The History of Hypnosis

Updated: Aug 31

The history of hypnosis has many similarities with the development of humans through the ages. It’s a natural phenomenon that has been part of the human mind since olden times. That’s because going into ‘trance’ is something that is essential to the brain’s development. Modern psychologists have identified various cycles that the human body and brain go through, one of which is the ultradian rhythm, which lasts around 90 minutes, cycling between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. There is a period where the brain is preparing to move from one hemisphere to the another, where it naturally goes into a type of trance or resting stage, a period where there is a desire for a little downtime.


What is Hypnosis?


Humans also enter into a hypnotic state just before falling asleep, an intermediate state of drowsy consciousness known as the hypnogogic state, and again there is the state just before fully waking up and returning to full consciousness, known as the hypnopompic state. While dreaming the subconscious mind communicates through images and emotions/feelings, and even as a person returns to consciousness after being asleep in the dream world, they often remember fragments of a dream or images upon waking. These trance states are part of the process in which the mind sorts through and files the day’s events and information processed.

So being in a trance is nothing new, neither is the use of hypnosis to encourage others to go into a trance to promote healing or change. So, let’s take a look at the history of hypnosis. Ancient Hindu, Egyptian and Eastern texts all point to the use of hypnosis as a healing medium.


The History of Hypnosis in Europe


However, trancework in Europe began to take shape through the work of Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), whose use of hypnosis became known as ‘mesmerism.’ However, he believed that he was using ‘animal magnetism’ to heal his patients, rather than a purely psychological process, and he was constantly denounced as a ‘quack,’ albeit his methods, which included strange and repetitive hand movements, often worked exceptionally well. Mesmer’s theory was expanded upon by the British surgeons, John Elliotson (1791-1868) and James Esdaile (1808-1859), who used mesmerism to perform various surgeries, including amputating limbs.


James Braid and Fixed Eye Gaze


James Braid (1795-1860) was a physician, now widely acknowledged as the ‘father of hypnosis,’ whose work took a more scientific exploration, rather than believing that it was something purely esoteric. He first used the word hypnosis, taken from the Greek word hypnos (meaning to sleep). He discovered hypnosis quite by chance when a visiting magnetism showman, Charles Lafontaine, invited medical experts to attend his show. Intrigued by how Lafontaine had ‘mesmerised’ people, James Braid conducted his own experiments and in time concluded that there was no magic involved. Instead, he concluded that trance was brought on by the use of a fixed eye gaze and an object of concentration. However, although his focus was set on finding a scientific explanation, his work came under fire from religious leaders, who preached that hypnosis was satanic.


History of Hypnosis – Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung


Moving on, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) used hypnosis in his early work but then ditched it and began using free association techniques and other methods that collectively became known as psychoanalysis, a clinical method that used dialogue between the patient and the psychoanalyst. An overriding belief was that the patient could only become aware of, and work through, problems with the help of the psychoanalyst. His successor Carl Jung (1875-1961) used hypnosis extensively in his early work but like his predecessor dropped it in favour of other practices.


Emile Coué and Self-Hypnosis


Around this time, Emile Coué (1857-1926) began experimenting with the concept of positive auto-suggestion (self-hypnosis) and came to the realization that trance was something a person could bring about themselves, without the need for a hypnotist, and that the imagination could be used to find solutions to problems. He is famous for the use of “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” as a mantra for self-improvement. He maintained that the path of healing was through the unconscious mind, by promoting the use of the imagination and auto-suggestion.


His work was the springboard for famous ‘mind masters’ who expanded upon his theories, such as Maxwell Maltz, Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and W. Clement Stone, who all believed that man’s greatness lies in the positive use of the mind. This was quite a step away from the psychoanalytical viewpoint that a person was not capable of personal growth by themselves. Instead, it was a step in the direction of teaching people personal empowerment, which also came with the responsibility for change upon the individual.


Milton H. Erickson and Indirect Hypnosis


Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) pioneered the elegant use of ‘indirect hypnosis,’ using specific language patterns that spoke directly to the subconscious mind, even without the need for a client to be taken into trance formally. He took time to understand the client’s model of the world and tailored his words to make use of what the client presented. By entering into the client’s view of the world, he was able to use therapeutic verbal patterns that became meaningful to the individual.


NLP developed by Richard Bandler and John Grindler


His specific techniques were examined in detail by many, including Richard Bandler (1950-present) who along with John Grindler codified the work of Erickson and other therapists, and developed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), a methodology widely used to understand change thought and behaviour patterns. Erickson believed that the answers to a client’s problems were within themselves and that by working with the subconscious, people would facilitate their healing.


Dave Elman and Rapid Changework


At the same time, Dave Elman (1900-1967) took elements of stage hypnotism, such as rapid inductions and hypnotic techniques and used them in a therapeutic manner, which he taught to many, including medical professionals. This made hypnotherapy not only a practical intervention, but now it was much faster to induce trance and carry out change-work.


Ormond McGill and Transforming Therapy


Ormond McGill (1913-2005) known as the ‘Dean of American Hypnotists’ started out interested in magic and stage hypnotism, but moved towards the use of hypnosis as therapy and later taught the subject. One of his students, Gil Boyne (1924-2010) taught thousands of people to become hypnotherapists. Strangely, having dismissed the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool, the medical world became interested and tried to restrict the use of hypnosis to medical professionals only. McGill constantly fought against such legislation and in fact founded amongst the first recognized training institutions, as well as the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners. He developed a form of hypnotherapy, the Transforming Therapy, which included aspects of Gestalt therapy, as well as regression techniques, coupled with the self-healing capabilities of the subconscious, and like Milton H. Erickson, a belief that the subconscious mind could find solutions to problems through the use of the creative imagination.


Modern Hypnosis


They say that great therapists stand on the shoulders of giants, the master therapists who, throughout the history of hypnosis, have moved forward with the knowledge that has gone before them. Modern hypnosis is a blend of earlier theories, and many contemporary hypnotherapists use rapid inductions, coupled with working directly with the client’s mental map of the world, using indirect suggestion and NLP, as well as counselling theories and techniques, to produce fast, solution focused methods, specifically tailored to individual clients. But the hypnotic world is expanding and growing in knowledge and ability, and rather than being viewed as ‘quackery’ as it once was, it is gaining respect as a modality that works well to help people to bring about the changes they seek.


Hypnosis is an amazing modality and one I’m glad to have in my toolbox of techniques to create trance-formation in others!


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And there’s more…


Recommendations based on personal experience are always the best. Below are resources from renowned hypnotists and experts that I’ve personally trained with since I began my path into learning therapeutic interventions in the year 2000. The start of the new millennium was also the start of my fascinating journey into understanding the mind-body-spirit and how it fits and works together. Take a look at my recommendations and start your journey too!


I’ve trained with some fantastic hypnosis trainers, including Rory Z Fulcher, who is not only a highly experienced and great trainer but also has a brilliant sense of humour. Previously, I thought that rapid inductions were simply stage acting by audience members who wanted to be picked for a stage show. But then Rory performed an ‘instant induction’ on Ms-You-Can’t-Hypnotise-Me-Matey (otherwise known as me!) and next thing I know, I’m stretched out on the floor snoring. It was hilariously funny! Anyway, this guy knows his onions when it comes to hypnosis and has created some great teaching tools. If you want to learn more about instant inductions, then take a look at this. Buy this book! Click on the link below. The Instant Hypnosis and Rapid Inductions Guidebook – Rory Z Fulcher:


If you’re thinking of training in hypnosis as a therapeutic tool, then read this book for a grounding in understanding how hypnosis works. The Beginner’s Guide to Hypnotherapy – Rory Z Fulcher:


Richard Bandler is one of the co-founders of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and I trained with Richard Bandler and Paul McKenna about 10 years ago. They taught me how to change my thinking patterns, behaviours and actions, for the better. I must admit, I’m a complete Bandler/McKenna fan and often re-read their books, and each time I find yet another golden nugget. This book is a favourite because it demonstrates Richard Bandlers unique and inspiring view of the world and of the minds of the people that inhabit it. Buy this book! Click the link below. Conversations with Richard Bandler: Two Nlp Masters Reveal the Secrets to Successful Living – Richard Bandler and Owen Fitzpatrick:



One of the most fascinating techniques I’ve ever learned was Future Life Progression, with the wonderfully future-sighted, incredibly psychic and astoundingly knowledgeable, Anne Jirsch. Her latest book is a fantastic tool that will help you get ahead in your chosen line of work. Lots to learn, including new and innovative techniques to tap into the wisdom of your future self. It’s a total must read. Buy this book! Click the link below. Future Vision Your Working Life: 10 Strategies to Help You Get Ahead – Anne Jirsch:



And there’s simply no way I can forget the book that made me want to train in Future Life Progression. One of the best things I ever did, I might add! FLP enables you to see where you will be five and ten years in the future, and how to use this information to resolve your present day problems and dilemmas. Total. Must. Read! Buy this book! Click on the link below: The Future Is Yours: Introducing Future Life Progression – the dynamic technique that reveals your destiny – Anne Jirsch:



Karl Smith created a form of rapid treatment, known as Kinetic Shift, which I trained in a few years ago. His book about post traumatic stress will give you a deep understanding of how the brain processes trauma and why some people go on to develop distressing symptoms. More importantly, he demonstrates how they can be resolved. This book is useful for you to read, particularly if you’ve experienced a traumatic event, and the information isn’t just for those in the emergency services. Buy this book! Click on the link below: There is no ‘D’ in PTSD: Trauma and the uniformed and emergency servicesKarl Smith:


Have you heard of Tapping? This covers the various form of meridian tapping therapies, which use ‘tapping’ on energy points combined with ‘brain balancing’ and other mind tools, to bring about changes in how emotional and mental upsets are processed within you. I’ve trained in various ‘tapping’ modalities, and here are some recommended resources:


Thought Field Therapy was my first introduction to tapping modalities. It seemed strange that tapping on acupuncture points on my head and body could make profound changes within me. But, to my utter amazement, it’s true that this stuff works! Dr Roger Callahan’s book was such a revelation that I trained in TFT (Thought Field Therapy), originally with Roger Ellis (now sadly no longer with us), and then with John Plester, who is the Director of Training for the UK Institute of Thought Field Therapy. Here’s the book that started me off on the tapping journey. Buy this book! Click on the link below: Tapping The Healer Within: Use thought field therapy to conquer your fears, anxieties and emotional distress – Roger Callahan:



Dr Silvia Hartmann has taken energy work to newer and higher levels throughout her career. I trained as an Energy EFT Master Practitioner and experienced many revelations in the process. But here I want to introduce you to one of her earlier works: to a new concept in how events are stored in the mind and played out afterwards, in thinking patterns, meta beliefs and behaviours. It’s a real eye-opener and helps you to reconsider what you thought you knew about how the mind works. Buy this book! Click on the link below: Events Psychology: How to Understand Yourself and Other People – Dr Silvia Hartmann:


Energy EFT is a constantly expanding field of ‘Tapping’ knowledge and this book is a great self-help tool for you to clear unwanted emotions and blockages in your mind-body-energy system. It’s this book that prompted me to train in Energy EFT, as Dr Silvia Hartmann’s straightforward, no-nonsense approach in explaining how the energy system works in an incredibly structural way, made total and wonderful sense to me. Energy EFT Kindle Edition: Energize Your Life From -10 to +10 With The Essential Next Generation A-Z Field Guide To Self Help EFT Emotional Freedom Techniques – Dr S Hartmann:


Reflective Repatterning is the brainchild of Chris Milbank, who was one of the top Thought Field Therapy trainers, and he crystallized his knowledge into this incredible set of modalities that make up Reflective Repatterning. I trained with Chris Milbank and often use the therapeutic interventions he taught in my coaching work. One of his students has gone on to form the Head Trash Clearance Method and it’s well worth reading this book and using the technique to stop the incessant negative chatter in your brain. Take a peek and clear the junk in your mind! Buy this book! Click on the link below: Clear Your Head Trash: How to Create Clarity, Peace & Confidence in Your Life and Work – Alexia Leachman:


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If you’re interested in learning more about Tapping and Energy Work, take a look at my book: Buy this book! Click on the link below: Tap Yourself Happy: How to Use Aromatherapy and Energy Psychology to Become Happier Kindle Edition – Ruthy Baker:


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