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A Brief History of Hypnosis

Hypnosis in different guises dates back thousands of years although it has something of a chequered past and is even today regarded by many with suspicion.

The ancient Egyptians Greeks and Romans all had sleep temples where priests would put sick worshipers “to sleep” and suggest that they would be cured.


The birth of modern hypnosis was in 1733 when a German Doctor called Franz Anton Mesmer introduced ‘mesmerism’.

Mesmer observed the dramatic effects of trance and developed his theory of “Animal Magnetism”. He moved to Paris and become so successful that he fell foul to the jealous and sceptical medical establishment. A Royal Commission was set up which (whilst observing that many of his patients did indeed appear to have been cured) discredited his theories and as a result the use of Mesmerism was banned in France.


In the 1840’s, thanks to the pioneering work of surgeons James Braid and James Esdaile the use of hypnosis to create anesthesia began to be adopted more widely by the medical profession but fell out of favour following the discovery of chloroform and its use by Queen Victoria during childbirth.


Sigmund Freud experimented with hypnosis but rejected it as useless (it is said because he was not very good at it himself) and that led to it falling out of favour for a period. For many years, hypnotism was mainly kept going by stage hypnotists but it has had a resurgence during the 20th century thanks to the likes of Dr Milton Erickson and Dave Elman.


Although the precise manner in which hypnosis works it is still not fully understood, great progress has been made using magnetic imaging techniques which illustrate how brain activity changes during trance.

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