The history of the profession of hypno-psychotherapy in terms of what information is useful for your practice.



  In order to discuss and analyze the history of the profession of hypno-psychotherapy and how it informs practice it is essential to understand how hypno-psychotherapy developed. Hypno-psychotherapy utilizes hypnosis as a tool under which the subject receives a psychotherapeutic treatment. Hypnosis in its oldest form was first documented during the Ancient Greek and Egyptian era, and has been described since in many different forms. 

  Franz Anton Mesmer is considered to be the father of modern hypnosis (1734-1815). Mesmer was the first to combine hypnosis and a type of suggestive treatment related to an illness. He believed in the concept of animal magnetism, which he described as a universal fluid. He intuitively used magnets as tools to recreate a balance in the body fluids. After a period of time he realized that the magnets were not the essential aspect of the treatment process. He kept and developed further the use of hypnosis and suggestive techniques that often led to patients recovery. This therapeutic approach which by then was named Mesmerism started to have success with many positive outcomes. Thus, a Royal Commission in France (1784) was asked to judge the reliability of Mesmer's work and whether any kind of empirical evidence could be attributed to his theory of animal magnetism. The Commission came to the conclusion that this therapeutic treatment was not based on any scientific evidence, and it therefore repudiated the existence of animal fluids. Although the commission judged Mesmer's methods harshly, a few major figures of the British medical community adopted hypnosis and Mesmerism with positive outcomes. Indeed, across the 19th century hypnosis was used amongst the medical profession as an anesthetic for surgical procedures. James Elliotson (1791-1868), James Braid (1795-1860) and James Esdaile (1808-1859) were three pioneers of medical hypnosis, yet had to deal with dramatic professional exclusions because of their positive and avant-garde perception of hypnosis (Course notes, stage 1, NCHP). One of the main concepts that Mesmer contributed to current hypno-psychotherapy practice was the distinction between organic and functional conditions. It is essential in practice to tease these two often intertwined issues apart in order to work with the functional problems within the patient. 

  During that period of time in France, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was doing research on physiological alterations that are related to neurological illnesses. He found some evidence that patients with hysteria do not suffer from an organic paralysis or other types of invalidity but one that is functional, therefore it is a psychosomatic symptom. Charcot's use of hypnosis was purely experimental in order to back up his claims, he didn't use it as a therapeutic process. Charcot's demonstrations with patients suffering with hysteria were so inspiring and revolutionary that people came from around Europe to assist them, as was the case with Sigmund Freud. Indeed, Freud started to work as a collaborator of Josef Breuer in the beginning of his career on the famous hysteria case study of Anna O. He had many patients suffering from hysteria, causing major physical impairments such as loss of sight and paralysis. The critical characteristics of hysteria led him to explore hypnosis in order to access what he called the unconscious mind. Breuer and Freud have used hypnosis as a major element of their therapeutic work. Unfortunately, when Freud started his individual practice, he developed other means to explore the unconscious mind such as dream interpretation and free association. These new methods having been introduced by the father of psychoanalysis influenced most theorists such as Jung and others to follow this path, submerging hypnosis in the anonymity again.

  It is Milton Erickson (1901-1980) that revolutionized and renewed hypnosis in it's modern form and merged it to psychotherapy. Unlike Freud who perceived the unconscious as the holder of repressed traumas and unpleasant memories, Erickson believed that the unconscious mind was not only a distinct entity but was an active solution generating body. Because Erickson saw the unconscious as an independent structure that functioned with its own awareness, he developed a form of communication that aimed directly to propose beneficial suggestions to it. He worked mainly with hypnosis along side with any kind of element that the patient would offer as long as it would echo in their unconscious. Erickson's conceptualist ion of the unconscious was a great contribution to psychotherapy. Indeed, he thought that the unconscious was permanently in awareness and listening, therefore patients didn't necessarily need to achieve hypnotic trance to take in the therapeutic suggestions. This therapeutic process shortened the period of time of the therapy, which became one of the greatest assets of hypno-psychotherapy. One of the most uncommon characteristics of Erickon was that he claimed that it wasn't inappropriate for the therapist to put himself/herself in trance during a session. He said "I go into trances so that I will be more sensitive to the intonations and inflections of my patients' speech. And to enable me to hear better, see better" (Erickson, 1982: 66). Erickson redirect hypnosis and made it more accessible in terms of therapy, which contributed to placing hypnosis work in higher esteem. 

  In conclusion, it is clear when looking back on the extensive history of hypnosis and hypno-psychothrapy that at each stages of development there are important elements that contributese to the current practice. It is only by looking back at this history that we can truly value the privileged position that hypno-psychotherapist are currently in.




-Atkinson & Hilgard's, 2009, Introduction to psychology, Hayward, Ca, USA


- Course notes stage 1, 2014, History, national college of hypnosis and psychotherapy London


-Haley, 2007, Un thérapeute hors du commun: Milton H. Erickson, WW Norton & Company: New York


-Hamill, 2012, An introduction to hypnosis & hypnotherapy.hypnotic outcomes Ltd UK


-Rosen, 1991, My voice will go with you: the teaching tales of Milton H. Erickson,WW Norton & Company: New York