Who Invented Hypnosis and What’s the History of Hypnotherapy?

by Erika Slater

hypnotherapy word cloud

In this article you’ll discover:

  1. The roots of hypnosis and the history of hypnotherapy from obscurity to acceptance as a healing therapy.
  2. All about modern day hypnosis and its advancement with Dave Elman, Milton Erickson, and David Spiegel, MD.
  3. Why hypnosis isn’t really a therapy in itself and its ability to prepare for change work using the unconscious mind.
  4. Further reading and resources for help in history and understanding of hypnotherapy.

If you’ve ever wondered about using hypnosis to stop smoking or help on weight loss or something else you may be struggling to overcome then its no surprise you’ll want to know about who “invented hypnosis” and what’s its background and history.

Where did hypnosis come from in the first place and who discovered it?

Is hypnosis normal, as in a naturally occurring phenomenon? How has it been used in the past and who used it for what?

These questions on the roots and development of hypnosis bring up some interesting questions, and where it began and how it’s viewed today by consumers and medical professionals alike.

The fact is no one person really “invented” hypnosis, but it did evolve out of a fascination and desire to understand the human mind. This desire for understanding dates back hundreds of years when, and just like the medical world at those times, there were strange theories promoted to explain what people experienced and saw.

So, let’s start by tracing the roots of hypnosis, and how we advanced to where we are today with hypnosis accepted, and used daily, as a therapy to help people overcome major challenges and provide support to the medical community.



Franz Mesmer PortraitWhile early writings allude to the ability of the human mind to be suggestible, and its use of relaxation and focused imagination to put some people into a trance-like state, there wasn’t an understanding on what was really happening.

It wasn’t until Franz Mesmer came on the scene in the late eighteen century talking about magnetism and its use as a therapy and cure we see the beginnings of different theories on how this works.

Franz Mesmer was a German physician who lived from 1734 to 1815 in Germany.

Mesmer had a strong interest in astronomy which led him to theorize a natural energetic transference of energy occurred between all animate and inanimate objects which he coined ‘animal magnetism’. Mesmer made a distinction between physical magnetism used to explain what we see in the external physical world, to magnetism within human bodies and those of other animals, that could be influenced with the use of magnets to perform healing.

This magnetism created a focus and attraction which would later be called mesmerism. The roots of hypnosis began to grow with Mesmer’s theory.

From his work came the term “mesmerized” which means to have your attention so focused that an individual appears to be in a trance-like state.

Mesmer’s theories gained many followers in Europe and its practitioners were known as magnetizers. Mesmer’s theories and ideas were met with skepticism, and eventually he retired from the public world and died in obscurity in 1815. As Mesmer is an important figure in the history of hypnosis I’ve included a link in the additional resource section below to more information about his life and work.

We first see the use of the terms hypnosis and hypnotism around 1820 and these were credited to Étienne Félix d’Henin de Cuvillers who was a follower of Franz Mesmer but offered an alternative theory on how magnetism affected our body to help heal it.

There was no real credibility to earlier work on hypnosis and hypnotism until James Braid, a Scottish surgeon took Mesmer’s work further in the early to mid 1800’s and became known as ‘the Father of Modern Hypnotism’.

Braid studied hypnosis and also conducted ‘self-hypnosis’ experiments using himself as the subject. Braid discovered he could use hypnotism in medicine while treating his patients, as well as using ‘induction’ techniques to put them into hypnosis.

Braid adopted the term hypnotism from Étienne Félix d’Henin de Cuvillers work, but used it to describe the state of a subject rather than any techniques used once in hypnosis.

Although a medical doctor, Braid’s assertions were met with much criticism when it came to hypnosis, but his theories and descriptions moved the field of hypnosis forward and paved the way for others to advance his theories.

It was the ‘Father of Psychoanalyses’ psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who used hypnosis in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, thus offering it a greater credibility. Given his reputation as an expert in psychology and working with the mind, Freud used hypnosis to treat psychoses and neuroses in patients, (namely anxiety and hysterias), and also used it to tap into one’s unconscious mind to help them recall memories that created profound negative influences on one’s current quality of living.

Freud had tremendous success using hypnosis and it grew to be seen less as mystical mumbo jumbo, and more as a useful tool. But as Freud’s theories advanced in psychiatry he eventually introduced other techniques. Hypnosis floundered for a number of years and was kept alive mostly by stage hypnotist practitioners.

While it just appears hypnosis floundered in the “therapy” basement for first half of twentieth-century it was in fact still be practiced beyond the entertainment stage, and there were those working behind the scenes to develop its use as a serious therapy alternative.

During this period, and even today, pharmaceuticals took over the medical world and prescription drugs became the preferred method of dealing with many physical and mental symptoms.

For the longest time this relegated alternative therapies such as hypnosis to the “shadows”, and not even considered by the medical community as viable treatments for their patients except in situations where they were stumped or the patient didn’t respond to their help.

Unfortunately, this meant the patients seeking out hypnosis were many times in “last resort mode” and felt abandoned by the medical community, and the most difficult cases for a hypnotist to help.

We’ll move on now to identifying those people who’ve helped move hypnosis into our modern-day world and take it to a point where it’s used in conjunction with other medical treatments and used to help overcome stubborn challenges people have in achieving goals they set for themselves.



Milton Erickson at CollegeThe stimulated interest, and advancement in hypnosis in the last 60 years, grew out of many circumstances of people understanding fixing symptoms doesn’t solve the underlying problem which returns once the medications are stopped, or where drugs don’t help at all in the first place.

Before we move into the tide that changed towards hypnosis its important to explain about the term hypnotherapy.

Hypno-therapy describes the use of hypnosis to perform therapy. This is distinct from hypnosis used for other reasons, be it entertainment or just going into hypnosis without realizing it, such as becoming absorbed in a book or movie when we become so focused on something we enter a trance-like state.

Hypnosis in itself is not a therapy.

A hypnotist uses hypnosis to put a subject into a trance-like state of relaxation and focus in order to then use a mixture of techniques to work with the subject to effect change. The skill of the hypnotherapist then is less about the process of getting somebody into hypnosis, but more on being able direct the subject to use their unconscious mind to make the changes they desire.

Think of a surgical operation and the prep-work prior to performing the surgical procedure. One of the key elements is anesthesia, which involves the choosing of the appropriate and safe anesthesia to administer based on the history of the patient and the procedure to be used. Once the patient is “unconscious” then the surgeon’s specific skills to the procedure they’ll use comes into play to perform the operation to get the expected result for the patient.

Think of hypnosis as basically equivalent to anesthesia to get the patient into the required relaxed yet focused trance-like state, and ready for the hypnotherapist to perform the partnership work with the client on the changes they want to see.

Since Freud there are many people who have advanced the use and acceptance of hypnosis in the modern era. I’ll pick three names that have helped advanced hypnosis’ credibility in my view.

The first is David Elman. Elman is famous for introducing to hypnosis rapid inductions. Inductions are the methods used to get people into the trance-like state. There are many methods and each hypnotist have their favorites they’ll use on a patient. Elman’s method though is used world-wide and the preferred method of many practitioners.

Elman’s path to promote the use of hypnosis, especially to the medical field, is unusual. His background is one of a radio host and songwriter but he began to pursue hypnosis in late 1940’s and begun teaching it to doctors and dentists after he perfected his technique.

In the next 13 years through to early 1960’s Elman performed training through his courses in hypnosis and published audio recordings of sessions he did. In his last years Elman dedicated his work to writing a book on hypnotherapy and this is available today simply titled “Hypnotherapy.” Elman died in 1967.

It was American psychiatrist and psychologist Milton Erickson who brought hypnosis to legendary status with his ‘miracle cures’ and storytelling that appeared to heal patients who had struggled with medical and mental health issues for years.

Erickson introduced hypnosis into his medical practice, as well as his family therapy practice, and the results were exceptional. Patients started preaching of his abilities to ‘heal’ and treat them using hypnosis, and hypnosis grew in acceptance as a credible therapy. He believed a patient’s background, beliefs, habits and own experiences should be used to help them make changes, and this knowledge should be weaved into the stories told back to the patients during sessions.

Here is a section from his biography at a site dedicated to Erickson and his work:

The Ericksonian approach departs from traditional hypnosis in a variety of ways. While the process of hypnosis has customarily been conceptualized as a matter of the therapist issuing standardized instructions to a passive patient, Ericksonian hypnosis stresses the importance of the interactive therapeutic relationship and purposeful engagement of the inner resources and experiential life of the subject. Dr. Erickson revolutionized the practice of hypnotherapy by coalescing numerous original concepts and patterns of communication into the field.”

Today, many of his methods, namely NLP (neurolinguistics Programming) are widely used by hypnotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists around the world. Hypnosis is no longer viewed as fiction, myth or mysticism, rather a method to treat the human mind to help heal.

For more about Erickson and his life and work I’ve added a link to a biography in the resource section below.

As the medical community accepted hypnosis as a therapy to assist with healing of their patients then powerful voices begun to adopt and experiment with advancing our understanding of hypnosis. One of these is David Spiegel, MD, who is a professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Spiegel has conducted published studies about hypnosis and used it himself to recover from shoulder surgery, and in advocating its use in pain management to reduce dependency on prescription drugs with major side-effects.

Spiegel, and many others like him in the medical world, have reached beyond questioning hypnosis and if it is real, and rather asking more advancing questions on how it works with the unconscious mind to help with healing our physical bodies and mental health. I wrote about this in an earlier article “Here’s What Hypnosis Does to the Brain – What Happens to Your Brain on Hypnosis Revealed”, and there is a link to it below in the resource section.

This is the place we are at today with hypnosis being a natural therapy without negative side effects but being able to deliver healing and positive changes in the hands of a skilled hypnotist. If you’d like to work directly with me then check out all my online and in-office Hypnosis Services here or contact me here.



The effect of hypnosis has been documented for hundreds of years but it’s only in the last two hundred years the terms hypnosis and hypnotism were coined and were used widespread. For most of these years hypnosis was rejected by the medical community and considered unproven.

As the discipline of psychiatry was accepted as a medical discipline, the techniques of psychiatry and those who practiced it began to include hypnosis and hypnotism. It took more years before an understanding of what happens in hypnosis to effect healing and change became accepted, and the medical world begun to take notice of hypnotherapy as a credible therapy.

In this century two powerful figures advanced hypnotherapy and its use, particularly around the medical community. These were David Elman and Milton Erickson. Today thanks to their work and published findings, and many others who have focused on hypnosis as a way to help people overcome challenges, hypnosis lives and breathes each day in helping people overcome personal challenges and live a better life.

If you’d like to discover more about hypnosis then check out this Free 5-Day hypnosis course here >>>



Franz Mesmer – Wikipedia >>>

Here’s What Hypnosis Does to the Brain – What Happens to Your Brain on Hypnosis Revealed – Erika Slater >>>

Why is it So Darn Hard to Quit Smoking and Ways to Make it Easier >>>

Milton H. Erickson – Biography >>>

Library of Self-Hypnosis Downloads Products >>>

Erika Slater CH
Free At Last Hypnosis

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Interested in making a significant change in your life and interested in learning more about what I do and how I do it? Discover my hypnotherapy services here or contact me here.

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