An Exploration Into the History of Hypnosis

History of Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a rare oddity in the American cultural psyche. It is very popular while also being misunderstood, misconstrued, and shrouded in myth.

Even though thousands of Americans a year use hypnosis to stop smoking, many still don’t know much about hypnosis or how it works. Despite many scientific studies, the cultural understanding of hypnosis remains rooted in mystical and magical imagery. This likely originates from its depiction in film and television.

If one wants to practice hypnosis or be a stage hypnotist, it’s important to understand its origins and history. An understanding of the history of hypnosis can cut through the cloud of pop culture myth. It can connect you with the truth of the practice.

Read on for more.

Hypnosis In Early History

One of the many common misconceptions about hypnosis is that it’s a fairly modern practice. It’s true that modern hypnotic practices gained popularity in the early 1900s. But hypnosis actually originates thousands of years prior.

Almost all ancient cultures, from the Romans to the Egyptians, used hypnosis in some shape or form. Hypnosis was used for many different purposes during this time.

In Greece, the sick were often sent to temples to use hypnosis to try and heal. Ancient Indians tried to use hypnosis to explore the world of the subconscious. These practices were common in most communities as early as the year 1000.

Hypnosis During the Middle Ages

As time passed, society changed, but hypnosis remained a relevant and important practice. In some places, it would take on different names.

Many believed during The Middle Ages that kings and queens had something called “The Royal Touch.” They were able to heal through physical contact. People believed they had a trait called magnetism or sometimes mesmerism.

Many believed that within some individuals was a power that could help to control and heal others. The exploration and practice of such techniques helped to lead to some more modern uses of hypnosis.

It wasn’t until an Indian priest named Abbe Faria came to Paris that this conception changed. His work helped establish that it was the mind of the subject, not the hypnotist, that was responsible for any effects.

The Influence of Faria, Liebault, and Bernheim

Abbe Faria’s perspective on hypnosis changed things and created the modern conception of hypnosis we have today.

Faria based his approach on the work of the French psychotherapy program known as the Nancy School. The Nancy School believed hypnosis was a completely normal psychological phenomenon. They rejected the concepts of mysticism and mesmerism.

Instead, they believed hypnosis was a result of the power of suggestion. The Nancy School was headed by Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault. He, along with physician Hippolyte Bernheim, helped to develop modern hypnotic practices over the course of many years.

These three men can be credited for popularizing and spreading the modern understanding of hypnosis across the world.

Hypnosis and hypnotists Spread

The idea of hypnosis as a process of suggestion became influential in the works of many prominent psychologists in the years following. Pierre Janet developed important theories via hypnosis practice, including disassociation and the concept of traumatic memory.

In many places, hypnosis was also used as an early form of anesthesia during medical procedures. This practice dates back to the early 1800s and took place across Europe.

The modern understanding of hypnosis also helped to expand the popularity of meditation and yoga. James Braid was a popular writer and surgeon. He helped to link the ideas of hypnosis to that of ancient Hindu meditation. As a result, meditation and similar practices slowly found more popularity across European populations.

Braid was also technically the first to coin the term ‘hypnotism,’ though he referred to the trance-like state as neuro-hypnotism, or “nervous sleep.” It was the Nancy School that then popularized the term ‘hypnosis’ to the extent that we still use it today.

Sigmund Freud (yes, that Freud) studied the work of Faria, Libeault, and Bernheim closely. He began practicing hypnosis on his own in the late 1800s. He deemed the practice essential to his development of psychoanalysis.

Hypnotism Comes to America

Hypnotism came to greater popularity in America as a result of the two world wars that ravaged the minds of many young American men.

Hypnotic treatments were used both in care of physical and mental trauma suffered during the war. Hypnosis was deemed especially helpful in treating what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Clark L. Hull and Andrew Salter conducted many experiments in the early 1900s intended to prove or disprove the effects of hypnosis. Their work marked the first serious scientific inquiry into the practice. Their studies also, once and for all, helped to separate the ideas of hypnosis and sleep, deeming them two entirely different states of being.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the American Medical Association and the American Psychology Association endorsed hypnosis as a subject worth researching.

In the modern era, hypnosis has become an increasingly popular form of therapy. The process is used to help individuals explore past trauma and memories in a more accessible state. The power of suggestion is also used frequently to help people ween off harmful substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, and drugs.

Exploring the History of Hypnosis

The above is just a brief overview of the history of hypnosis up into the modern day. The mind is a curious thing, and the effectiveness and process of hypnosis are still closely studied and debated to this day.

If you want to learn more about hypnosis, hypnotherapy, and the unconscious mind, check out our blog for more.

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