Hypnosis has been used in various types of healing and therapy for much longer than one might imagine, hypnotic procedures used by Egyptian soothsayers are described in the Ebers Papyrus which is over 3000 years old, and the Hindu Fakirs, Persian Magi, Indian Yogi and the Greek Oracles all used similar methods under different names.
The modern era of hypnosis might be considered to have begun in the late 18th Century with the work of Franz Mesmer (from whom the term Mesmerism comes) and his theories about how magnetism affects the mind and body – hence ‘animal magnetism’. Mesmer thought that the therapeutic effects that people experienced were the result of magnetism rather than the effect of sugestion and his practice involved having patients sit in a large tub of warm salt water whilst he, clad in a dramatic purple robe, waved magnetised rods over them. The startling cures for toothache, temporary blindness and depression that he brought about by this method sparked understandable scepticism and hostility from the medical community but also triggered a process of serious scientific investigation that continues today.
The clinical hypnosis that people experience today bears no resemblence to Mesmer’s frankly bizarre practices, and people generally understand that hypnosis is not something that is ‘done to you’, rather it is a calm and relaxed state of mind that you allow yourself to enter into.
Modern hypnosis is a sophisticated process that, whilst not being a treatment on its own, is a very effective aid to delivering other forms of psychotherapy. Sigmund Freud, who helped to bring about the new profession of ‘psychotherapy’, started off using hypnosis to help him analyse his patients. Most other schools of therapy have at one stage or another incorporated some form of suggestion into their ways of bringing about change, and hypnotic techniques such as imaginary rehearsal and relaxation are standard features in the work of cognitive-behavioural therapists.
A great deal of mental processing goes on in our subconscious mind without us being aware of it. Unfortunately this mental activity can sometimes be negative and focused around irrational and unhelpful ideas. Hypnosis helps us to make that mental processing more effective, more rational, and more helpful.
If you are interested in the history of hypnosis here’s a link to a brief historical overview (part of a larger text about hypnosis and False Memory Syndrome) Key events in the evolution of hypnosis
And here’s a link to a scholarly website about various aspects of hypnosis. About hypnosis