History Of Hypnosis


According to his writings, Braid began to hear reports concerning the practices of various Oriental meditative practices soon after the release of his first publication on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). He first discussed some of these oriental practices in a series of articles entitled Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered. He drew analogies between his own practice of hypnotism and various forms of Hindu yoga meditation and other ancient spiritual practices, especially those involving voluntary burial and apparent human hibernation. Braid’s interest in these practices stems from his studies of the Dabistān-i Mazāhib, the “School of Religions”, an ancient Persian text describing a wide variety of Oriental religious rituals, beliefs, and practices.

Last May [1843], a gentleman residing in Edinburgh, personally unknown to me, who had long resided in India, favored me with a letter expressing his approbation of the views which I had published on the nature and causes of hypnotic and mesmeric phenomena. In corroboration of my views, he referred to what he had previously witnessed in oriental regions, and recommended me to look into the “Dabistan,” a book lately published, for additional proof to the same effect. On much recommendation I immediately sent for a copy of the “Dabistan”, in which I found many statements corroborative of the fact, that the eastern saints are all self-hypnotisers, adopting means essentially the same as those which I had recommended for similar purposes.

Although he rejected the transcendental/metaphysical interpretation given to these phenomena outright, Braid accepted that these accounts of Oriental practices supported his view that the effects of hypnotism could be produced in solitude, without the presence of any other person (as he had already proved to his own satisfaction with the experiments he had conducted in November 1841); and he saw correlations between many of the "metaphysical" Oriental practices and his own "rational" neuro-hypnotism, and totally rejected all of the fluid theories and magnetic practices of the mesmerists. As he later wrote:

In as much as patients can throw themselves into the nervous sleep, and manifest all the usual phenomena of Mesmerism, through their own unaided efforts, as I have so repeatedly proved by causing them to maintain a steady fixed gaze at any point, concentrating their whole mental energies on the idea of the object looked at; or that the same may arise by the patient looking at the point of his own finger, or as the Magi of Persia and Yogi of India have practised for the last 2,400 years, for religious purposes, throwing themselves into their ecstatic trances by each maintaining a steady fixed gaze at the tip of his own nose; it is obvious that there is no need for an exoteric influence to produce the phenomena of Mesmerism. […] The great object in all these processes is to induce a habit of abstraction or concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action.

Franz Mesmer

Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) believed that there was a magnetic force or "fluid" within the universe which influenced the health of the human body. He experimented with magnets to influence this field and so cause healing. By around 1774 he had concluded that the same effects could be created by passing the hands, at a distance, in front of the subject's body, referred to as making "Mesmeric passes." The word mesmerize originates from the name of Franz Mesmer; and was intentionally used to separate its users from the various "fluid" and "magnetic" theories embedded within the label "magnetism".

In 1784, at the request of King Louis XVI, a series of French scientific committees, one of which included the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, scrutinized Mesmer's theories. They also investigated the practices of a disaffected student of Mesmer, one Charles d'Eslon (1750–1786), and despite the fact that they accepted that Mesmer's results were valid, their placebo-controlled experiments following d'Eslon's practices convinced them that Mesmerism's were most likely due to belief and imagination rather than to any sort of invisible energy ("animal magnetism") transmitted from the body of the Mesmerist.

In other words, despite accepting that Mesmer's practices seemed to have efficacy, both committees totally rejected all of Mesmer's theories.

James Braid

James Braid. Main article: James Braid (surgeon) Following the French committee's findings, in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the "Scottish School of Common Sense", encouraged physicians to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of "animal magnetism" with a new interpretation based upon "common sense" laws of physiology and psychology. Braid quotes the following passage from Stewart:

It appears to me, that the general conclusions established by Mesmer’s practice, with respect to the physical effects of the principle of imagination [...] are incomparably more curious than if he had actually demonstrated the existence of his boasted science [of "animal magnetism"]: nor can I see any good reason why a physician, who admits the efficacy of the moral [i.e., psychological] agents employed by Mesmer, should, in the exercise of his profession, scruple to copy whatever processes are necessary for subjecting them to his command, any more than that he should hesitate about employing a new physical agent, such as electricity or galvanism.

In Braid's day, the Scottish School of Common Sense provided the dominant theories of academic psychology and Braid refers to other philosophers within this tradition throughout his writings. Braid therefore revised the theory and practice of Mesmerism and developed his own method of "hypnotism" as a more rational and "common sense" alternative.

It may here be requisite for me to explain, that by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, which frequently occurs in the following pages, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition. I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher [i.e., supernatural] phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science. Hypnotism might therefore not inaptly be designated, Rational Mesmerism, in contra-distinction to the Transcendental Mesmerism of the Mesmerists. Despite briefly toying with the name "rational Mesmerism", Braid ultimately emphasised his approach's uniqueness, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career to refute the arguments invoking supernatural practices, and demonstrate instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the observed effects.

Braid worked very closely with his friend and ally the eminent physiologist Professor William Benjamin Carpenter, an early neuro-psychologist, who introduced the "ideo-motor reflex" theory of suggestion. Carpenter had observed examples of expectation and imagination apparently influencing involuntarily muscle movement. A classic example of the ideo-motor principle in action is the so-called "Chevreul pendulum" (named after Michel Eugène Chevreul). Chevreul claimed that a pendulum can be made to swing by appropriate concentration alone.

Braid soon assimilated Carpenter's observations into his own theory, realising that the effect of focusing attention was to enhance the ideo-motor reflex response. Braid extended Carpenter's theory to encompass the influence of the mind upon the body more generally, beyond the muscular system, and therefore referred to the "ideo-dynamic" response and coined the term "psycho-physiology" to refer to the study of general mind/body interaction. In his later works, Braid reserved the term "hypnotism" for cases in which subjects entered a state of amnesia resembling sleep. For the rest, he spoke of a "mono-ideodynamic" principle to emphasise that the eye-fixation induction technique worked by narrowing the subject's attention to a single idea or train of thought ("monoideism") which amplified the effect of the consequent "dominant idea" upon the subject's body by means of the ideo-dynamic principle.

Hysteria vs. suggestion

For several decades, Braid's work became more influential abroad than in his own country, except for a handful of followers, most notably Dr. John Milne Bramwell. The eminent neurologist Dr. George Miller Beard took Braid's theories to America. Meanwhile his works were translated into German by Wilhelm T. Preyer, Professor of Physiology at Jena University. The psychiatrist Albert Moll subsequently continued German research, publishing Hypnotism in 1889. France became the focal point for the study after the eminent neurologist Dr. Étienne Eugène Azam presented Braid's research to the French Academy of Sciences. Azam also translated Braid's last manuscript (On Hypnotism, 1860) into French. At the request of Azam, Paul Broca, and others, the French Academy of Science, who had examined Mesmerism in 1784, examined Braid's writings shortly after his demise.

Azam's enthusiasm for hypnotism influenced Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault, a country doctor. Hippolyte Bernheim discovered Liébeault's enormously popular group hypnotherapy clinic and subsequently became an influential hypnotist. The study of hypnotism subsequently revolved around the fierce debate between Jean-Martin Charcot and Hippolyte Bernheim, the two most influential figures in late 19th century hypnotism.

Charcot operated a clinic at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (thus, also known as the "Paris School" or the "Salpêtrière School"), while Bernheim had a clinic in Nancy (also known as the "Nancy School"). Charcot, influenced more by the Mesmerists, argued that hypnotism was an abnormal state of nervous functioning found only in certain hysterical women. He claimed that it manifested in a series of physical reactions which could be divided into distinct stages. Bernheim argued that anyone could be hypnotised, that it was an extension of normal psychological functioning, and that its effects were due to suggestion. After decades of debate, Bernheim's view dominated. Charcot's theory is now just a historical curiosity.

Pierre Janet

Pierre Janet (1859–1947) reported studies on a hypnotic subject in 1882. Charcot subsequently appointed him director of the psychological laboratory at the Salpêtrière in 1889, after Janet completed his doctorate in philosophy which dealt with psychological automatism. In 1898 Janet was appointed psychology lecturer at the Sorbonne, and in 1902 became chair of experimental and comparative psychology at the Collège de France. Janet reconciled elements of his views with those of Bernheim and his followers, developing his own sophisticated hypnotic psychotherapy based upon the concept of psychological dissociation which, at the turn of the century, rivaled Freud's attempt to provide a more comprehensive theory of psychotherapy.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, studied hypnotism at Paris school and briefly visited the Nancy school.

Initially, Freud was an enthusiastic proponent of hypnotherapy, and soon began to emphasise hypnotic regression and ab reaction (catharsis) as therapeutic methods. He wrote a favorable encyclopedia article on hypnotism, translated one of Bernheim's works into German, and published an influential series of case studies with his colleague Joseph Breuer entitled Studies on Hysteria (1895). This became the founding text of the subsequent tradition known as "hypno-analysis" or "regression hypnotherapy."

However, Freud gradually abandoned hypnotism in favour of psychoanalysis, emphasizing free association and interpretation of the unconscious. Struggling with the great expense of time that psychoanalysis required, Freud later suggested that it might be combined with hypnotic suggestion to hasten the outcome of treatment,

It is very probable, too, that the application of our therapy to numbers will compel us to alloy the pure gold of analysis plentifully with the copper of direct [hypnotic] suggestion.

However only a handful of Freud's followers were sufficiently qualified in hypnosis to attempt the synthesis. Their work had a limited influence on the hypno-therapeutic approaches now known variously as "hypnotic regression", "hypnotic progression", and "hypnoanalysis".

Émile Coué

Émile Coué (1857–1926) assisted Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault for around two years at Nancy. After practicing for several years as a hypnotherapist employing the methods of Liébeault and Bernheim's Nancy School, Coué developed a new orientation called "conscious autosuggestion." Several years after Liébeault's death in 1904, Coué founded what became known as the New Nancy School, a loose collaboration of practitioners who taught and promoted his views. Coué's method did not emphasise "sleep" or deep relaxation and instead focused upon autosuggestion involving a specific series of suggestion tests. Although Coué argued that he was no longer using hypnosis, followers such as Charles Baudouin viewed his approach as a form of light self-hypnosis. Coué's method became a renowned self-help and psychotherapy technique, which contrasted with psychoanalysis and prefigured self-hypnosis and cognitive therapy.

Clark L. Hull

The next major development came from behavioral psychology in American university research. Clark L. Hull, an eminent American psychologist, published the first major compilation of laboratory studies on hypnosis, Hypnosis & Suggestibility (1933), in which he proved that hypnosis and sleep had nothing in common. Hull published many quantitative findings from hypnosis and suggestion experiments and encouraged research by mainstream psychologists. Hull's behavioural psychology interpretation of hypnosis, emphasizing conditioned reflexes, rivaled the Freudian psycho dynamic interpretation emphasizing unconscious transference.

Dave Elman

Although Dave Elman was a noted radio host, comedian and (song)writer, he also made name as a hypnotist. He lead many courses for physicians and wrote in 1964 the classic book: 'Findings in Hypnosis', later to be re-titled 'Hypnotherapy' (published by Westwood Publishing). Perhaps the most well known aspect of Elman's legacy is his method of induction, which was originally fashioned for speed work and later adapted for the use of medical professionals; his students routinely obtained states of hypnosis adequate for medical and surgical procedures in under three minutes. His book and recordings provide much more than just his rapid induction techniques, however. The first heart operation using hypnosis rather than normal anesthesia (because of severe problems with the patient) was performed by his students with Dave Elman in the operating room as "coach".

Milton Erickson

Milton H. Erickson, M.D. was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. He wrote several books and journal articles on the subject. During the 1960s, Erickson popularized a new branch of hypnotherapy, known as Ericksonian hypnotherapy, primarily characterised by indirect suggestion, "metaphor" (actually analogies), confusion techniques, and double binds in place of formal hypnotic inductions. However, the difference between Erickson's methods and traditional hypnotism led contemporaries such as André Weitzenhoffer, to question whether he was practicing "hypnosis" at all, and his approach remains in question.

Erickson had no hesitation in presenting any suggested effect as being "hypnosis", whether or not the subject was in a hypnotic state. In fact, he was not hesitant in passing off behaviour that was dubiously hypnotic as being hypnotic.


In the latter half of the twentieth century, two factors contributed to the development of the cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis. 1 Cognitive and behavioural theories of the nature of hypnosis (influenced by the theories of Sarbin and Barber) became increasingly influential. 2 The therapeutic practices of hypnotherapy and various forms of cognitive-behavioural therapy overlapped and influenced each other. Although cognitive-behavioural theories of hypnosis must be distinguished from cognitive-behavioural approaches to hypnotherapy, they share similar concepts, terminology, and assumptions and have been integrated by influential researchers and clinicians such as Irving Kirsch, Steven Jay Lynn, and others.

At the outset of cognitive-behavioural therapy during the 1950s, hypnosis was used by early behaviour therapists such as Joseph Wolpe and also by early cognitive therapists such as Albert Ellis. Barber, Spanos & Chaves introduced the term "cognitive-behavioural" to describe their "nonstate" theory of hypnosis in Hypnotism: Imagination & Human Potentialities (1974). However, Clark L. Hull had introduced a behavioural psychology as far back as 1933, which in turn was preceded by Ivan Pavlov. Indeed, the earliest theories and practices of hypnotism, even those of Braid, resemble the cognitive-behavioural orientation in some respects.