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Hypnotherapy and history of its uses in mental health therapy.

Updated on August 7, 2016
Hypnos God of sleep
Hypnos God of sleep | Source

Hypnosis history

Hypnosis is a name taken from the Ancient Greek God of sleep, Hypnos. This does not mean that hypnosis is a form of sleep. Many would describe being in the state of hypnosis as being in a deep sleepy relaxed state while at the same time being mentally hyper alert. Hypnosis is an altered state of mind but it is not sleep. Modern studies measure the subjects brain patterns and show without a doubt that a person who is hypnotised is neither asleep nor awake but somewhere in between. Their state of consciousness has been altered.

Hypnosis is a complex phenomenon as it is the coming together of a number of psychological processes. Some of these processes include those of selective attention that is where the subject concentrates on a limited amount of stimuli. Relaxation is also important as the subject needs to be mentally and physically relaxed. The hypnotist creates an environment in which the subject expects to think, feel or respond in a certain way. The hypnotist, by working on these expectations can make suggestions that are readily accepted. One problem is if the hypnotist is untrained and has no psychological or psychiatric training they can in some instances cause serious harm to their subjects. It is also important for there to be a certain amount of trust a rapport between the subject and the hypnotist if any success is to be achieved.

To understand how hypnosis is achieved and how it works it is important to understand how the mind functions. We understand that the mind has two parts, the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious part of the mind is the part we are aware of and the subconscious mind is outside our awareness. The conscious part of the mind has the ability to reason and make decisions but is unable to act out these decisions without the permission of the subconscious. However, the subconscious has no ability to reason; it just accepts what the conscious mind believes to be true.

The subconscious part of the mind contains feelings, conflicts, suppressed memories and so on which are repressed from conscious awareness. The aim of hypnosis is to communicate directly to the unconscious mind, thereby gaining access to the repressed memories and conflicts in order for the subject to be able to deal with them. One problem with this is that some people become very suggestible under hypnosis and as a consequence some previously forgotten memories are brought to light as well as many manufactured memories.


In order to reprogram the subconscious mind to change negative thinking or emotions it is important to bypass the critical conscious mind. The conscious mind needs to be restrained to allow positive suggestions to go directly to the unconscious mind. The state of consciousness needs to be altered. This altered state of consciousness is brought about by the hypnotist talking to the subject in a calm, controlled, and persuasive way. At the same time the subject needs to be concentrating on something else. This can be a candle light, a swinging watch or simply a mark on the wall in front of them. The reason for this is to get the eyes to become tired; this will cause the subject to involuntarily close their eyes. All the time the hypnotist carries on talking in a slow monotonous voice encouraging subject to relax deeper and deeper. The subject is asked to count silently to themselves backward from five hundred and if they lose count they just pick up counting from any number. This procedure is to occupy the conscious mind which will allow easier access to the unconscious mind and so make it easier to direct positive suggestions to the unconscious mind. Repeating positive suggestions will eventually be accepted by the unconscious mind in the same way that being told repeatedly at an early age that one was useless was believed.

Hippocrates | Source

Ancient Greeks and hypnosis

History tells us that the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Egyptians used hypnosis in what were known as healing temples. Those with emotional problems would go and stay in the temples for about a month in a trance state until they felt better. The Ancient Greeks and Egyptians understood that the mind and body, when working in unison can heal itself.

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, claimed that all feelings and emotions started in the brain and that these emotions and feelings were the cause of disease in the body. His reasoning was that if you could influence the brain then you could influence the body. He developed a form of treatment which consisted of his patients being cared for in a calm and serene environment where they could relax and have plenty of rest. Indian mystics or yogis and tribal shamans of Africa are others whose lives have been influenced by the use of hypnosis. Much evidence of the early practice of hypnosis has been found in the form of paintings, documents and engravings all over the globe. It is thought that hypnosis fell out of favour throughout Europe for many centuries before eventually resurfacing in Europe in the 18th Century when people were becoming disenchanted with orthodox medicine and many doctors started their search to find a universal cure for all illness.

Frank Anton Mesmer
Frank Anton Mesmer | Source

Historical use of hypnotherapy

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) an Austrian scientist was one of the first to take a serious approach to the use of hypnosis. He believed that the planets had some influence of the human body through an invisible fluid. Mesmer believed that this fluid could be derived from magnets and that he could heal the sick by magnetic power emanating from his own hands. In this way he developed his theory of magnetism now known as mesmerism. Mesmer did achieve some dramatic results with his techniques; however, a series of dangerously incorrect diagnosis led him to be widely discredited.

The 18th Century Scottish doctor, James Braid, was the first to coin the word hypnosis after rejecting the theory of Mesmer. Doctor Braid, a skeptic at first, conducted many experiments on subjects under hypnosis and demonstrated much success with nervous conditions which were thought to be incurable. Braid also discovered that patients or clients under the influence of hypnosis could not be forced to do something that they did not want to do and that they were not under the control of the hypnotherapist. He concluded that hypnosis can only be achieved with the cooperation of the client.

Sigmund Freud who studied under Jean Charcot a neurologist and professor of diseases of the nervous system became interested in the use of hypnosis after witnessing clients being cured of hysteria through recollecting, while under hypnosis, the root cause of their hysteria. Up to this point Freud had been using electrotherapy for the treatment of nervous disorders but felt that this form of therapy was inadequate.

Freud began using hypnotherapy as a form of treatment while working with a Viennese physician Josef Breuer in 1885. Breur used hypnosis for the treatment of mental and physical conditions. Together they published a book, ‘Studies on Hysteria in 1895. Although this partnership was successful it ended when Freud, according to Nye (1999),Three psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner and Rogers, "Became more convinced that emotional disturbances had as there root some problem that was sexual in nature” (pg 7). Later hypnosis was replaced with psychoanalysis or psychotherapy which took a lot longer to get to the root of the problem.

Modern use of hypnotherapy

In modern times the use of hypnotherapy within the medical profession as had success in the areas of pain control and in the treatment of phobias and anxiety problems. Personal inadequacy is another area in which hypnosis is having positive results. Those whose lives have been blighted with repeated traumatic events that provoke anxiety can result in a negative attitude of themselves and their whole life can seem bleak. With hypnotherapy and the repeated suggestions to the hypnotised that they have more confidence can be of help in strengthening the ego. Suggestions of a more positive quality have to be repeated over and over until the subconscious has been recondition or reprogrammed.

The three most publicised medical use of hypnosis seem to be anaesthesia for surgery and dentistry, the control of pain in childbirth and for stopping smoking. Some dentist use hypnotherapy as a means of calming phobic patients and to induce a pain free state in which to operate but this can be time consuming as is hypnotherapy as a means of pain relief during childbirth, it can be very time consuming and it is not always possible to have a personal hypnotherapist available for a birth which can take hours.

As a recipient of hypnotherapy for the treatment of a phobia and low self esteem due to early negative conditioning by abusive parents, I strongly feel that many benefits could be derived from the use of hypnosis for some phobic disorders and mild neurosis. This form of therapy on the whole seems to be quick and effective and could certainly cut out months or years of psychotherapy. At the same time I am aware of the dangers of misdiagnosis and one should be extremely careful to ensure that there is no underlying disorders like chemical imbalances before embarking on this form of therapy.


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    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 19 months ago from UK

      Thank you Virginia for dropping by and reading my hub. Much appreciated.

    • Virginia Matteo profile image

      Virginia Matteo 19 months ago

      Thank you for this insightful hub. I had no idea that already the ancient Greeks used hypnosis for therapeutic effects.