History of Hypnosis

Below you will find an overview of the history of hypnosis from antiquity to present time.  You will become familiar with some of the key people and events along the way.  Enjoy the journey.

You may also be interested in the depiction of hypnosis in movies or you may like to take a look at hypnosis in the media.

In our hypnosis gallery you will find pictures illustrating the history of hypnosis you will also find a free test to determine whether you are more Right or Left brained.

Want to have some fun? Take a look at our hypnosis cartoons.

Ancient History of Hypnosis

The use of hypnosis for health benefits is traced back to ancient sleep temples in cultures as diverse as India, Egypt and Greece.  Hypnotic-like inductions were used to place the individual in a sleep-like state, although it is now accepted that hypnosis is different from sleep.

Early History of Hypnosis

Hypnotism evolved out of a sometimes skeptical reaction to the much earlier work of Magnetists and Mesmerists.


Paracelsus (1493-1541), was the first physician to use magnets in his work. Many people claimed to have been healed after he had passed magnets called lodestones over their bodies.

Valentine Greatrakes

An Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) was known as "the Great Irish Stroker" for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies.

Johann Joseph Gassner

Johann Joseph Gassner< (1727-1779), was a Catholic priest who believed that disease was caused by evil spirits and could be exorcised by incantations and prayer.

Father Maximilian Hell

A Viennese Jesuit named Maximillian Hell (1720-1792) used magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. One of Father Hell’s students was a young medical doctor from Vienna named Franz Anton Mesmer.

19th Century History of Hypnosis

Franz Anton Mesmer

Dr Franz Mesmer (1734-1815),, an Austrian physician started investigating an effect he called "”animal magnetism”, later referred to as “mesmerism”.

Mesmer found that passing magnets over an open wound would make the bleeding stop. Mesmer also discovered that using a stick instead would also make the bleeding stop.

Marquis de Puységur

A student of Mesmer, Marquis de Puységur first described and coined the term for somnambulism.

Récamier, in 1821, prior to the development of hypnotism, was the first physician known to have used something resembling hypnoanesthesia operated on patients under mesmeric coma.

James Esdaile

Dr. James Esdaile (1805-1859) reported on 345 major operations performed using mesmeric sleep as the sole anesthetic.  The development of chemical anesthetics soon saw the replacement of hypnotism in this role.

John Elliotson

Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868), an English surgeon, in 1834 reported numerous painless surgical operations that had been performed using mesmerism.

James Braid

The Scottish surgeon James Braid coined the term “hypnotism" in his unpublished Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism (1842) as an abbreviation for "neuro-hypnotism", meaning "sleep of the nerves". Braid was fiercely opposed to the beliefs of Mesmerists in an invisible force termed "animal magnetism", and the claim that their subjects developed paranormal powers such as telepathy. Instead, Braid adopted a sceptical position, attempting to explain the Mesmeric phenomena on the basis of well-established laws of psychology and physiology. Hence, Braid is widely regarded as the first true "hypnotist”.

Braid is credited with writing the first book on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843).

The French neurologist  Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) endorsed hypnotism for the treatment of hysteria..

From the 1880s the examination of hypnosis passed from surgical doctors to mental health practitioners.

The use of hypnosis by field doctors in the American Civil War was the first extensive medical application of hypnosis.

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault (1864-1904), the founder of the Nancy School of psychotherapy, first wrote of the necessity for cooperation between the hypnotizer and the hypnosis subject.

Hippolyte Bernheimis
considered by many as a very important figure in the history of hypnosis. He was co-founder of the Nancy School which became the dominant force in hypnotherapeutic theory and practice in the last two decades of the 19th century.

William James

William James(1842-1910) the pioneering American psychologist discussed hypnosis in some detail in his Principles of Psychology.

First International Congress, 1889

The First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism was held in Paris, France, in 1889.

British Medical Association, 1892

The Annual Meeting of the BMA, in 1892, unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis.

20th Century History of Hypnosis

Emile Coué

Emile Coué (1857-1926), a French pharmacist and founder of the New Nancy School broke away from hypnotism to develop his own method of "conscious autosuggestion."

Clark Hull

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1920s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884–1952), a psychologist at Yale University. His work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of hypnosis.

British Medical Association, 1955

In 1955 the BMA approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesiaa in pain management in childbirth and surgery.  The BMA also advised all physicians and medical students to receive basic hypnosis training.

American Medical Association, 1958

The American Medical Association approved medical uses of hypnosis in 1958 and encouraged further research on hypnosis.

American Psychological Association, 1960

The American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology in 1960.

Hilgard & Weizenhoffer

In 1961,Ernest Hilgard and André Weizenhoffer created the Stanford Scales for measuring susceptibility to hypnosis.

Milton H. Erickson

Milton H. Erickson (1901-1980) was an American psychiatrist specializing in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He was founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis.

Whereas classical hypnosis is authoritarian and direct, Ericksonian hypnosis is permissive and indirect.  Ericksonian hypnosis is often referred to as conversational hypnosis.  Milton Erickson’s work has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.

Dave Elman

Dave Elman(1900-1967) helped to promote the medical use of hypnosis in the 1960s by training large numbers of physicians and psychotherapists in America, in the use of hypnosis for therapy.


Return from History of Hypnosis to Informed-Hypnosis


Comments are closed.