Monday, 11 January 2016

The History of Hypnosis

Many of my clients are interested in the origins of hypnotherapy. This post explains the evolution of hypnotherapy and how hypnotherapy fits in with general trends in the field of psychology, over the years.

It's quite a technical, heavy blog but great for those of you with an interest in psychology.


Hypnotherapy and hypnosis is continually evolving and changing. How and why it changes is dependent on what is popular at the time, new research and scientific discoveries and how it is portrayed in the media, among other things.

Hypnosis as a phenomena has been around for centuries, and there is evidence of it having been used as far back as the ancient Egyptian times, where it was used in sleep temples, which were used for healing. Throughout the dark ages hypnotic phenomena and processes were often associated with exorcisms. 
Magnetic healing and the field of magnetism as a healing process also became popular throughout the 16th and 17th century. Mesmer (1734-1815) took the ideas of magnetism and developed mesmerism which was similar to the stage hypnosis we are familiar with these days. Mesmerism became very popular and Mesmer would hold parties where large tubs would be filled with water and iron filings which Mesmer would then apparently magnetize. The individual at these gatherings would have all sorts of reactions such as hysteria, crying, fainting and convulsing. Following Mesmer and mesmerism other proponents of mesmerism such as Marquis De Puysegur (1751-1825) and Abbe de Faria (1756-1819) developed the field further and introduced concepts such as artificial somnambulism, animal magnetism and lucid sleep.
James Braid (1795-1860) is often considered the father of modern hypnosis. James Braid was an optometrist. He was interested in the field of mesmerism and how it worked, although he did not generally believe the theories. Braid coined the term hypnosis and also developed the eye fixation induction which is still popular among hypnotherapists and hypnotists today.

During the early part of the 20th century the work of Freud, popularized the concept of a subconscious mind. Freud's practices, often referred to as psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy, used hypnosis to access the subconscious mind. 

By the 1960s the popularity of psychoanalytic therapy, developed in the earlier part of the 20th century had decreased. By the 1960s hypnotherapy had been endorsed as a treatment by both the British and American medical associations. A particularly prominent figure in the world of hypnosis during the 1960s was Dave Elman. Dave Elman helped to promote the use of hypnosis as a medical tool during the 1960s. Along with the endorsement of hypnotherapy the 1950s and 1960s also saw new ideas about hypnosis which challenged the state theories of hypnosis which had been prevalent since the ideas of mesmerism in previous centuries. State theories propose that hypnosis is a unique state. with specific phenomena which can not be detected in the non-hypnotized state. Non-state theory proposes that hypnosis is not different from general relaxation. Three notable individuals, Sarbin, Spanos and Barber, particularly pioneered the non-state theory of hypnosis. Sarbin put forward the idea of ‘Role Enactment’, Role Enactment suggested that the hypnotherapy client was playing a role of being hypnotized and this is how hypnosis was induced. Spanos rejected the state theory of hypnosis in favour of the theory of Goal Directed Fantasy. Spanos also developed the Carleton Skills Training Program, which showed that hypnotizability can improve with practise. Barber suggested that hypnosis was not a special state and instead was the result of Imaginal Absorption. Barber was a Cognitive-Behavioural Therapist.
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was developed in the 1960s. CBT was based on the Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) developed by Albert Ellis in the mid 1950s (although it was not named RET until the 1990s). Ellis developed RET as an alternative to what he considered to be the ineffectiveness of psychodynamic therapy. Ellis had been influenced by behaviourists, such as John Dollard, Neal Miller, and Joseph Wolpe, and George Kelly. In addition to being born out of the work of Ellis and the behaviourists, CBT was also based on the work of Aaron Beck in the 1960s. Beck developed Cognitive Therapy, which at the time was a breakthrough treatment for depression.
Around this time the work of Milton Erickson was becoming increasingly influential. Erickson’s approach did not fit into any of the existing schools of psychotherapy. It was not psychodynamic, behavioural or cognitive behavioural approaches. He used a lot of hypnotherapy in his work which brought hypnotherapy back into psychotherapy after it had been out of fashion in this field for some time. Erickson’s methods did not seem to follow any set rules and his treatment methods varied from client to client. This help to develop the ideas of a more client centred approach in hypnotherapy. One element of Erickson’s approach which was particularly notable was his use of language. He developed a lot of hypnotic language which is still used a great deal by hypnotherapists today.



The new approaches of non-state hypnosis in the 1960s along with the development of CBT in the 1960s opened the door for new innovations in psychotherapy and personal development throughout the 1970s. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was developed during the 1970s by Bandler and Grinder and continued to evolve right through the 1980s and 1990s. NLP was based on the idea of doing, rather than theorizing and has heavily influenced by the work of Erikson. Bandler and Grinder published Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Volume I (1975), followed in 1977 by Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Volume II. NLP sharply moved away from the previously held ideas of behaviourism. During the 1990s attempts were made to consolidate the work within NLP into a more formalized structure. There had been various legal arguments and disputes within NLP which were finally settled in 2001 allowing NLP to be made into a more professional practice.
Irving Kirsch (1943-present) is the biggest contributor to date in terms of research into hypnosis. Kirsch currently splits his time between lecturing at universities in the USA and the UK. He has developed theories relating to the role of expectancy in hypnosis. This theory is called Kirsch’s Response Expectancy Theory and it details the link between the placebo effect and hypnosis. Kirsch has also contributed a lot of research on anti-depressants. This work has helped the field of mental health to look at other forms of therapy as opposed to always using drug therapy, as Kirsch found the drug effect to be surprisingly small.
Throughout the 1990s CBT and NLP remained popular forms of psychotherapy and personal development. Hypnosis, however became increasingly popular as a form of entertainment. Paul McKenna had a very popular show on TV which depicted hypnosis and something to be used as a tool to make others make fools of themselves. Derren Brown, in the first decade of the 21st century continued to use hypnotism as a form of entertainment. 

Throughout the 1990s, 2000s and this decade there was a boom of self-help books. A lot of these were based on the CBT model. Hypnosis CDs also started to be marketed which effectively brought hypnotherapy to the masses. The sorts of issues that are associated with hypnotherapy have also changed recently. The Hypnotic Gastric Band for example, is a very popular procedure now. However, this treatment was unheard of 10 years ago.

Hypnosis continues to be an area which attracts a lot of attention and research. Modern researchers include Martin Orne of the University of Pennsylvania and Graham Wagstaff of Liverpool University who have both published widely on the subject. Technological developments within the last 10 years have allowed us to study hypnosis in greater depth. The use of technology such as EEG scans and PET scans allows us to view the human brain in hypnosis.

The fields of psychology and hypnosis are fascinating and I'm sure will continue to develop dramatically in the next few decades.