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The Evolution of Hypnosis: From Ancient Practices to Modern Therapy Techniques

Many people think of hypnotherapy and hypnosis as a relatively recent development.

As hypnosis is a completely natural state, it has always been around. However direct references to hypnosis date back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece.

In Greek mythology, Hypnos is the personification of sleep and is the origin of the word hypnosis (although the actual state of Hypnosis is very different from that of sleep). the Roman equivalent is known as Somnus (somnambulism, more frequently known as sleepwalking).

Both Greek and Roman cultures had centres of religion where people came for help with their problems. In these places hypnosis was used to induce dreams, which were analysed to get to the root of the trouble. In early writings there are many references to trance, hypnosis and other related details.

Also trance-like states occur in many shamanistic, druidic, voodoo, yogic and religious practices. The father of Chinese medicine, Wong Tai, wrote around 2600 BC about techniques that involved incantations and passes of the hands. The Hindu Vedas, written around 1500 BC, mention hypnotic procedures.

A number of key people has been integral to the development of modern hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

It was in the past 200 years that our modern understanding and application of hypnosis and hypnotherapy developed. Many people have been instrumental in this process, and a few of the key individuals are showcased here.

The modern era of hypnosis and hypnotherapy really begins with the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). His therapeutic system, known as mesmerism, was the forerunner of the modern practice of hypnotism. The phenomenon, also known as animal magnetism, or fluidum was related to an invisible substance (a fluid) running within the client or between the client and therapist. Mesmer claimed that magnets could restore balance and unclog the flow. The theory attracted a wide following between about 1780 and 1850, and continued to have some influence until the end of the 19th century.

James Braid (1795-1860) is often regarded as the “Father of Hypnosis”. He was a Scottish surgeon, natural philosopher, and "gentleman scientist". He utilised hypnotherapy alongside his surgical work, helping people with a number of issues, such as; rheumatism, spinal injuries, strokes, and nervous disorders. He remained interested in hypnosis until his death in Manchester in 1860. He took hypnotism from being a form of speculative entertainment to being a science that would grow to help many people

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) - the famous Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, had brief but important interest in the use of hypnosis.

In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a three-month fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis. Freud used initially hypnosis on his patients but later replaced it with his method of 'free association', in which the patient is encouraged to express whatever comes to their mind.

Dave Elman (1900-1967), a vaudeville performer from North Dakota, often billed as “The World’s Youngest and Fastest Hypnotist”. Elman had been fascinated by hypnosis since a very early age, adapted the rapid induction techniques used by stage hypnotists for therapeutic purposes, teaching them to doctors and physicians and eventually publishing a book, Hypnotherapy (1964), which is regarded as a classic in the field. The Elman induction, which is based on eye closure (just as James Braid discovered a century before), achieves trance in minutes, sometimes seconds, freeing up the hypnotist to concentrate on therapeutic work.

Milton Erickson (1901 - 1980) was an American psychiatrist and psychologist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He reimagined traditional theories and models of therapy. He moved therapy away from the theory-driven, lengthy, and often burdensome psychotherapy practices established by pioneers like Freud, Jung, and Adler and instead made therapy more direct and solution-focused. He also was a pioneer in the development of clinical hypnosis and advanced hypnotic techniques. Erickson removed much of the stigma that has surrounded hypnosis as a legitimate form of therapy.


Malcolm Struthers Hypnotherapy - Online and in-person in Dumfries & Galloway


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