To study hypnotism is like unfathoming the hidden mysteries of magic and human miracles and making them matters of absolute knowledge. Its possibilities are almost boundless and are interwoven with every phase of human life. – William W. Cook, M.D. 1901
If one accepts the theory that the universe is holographic, then perhaps God was the first hypnotherapist.
According to the book of Genesis:
…the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh, and the rib which God took from man, he made woman and brought her to him. (Genesis 2:21-22)
And if man was created in God’s image and woman from man then surely we were meant to continue the interconnectedness of His work. It would seem that we have for throughout the ages, virtually all primitive societies have performed spiritual rituals and ceremonies as part of everyday living and as a means of healing mind, body and soul. The elements of these gatherings always seem to include rhythmic drumming, chanting, dancing and special costuming. And the end result always seems to be the same a collective heightened response of powerful emotions culminating in an expected exhilarated outcome. Since expectancy and belief are the essential components of direct-suggestion hypnosis making the power of suggestion possible, couldn’t this process be Gods way of establishing and expecting trust from all those He created? And couldn’t this be part of the holographic fabric of energy flow that Talbot (1991) talks about in The Holographic Universe.
Krasner ( 1991) believes that one cant fully understand the history of hypnosis without understanding the history of suggestion. He states that:
…suggestion has motivated man since the beginning of time the development of hypnosis through the centuries is directly reflective of mans consciousness in each era. (pg. 11)
As early as 1500 B.C., the Ebers Papyrus recorded a treatment in which a physician, while uttering strange chantings, merely laid his hands on the head or body of the patient and these chantings affected a cure in the afflicted person. These patients were obviously stressed and therefore open to the selected healing suggestions of the physician (Preston, 1998).
In the Far East the Indians produced their own brand of hypnosis and self-hypnosis which led to the fakirs and yogis who are still in existence today. From Africa the sleep techniques of the priesthood spread to Greece, ancient Rome and Egypt becoming incorporated not only with religion, but also with magic and medicine (Kappas, 1975).
During these ancient civilizations, it was recorded that Priests would put worshipers to sleep in sleep temples and suggest that they be cured. They often were. Hieroglyphics from the Tomb of Isis in ancient Egypt show worshipers experiencing this hypnotic or curing sleep. And Greek statues created over 2,000 years ago also depict these trance-like states (Preston, 1998; Krasner, 1991).
The amazing powers of hypnosis have been recognized throughout history. Avicenna, an outstanding physician and thinker during the tenth century stated that with imagination, man could influence not only his own body but the bodies of others. It was discovered in the fifteenth century that a sick patient could be cured by praying over the bones of animals or humans (as long as the patient didn’t know the difference). In the sixteenth century there were physicians persecuted for conveying the message that imagination and faith could bring about the cure of various illnesses (Kappas, 1975).
Edmunds (1961) states that:
Peracelsus was persecuted by the Church and hounded from place to place because he publicly stated that the power of the mind could be the cause and also the remedy for many different kinds of illness. (p.2)
While the Christian Church and other religious movements have made use of hypnotic power throughout history, there has also consistently been a policy to condemn and to suppress its use for purposes other than its own (Edmunds, 1961).
It was later in the sixteenth century in England that Edward the Confessor used what was called the Royal Touch. He initiated this practice of English kings curing the sick through touch. So popular was this procedure, the Church of England wrote into its liturgy healing hymns and chants to facilitate these cures.
But as royalty eventually lost interest in these cures, so did the people. It was during the next era, the Middle Ages, that suggestion-healing fell into disrepute and became known as black magic or more evil than beneficial. And it was during this period of time that many misconceptions were formed which still exist today (Edmunds, 1961; Krasner, 1991).
It wasn’t until the end of the sixteenth century that the first serious, objective study of suggestion-cure began by a Flemish philosopher and chemist, van Helmont.
According to Edmunds, (1961):
van Helmont concluded that a fluid of a magnetic nature is radiated by man, and that this fluid, and through it the mind and body, can be influenced by mental effort and the exercise of will power.
One hundred years passed and no further experimental or scientific study was made until a Viennese physician, Frederick (Franz) Anton Mesmer arrived on the scene in France. He is considered to be the first professional hypnotist, born May 23, 1734 in Austria. Mesmer became acquainted with the theories of hypnotism and incorporated his knowledge into his medical practice, attempting to cure his patients symptoms and difficulties (Preston, 1998).
According to Kine (1997):
One night after attending a theatrical performance, Mesmer observed a street urchin putting people into a trance by using magnets or magical stones. He noticed that when these magnets were passed across the face and body that people went into a trance-like state. They came out of the trance themselves.
Mesmer then experimented with these magical stones and developed what became known as his animal magnetism theory. It was based on his personal observation of Father Gassner, a Catholic Priest, who would heal people by the laying-on of hands. He would make numerous passes all over the subjects body. Mesmer studied Father Gassner very carefully and theorized that magnetic fluids circulating in the body affected these changes. And that forces from astral bodies affected these fluids (Perkins, 1998).
The four primary fluids of concern were blood, phlegm, yellow and black bile. And according to Mesmer, these fluids had to be maintained in proper balance in order to be healthy. This theory of animal magnetism was considered sound at the time and also established an interconnectedness between the celestial and physical worlds. Another factor which contributed to his credibility was that his theory coincided with Ben Franklins discovery of electricity (Perkins, l998).
However, by 1784, Mesmers theories were doubted and questioned. The French Academy of Sciences set up a commission of internationally famous scientists including Ben Franklin, Lavoisier and Dr. Guillotine (a chemist and inventor of the guillotine). They investigated Mesmers work by setting up a test. Mesmer magnetized several trees in a forest by touching them with two large iron rods. His patients were then asked to go into the forest and touch these trees for their cure. However, while many of his patients were cured, Mesmer was found to be a fraud by the Commission because these cured patients touched both the magnetized and non-magnetized trees. It was concluded that it was not Mesmer but rather the patients who somehow cured themselves (Perkins,1998).
If we go back to the two ingredients of successful direct-suggestion hypnosis mental expectancy and the belief that a particular result will occur – it is clear that Mesmer was a successful hypnotherapist rather than a successful magnetist as he claimed himself to be.
Shortly after this investigation and condemnation, Mesmer moved to Switzerland where he died in 1815. Although he died without the full acceptance and acknowledgment of his peers, Mesmer did have the satisfaction of having some of the worlds greatest medical men of his day come to him to study. Most were sent by their governments. Although Mesmer was censured, his theories have been a powerful and important influence in todays group psychotherapy and imagery conditioning. He will always be remembered as the man who contributed the words mesmerized and mesmerism to the English language. These words are usually held synonymously with hypnotism (Kappas, 1976; Krasner, 1991).
Over the next few years, great advances were made in France by some of Mesmers students. A monk named Abbe Faria combined Mesmers theories with his own Indian and Eastern ideas. One of these ideas involved the act of gazing into his patients eyes and shouting the word sleep. Then he proceeded with his cures. Like Mesmer, he was also discredited for his work but he was the first to declare that the Mesmeric state was brought about by the patient himself and not by the magnetic influences of the operator (Kappas, 1975).
Another devout follower of Mesmer, the Marquis de Puysegur, is credited with coining the term somnambules for those people resembling sleepwalkers when hypnotized. While this established a mistaken notion that hypnosis is equivalent to sleep, it laid the foundation for what is today considered a good, sound working state when actual direct-suggestion therapy can begin (Kelly/Kelly, 1985). As Elman (1964) clearly states approximately one hundred and forty years later:
You should get somnambulism every time you try for it unless there’s an out-and-out rejection by the patient. In each case, the critical faculty is bypassed and selected thinking established after the somnambulism is achieved. (Pg.64)
By the 1830s, Mesmerism spread from France to England primarily by Dr. John Elliotson who used it successfully for surgery and the treatment of mental disorders. Despite these successes, Elliotson, a brilliant professor of medicine at the University of London, was ridiculed by his superiors for this practice and its use was banned from the hospital. Between 1841 and 1846 even the medical publications ridiculed him and his work. Nonetheless, he courageously persevered and with great continued success. Today he is probably best known as the inventor of the stethescope (Kappas, 1975; Perkins, 1998).
The traveling Swiss Messmerist, Lafontaine, was creating spectacular demonstrations around this time and remarkable cures. He was arrested in Italy at the instigation of the Church. It was believed he was a charlatan and imitating the miracles of Christ. He was only released on condition that he refrain from performing miracles like making blind people see and deaf people hear (Edmunds, 1961).
The next important contributor in the field of hypnotism was an English physician, James Braid (1795-1860) He is responsible for the permanent shift in perception about hypnotism from black magic to a serious discipline. He also introduced eye-fixation as an induction technique. Most importantly, he proved that the true power of hypnosis lies within the individual and not the hypnotist. While attending one of Lafontaines demonstrations, he became so fascinated that his initial desire to discredit Mesmerism went out the window. Instead he became fascinated and was convinced of its validity but not of the theories explaining it. He experimented with friends and patients so he could discover a more acceptable explanation. He did. (Krasner, 1990,1991)
According to Edmunds, (1961):
He concluded that the action of any force or fluid of a magnetic nature was not involved, and that the phenomena were of a subjective origin. (Pg. 7) Braids experiments led him to discover that a persons suggestibility was increased by a heightened sense of expectation. It was Dr. Braid who introduced the term hypnosis for the first time as a more accurate word than Mesmerism.
He also introduced the terms hypnotist and suggestion. (The word hypnosis was derived from the Greek word hypnos which means sleep.) At first, Braid believed that a trance state was a form of sleep. Later he changed his opinion on the nature of the hypnotic state and tried to change the word to monoideism which means one word or one thought. ( He believed this was a more accurate and appropriate definition.) However, it was too late. Hypnosis stuck (Edmunds, 1961; Krasner, 1991; Perkins, 1998).
One of the most important contributors to the field of medical hypnosis is Dr. James Esdaile (1818-1859). He was a personal friend and professional colleague of Braids and set up a practice in Calcutta, India where he remained most of his life. He experimented with hypnotic anesthesia and probably performed more successful surgical operations with the use of hypnosis than any other surgeon up to the present time. As with Mesmer, Dr. Esdaile was criticized by many of his colleagues despite his unprecedented success. (His success resulted in lowering the surgical mortality rate to less than five percent.) And despite the criticism, Esdailes fame continued to spread. However, it was when he left India and returned to England that he found his methods did not work as well. (The Indian people were conditioned and open to allow hypnosis because of their culture. The English were not.) The British Medical Society scorned his work saying that he was basically interfering with nature – that pain was essential in the purification of the soul and in building character. He died a broken and humiliated man (Kresner, 1991; Preston, 1998).
Chemical anesthesia was discovered in the mid-1800s right around the time of Dr. Esdailes death. All of a sudden, physicians changed their attitude about pain. It was no longer noble to suffer. And when Queen Victoria had a successful chloroform-anesthetized childbirth, there was then a royal seal of approval on this new chemical. The church no longer glorified pain and physicians began using chloroform and ether indiscriminately. Everyone wanted these pain killers. The potion would be poured on a cloth and put on the patients face. Unfortunately since there was no knowledge of the human body’s tolerance for these chemicals, patients were dying from anesthesia (Kresner, 1991).
Bernheim (1827-1919) and Liebeault (1823-1904)
Esdailes work and hypnosis receded once again into oblivion just at a time when it was so badly needed in medicine. On the Continent, however, other serious hypnotists continued the work, notably in France where the Nancy School was established by two doctors, Liebault and Bernheim. Here, they demonstrated the idea that hypnosis had psychological origins. Bernheim, a professor of Medicine, at first considered Liebault to be a fraud. He subsequently became an ardent admirer and published two books establishing hypnotism as an important psychotherapeutic method (Edmunds, 1961). Together, they contributed greatly to the future of hypnotherapy. They basically believed that anyone could be hypnotized and that the ability to be hypnotized was not limited to hysterics. According to Kelly/Kelly (1985):the Nancy School believed that the basis of hypnosis was the enhancement of suggestibility, the aptitude of turning thought into action. They began using this capacity not only to create new symptoms in hysterics but also to cure the original symptom. (Pg. 54)
There was an opposing school of thought led by Jean Charcot, a neurologist at a hospital in Paris. Aside from believing in the power of magnetism, he also believed that only neurotic patients could be hypnotized. While, this theory was easily discredited by Bernheim (who showed that the more balanced and relaxed the individual, the more easily hypnotism could take place), Charcot contributed greatly to the future credibility of hypnotherapy through his careful clinical observation and documentation of his patents illnesses (Edmunds,1961; Kelly/Kelly,1985).
Janet, one of Charcots most famous pupils, disagreed with his mentors belief in Mesmerism and contributed a new theory that still holds true today which basically states that there is an unconscious meaning to neurotic symptoms (Kelly/Kelly, l985).
In 1882 the Society for Psychical Research was established in England. The object of this group was to have scientific investigations of Mesmerism, hypnotism and spiritualism.
According to Edmunds, (1961):
William James described their work as an opoch, not only in medical, but in psychological science, because it brings in an entirely new conception of our mental abilities. (Pg. 9)
Another important contributor to hypnotism at this time was Dr. Eugene Azam.
Preston( 1998) states:
Dr. Azams contribution to the advancement of hypnosis is in his discovery of the splitting of the conscious. It was he who made medical practitioners aware of two levels of awareness. These two levels of awareness are now referred to as the conscious and subconscious. (Pg. 7)
By the late 1800s, Sigmund Freud was using hypnosis in his practice in Vienna, but instead of moving it forward, he did the opposite. He studied under Charcot and was strongly influenced by him. He also studied with Liebeault and Bernheim. As it turned out, Freud abandoned the use of hypnosis once discovering that he wasn’t very good at it and was unwilling to spend the time to learn better techniques. His authoritarian manner frequently illicited resistance from his patients.
According to Barnett (1989):
Although we know that he evinced a renewed interest in hypnosis at the end of his life, he had rejected it earlier when he stated that hypnosis does not do away with resistance but only avoids it and therefore yields only incomplete information and transitory therapeutic success. (Freud, 1953) (Pg. 10) However, It was his frustration with the resistance from his patients that led Freud to develop his own method of psychoanalysis and his free association theories. These contributed immeasurably to the mental health field in general as well as to the entire culture of the twentieth century. Years later when Freud came back to supporting hypnotherapy, he realized how much faster healing could take place with its use (Kappas, 1975).
By 1892, despite its brief setback through Freud’s rejection of it, hypnotism was unanimously accepted as a credible and valuable therapeutic method by the British Medical Association. And in 1900, an International Congress of Hypnotism fully endorsed the validity of hypnotism and, in particular, the theories of Liebeault and Bernheim (Edmunds, 1961).
It was in the early 1900s that a French pharmacist, Emile Coue, discovered something he called waking suggestion or the power of auto suggestion. According to Krasner (1991), Coues famous autosuggestion formula was:Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better. (Pg.16)
Coue further explains his waking suggestion formula as being a repetitive grouping of positive suggestions said so quickly that no opposing ideas could possibly penetrate between these words. This would apply to either physical or mental discomfort. It was Coue who discovered that the real power of suggestion was in the mind of the subject not in the hypnotist. As a matter of fact, he believed that all hypnosis was generated by the patient and not by the hypnotist. It was this original concept combined with his Laws of Suggestion (to be discussed later) that Krasner (1991) believes makes Coue:
The most important and least appreciated figure in the development of hypnosis. His findings provide the framework within which we can understand hypnosis and how it works. (Pg 17)
Coue was unsuccessful in his attempt to bring these theories of auto suggestion to the United States. He was treated without the respect he had won in France, and once again the field of hypnotherapy took a back seat. According to Krasner, (1991) public consciousness caused the acceptance of hypnosis to almost disappear completely, and its existence was again largely considered to be only a part of the mystic underworld. (Pg. 17)
Yet, in 1933, Clark Hull of Yale published his book, Hypnosis and Suggestibility, which according to Fross (1979) peeled the final layers of mysticism from the subject. He showed that the phenomenon of hypnosis can be produced at will in the laboratory for experimental purposes. (Pg. 118)
During the next fifty years, Freuds influence of psychoanalysis on the therapeutic community was much more in effect than that of hypnotherapy. However, as history does repeat itself, hypnosis was again used successfully to control pain and other forms of battle neurosis during both World War I and II. According to Barnett (1989) it was not until Watkins wrote of his treatment of the war neuroses and the rapid and effective way in which these were resolved (where symptoms were directly due to the psychic trauma of combat) that the renewal of interest in the uncovering properties of hypnosis became apparent. (Pg. 10)
And it was J.A. Hadfield, another hypnotist who used hypnosis to uncover post traumatic war memories, who first coined the term hypno-analysis (Krasner, 1991; Edmunds, 1961).
Hypnoanalysis (Analytical Hypnotherapy)
While Hadfield originated the term hypno-analysis, with his work after WW II, it was L.R. Wolberg who later generated a fuller meaning of this term as he combined the uncovering procedures of hypnosis with the more formal psychoanalytical techniques (Edmunds, 1961; Barnett, 1989).
According to Barnett (1989):
In Wolbergs form of hypnosis, the patient is seen almost daily in the usual psychoanalytical manner. Free association is employed until any resistance is encountered, and at the time of resistance, hypnosis is immediately induced. The experience concealed from consciousness is discussed and then a posthypnotic amnesia for this experience is suggested and established. In this manner, unconscious resistances are more readily dissipated, and the hypnoanalyst is able to resolve conflicts that have persisted and would otherwise have remained resistant to therapy. In the forties, R.M. Lindner like Wolberg promoted the use of hypnoanalysis. While his procedural modes were based entirely on Freudian principles of psychoanalysis, he insisted that a specific training in hypnosis was necessary for the patient before actual therapy could begin. And he fully believed that all patients were capable of reaching a deep level of hypnosis. (Barnett, 1989)
In 1951, B. Gindes in his book, New Concepts of Hypnosis, described two essential states in the hypnoanalytical procedure. The first was basically to locate the repressed material and the second, which he called hypnosynthesis, was to assimilate the uncovered emotions and accept them calmly. According to Barnett (1989) Gindes (1951) described further the hypnoanalytical approach by stressing how hypnosis enabled the patient to break through the resistances which are often responsible for the great length of time that must be spent in association before dealing with the relevant problems.
While Lindner, Wolberg and Gindes all contributed greatly to the field of hypnosis and hypnoanalysis, hypnosis was still only used as an adjunct to formal psychoanalysis (Barnett, 1989).
From an historical point of view, its ironic that Freud rejected hypnosis since psychoanalysis and hypnoanalysis (which evolved after Freuds death in 1939) both operate from the same premise – that repressed emotions at the time of truma must be remembered, felt and released for healing to occur. And, it was David Elman (1964) who was able to define and refine these differences in his work (Barnett, 1989); Elman, 1964)
According to Elman, (1964):
Actually, there is such a great difference between them that neither could substitute for the other. They have entirely different uses. Psychoanalysis in many cases gives a complete explanation of a complicated behavior pattern. Hypnoanalysis in many cases will reveal the cause of a patients peculiar reaction to a given set of circumstances. It is the difference between a broad plateau and a pin-point. (Pg. 238)
It is also ironic that Freuds Studies on Hysteria, jointly written with Dr. Joseph Breuer in 1895 laid the foundation for modern hypnoanalysis. It was Breurer who first used hypnosis as a successful means to reveal the cause of a patients symptom (hysterical amnesia) and have the symptom disappear as the repressed emotions were expressed. Freud later used what he called the cathartic method employing both Breurers uncovering techniques and Bernheims direct suggestions. While Freud was not sufficiently successful with these techniques to pursue them, his study of hysteria made a formidable contribution to hypnoanalysis (Barnett, 1989).
A Contemporary Perspective
Milton H. Erickson (1902 1980)
Aside from Freud, it would seem that Milton Erickson has had the singular most profound effect on the credibility of hypnosis and hypnotherapy during the twentieth century. Perhaps this is because his brilliance created an entirely new paradigm shift. Where Freud s influence affected the direct delving process of hypnoanalysis, Erickson actually reshaped our view of hypnosis and hypnotherapy forever. He accomplished this by going against all of the so-called rules of direct suggestion, including the law of mental expectancy and belief. Instead he was an expert at using indirect suggestions in such a masterful way that he could elicit a desired response through what might seem to be casual conversation or story telling. Instead of being the obvious teacher, he delighted in watching his patients have transformative experiences which seemed to happen effortlessly as though they were purely self discovered. He dealt with resistance by following a path of least resistance. Never head on. His vast amount of successes speak for themselves.
According to Erickson & Rossi (1975):
Perhaps Erickson was influenced by Emile Coue because it was Coue who first discovered waking suggestion (Krasner, 1911) and Erickson often successfully employed his indirect, conversational suggestions when his patients were awake with their eyes wide open.
This is a significantly different approach from that of many contemporary behavioral hypnotherapists who replace old negative programming with new, healthy ideas repetitively spoken. Instead, Erickson believed again according to Erickson & Rossi (1975), that hypnotic suggestion can evoke and utilize potentials that already exist within patients, but it cannot impose something totally alien.
What is the bottom line here? The approaches of direct-suggestion hypnotherapy and indirect-suggestion hypnotherapy are obviously completely different. While mental expectancy and belief are essential for the direct approach, they are not for the Ericksonian conversational style. How could this be when both are effective?
It would seem that the answer goes back to Bohms idea that there is an underlying deeper order of existence that is buried within the universe as well as within each human being. And that this mysterious level of knowing must somehow be tapped into for healing to occur. (Talbot, 1991)
Therefore, both the direct and indirect approaches of hypnosis can work equally well since both require this process. The conscious/analytical part of the mind must somehow be quieted, diverted, confused or distracted so that the all-knowing, sponge-like subconscious part of the mind is accessible. But what of the actual therapy itself? Whether it be through direct or indirect suggestions, change, personal growth and healing ultimately can only occur through the self understanding, self acceptance and then integration of new ideas. One way or another, it is within the subconscious mind that the work is done.
As a side note, however, one could say that Erickson manipulated his clients through his exceptional gifts of observation and then by cueing them indirectly with seemingly unrelated phrases or even body language in order to illicit a particular response almost as one might set out bait to catch fish. Then one might also say that the more direct approach could be authoritarian or manipulative with the explicit intention to produce and then illicit a particular response.
While these are two potential perspectives, according to Kine, (1975), it is always the client who has the actual control because the subconscious mind has an amazing protective ability to bounce out any suggestion – direct or indirect which maybe harmful or unwanted (My red book). As Murphy (1963) so eloquently ponders:
Doesn’t it cause you to be seized with a sort of mystic awe when you stop to think of the transcendental powers of your subconscious mind? Consider its extrasensory perception, such as its capacity for clairvoyance and clairaudience, its independence of time and space, its capacity to render you free from all pain and suffering, and its capacity to get the answer to all problemsthere is a power and in intelligence within you that far transcends your intellect causing you to marvel at the wonders of it all (Pg. 46).
Because Erickson was a well-respected psychiatrist as well as a hypnotherapist, he was able to bring hypnotherapy to an entirely new level of acceptance. And Ericksons influence continues into the latter part of the 20th century and will probably continue well into the new millennium.