A Historical Digest of Hypnotism from Mesmer to Freud
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)
Mesmer, a physician, was born in Germany and practiced medicine in Vienna, Switzerland until 1779; and then in Paris, France, until 1794.
Mesmer’s first theory, Animal Magnetism, was the idea that magnets could be used to cure disease.
Later he decided we were all surrounded and permeated by an invisible fluid that is influenced by the moon, sun, and the planets in the same way as the tides. If all this seems strange, don’t forget, this was the eighteenth century. This fluid, he wrote, can also be influenced by magnets, magnetized objects, or by hand passed from one who has magnetic power. Mesmer used the term “animal magnetism”, but it became known as Mesmerism.
Dr. Mesmer felt the disease was caused by the improper flow of an invisible fluid. The theory was that when a subject was mesmerized, this improper flow was corrected. Mesmer’s method of trance induction was by contact and non-contact hand passes, a fixed gaze, and contact with “magnetized” rods, miscellaneous objects, and water.
The nature of Mesmer’s trance state was sometimes characterized as hysterical, manifesting in convulsions. Mesmer is credited with advancing an early and popular objective theory now called hypnotism. He was one of the first to give the state a name – Animal Magnetism. He became famous for his carriage trade clinics in Paris. He also expanded the field by training practitioners.
James Braid (1795-1860)
Braid was born in England and practiced in Manchester. He was a physician and surgeon and as you will see, he represents the beginning of an era of hypnosis and hypnotism.
His theory of the phenomenon was that eye fatigue would cause a change in the nervous system that, in turn, would cause paralysis of the nervous centers controlling the eyes. This, he theorized, resulted in a sleep-like state. In 1843, Dr. Braid coined the word “hypnotism.” Hypnos is the Greek word for sleep. Later, realizing that hypnosis wasn’t sleeping, per se, he tried to change it to a more descriptive “Monodeism” meaning a single focus at the core of the human thought process. It was, however, too late. The term hypnotism had stuck and we’ve used it ever since.
Some of Braid’s conclusions are still considered valid in the light of modern scientific knowledge. Braid accomplished in six years of work more than had been accomplished in all the previous centuries and therefore deserves the title: Father of Hypnotism.
James Esdaile (1808-1859)
Esdaile was born in Scotland and trained as a physician and surgeon. He practiced surgery in Hoogly, India. Esdaile learned Mesmerism from Dr. Elliotson’s writings.
He induced the state of Mesmerism by making body-length hand passes and stroking, often done by an assistant and sometimes taking quite a long time. Esdaile’s patients fell into a quiet trance state and became insensitive to pain.
Esdaile’s medical records claim he performed more than 1,000 minor operations and about 300 major operations painlessly, cutting the mortality rate by 45%, leaving a rate of 5% of deaths from all causes. If correct, these were amazing results when one takes into account the abysmal operating room conditions during these times.
The School of Selpetriere – Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893)
Dr. Charcot was the most distinguished neurologist of the 19th Century. He practiced where he was born in Selpetriere, France.
Charcot believed hypnosis was an induced condition found only in persons suffering from hysteria manifested in three stages: Lethargy, Catalepsy, and Somnambulism. He induced these states using a fixation object, a procedure similar to Dr. Braid’s.
The nature of his trance state was categorized as follows: (1) Lethargic: unable to speak. (2) Cataleptic: unable to speak with limb catalepsy. (3) Somnambulism: a deep state induced by rubbing the patient’s head.
Viewed superficially, these ideas seem a bit off-the-wall, but the three terms applied to hypnotism (lethargy, catalepsy, and somnambulism) remain an integral part of the hypnotist’s lexicon. This, alone, places Charcot as a major figure within the field of hypnotism.
During Charcot’s time, partly because of the development of chemical anesthetics, the interest in hypnotism waned rapidly. Still, the Charcot name commanded authority and respect, and his writing and hospital presentations did much to advance the science of hypnotism.
The School of Nancy – A.A. Liebeault (1823-1904) & H. Bernheim (1840-1919)
Dr. Liebault was born in France and practiced medicine in Nancy, France. He was, by all accounts, the quintessential country doctor.
He believed that hypnotism was brought about by suggestion and other psychological factors.
He induced hypnosis by placing his hand on the subject’s forehead, insisting they were going to sleep. He then made hand passes over their eyelids and assured the subject they were, in fact, sleeping. The subject was then given arm locking tests, arm rotation tests, and finally, suggestions for a cure of the presenting malady. As you can see, this is recognizable as modern hypnosis.
Liebeault conducted many hypnosis sessions every day. One reason is that traditional treatment required a standard fee whereas hypnosis treatment was offered free. Liebeault offered the first fully subjective theory of hypnotism.
Dr. Bernheim was a prestigious physician who visited Liebeault initially to discredit him. He was so impressed with what he saw that he stayed for many years and together they established the School of Nancy. We owe Dr. Liebeault and Dr. Bernheim credit for their theories of hypnosis that are accepted today.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Sigmund Freud was born in Freidberg, Austria, and practiced neurology and psychology in Vienna, Switzerland. Freud studied with the contemporary physicians at the School of Nancy and the School of Selpetriere.
Freud never had a strong theory of hypnosis, but rather thought of his ideas as a tool for psychotherapy. His method of trance induction was an oral method – with no physical contact whatsoever. The states he produced were the same as those produced today. Freud used hypnosis as an instrument to remove symptoms of neurosis and uncover blocked recall. His use of hypnotism evolved from the discoveries made by his mentor, Dr. Josef Breuer. Freud had a somewhat stiff personality and lacked Dr. Breuer’s skill as a hypnotist. When he achieved a deep level and was able to question a patient, he was disturbed by the symbolism that distorted reality.
He found he could make more sense from a free association approach. He was also uncomfortable with the intense rapport he received from some of his female patients. Critics of Freud tend to forget that his early practice took place during the straight-laced Victorian era.
Freud reversed the positive effects of Charcot by rejecting hypnotism as a useful medical procedure for his practice. It’s interesting to note, however, that he believed hypnotism had a definite place in the psychoanalytic method and expected to reincorporate it later on as the approach developed, and therapists were better equipped to interpret the dream-like symbolism.
John G. Kappas, PhD (1925-2002
Author of Professional Hypnotism Manual – A Practical Approach for Modern Times. Dr. Kappas introduced the Physical and Emotional Suggestibility and Sexuality Theory to the hypnosis world.
Before his death, Kappas was
• Founder and director of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute
• Founder and first president of the Hypnotist’s Union
• Founder and former president of the American Hypnosis Association
• Founding member of the Marital and Family Therapists union
• Former vice president of the Hypnotists Examining Council, and
• Member of both the American and Canadian Psychological Associations.
In addition, he wrote extensively on the subject of Hypnotherapy and is recognized worldwide as an authority within the field.
• Fellow of the National Council for Hypnotherapy
• Fellow of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health
• Member of the National Council of Psychotherapists
• Emeritus Fellow of the Counselling and Psychotherapy Society
• Emeritus Fellow of the Hypnotherapy Society
• Fellow of the Hypnotherapy Research Society
The following is a direct quote from Terence Watts’ biography:
“I work in an eclectic style, though at all times in a totally client-centered manner. My original training was in Harley Street, London, UK, and centered predominantly around direct and indirect suggestion methods. That original course fired my enthusiasm in a way that nothing else ever had and I became eager to extend my knowledge.
After another training course and countless workshops and seminars, I began to favour an investigative method of working, preferring to work with the doctrine of cause and effect, rather than symptomatic-based therapies. I still use an analytical model as a primary methodology, combined with Parts work, Guided Imagery and Visualization and many other ‘bits and pieces’.
I see fewer clients than I used to; my teaching and writing commitments see to that but I do still like to work ‘at the sharp end’ as often as I can – it’s the best way to develop or sustain your skills that I know of.
Although I’ve started several new projects of late, I don’t actually have much to do with the running of them, preferring to concentrate on therapy and teaching.”
Terence Watts has had two books published and a third is in the preparatory stages. Dec 06 websites www.hypnosense.com and www.terencewatts.com
Milton H. Erickson (1902-1980)
Milton Erickson (1902-80) is a doyen in hypnotherapy and psychiatry. His work was based out of Phoenix, Arizona, USA. His early life was fraught with a spate of tragedies, which he overcame with extraordinary audacity. Milton Erickson shot up to fame through his amazing ‘miracle cures’. Dr. Erickson likes to describe therapy as a way of helping patients extend their limits.
Since his death he has become a legend, an unorthodox psychiatrist, congenial family doctor, ingenious strategic psychotherapist and master hypnotherapist. The following is often used to describe Milton Erickson: “He could cast a fabulous spell on Western psychotherapy. Even since his entry into the scene, the subject of hypnosis has been pruned of superstition and is now widely recognized as one of the most powerful tools for change.”
Erickson is most famous for his skills with creative metaphors and stories that helped people to make personal changes just by listening. He gained even more fame through his legendary ‘Ericksonian handshake.’ By using this method, he would send someone into deep trance. Working along a basic human principle, it taps into the natural human ‘reorientation response’, triggered by shock or surprise. This occurs when the handshake, a familiar social pattern, is interrupted. Brief therapy, solution focused therapy, systemic family therapy, child psychology and even sports performance training have all benefited from Milton Erickson’s work and ideas.
Dave Elman (1900-1967)
Author of Hypnotherapy, Dave Elman was born May 6, 1900 in Park River, North Dakota and died on December 5, 1967. His interest in hypnosis was stimulated at an early age by his father who was an accomplished hypnotist.
When Elman was 8 years old he began to realize the vast possibilities hypnosis had in the relief of pain. This occurred when his father was dying of cancer and a family friend relieved the intractable pain quite rapidly with hypnosis. This friend was a well-known hypnotist with an enviable fame for performing outstanding feats. Young Elman never forgot how his dad was afforded relief not available from traditional medical procedures. Elman went on to create newer, faster, and better ways to induce the hypnotic state, and moved forward to teach dentists and doctors to do Hypnosis.
Charles Tebbetts (1905-1992)
Charles Tebbetts is sometimes known as the Maverick Hypnotist. He is famous for his profound work with Parts Therapy. Charlie (as his friends called him) became a leader among hypnotherapy instructors. During the latter years of his life, he trained thousands of students in the art of hypnosis. Dr. John Hughes of the National Guild of Hypnotists respectfully referred to Charles as one of the Grand Masters among hypnotherapy instructors.
NOTE: Roy Hunter is a current 21st century teacher of Tebbett’s methodology.