Make your own free website on

About Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy:
An Old Technology For Modern Problems
by Cynthia Lindner, MS
(631) 473-0405

Since early history, priests and shamens have attempted to bring about healing by inducing an altered state of consciousness. This was often facilitated by druming and other percussion instruments, chanting, dancing, and drugs found in the local flora, as part of an elaborate ritual intended for healing.

When man was searching for an explanation for the mysteries of life he believed disease to be a divine manifestation. The Ancient Egyptians had their Temples of Sleep, and the Greeks their Shrines of Healing, where patients were given curative suggestion while in an induced sleep.

Hippocrates (430 BC) was aware of the importance of harmony between mind and body, and described the mind as the ‘seat of emotion’. It is possible to atribute many miracles described in the Bible, and later miracles and cures performed by holy men, relics and shrines to hypnotic trance.

Between the times of the Romans and the sixteenth century, medicine was based largely upon folklore, and remedies had little scientific basis. Since dissection of the human body was frowned upon, it was not possible (except in a few notable cases eg: Leonardo da Vinci circa 1500) to study detailed internal anatomy until well into the sixteenth century. Although Galen (170 AD) had described a circulatory system it was not until 1628 that Harvey published his work on the heart and the circulation of blood.

Chemical anaesthesia did not appear on the scene until the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to this, alcohol and opium had been used, surgery had been brutal, as patients were often forcefully held down for procedures. The work of James Esdaile should be viewed in this context. In addition to physical trauma and shock, post operative infection almost invariably followed surgery and accounted for a huge mortality rate. Again we should view Esdaile’s extremely high recovery rate in this context, and bear in mind the fact that it was not until well into the nineteenth century that surgical asepsis became recognized as being fundamentally important.

History of Hypnosis

1530- Paracelsus elaborated the theory that the heavenly bodies exerted an influence upon disease and healing, working through an all pervading universal magnetic fluid.

1765- Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese doctor, stated that man could influence this magnetic fluid to bring about healing, and he established salons where patients applied magnets to afflicted parts of their body. Later he moved to Paris where he further developed his theory. It was thought that a convulsive crisis was necessary for a cure to take place.

1784- Louis XV1 set up a commission of investigation, which included Benjamin Franklin, M. La Guillotin, and La Voisier. Their conclusion was that magnetism with imagination produced a convulsive crisis, but magnetism alone did not. Mesmer was discredited, but his Society of Harmonies continued.

Le Marquis de Puysegur, a member of the Society, found that a crisis was not necessary. He believed that the magnetic power was produced in his own mind and was transferred to the patient via his fingertips. He found that he could produce a sleep in which the patient would follow his commands - very authoritarian - and introduced the terms, “perfect crisis” and “profound sleep”.

1837- John Elliotson, Professor of Medicine at UCH, London, organised public clinical demonstrations of a wide range of hypnotic phenomena, exhibiting effects on voluntary and involuntary muscle, analgaesia, somnambulism, hallucinations etc., which he attributed to the magnetism theory. On his forced resignation he edited a journal, The Zoist, in which he reported the work of James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon working in India, who had performed several hundred operations quite painlessly using mesmerism (hypnosis) alone as an anaesthetic. He or an assistant would produce a state akin to suspended animation, now known as the Esdaile State, by stroking the patient’s body for several hours. He recorded that fatal surgical shock or post operative infection occurred in only 5% of cases compared with the then norm of 50%.

The British medical establishment denounced these claims at the time.

1841- James Braid saw a demonstration of mesmerism by La Fontaine, and applied the methods within his practice. He found that patients having gazed at his bright lancet case would enter a profound sleep, and in this state would accept his suggestions aimed at cure. He assumed that staring at a bright object exhausted the nervous system, and that the phenomenon was not to do with magnetism. His treatise coined the word Neurypnology (literally ‘nervous sleep’), from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. This was the first use of the word hypnosis.

1884- In Nancy, France, Dr. Ambroise-August Liebeault, found that he could bring about cures in this state simply by suggestion.

1886- He was joined by Professor Bernheim, from Paris, and together they published ‘De La Suggestion’ in which they rejected the concept of magnetism. They established the Nancy School, and set up the Animalist Movement.

Around this same time Jean Martin Charcot was demonstrating his views at the Salpetriere Hospital that hypnosis was a pathological state akin to hysteria, the two phenomena being interchangeable. Following conflict between the two schools, Bernheim’s view was accepted and Charcot discredited. However, two of Charcot’s pupils were to have a huge impact on psychological medicine.

1890-Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud developed the application of hypnosis beyond the mere suggesting away of symptoms, and changed the approach to the elimination of their apparent cause. Breuer found that in hypnosis patients would often recall past events and in talking about them would experience an emotional outpouring, subsequently losing their symptoms. This he called his talking cure, (today this emotional state is called an abreaction). Freud was also looking at the dynamics and history of illness, but after earlier work with Breuer he left hypnosis in favour of his work in what was later give rise to psychoanalysis.

1914-18- During World War I the Germans realised that hypnosis was of value in the immediate treatment of shell-shock (now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), allowing soldiers to be returned rapidly to the trenches. A formularised version of self-hypnosis, was devised by a German, Dr. Schultz.

Post 1945- In the U.S. following World War II the work of renown hypnotherapist, Dr. Milton Erickson had an enormous influence on the practice and understanding of hypnosis and mental processing. He recognized that hypnosis is a state of mind that all of us are entering spontaneously and frequently as part of our natural and normal behavior patterns. He utilized this phenomenon in conveying his suggestions in a unique way, by an exciting and innovative use of language.

Following Erickson, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, amongst others, have studied and codified his subtle techniques in the development of neurolinguisic programming, (N.L.P.) which is currently used not only within medicine, but also within industry and business organizations.

Uses of Hypnosis Today

Today hypnosis is seen as a theraputic tool rather than as a therapy in itself. Hypnotherapy may be used for many psychological issues and medical conditions. It is used in teaching relaxation techniques for nervous dental and medical patients; as an adjunct to chemical sedation and anesthesia, as well as being used alone for patients who are allergic to anesthetic drugs; as relaxation therapy for handling stress and related disorders and medical conditions; in natural labor and childbirth; in the management of pain, including pain from cancer and terminal illness; as an adjunct to psychotherapy, and in the management of a wide range of phobic, anxiety and other medical and psychological problems. Of course, hypnosis is not always needed for success, many positive changes can be made more quickly and more easily using hypnotic techniques.
Courtesy of the Port Jefferson Counseling Center, NY

2001-2011 by C. Lindner, all rights reserved.