Hypnosis, although believed to be used thousands of years ago in the trance temples of Greece, got its start in the world of medicine in the 18th century when Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815).
Mesmer was disillusioned by the medical treatments at the time and also intrigued by the gravitational influence of the planets on the human body experimented with magnetism and his magnet technique which was later called Mesmerism.
A breakthrough came when he discovered “the medium of healing was not the magnet, but the flow of an invisible fluid that could pass in ‘magnetic streams’ from a healer who possessed it in abundance to a patient whose own streams were damaged in some way.” (source- Hypnosis: A brief history)
Unfortunately, even though he was getting results, the medical community rejected him. His student Marquis de Puysegur (1751-1825) transformed mesmerism into a direction that is now the basis for hypnosis today. His work transferred the power of healing from the healer to the patient (which is where it was all along).
During the early 1800s there were two camps on how mesmerism worked: “fluidists” in Europe who were engaged in the medical field and maintained the physical reality of animal magnetism; and the “animists” whose explanation of animal magnetism was more psychological then physical.
Jose-Custodio de Faria (1756-1819) continued the concept of Puysegur that the “real power was located in the subjects themselves.” Fluidist He as a Catholic Preist
Henin de Cuvillers (1755-1841) promoted the view that the phenomena associated with mesmerism resulted from the combination of suggestion and belief. Animist
Dr. John Elliotston, a fluidist (1791-1868) practiced medicine and used mesmerism to treat disorders of the nervous system. Unable to explain how the treatments worked he resigned from University Hospital and continued a private practice where mesmerism became a parlor game.
The best-known Animist was the Scottish surgeon (James Braid -1795-1860) who was later known as The Father of Hypnosis (in coined the phrase) began to explore the malleability of the brain. He believed the process of focused attention, heightened through hypnosis.
Elliotson and Braid differed in their convictions but both agreed that trance was necessary to do either hypnosis or mesmerism.
Mesmerism became popular in the US in 1837 by 1843 there were 200 professional magnetizers in Boston alone and believed it was necessary to treat the whole person.
While the US was experiencing Mesmerism, Hypnosis was back in Europe working at a woman’s asylum with Jean-Martin Charcot and at the Nancy School with Ambroise-Auguste Liebault although with different approaches. The method of the Nancy School was more widely adopted because it was used on normal, healthy people not just those in hysteria like at the Salpetriere Asylum. Freud’s theory of the subconscious was in part due to Charcot’s work.
However it was Freud that contributed to the fall of hypnosis he actually incorporated some hypnotic techniques but used his own terminology. Practitioners jumped on his psychoanalysis bandwagon.
But in 1890s Joseph Jastrow was studying the effects of hypnosis for medical purposes and he had a more analytical then metaphysical background. He founded the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin. But it was one of Jastrow’s students that brought hypnosis from unproven into the mainstream science his name was Clark Leonard Hull (1884-1952). He wrote an article called “Hypnotism in Scientific Perspective,” here is an excerpt:
All sciences alike have descended from magic and superstition, but none has been so slow as hypnosis in shaking off the evil association of its origin. None has been so slow in taking on a truly experimental and genuinely scientific character.
He felt the study of hypnosis post 1890 lacked trained scientists investigators. He developed the first scales of measuring suggestibility, which had been the missing piece and the reason Freud and others didn’t fully accept hypnotism. “If hypnosis was based on suggestion, then giving the suggestion they were hypnotized doesn’t mean they were” was the argument.
Hypnosis was used in the World Wars. In WWI it was used to rehabilitate soldiers experiencing trauma.
George Hoben Estabrooks (1885-1973) a psychologist worked with the government during WWII ostensibly “hypnoprogramming” government agents for intelligence operations and other government service P 105 Hypnosis: A brief history. Estabrooks revealed his “super spy” work to the public in 1971 providing detailed descriptions of his methods for producing double agents. The use of hypnosis in these wars as well as the sometimes controversial methods of Milton Erickson (1902-1980) were significant in innovating hypnosis as a clinical practice.
In 1949, the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis was founded. The American Medical Association recognized hypnosis as a legitimate treatment method in both medicine and dentistry in 1958.