Hypnotherapy History

Though historians don’t know the exact origin of hypnotherapy, the history of this method is quite extensive. In fact, people are believed to have used forms of hypnosis, trance or suggestion in the practice of healing, even in ancient times!

Hypnotherapy in Ancient Times

Some of the earliest practitioners of hypnosis may have been shamans, witch doctors, wise women or tribal doctors. Ancient Egyptians used dream temples as a means of sleep therapy. The ancient Hebrews practiced ritualistic methods of incantation, meditation and chanting known as “kavanah,” a method similar to self-hypnosis.

Like the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and Romans placed people in a trance-like state in sleep temples for the purposes of healing. During the Hellenistic Period, around 500 B.C., these temples were primarily used to treat the mentally ill.

A Turkish medical book written in 1069, “Kutadgu Bilig,” talks of using suggestion to ward off demons. Pietro D’Abano (1250-1316), an Italian medical teacher, astronomer and philosopher, was also known to practice the art of suggestion. Even the Bible contains passages referring to what many believe is hypnosis.

Modern History of Hypnotism

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a German physician, is generally associated with the emergence of modern hypnosis in the 18th century. Mesmer believed he could heal people without medical intervention using magnetic forces. As a matter of fact, the terms “animal magnetism” and “mesmerism” come from his practice. Many people don’t believe he practiced hypnosis at all. In fact, the French government, led by Marie Antoinette, declared Mesmer a fraud.

Another name associated with the history of hypnotherapy is James Braid (1795-1860), a Scottish surgeon credited with coining the term “hypnosis” in 1843. Braid used a bright object, such as a pocket watch, to put people into a trance. James Esdaile (1808-1859), another surgeon from Scotland, is known for utilizing hypnosis for anesthesia during operations. These men were among the first hypnotherapists to be taken seriously, legitimizing hypnosis as a science.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) used hypnotherapy in his early practice. However, he soon replaced hypnosis with free association and talk therapy. Others followed Freud’s lead, and hypnotherapy began to fall out of favor.

Hypnotherapy in the 20th Century and Beyond

Current views of hypnosis began to emerge in the 20th century. Many practitioners influenced this period’s history of hypnotherapy, including Ormond McGill (1913-2005), a performer who used hypnosis as a form of entertainment.

During the mid-20th century, many individuals helped to bring hypnosis into the medical community. After working in radio and television, Dave Elman (1900-1967) entered the field of hypnosis, ultimately becoming well-known for his method of induction, among other achievements.

In 1952, Dr. Albert Mason was able to cure a young man’s skin condition with hypnosis techniques after more conventional treatments had been unsuccessful. These results were published in the “British Medical Journal.”

Psychiatrist Milton Erickson (1932-1974) is known as the “Grandfather of Hypnotherapy.” Erickson had a different approach to hypnosis, one more accommodating and indirect, which is now known as Ericksonian hypnotherapy. Even after his death, the Milton H. Erickson Foundation offers training in hypnotherapy and holds conferences on this topic.

In 1958, the American Medical Association recognized clinical hypnotherapy as a legitimate medical treatment. Today, both the American Psychological Association and the National Institutes of Health recognize its legitimacy, as well.


Answer My Health Questions. (n.d.). History in hypnotherapy. Retrieved August 12, 2010, from http://www.answer-my-health-question.info/history-in-hypnotherapy.html

Hypnotic World. (n.d.). History of hypnosis. Retrieved August 12, 2010, from http://www.hypnoticworld.com/facts/history_of_hypnosis.asp