The History of Hypnosis

The History of Hypnosis

Dr. Jeffrey Ennis

What do Mozart, Marie Antoinette, and Sigmund Freud have in common – Hypnosis. The history of hypnosis is a remarkable tale that helps to explain why most of the general public feels somewhat fearful when they think about it. It is a history filled with helpers, scientists, charlatans, murderers and possibly even Nazi killers.

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Hypnosis can be traced back to ancient Persia and India where it was part of religious rituals and healing. By 1600 Valentine Greatrakes was passing magnets over people in order to heal them and by the mid-1700 Father Hell was replicating Greatrakes only his subjects were naked. Hell was the instructor of the first famous hypnotist Anton Mesmer. Mesmer took the idea of using magnets and turned it into a theory of the human condition called ‘animal magnetism’: an invisible force found in all organisms which could be used to heal the sick. He developed the Mesmeric Pass which did away with the magnets since the person had animal magnetism. Mesmer brought together stage hypnosis and clinical hypnosis. In his shows, he would try to heal people with great flare and at the end he would play his glass harmonium To date, we have still not been able to pull stage and clinical hypnosis apart in the mind of the average person.

Mesmer began working in Paris where he was followed closely by Mozart and Marie Antoinette. Louis the XVI thought Mesmer was a charlatan. In 1784 the emperor called together a French Royal Commission of great thinkers to design an experiment to prove, or disprove the theory of animal magnetism. This became the first blind trial in human history. The group included Benjamin Franklin, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (inventor of the guillotine), Jean Sylvain Bailly (the mayor of Paris), and Antoine Lavoisier ( the father of modern chemistry). The groups’ findings were mixed. They agreed that Mesmer seemed to help some people but there was no evidence to support the theory of animal magnetism. In spite of this Mesmer remained very popular. Even bad publicity is good.

It was not until the mid-1800’s that hypnosis got its name. Enter the Scottish surgeon James Braid. This was a time when there was no pain control during surgery. Braid watched in amazement as a hypnotic subject went into a catatonic state and could tolerate painful stimuli. He began to use it, with some success, in his surgeries. He wrote a paper on the subject and named what he saw ‘hypnosis’ from the Latin word hypnoticus meaning to induce sleep. Braid, like us today, eventually recognized that hypnosis was not sleep, but it was too late, the name had stuck.

Moving into the 19th century Jean Montan Charcot, the father of modern day neurology was the leader of the Paris school of hypnosis. He saw hypnosis as a gateway into the mind of patients suffering from ‘hysteria’ and he used hypnosis to study this disorder. Hysteria was a form of paralysis and what we now call a conversion disorder. One of his students was Sigmund Freud.

Freud trained with Charcot which led him to treat patients with hysterical conversion. In his early practice Freud hypnotized his patients. This evolved over time into the ‘blank slate’ of what became known as psychoanalysis. We now jump forward to WWII and one of the great Boogey Men of hypnosis, George Estabrook .

Estabrook was a psychologist that very nearly convinced the US military that soldiers could be hypnotized by the Nazi’s to kill their officers. He demonstrated this through what would now be considered seriously flawed research. Estabrook bragged that he could hypnotize American citizens to commit treason against the U.S. government. The fear of hypnosis engendered by Estabrook still exists today for many people although they do not know why.

There is much more but let’s jump forward to the 1960’s and the birth of modern hypnotherapy under the tutelage of Milton Erikson. His work continues to this day. Although clinical hypnosis is a legitimate treatment for chronic pain (my area of research and expertise) there are still many people who are wary when they hear the word hypnosis. Although they do not know why they feel this way, one just has to look at the history of hypnosis to undercover this unfounded seed of fear and doubt.

About the Author:

Dr. Jeff Ennis is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, with appointments in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry at McMaster University Medical Centre and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Hypnotherapy for Pain Control: A Safe and Non-Addictive Way to Relieve Chronic Pain.

Dr. Ennis first received his Masters in social work at the University of Toronto. After a number of years as the clinical director of a tertiary level children’s care facility he completed his studies in Medicine at McMaster University. He went on to do a residency in Psychiatry with subspecialty training in the management of chronic non-cancer pain. He was the co-director of the Chedoke Pain Program and went on to develop his own unique pain management program that was partnered for many years with St. Joseph’s Hospital Centre for Ambulatory Care Services in Hamilton Ontario called the East End Pain Management Program.  It then became an independent program, now called the Ennis Centre for Pain Management. The program utilizes tenants of cognitive behavioral therapy in helping patients mobilize in spite of the pain they experience. This program has been designed to provide treatment to patients who are still able to work or who are profoundly disabled. Recent research has demonstrated a positive impact of the treatment program on participants’ mood, self-perception of disability and level of function.

Dr. Ennis’ work has been seen on film, heard on radio, and found in medical literature.

Recently he developed the Ennis Endowment Fund in Toronto, Hamilton and British Columbia. The Endowment will help to stimulate residents to learn more about chronic pain management.

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Hypnotherapy for Pain Control is available for purchase on its websiteAmazon and other major bookstores.

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