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History of Hypnotherapy: Triumphs and Trials through Centuries of Healing

In this article, we delve into the fascinating history of hypnotherapy. From its ancient origins to its modern applications, we explore the evolution of hypnosis and therapy. Throughout history, hypnosis has been plagued by myths and misconceptions, even leading to its ban in France by King Louis XVI due to a lack of scientific evidence. Despite these misunderstandings, scientific research and medical professionals' widespread use of hypnosis have demonstrated its efficacy. As we uncover the historical roots of hypnotherapy, we discover that it dates back as far as four thousand years B.C., with ancient civilisations like the Sumerians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans utilising hypnosis for healing purposes. Moreover, we explore significant figures such as Franz Mesmer, James Braid, and Milton H. Erickson, whose contributions have shaped the field and led to its recognition in the medical community. Join us on this captivating journey to uncover the rich tapestry of hypnotherapy's history and its transformation into a powerful therapeutic tool.

Hypnotherapy the triumphs and trials through the centuries of healing from King Louis XVI, Milton Erickson and Sigman, Freud

Ancient Origins and Middle Ages

Hypnosis can be traced back as far as four thousand years B.C. when ancient civilisations recognised its potential for healing. The Sumerians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all incorporated hypnosis into their medical practices. Throughout the Middle Ages, hypnosis continued to be used, although it temporarily fell out of fashion in favour of the "Divan Power" or the "Royal Touch."

The Influence of Franz Mesmer and James Braid

In the 18th century, Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician, introduced the concept of "Animal Magnetism" or Mesmerism. Mesmer believed that a magnetic fluid flowed within individuals and that blockages in this flow caused emotional and physical diseases. Although Mesmer's theories contained elements of truth, they were not entirely accurate.

In 1813, Abbe Faria examined Mesmer's work and concluded that the sleep-like state induced during hypnosis was not a result of "Animal Magnetism" but rather the power of suggestion. Faria's theory was further expanded upon by Alexandre Bertrand, a renowned French physician, who emphasised that it was the patient's own imagination that influenced the results rather than the person suggesting.

James Braid, an English optometrist, played a crucial role in establishing hypnosis as a distinct practice. Through his research, Braid accidentally stumbled upon what he called "lucid sleep," a state similar to hypnosis. He named this state hypnosis, derived from the Greek word for sleep. Braid's work yielded remarkable medical and surgical results. However, when he presented his findings to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, they rejected his offer, dismissing and ridiculing him.

Acceptance in the Medical Community after Centuries of Hypnotherapy

It was not until Professor Hippolyte Bernheim, a neurologist, started following the work of Parisian physician Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault that hypnosis began to be taken seriously by the medical establishment. Bernheim founded the School of Nancy, the first institute dedicated to the scientific study of hypnosis, in the late 19th century.

Sigmund Freud and Hypnosis

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, initially used hypnosis in his work after being influenced by the therapy developed by Dr Joseph Breuer. Through hypnosis, Breuer and Freud discovered that patients could recall events and memories that were otherwise inaccessible in their normal state of consciousness. Although Freud eventually moved away from hypnosis to develop psychoanalysis, his early experiences with hypnosis greatly influenced his theories and therapeutic approaches.

The Legacy of Milton H. Erickson

Milton H. Erickson, a renowned psychologist and psychiatrist of the twentieth century, became the leading authority on clinical hypnosis. Erickson's journey with the mind began in his early life when he faced various challenges, including learning difficulties and paralysis due to polio. These experiences shaped his understanding of the power of the mind and influenced his therapeutic techniques.

Erickson emphasised the utilisation approach, which focused on establishing rapport with the subject and tailoring language to help them begin the healing process. He believed in individual truth rather than universal truth, recognising that each person is unique and requires personalised therapeutic interventions. Erickson's innovative techniques, such as the Erickson Handshake, disrupted the unconscious mind and facilitated deep trance states for therapeutic purposes.

Erickson's work continues to influence modern psychology, particularly in fields like Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Family Therapy, Brief Therapy, and Solution-Based Therapy. His emphasis on focusing on solutions, client empowerment, and individualised approaches paved the way for the development of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT).

Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Hypnotherapy

The origins of Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) have been traced back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Brief Family Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, USA, explored ways to facilitate change in people's lives. Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and their colleagues observed therapy sessions and discovered that exploring exceptions to problem behaviour and focusing on clients' hopes for the future led to real-life changes. This shift from problem-focused to solution-focused therapy reduced the number of sessions required for positive outcomes.

In the 1990s, David Newton combined the principles of Erickson's work, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, to create Solution Focused Hypnotherapy (SFH). SFH integrated solution-focused techniques, hypnosis, and neuroscience to provide a comprehensive and effective therapeutic approach.

Centuries of Hypnotherapy

Centuries of hypnotherapy have shaped a rich and diverse history spanning thousands of years. From ancient civilisations to modern practitioners like Milton H. Erickson, hypnosis has evolved into a recognised and widely used therapeutic tool. Despite initial scepticism, the field has adapted to new scientific knowledge and improved therapeutic outcomes. Today, hypnotherapy continues to offer a valuable and effective approach to addressing physical, emotional, and psychological issues. It provides individuals with a unique and personalised path to healing and personal growth, making it an enduring practice throughout the ages.


  • Braid, J. (1853). Neurypnology, or, The rationale of nervous sleep, is considered in relation with animal magnetism. Churchill.

  • Erickson, M. H., & Rossi, E. L. (1979). Hypnotherapy: An exploratory casebook. Irvington Publishers.

  • Erickson, M. H., Rossi, E. L., & Rossi, S. I. (1976). Hypnotic realities: The induction of clinical hypnosis and forms of indirect suggestion. Irvington Publishers.

  • Hammond, D. C. (2010). Hypnosis in the treatment of trauma: Healing the body–brain–mind connection. W. W. Norton & Company.

  • Newton, D. J. (2002). The essential practitioners' handbook of personal construct psychology. Wiley.

  • Zeig, J. K. (Ed.). (2009). Milton H. Erickson, M.D.: An American Healer. Routledge.


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