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The History of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy in London

There are early mentions of things similar to hypnosis in many ancient societies including Egypt, Greece and Persia. In fact, ‘Hypnos’ refers to the Greek god of sleep (although hypnosis is actually very different to sleep). Many early cultures used hypnosis in their religious and health practices. However, at the time it may have been seen more as magic than science.


Mesmerising – Hypnosis or Magic

Hypnotherapy in London and other Western cultures evolved out of a reaction to the early work of magnetists and mesmerists. Much of their practice spoke of hidden powers and something they called ‘animal magnetism’



. Austrian physician Franz Mesmer (1734 – 1815) was very much the Derren Brown of his day. Using the ‘mesmeric pass’ he would put people into a trance with the power of suggestion and showmanship. He used magnets and filings to ‘cure’ people but in reality people were probably curing themselves through the power of their mind. He facilitated this through relaxation, imagination and suggestion.

John Elliotson (1791-1868) was a professor at London University who brought the Stethoscope to England. He supported the use of mesmerism in his practice and gave demonstrations in his home.

James Braid – Hypnotherapy Treatment

The main force behind hypnotherapy treatment in London was James Braid. The term hypnosis was first used in 1880s France but the term hypnotism was previously adopted by the Scot in 1841. He described it as a state of mental concentration that led to progressive relaxation. He realised that the ‘mesmeric pass’ was unnecessary and that fixating on a single point was effective in inducing trance. At the time a swinging watch was often used. and this has become a symbol for hypnosis and hypnotherapy to this day.

James Braid had a number of ideas about hypnosis that are still around today. He believed that hypnotherapy was an extremely powerful treatment for a wide variety of ailments. Because of its life changing potential, he advised it should be used only by professionals. He was also a supporter of hypnosis being used as a complimentary treatment alongside drugs where needed. He described hypnosis as safe, positive and extremely effective in relieving pain and discomfort.

James Esdaile – Hypnosis for Surgery

A surgeon named James Esdaile returned to London from India and reported to the medical establishment that he had performed hundreds of surgeries using hypnotism as the only pain relief. Despite its proven success, the medical establishment pushed back preferring the chemical anaesthetics that they could more easily control and charge for. This made hypnotherapy an alternative form of medicine.

Meanwhile in France…

Hypnotherapy breakthroughs were made in France by Ambrose Liébeault (1823 – 1904), J.M. Charcot (1825 – 93) and Charles Richet (1850 – 1935) and Emile Coué (1857 – 1926). They began to introduce the concepts of positive affirmations, They understood very well the role of the patient in hypnosis treatment and realised that the person had to take an active role in their healing. They knew the power of the imagination and subconscious mind. This also foreshadowed some of the current research into the power of the placebo effect.

Hypnotism Was Popularized By Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) was interested in hypnotherapy. He focused on working through repressed memories and trauma. At first however, Freud rejected hypnotherapy in favour of psychoanalysis and this delayed the progress of hypnosis treatments significantly.

Milton H. Erickson, MD (1901-80) was a more recent figure in hypnotherapy treatment. He was known for indirect hypnosis and his unique relaxed approach.

Today, hypnosis is commonly used to treat social phobia, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It is also used to treat insomnia, pain management, smoking cessation, weight loss, and other issues. Most psychotherapists today believe that an understanding of hypnosis is essential to their practice.

Modern hypnosis is a state of mind where a person is deeply relaxed and focused on what he/she wants to achieve. This allows him/her to focus on the problem at hand without being distracted by external stimuli. During hypnosis, the person will often feel very comfortable and safe. He/She will be able to move and speak during the session.

Modern Day Hypnotherapy

Now hypnotherapy is a widely used and respected form of treatment for a huge range of issues. It’s place among the medical sciences is well and truly cemented. The presence of hypnotherapy clinics in central London areas respected for their medical practices demonstrates this. Harley street is one example of this.

People are understanding more and more about the power of the mind to influence the body and our behaviour. As such, hypnotherapy is seeing a resurgence in popularity, especially as life becomes ever more uncertain and difficult.

Many people still view the results that hypnotherapy can achieve with scepticism because the exact process is still a little mysterious. The human mind, even now, is still not fully understood. Hypnotherapy however, has proven results.

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