The Hypnotic History of Hypnotherapy From Dream Temples to NLP and modern day hypnotism. 

By Tony Sokol

Hypnosis is an old practice. Only the word is relatively new. But subconscious programming, meditation with intent, has been around for centuries in the form of prayer, chants, exorcism, animal magnetism, Mesmerism, and natural fatigue. For centuries, trained stage magicians and untrailed snake charmers and con artists used the methods without ever knowing there was a word for it. References to different forms of hypnosis can be found in ancient Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures.

The Ebers papyrus dates Egyptian dream temples to 1150 BC. Ancient Greece had holistic sleep temple healing centers where soothsayers would communicate with the gods by chanting, fasting and meditating in healing rituals. Hypnotism was first used medically by Hindus in ancient India, who performed Yoga Nidra, or temple sleep, which were night-long meditations in communication with the gods. The Law of Manu, an ancient book in Sanskrit, describes “Sleep-Waking,” “Dream-Sleep,” and “Ecstasy-Sleep.”

An ancient Hebrew treatment called Kavanah used the Hebrew alphabet to induce trance for healing.  Early Muslims Koran-based faith healing was being used by the year 600. The practices evolved into Sufism.

While there is no specific historical documentation to prove Jesus from Nazareth actually existed, reports of the practice of laying on of the hands were credited with curing leprosy, casting out demons, making the blind see and the lame walk. Even the story about walking on water can be explained by the power of suggestion because when the disciple looks down and notices what he’s doing, he sinks and begins to drown.

Persian psychologist and physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina) first distinguished sleep from hypnosis in his 1027 book The Book of Healing. The Arabic word for the suggestible state is al-Wahm al-Amil.

Edward the Confessor developed a kind of authoritarianism based trance induction in 1066. Under his Royal Touch method, sovereigns of England or France could cure diseases due to the divine right. All they had to do was touch someone and they’d feel better.

Dr. Paracelsus (1493-1541) introduced concepts of “heavenly energies and “natural life  forces” that envisioned that imagination could affect disease, laying the groundwork for modern psychiatry. Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493–1541) was the first to use magnets for healing. Valentine Greatrakes (1628–1682), aka “the Great Irish Stroker" reportedly healed people by passing magnets over their bodies.

While Catholic priest Johann Joseph Gassner (1727–1779) believed diseases were caused by evil spirits that could be exorcised by prayer, Viennese Jesuit Maximilian Hell applied steel plates to the naked body as a form of magnet therapy around 1771. One of his first students was German physician trained in Vienna named Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was also the first to develop a consistent method for hypnosis.

Mesmer believed that “animal magnetism” passed from the healer to the patient through etheric fluid, which flowed throughout the universe and through the human body. Mesmer trained his students to manipulate the force with magnets to cure people.    

Mesmerism was so popular that people stopped going to doctors, who complained to the King of France. The French government formed a commission In 1785 to investigate Mesmer. The three-person panel, which included then-American ambassador to France Benjamin Franklin, ruled that mesmerism was merely the power of suggestion. While this finding discredited Mesmer at the time, it was early proof of the effectiveness of placebo and the power of hypnosis.

Mesmer died in Switzerland in 1784, a poor man, but his followers continued to explore the subconscious’ effect on conscious action. The Marquis the Puyesagur found a state that was similar to sleepwalking he calls “artificial somnambulism.” Philippe Francois Dleuze discovered that suggestions given to people while they were in trance were acted upon when they were awake. Portuguese catholic monk Dr. Abbe Faria theorizes that the healing power of suggestion had nothing to do with magnetic fluid but the power of imagination.

19th Century physician Dr. James Esdaille applied the practice to medicine. This led to practical use when he performed operations without anesthesia. Dr. Esdaile detailed how pain can be blocked and bleeding slowed by induced trance states in his book 1845 book Mesmerism in India.

Physician Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault, psychologist Emile Coué and neurologist Hippolyte Bernheim brought academics to hypnosis at a school they opened in Nancy, France. The Nancy School used principles of hypnotic conditioning to reinforce positive mental attitudes. Coué came up with the now-familiar autosuggestion phrase “Day by day in every way I am getting better and better.” The famous Sigmund Freud built psychoanalysis on the principles of hypnosis after seeing experiments at the Nancy School. Freud and Josef Breuer developed abreaction therapy using hypnosis.

Scottish surgeon Dr. James Braid, who disagreed strongly with the Mesmerists, coined the word "hypnotism" in his unpublished 1842 Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism.  Braid’s 1843 book Neurypnology was the first book written on hypnosis. It was an abbreviation of neuro-hypnotism, which meant "sleep of the nerves." Hypnos means sleep in Greek. Braid tried to change the word to monoideism after realizing hypnotism wasn’t actually a kind of sleep, but the word stuck. It would be revisited in 1972 when John Grinder and Richard Bandler coined the term Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP.

The law of suggestibility was formulated by the American psychologist Boris Sidis (1867–1923), who was born in Ukraine. German psychiatrist Johannes explored how hypnosis methods parallel yoga and meditation techniques in his self-hypnosis Autogenic system.

Stage hypnotists kept the practice moving while the scholars took a rest. The father of American Literature, Mark Twain, wrote about hypnosis in his autobiography. Twain went to see a stage “mesmerizer” when he was 15 in May of 1850. At first, Twain couldn’t go under the hypnotist’s spell, so he pretended and became the star attraction for two weeks. In the book he detailed holding in a wince after he had been given the suggestion not to feel pain, and was stuck in the arm by a needle.

The animal conditioning experiments of Nobel prize-winning Russian physiologist and psychologist Ivan P. Pavlov detailed in his 1927 essay collection Conditioned Reflexes influenced obstetric hypnosis. Pavlov's techniques were instrumental in French doctor Fernand Lamaze’s practice of "childbirth without pain through the psychological method." Andrew Salter introduced Pavlov’s conditioned reflex methods to American therapy in the 1940s.

Hypnosis was used to treat of neuroses, “shell shock” and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. British psychologist William McDougall criticized Freud’s theory of abreaction.

Modern hypnosis began with Milton H. Erickson, a student of experimental psychologist Clark Hull at Yale University. Clark wrote the book Hypnosis and Suggestibility in 1933, which demonstrated hypnosis had no connection with sleep.  Hull found that mentally induced pain reduction and memory work could be achieved without someone being in the hypnotic state, but through suggestion and motivation. This led to the behavioral approach to hypnosis. Erickson explored indirect hypnosis, which put induced trance with using the word hypnosis. You can read more on Milton Erickson in this article on HypnoCloud.

Ernest Hilgard and André Muller Weitzenhoffer created a standardized scale for susceptibility to hypnosis in 1961. Hilgard went on to publish studies on sensory deception in 1965, and induced anesthesia and analgesia in 1975.

Writer, editor and publisher Harry Arons trained tens of thousands of doctors, psychiatrists in the use of hypnosis over a 40-year period in professional training courses. He was a faculty member of The National Academy of Medical Hypnosis in Atlanta, Georgia. Arons edited Hypnosis Quarterly, wrote the book New Master Course in Hypnotism, and co-wrote the Handbook of Professional Hypnosis with Marne F. H. Bubeck, and authored Hypnosis in Criminal Investigation. Arons, who founded the Association to Advance Ethical Hypnosis and was the Executive Director of the International Society for Professional Hypnosis, was a pioneered in using hypnosis in the judicial system. He developed the first training program for law enforcement officers in 1959, and trained law enforcement personnel across the country.

Dave Elman is also known for introducing rapid inductions to hypnosis. He was a strong proponent for the medical use of hypnosis from 1949. Stage hypnotists and hypnotherapist Ormond McGill, known as the "Dean of American Hypnotists," wrote the Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism in 1947.

Hypnotism was banned by the Roman Catholic Church until it was approved for use by health care professionals by Pope Pius XII in 1956.

In 1952, the United Kingdom enacted the Hypnotism Act 1952 to regulate stage hypnotists' public entertainments. The British Medical Association (BMA) approved using hypnosis as psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesia in pain management in childbirth and surgery on April 23, 1955. The American Medical Association encouraged research on hypnosis in a 1958 report, but noted that a lot of the practice was unknown and many claims were controversial. The AMA rescinded the restrictions in June 1987. The American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology in 1959. the UK health industry’s Government's Sector Skills Council published the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Hypnotherapy in 2002.

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of the Government of India recommended hypnotherapy as a mode of therapy to be practiced by trained personnel on November 25, 2003.

Russian-born Elena Mosaner (Beloff) studied with top U.S. instructors Dr. George Bien at the Mind and Body Research Institute, Mark Cunningham at the Society of Applied Hypnosis, Steve Leeds and Dr. Rachel Hott at the NLP Center of New York. Mosaner began practicing hypnosis in 2006. She launched Alpha Mind in 2017.

To book your hypnosis or coaching session with NYC Hypnotist Elena Mosaner call 646 450 8167.