his downfall where he turned from being a healer to a patient. This was due to continued use of his method of hypnosis.

This made many people consider hypnotism a dangerous practice for anyone who was seeking a mainstream career. Nevertheless, hypnosis continued to work and give results.

Abbe Faria, just like Franz Mesmer, applied animal magnetism in hypnosis. He introduced oriental hypnosis in Paris and India where many people gathered to listen and see him do his work during exhibitions in 1814 and 1815 (Hunter, 2011). Unlike Mesmer, Abbe claimed that hypnosis was generated by the mind and not the body as Mesmer had suggested. He claimed that this was controlled by the power of the cooperation and expectancy of the patient. His work was later extended to clinical use where Nancy School, Ambroise-Auguste, and Hippolyta Bergheim conducted further research and improved on it.

Recamier and Reichenbach operated his patients under a mesmeric coma. This was prior to the development of hypnotism. He did research to determine what mesmeric energy was and its validity. He referred to it as the Odic force after the Odin, the Norse god. His research undermined the Mesmer’s research in mind control though his work was not accepted in the scientific field.

In the 19th century, there were very many people seeking to understand and apply hypnosis. Medical researchers took on hypnosis to research on its effects.  Surgeons like John Elliotson and physicians like James Esdaile were the first people to apply hypnosis in the medical field. They knew they were risking their reputation in doing this but they forged on. Elliotson performed numerous surgical operations that were painless through the use of mesmerism. James Esdaile, just like Elliotson performed 345 major operations by applying mesmeric sleep. Development of chemical anesthetics later came to replace the art.

Recorded history show that hypnosis was at times used in rituals and practices associated with magic and religion.  For instance, the Hindu Vedas used hypnosis in “healing passes” and the Egyptians used the same in magic. However, what might seem as occultism was his scientific establishment of those days. Hypnosis those days served the same purpose as it does today – curing human ills and increasing knowledge (Pintar & Lynn, 2009).

Researchers like James Braid began to peel away the obscuring layers of mesmerism (Gaul, 2012). He coined hypnotism as meaning ‘sleep of the nerves’. He fiercely opposed the views of other mesmerists especially those of the view that hypnotizes a result of ‘animal magnetism.’ He opposed the views of Reichenbach and termed them as pseudoscientific (Pintar & Lynn, 2009). He adopted a position that attempted to explain mesmerism on the basis of a well-established psychology and physiology law. He explained mesmerism as the psychological result of prolonged attention to a bright stationary or a fixed object.  This revealed the biological and the physical truths of hypnosis. The efforts and persistence of Braid and others bore fruits since, at the end of the century, the phenomenon was accepted as a valid technique to be applied in medication. He is termed as the first true Hypnotist as opposed to those who used magnets and mesmerism.

The art of yoga then came into being. Some people started using yoga in hypnotism. The phenomenon originated from the Hindu where an individual would sit in solitude and concentrate on their own thoughts. They did this alone without the aid of a magnetizer or a mesmerizer. Braid saw it as a precursor of hypnotism and meditation.

Then there was the use of the Holy See. Theologians had objected that if hypnosis was not applied well, it could lead to failure in reasoning. This was, however, rebutted by Saint Thomas Aquinas who stated that the loss of reasoning was not a sin by itself but only by the reason of the act (Pintar & Lynn, 2009). If the act that deprives one of his use of reason is licit and is done for a just cause, there is no sin but if there is no cause present, then it is considered a venial sin (Pintar & Lynn, 2009). On July 28th, 1847, there was a decree by the Roman Curia that declared the removal of all misconceptions of foretelling the future, invoking the devil, the use of animal magnetism and mesmerism. They termed it as not morally forbidden since it was merely an act of using physical media.

Jean-Martin Charcot, a neurologist led to a number of experimental exams on hypnosis in France, Switzerland, and Germany. He found out that sensory acuity and memory were core in hypnosis. His discovery led to the adoption of hypnosis by the mental doctors. Charcot had student Janet Pierre who explained the theory of dissociation where she split mental aspects under hypnosis so that skills could be accessible. She based her arguments on the subconscious.

The trend continued in the 20th century. It, however, became imprisoned by its own respectability since it became mired in endless academic debates about its having a real physical basis or not (Gaul, 2012). The debate ultimately proved to be sterile. This is because the practice was highly adopted in many places devoid the debates. This was the same period when the Centre of Hypnotic Gravity moved from Europe to the United States of America. This is where significant breakthroughs occurred.

Sigmund Freud was one of the psychologists in the 20th century who made a contribution towards hypnosis. He sailed on the success of his instructor, Charcot who had already made hypnosis popular in the 19th century. He, together with a partner, Josef Breuer, developed the abreaction theory. By the end of the first half of the 20th century, stage hypnosis had taken root and had already adopted his theory.

Hypnosis was becoming popular. It started reaching out to the layman outside clinics and research labs. It is during this period that the hypnosis changed.  It shifted from being a direct instruction from an authoritarian to an indirect and permissive style of trance induction that was mostly based on persuasive language patterns (Hunter, 2011). The authoritarian mostly a legacy of charismatic mesmerist (Gaul, 2012). All these transformations were effected by therapists such as Milton H. Erickson.

Hypnosis became profoundly accepted and increasingly practical since it was a tool for easing psychological distress.it has continued to be important in bringing profound changes in situations up to the present day. Research that has helped to solve the debate of the state or non-state nature of hypnosis include works by the British psychologists Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin. They linked the phenomenon with the rapid eye movement. Their work has brought hypnosis and hypnotic trance firmly into the realm of daily life (Pintar & Lynn, 2009).

In the mid-20th century, the Roman Catholic Church banned the use of hypnosis. It was, however, approved by the Pope Pius XII in 1956. He permitted the use of hypnosis in healthcare. He said that hypnosis was a serious matter that was not supposed to be joked with. He suggested that precautions be taken into consideration when practicing hypnosis. He added that the aspect of anesthesia should be governed by the same principles since it was similar to hypnosis.

After the Pope’s approval, various medical associations embraced the practice. The American Medical Association (AMA) approved the medical research on the use of medical use hypnosis in 1958 (Hunter, 2011). This encouraged researchers and scholars to embark on research on hypnosis. The research was set to solve the controversies surrounding hypnosis. Two years after the approval of the use of hypnosis by the American Medical Association, the American Psychology Association endorsed the use of the phenomenon as a branch of psychology (Gaul, 2012).

Studies continued after the second world war where scholars like Earnest Hilgard, Barber and Orne came up with substantial results. In the year 1961, Muller and Ernest came up with Stanford Scales that standardized the susceptibility of hypnosis based on sex and age of the subject.

Harry Aarons is considered the biggest contributor towards the acceptance of hypnosis across many towns and cities across the U.S. he trained many professions every month to serve in the different cities and towns.  He did this for over 40 years where he helped many patients as well.

Even in the 21st century and there are still people who see hypnosis as an occult power. They believe that the art is used to perform miracles to control the mind. These people share the consensus view of hypnosis from the ancient.

Hypnosis in the 21st century tends to follow the patterns laid down by Elman and Erickson (Pintar & Lynn, 2009). Elman in and Erickson pioneered indirect hypnosis that incorporated the use of subtle language patterns that were meant to make the patient shift their concentration from the problems they had without having hem closing their eyes. They understood that they had to explain the importance of the process to the subject before they subjected them to the phenomenon. The whole theory was based on working with the subjects thinking and world view. Elman though now well-known in the field of hypnosis research and studies wrote a book, Hypnotherapy, that is considered a classic in the field. The book seems to have bridged the gap between hypnotism and hypnotherapy (Gaul, 2012). It has led to the adoption of the sharp, short techniques of stage hypnosis into the main therapeutic processes. What took too long to achieve can, therefore, be achieved within seconds using the techniques. The techniques they introduced are the ones used in the present day where brief, solution-focused practices are observed. Psychologists use rapid and indirect techniques that they let the client guide. This is opposed to what was used in the 19th century but essentially achieving the same goal of bringing healing and change (Gaul, 2012)

Hypnosis has been used in modern day to cure depression, control pain and improve sleep. It can create a relaxed state of inner concentration and focused attention for patients. The public image of hypnosis has at times been damaged by stage hypnotists and TV shows (Hunter, 2011). They show it as a phenomenon that ultimately leaves the subject helpless. He says that many of them end up stripping, chuckling like chicken and doing funny things. The growing body of scientific research has, however, continued to counter the same by showing the wide range of benefits it has. The technique has been tailored to fit different methods of treatment such as the cognitive therapy.

There are different types hypnosis that are used these days. They include traditional suggestion hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and Ericksonian hypnosis. In traditional suggestion hypnosis, the client is put in a deeply relaxed state, then suggestions put to them by the instructor. In Ericksonian hypnosis, the client is set to lie in very relaxed state and then the hypnotherapist uses metaphors on the client to get the desired results. The subconscious makes a connection of what the desired result is supposed to be. Neuro- linguistic hypnosis is different from the other two. It requires a well-trained hypnotherapist since it involves critical and dangerous procedures such as reprogramming of the brain.


The history of hypnosis looks like the search of something that has been in the plain view all along. We can conclusively say that hypnosis is, therefore, a universal phenomenon that is incredibly an inextricable part of human being. Hypnosis holds a fate that we can confidently say will continue to benefit generation after generation. This is after realizing the incredible potential of our natural hypnotic abilities as human beings.



Gaul, A. (2012). A history of hypnotism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hunter, C. R. (2011). The art of hypnosis: Mastering basic techniques. London: Crown House Publishing.

Pintar, J., & Lynn, S. J. (2009). Hypnosis: A Brief History. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.