It can be argued that hypnosis in various forms has existed since the beginnings of human society. Perhaps a more accurate statement may be that hypnosis began with the formation of religion and the concept of the spirit and/or spiritual elements. After all, hypnosis is strongly linked to meditation. Hypnosis has also been used throughout the ages as a means of healing. It has been documented that in ancient India, Greece and Egypt the sick were often brought to “sleep temples” to be cured by hypnotic suggestion. And before anaesthetic became widely available, many cultures relied on hypnotic-like methods for pain control, especially during childbirth.
The first inklings of modern hypnosis are traceable back to the fifteenth century when Swiss physician Paracelus used magnet therapy as a means of treating his patients. Because his patients were so deeply convinced that they could be cured of their ailments simply by having Paracelus touch their bodies with magnets that they actually were able to stimulate physical recovery within themselves. Magnet therapy remained popular in Europe over the next three hundred years. Around 1700, the first placebo experiment with magnet therapy was recorded. In this experiment, one tree was “magnetized” and another was not, and a blind-folded patient was treated using both. When the patient reacted positively to the un-magnetized tree, it was concluded that the healing power lay not within the magnets but within the patients themselves.
In the nineteenth century, structured hypnosis emerged as a form of anaesthetic by European physicians. Dr. James Esdaile reported successfully using hypnosis in 345 major operations in British India; it was also frequently used by doctors and nurses during the American Civil War. Eventually, chemical anaesthetic replaced these procedures and the use of hypnosis gradually shifted to the mental health spectrum. In 1892, the British Medical Association unanimously accepted and endorsed hypnosis for therapeutic usages.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, hypnosis was embraced by psychologists and became a popular method of self-help as well as treatment for mental maladies such as hysteria. In fact, both Pavlov and Freud used hypnotic methods in their practice. After the first world war, the use of hypnosis flourished as it was in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (or “shell shock”). It was at this time that hypnosis was carefully studied and experimented with by American scientists. In the 1950s, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association approved the use of hypnosis, and the Vatican lifted its official ban on the practice. Modern hypnosis has been shaped namely by two individuals, Milton Erikson and Dave Elman. Their techniques are now widespread throughout the hypnosis world, as well as being implemented here at the Morpheus Clinic.