Hypnosis - Chapter 1

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

History of Hypnosis[edit]

There is no doubt that hypnotism is a very old subject, though the term hypnosis only gained widespread use in the 1880s, initially amongst those influenced by the developments in France. Its history, that can be traced to several seemingly connected but distinct phenomena we now label today as hypnosis, reaches beyond the limits of memory, tradition, or recorded history. Although often viewed as one continuous narrative around a single practice or methodology that is not the case.


Ramakrishna in samadhi (meditative trance) supported by his nephew Hriday and surrounded by Brahmo devotees. Calcutta 1879.

Trance states are as old as the mind. Man and many animals are capable of entering a trance state. Indeed it is quite possible that early Homo-erectus was able to reach this mind state. There is increasing evidence that art, imagination, the concept of the divine and the origins of the human mind's ability to express and interpret images, have their origins in early trance-like states. This is where the roots of hypnosis are.

The term trance may be associated with meditation, magic, flow, and prayer. It is also related to the earlier generic term, altered states of consciousness, which is no longer used in "consciousness studies" discourse.


Trance is from Latin transīre: "to cross", "pass over" and the multiple meanings of the polyvalent homonym "entrance" as a verb and noun provide insight into the nature of trance as a threshold, conduit, portal and/or channel.

Trance, n. F. transe "fright", in OF. also, "trance" or "swoon", fr. transir "to chill", "benumb", "to be chilled", "to shiver", OF. also, "to die", L. transire "to pass over", "go over", "pass away", "cease"; trans ("across, over") + ire ("to go"); cf. L. transitus "a passing over". See Issue, and cf. Transit.

An intransitive usage of the verb trance is "to pass", "to travel". This definition is now obsolete.

Oral lore and storytelling

Stories of the saints, myths, parables, fairy tales, oral lore and storytelling from different cultures are themselves potentially inducers of trance. Often literary devices such as repetition are employed which is present in many forms of trance induction. Milton Erickson used stories to induce trance as do many NLP practitioners.


From at least the 16th century it was held that march music may induce trance states in soldiers marching in unison. According to apologists they bond together as a unit engendered by the rigours of training, the ties of comradeship and the chain of command. Conversely, the detractor may hold that they are trained as automatons. This effect was widely evident in the 16th, 17th and 18th century due to the increasing prevalence of firearms employed in warcraft. Military instruments, especially the snare drum and other drums were used to produce a monotonous ostinato at the marching pace and heartbeat. High-pitched fifes, flutes and bagpipes were used for their "piercing" effect to play the melody. This was intended to bolster the morale and solidarity of soldiers as they marched to battle.

The Norse Berserkers induced a trance-like state before battle, called Berserkergang. It is said to have given the warriors superhuman strength and made them impervious to pain during battle. This form of trance could have been induced partly due to ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms. The ingestion of mind altering substance is extremely old, but even today some medicines are referred to as hypnotics.


Trance and cognate experience are often central to the experiences of mystics, which generally involve direct connection, communication and communion with a Deity, Godhead, and/or god (see Yoga, Sufism, Shaman, Umbanda, Crazy Horse, etc.)

Sleep temples[edit]

Trance states as a tool for health seems to have originated with the Hindus of ancient India who often took their sick to sleep temples to be cured by suggestion as also found to be the case in ancient Egypt and Greece.

The book the Law of Manu, which was the ancient Sanskrit Science of the Indian people, categorized different states of hypnosis discerning different levels of gradation: the "Sleep-Waking" state, the "Dream-Sleep" state, and the "Ecstasy-Sleep" state.

Sleep temples (also known as healing temples, dream temples or Egyptian sleep temples) are regarded by some as an early instance of what we now define as hypnosis over 4000 years ago. These temples were hospitals of sorts, healing a variety of ailments, perhaps many of them psychological in nature. The treatment involved chanting, placing the patient into a trance-like state, and analyzing their dreams in order to determine treatment. Meditation, fasting, baths and sacrifices to the patron deity or other spirits were often involved as well.

In ancient Egypt, under the influence of Imhotep. Imhotep served as Chancellor, and High Priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. He was said to be a son of Ptah, his mother being a mortal named Khredu-ankh.

View from the healing temple on Kos

According to Hoffman (1998: p.10), in Greece, pilgrims visited the Temple of Epidaurus (built in honor of Asclepios, the Greek God of Medicine) an asclepieion, for healing sleep. Seekers of healing would make pilgrimage and be received by a priest who would welcome and bless them. This temple housed an ancient religious ritual promoting dreams in the seeker that endeavored to promote healing and the solutions to problems, as did the oracles. The Greek treatment was referred to as incubation, and focused on prayers to Asclepios for healing. The asclepion at Epidaurus is both extensive and well-preserved, and is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Asclepius.

A similar Hebrew treatment was referred to as Kavanah, and involved focusing on letters of the Hebrew alphabet spelling the name of the Hebrew God.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler unearthed a Roman Sleep temple at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire in 1928, with the assistance of a young J.R.R. Tolkien. Of remark is the discovery of a fish-covered mosaic with an inscription that referred to 'Victorinus the Interpreter', thought to be a depiction of an interpreter of dreams.

Magnanimous structures surrounded by a strong sense of faith and reverence are, even today, capable of having similar effects in visitors. That is the power of suggestion.


An old drawing of Avicenna from 1271

Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037), a Persian psychologist and physician, was the earliest to make a distinction between sleep and trance. In The Book of Healing, which he published in 1027, he referred to trance in Arabic as al-Wahm al-Amil, stating that one could create conditions in another person so that he/she accepts the reality of hypnosis.

Avicenna was among other subjects a pioneer of neuropsychiatry. He first described numerous neuropsychiatric conditions, including hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.

Avicenna was also a pioneer in psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized 'physiological psychology' in the treatment of illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as an anticipation of the word association test attributed to Carl Jung. Avicenna is reported to have treated a very ill patient by "feeling the patient's pulse and reciting aloud to him the names of provinces, districts, towns, streets, and people." He noticed how the patient's pulse increased when certain names were mentioned, from which Avicenna deduced that the patient was in love with a girl whose home Avicenna was "able to locate by the digital examination." Avicenna advised the patient to marry the girl he is in love with, and the patient soon recovered from his illness after his marriage.

In The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna dealt with neuropsychiatry and described a number of neuropsychiatric conditions, including melancholia. He described melancholia as a depressive type of mood disorder in which the person may become suspicious and develop certain types of phobias.

Franz Anton Mesmer[edit]

Franz Anton Mesmer.

Franz Anton Mesmer (May 23, 1734 – March 5, 1815), was a German physician with an interest in Astronomy.

Student of Maximilian Hell

Maximilian Hell (May 15, 1720 – April 14, 1792) was a Hungarian astronomer and an ordained Jesuit priest from the Kingdom of Hungary. Hell became the director of the Vienna Observatory in 1756. He published the astronomical tables Ephemerides astronomicae ad meridianum Vindobonemsem ("Ephemerides for the Meridian of Vienna").

Besides astronomy, Hell also had an interest in magnet therapy (the alleged healing power of magnets), this idea was not revolutionary. Paracelsus (1493-1541), a Swiss, was the first physician to use magnets in his work. Many people claimed to have been healed after he had passed magnets (lodestones) over their bodies. There was also an Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) that was known as "the Great Irish Stroker" for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies. It is known that in 1771, in Vienna, Hell was using magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. It is also not unexpected due to the mutual interest in Astronomy that a young medical doctor from Vienna Franz Anton Mesmer to became one of Father Hell's students, although it was Mesmer who went further with this concept and received most of the credit by theorizing that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called magnétisme animal

Humorist design.

Animal magnetism was a term coined in the Western world, today, refers to a person's sexual attractiveness or raw charisma. But the term originally uniquely signified an entirely different referent: a supposed magnetic fluid or ethereal medium that resided in the bodies of animate beings (i.e., those who breathe). The use of the (conventional) English term "animal magnetism" to translate Mesmer's magnétisme animal is extremely misleading for three reasons:

  • Mesmer chose his term to distinguish his variant of "magnetic" force from those referred to, at that time, as "mineral magnetism", "cosmic magnetism" and "planetary magnetism".
  • Mesmer felt that this particular force/power resided only in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • Mesmer chose the word "animal", for its root meaning (from Latin animus = "soul") specifically to identify his force/power as a quality that belonged in all animate beings (humans and animals.), and other spiritual forces often grouped together as mesmerism.

Though various scientific men had spoken of magnetism, and understood that there was a power of a peculiar kind which one man could exercise over another, it was not until Frederick Anton Mesmer that the general public gave any special attention to the subject. Mesmer's name is the root of the English verb "mesmerize". Animal magnetism is therefore the first western theory regarding the hypnotic processes. In the east as we have seen hypnosis was distributed across several practices, but all thought to be a purely mental phenomena often practiced as part of some more complex ritualistic process of self analysis or improvement and mostly sharing religious meaning.


In 1774, Mesmer produced what he defined as an "artificial tide" in a patient by having her swallow a preparation containing iron, and then attaching magnets to various parts of her body. She reported feeling streams of a mysterious fluid running through her body and was relieved of her symptoms for several hours. Mesmer did not believe that the magnets had achieved the cure on their own. He felt that he had contributed animal magnetism, which had accumulated in his work, to her. He soon stopped using magnets as a part of his treatment.

In 1775, Mesmer was invited to give his opinion before the Munich Academy of Sciences on the exorcisms carried out by Johann Joseph Gassner, a priest and healer, and also a Swabian. Mesmer said that while Gassner was sincere in his beliefs, his cures were due to the fact that he possessed a high degree of animal magnetism. This confrontation between Mesmer's secular ideas and Gassner's religious beliefs marked the end of Gassner's career as well as, according to Henri Ellenberger, the emergence of dynamic psychiatry. In that same year, Mesmer sent out a circular letter to various scientific societies, stating his belief that "animal magnetism" existed, and that through it one man could influence another. No attention was given his letter, except by the Academy of Berlin, which sent him an unfavorable reply.

In 1777, the scandal that followed Mesmer's unsuccessful attempt to treat the blindness of an 18-year-old musician, Maria Theresia Paradis, led him to leave Vienna. The following year Mesmer moved to Paris, rented an apartment in a part of the city preferred by the wealthy and powerful, and established a medical practice. Paris soon divided into those who thought he was a charlatan who had been forced to flee from Vienna and those who thought he had made a great discovery.

In his first years in Paris, Mesmer tried and failed to get either the Royal Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society of Medicine to provide official approval for his doctrines. He found only one physician of high professional and social standing, Charles d'Eslon, the Comte d'Artois's physician, and one of the medical professors at the Faculty of Medicine to become a disciple. His success was very great; everybody was anxious to be magnetized, and the lucky Viennese doctor was soon obliged to call in assistants.

In 1779, with d'Eslon's encouragement, Mesmer wrote an 88-page book Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal, to which he appended his famous 27 Propositions. These propositions outlined his theory at that time.

Doctor Cocke, an English physician, gives the following summary of the book, where Mesmer's chief claim was that he had discovered a principle which would cure every disease:

"He sets forth his conclusions in twenty-seven propositions, of which the substance is as follows:
-- There is a reciprocal action and reaction between the planets, the earth and animate nature by means of a constant universal fluid, subject to mechanical laws yet unknown. The animal body is directly affected by the insinuation of this agent into the substance of the nerves. It causes in human bodies properties analogous to those of the magnet, for which reason it is called 'Animal Magnetism'. This magnetism may be communicated to other bodies, may be increased and reflected by mirrors, communicated, propagated, and accumulated, by sound. It may be accumulated, concentrated, and transported. The same rules apply to the opposite virtue. The magnet is susceptible of magnetism and the opposite virtue. The magnet and artificial electricity have, with respect to disease, properties common to a host of other agents presented to us by nature, and if the use of these has been attended by useful results, they are due to animal magnetism. By the aid of magnetism, then, the physician enlightened as to the use of medicine may render its action more perfect, and can provoke and direct salutary crises so as to have them completely under his control."

According to d'Eslon, Mesmer understood health as the free flow of the process of life through thousands of channels in our bodies. Illness was caused by obstacles to this flow. Overcoming these obstacles and restoring flow produced crises, which restored health. When nature failed to do this spontaneously, contact with a conductor of animal magnetism was a necessary and sufficient remedy. Mesmer aimed to aid or provoke the efforts of Nature. To cure an insane person, for example, involved causing a fit of madness. The advantage of magnetism involved accelerating such crises without danger.

Mesmer's Procedure

Mesmer treated patients both individually and in groups. With individuals he would sit in front of his patient with his knees touching the patient's knees, pressing the patient's thumbs in his hands, looking fixedly into the patient's eyes. Mesmer made "passes", moving his hands from patients' shoulders down along their arms. He then pressed his fingers on the patient's hypochondrium region (the area below the diaphragm), sometimes holding his hands there for hours. Many patients felt peculiar sensations or had convulsions that were regarded as crises and supposed to bring about the cure. Mesmer would often conclude his treatments by playing some music on a glass harmonica.

By 1780 Mesmer had more patients than he could treat individually and he established a collective treatment known as the "baquet". Deleuze, the librarian at the Jardin des Plantes, who has been called the Hippocrates of magnetism, has left the following account of Mesmer's experiments:

"In the middle of a large room stood an oak tub, four or five feet in diameter and one foot deep. It was closed by a lid made in two pieces, and encased in another tub or bucket. At the bottom of the tub a number of bottles were laid in convergent rows, so that the neck of each bottle turned towards the centre. Other bottles filled with magnetized water tightly corked up were laid in divergent rows with their necks turned outwards. Several rows were thus piled up, and the apparatus was then pronounced to be at 'high pressure'. The tub was filled with water, to which were sometimes added powdered glass and iron filings. There were also some dry tubs, that is, prepared in the same manner, but without any additional water. The lid was perforated to admit of the passage of movable bent rods, which could be applied to the different parts of the patient's body. A long rope was also fastened to a ring in the lid, and

this the patients placed loosely round their limbs. No disease offensive to the sight was treated, such as sores, or deformities.

A large number of patients were commonly treated at one time. They drew near to each other, touching hands, arms, knees, or feet. The handsomest, youngest, and most robust magnetizers held also an iron rod with which they touched the dilatory or stubborn patients. The rods and ropes had all undergone a 'preparation' and in a very short space of time the patients felt the magnetic influence. The women, being the most easily affected, were almost at once seized with fits of yawning and stretching; their eyes closed, their legs gave way and they seemed to suffocate. In vain did musical glasses and harmonicas resound, the piano and voices re-echo; these supposed aids only seemed to increase the patients' convulsive movements. Sardonic laughter, piteous moans and torrents of tears burst forth on all sides. The bodies were thrown back in spasmodic jerks, the respirations sounded like death rattles, the most terrifying symptoms were exhibited. Then suddenly the actors of this strange scene would frantically or rapturously rush towards each other, either rejoicing and embracing or thrusting away their neighbors with every appearance of horror.

Another room was padded and presented another spectacle. There women beat their heads against wadded walls or rolled on the cushion-covered floor, in fits of suffocation. In the midst of this panting, quivering throng, Mesmer, dressed in a lilac coat, moved about, extending a magic wand toward the least suffering, halting in front of the most violently excited and gazing steadily into their eyes, while he held both their hands in his, bringing the middle fingers in immediate contact to establish communication. At another moment he would, by a motion of open hands and extended fingers, operate with the great current, crossing and uncrossing his arms with wonderful rapidity to make the final passes."

Hysterical women and nervous young boys, many of them from the highest ranks of Society, flocked around this wonderful wizard, and incidentally he made a great deal of money. There is little doubt that he started out as a genuine and sincere student of the scientific character of the new power he had indeed discovered; there is also no doubt that he ultimately became little more than a charlatan. There was, of course, no virtue in his "prepared" rods, nor in his magnetic tubs. At the same time the belief of the people that there was virtue in them was one of the chief means by which he was able to induce hypnotism, as we shall see later. Faith, imagination, and willingness to be hypnotized on the part of the subject are all indispensable to the success of hypnosis.

The Faculty of Medicine investigated Mesmer's claims, but reported unfavorably, and threatened d'Eslon with expulsion from the society unless he gave Mesmer up. Nevertheless the government favored the discoverer, and when the medical fraternity attacked him with such vigor that he felt obliged to leave Paris, the government offered him a pension of 20,000 francs if he would remain. He went away, but later came back at the request of his pupils.

Royal Investigation

In 1784, without Mesmer requesting it, King Louis XVI appointed four members of the Faculty of Medicine, as commissioners to investigate animal magnetism as practiced by d'Eslon. At the request of these commissioners the King appointed five new commissioners from the Royal Academy of Sciences. These included the great French scientist and chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly, and the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. Creating two distinct commissions, one from the Faculty of Medicine the other from the Royal Academy of Sciences, but in practice the working as a single entity.

There is no doubt that Mesmer had returned to Paris for the purpose of making money, and these commissions were promoted in part by persons desirous of driving him out. The commission conducted a series of experiments aimed, not at determining whether Mesmer's treatment worked, but whether he had discovered a new physical fluid. The commission concluded that there was no evidence for such a fluid. Whatever benefit the treatment produced was attributed to "imagination".

"It is interesting, to peruse the reports of these commissions: they read like a debate on some obscure subject of which the future has partly revealed the secret." — contemporanean French writer.

Laurent de Jussieu, one of the appointed commissioners from the Faculty of Medicine, was the only one who believed in anything more than this. He saw a new and important truth, which he set forth in a personal report upon withdrawing from the commission, which showed itself so hostile to Mesmer and his pretensions.

"They sought the fluid, not by the study of the cures affected, which was considered too complicated a task, but in the phases of mesmeric sleep. These were considered indispensable and easily regulated by the experimentalist.

When submitted to close investigation, it was, however, found that they could only be induced when the subjects knew they were being magnetized, and that they differed according as they were conducted in public or in private. In short--whether it be a coincidence or the truth--imagination was considered the sole active agent. Whereupon d'Eslon remarked, 'If imagination is the best cure, why should we not use the imagination as a curative means?' Did he, who had so vaunted the existence of the fluid, mean by this to deny its existence, or was it rather a satirical way of saying. 'You choose to call it imagination; be it so. But after all, as it cures, let us make the most of it'?

The two commissions came to the conclusion that the phenomena were due to imitation, and contact, that they were dangerous and must be prohibited. Strange to relate, seventy years later, Arago pronounced the same verdict!" — another contemporanean French writer (Courmelles).

As said, the investigation of the commission was not conducted on Mesmer himself, but on his work according to d'Eslon. Many affirmed that d'Eslon did not know completely the true system of Mesmer. Many declared that what ascertained by the Royal Commission was not the true work of Mesmer. (See Nouvelle Découverte sur le magnètisme animal ou lettre adressé à un Ami de Province par un partisan zélé de la véritéPDF, available on the site of National French Library). In this small booklet pag. 33-34 the author says explicitly that Deslon (on which the academic Commission investigated) did not know the real system of Mesmer, "the true theory of the magnetic system has been revealed to very few students, and we defy Deslon to accomplish what we do".

Abbe Faria an Indo-Portuguese monk in Paris contemporary of Mesmer emphasized that “nothing comes from the magnetizer; everything comes from the subject and takes place in his imagination i.e., autosuggestion generated from within the mind”.

Outcome and lasting influence

In 1785 Mesmer left Paris. In 1790 he was in Vienna again to settle the estate of his deceased wife Maria Anna. When he sold his house in Vienna in 1801 he was in Paris. Mesmer was driven into exile soon after the investigations on animal magnetism.

In the meantime, the subject had attracted considerable interest in Germany, and in 1812 Wolfart was sent to Mesmer at Frauenfeld by the Prussian government to investigate Mesmerism. He became an enthusiast, and introduced its practice into the hospital at Berlin.

Mesmer's exact activities during the last twenty years of his life are largely unknown. He died in 1815.

Mesmer's grave.

Time and scientific progress have largely overthrown Mesmer's theories of the fluid; yet Mesmer had made a discovery that was in the course of a hundred years to develop into an important scientific study. Mesmer’s technique, known as mesmerism, is regarded as an early forerunner of modern hypnosis. Reportedly Mesmer's technique could induce a hypnotic state without any vocalization, only with a stare or gestures. If it had not been for Mesmer and his "Animal Magnetism", we probably would never have had "hypnotism" and all our learned societies for the study of it.

"It seems ever the habit of the shallow scientist to plume himself on the more accurate theories which have been provided for, by the progress of knowledge and of science, and then, having been fed with a limited historical pabulum, to turn and talk lightly, and with an air of the most superior condescension, of the weakness and follies of those but for whose patient labors our modern theories would probably be non-existent." — Vincent.

Mesmerism shares with practices such as reiki and qi gong a concept of life force or energy. However, the practical and theoretical positions of such practices are on whole substantially different from those of mesmerism.

During the Romantic period, Mesmerism produced enthusiasm and inspired horror in the spiritual and religious context. Though discredited as a credible medical practice by many, mesmerism nonetheless created a venue for spiritual healing. Some animal magnetists advertised their practices by stressing the “spiritual rather than physical benefits to be gained from animal magnetism” and were able to gather a good clientèle from among the spiritually inspired population.

Mesmer, though his pretensions were discredited, was quickly followed by Puysegur, who drew all the world to Buzancy, near Soissons, France.

Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis of Puységur[edit]
Marquis de Puységur

Although Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de Puységur (1751–1825), was a French aristocrat from one of the most illustrious families of the French nobility, he is now remembered as one of the pre-scientific founders of hypnotism (then known as animal magnetism, or Mesmerism).

The Marquis de Puységur learned about Mesmerism from his brother Antoine-Hyacinthe, the Count of Chastenet. One of his first and most important patients was Victor Race, a 23-year-old peasant in the employ of the Puységur family. Race was easily hypnotized by Puységur, but displayed a strange form of sleeping trance not before seen in the early history of Mesmerism. Puységur noted the similarity between this sleeping trance and natural sleep-walking or somnambulism, and he named it "artificial somnambulism". Today we know this state by the name "hypnosis", although that term was invented much later by James Braid in 1842.

Puységur rapidly became a highly successful hypnotherapist, to whom people came from all over France. In 1785, Puységur taught a course in animal magnetism to the local Masonic society, which he concluded with these words:

I believe in the existence within myself of a power.

From this belief derives my will to exert it.
The entire doctrine of Animal Magnetism is contained in the two words: Believe and Want.
I believe that I have the power to set into action the vital principle of my fellow-men;
I want to make use of it; this is all my science and all my means.
Believe and want, Sirs, and you will do as much as I.

Marquis de Puységur as quoted by Henri Ellenberger
in Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970), New York: BasicBooks, pp. 70-74.

Every one rushed once more to be magnetized, and Puysegur had so many patients that to care for them all he was obliged to magnetize a tree (as he said), which was touched by hundreds who came to be cured, and was long known as "Puysegur's tree". As a result of Puysegur's success, a number of societies were formed in France for the study of the new phenomena.

"Doctor Cloquet related that he saw there, patients no longer the victims of hysterical fits, but enjoying a calm, peaceful, restorative slumber. It may be said that from this moment really efficacious and useful magnetism became known." — anonymous witness.

Puységur's institute for training in hypnotherapy, Société Harmonique des Amis Réunis, grew rapidly until the Revolution in 1789. During the revolutionary era the institute was disbanded and Puységur spent two years in jail. After the Napoleons' overthrow the new generation of practitioners of hypnotism looked to Puységur as their patriarch, and came to accept his method of inducing a sleeping trance in preference to the original methods of Mesmer. Puységur, however, always portrayed himself as a faithful disciple of Mesmer. He never took credit for having invented the procedure that is now known as hypnotic induction that seems to have been based on Abbot Faria techniques, of whom he was a close friend. His contributions were gradually forgotten, until Charles Richet rediscovered his writings in 1884, and showed that most of what other people had claimed as their discoveries in the field of hypnotherapy were originally due to the Marquis de Puységur.

Henri Ellenberger, the great historian of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, wrote that Puységur was "one of the great forgotten contributors to the history of the psychological sciences." The details of the life and work of Puységur may be found in Ellenberger's book, The Discovery of the Unconscious, pp. 70-74.

Etienne Félix d'Henin de Cuvillers[edit]

Etienne Félix d'Henin de Cuvillers (1755–1841) was a French "magnetist" who was an early practitioner of mesmerism as a scientific discipline.

Hénin de Cuvillers was a follower of Franz Anton Mesmer. However, unlike Mesmer he did not believe in the existence of a "magnetic fluid" in animal magnetism, and instead emphasized the role of mental processes in mesmerism. In his book Le magnétisme éclairé, he describes accounts of mesmeric effects in terms of belief and suggestibility.

He is credited for popularizing a system of scientific nomenclature by using the prefix "hypn" in words such as hypnotique (hypnotic), hypnotisme (hypnotism) and hypnotiste (hypnotist). He used these terms as early as 1820, and is believed by many to have coined these names. In 1820 he became editor of the Archives du Magnetisme Animal. This view was later expanded by James Braid.

Charles Lafontaine[edit]

Charles Lafontaine (1803 – 1892) was an early Swiss mesmerist. He lived in Geneva and published a journal called Le magnétiseur. Although he had failed as an actor, he became wealthy as a traveling mesmerist, or animal magnetiser, as it was then known.

His stage demonstrations of animal magnetism in Manchester influenced surgeon James Braid to pursue the study of what came to be known as hypnotism (note that Braid's hypnotism was significantly different from Lafontaine's mesmerism). Braid first saw Lafontaine in Manchester on November 13, 1841.

He wrote an autobiography, which may have influenced George du Maurier in his writing of Trilby, one of the most popular novels of its time, perhaps the second best selling novel of the Fin de siècle period after Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Trilby is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though it features the stories of two English and a Scottish artist — one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a Jewish rogue, masterful musician, and hypnotist.

Trilby O'Ferrall, the novel's heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists' model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relation between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small portion of the novel, which is mainly an evocation of a milieu, but it is a crucial one.

Trilby is literally tone-deaf: "Svengali would test her ear, as he called it, and strike the C in the middle and then the F just above, and ask which was the highest; and she would declare they were both exactly the same."

Even so, Svengali hypnotizes her and transforms her into a great diva, la Svengali. Under his spell, Trilby becomes a talented singer, performing always in an amnesiac trance. At a performance in London, Svengali is stricken with a heart attack and is unable to induce the trance. Trilby is unable to sing in tune and is subjected to "laughter, hoots, hisses, cat-calls, cock-crows." Not having been hypnotized, she is completely baffled and though she can remember living and traveling with Svengali, she cannot remember anything of her singing career.

The cultural influence of this literary work has not only brought hypnosis into the public's awareness but also influenced other works that reached also high popularity, like Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910) and was also adapted into a long-running play starring Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Svengali. The play was revived many times, including at the Apollo Theatre in the 1920s.

José Custódio de Faria[edit]

Even if breaking the chronology, no one can speak on the history of hypnosis without mentioning Abbot Faria, a contemporaneous of Mesmer that clearly defended a different theory and practice. As it would be expected Abbot Faria, did have, due to his Indian origins and personal experiences (he reports that his father did use suggestions to help him), a deeper understanding of the older meditation and trance techniques and a better contextual grasp on the history of the phenomenon, hence his clear distantiation from the concept of magnetism. Faria was also well traveled, well educated and seemingly well connected.

Statue of Abbé Faria next to the Old Secretariat in Panaji

Abbot (or Abbé or Abade in Portuguese), José Custódio de Faria, (30 May 1746 - 20 September 1819), was a colorful Portuguese Goan Catholic monk, born in the Portuguese administrated Goa, who was one of the pioneers of the scientific study of hypnotism, following the work of Franz Anton Mesmer. Faria, unlike Mesmer, who claimed that hypnosis was mediated by "animal magnetism", understood that it worked purely by the power of suggestion. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris.

He was also a friend of Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marques of Puységur (a disciple of Franz Anton Mesmer), to whom he dedicated his book Causas do Sono Lúcido ("On the Causes of Lucid Sleep").

Alexandre Dumas, père used a fictionalized version of the Abbé in his famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo. In the novel, Faria, an Italian, is a prisoner of the Château d'If who instructs Edmond Dantès, the protagonist and a fellow prisoner, in a number of fields including mathematics, the sciences, and foreign languages, and eventually helps him to escape from the island prison. He also discloses to Dantès the whereabouts of a hoard of jewels at Monte Cristo, a small island near the Italian coast, before dying from a cataleptic seizure.

Faria changed the terminology of mesmerism. Previously focus was on the "concentration" of the subject. In Faria's terminology the operator became "the concentrator" and somnambulism was viewed as a lucid sleep. The method of hypnosis used by Faria is command, following expectancy. The theory of Abbe Faria is now known as Fariism.

In 1813 Abbé Faria, realizing that animal magnetism was gaining importance in Paris, returned to Paris and started promoting a new doctrine. He provoked unending controversies with his work Da Causa do Sono Lúcido no Estudo da Natureza do Homem (On the cause of Lucid Sleep in the Study of Nature of Man), published in Paris in 1819 and was soon accused of being a charlatan.

"[Faria was] great, because he had no fear and fought for truth rather than for his place at the vanity fair. The Abbot de Faria's mystery does not lie in the circumstances of his life that are unknown to historians and lost forever; his mystery lies in his talent, courage, and quest for truth. His mystery was the mystery of someone who was ahead of his time and who blazed a trail for his descendants due to his sacrifice." - Dr. Mikhail Buyanov, President of the Moscow Psychotherapeutic Academy, and author of A Man Ahead of His Times, a study in Russian of Abbe Faria.

"There was a man in Paris who made the experience of hypnotism public. Every day, some 60 people used to gather at his residence and it was rare among these, that there were not at least five or six people who were susceptible to fall into a hypnotic trance. He would openly declare that he did not possess any secrets nor any extraordinary powers, and that everything he achieved was dependent on the will of the persons he was performing upon." - French General Francois Joseph Noizet.

In 1814 Deleuze published a book on the subject and mentions Abbe Faria as the demonstrator that there was no fluid, but that the phenomena were subjective, or within the mind of the patient. Faria is the first to introduce what is now called the "method of suggestion" in producing hypnotism.

After-years Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault (1864-1904), the founder of the Nancy School, and Emile Coué (1857-1926) father of applied conditioning, developed the theory of suggestion and autosuggestion and made them therapeutic tools.

Afterwards Johannes Schultz developed these theories as Autogenic training.


The French revolution (from 1789–1799) fueled existing internal political friction in Britain in the 1790’s and a few political radicals used animal magnetism as more than just a moral threat but also a political threat. In his many lectures that warned society against government oppression, Samuel Taylor Coleridge states:

“William Pitt, the great political Animal Magnetist,…has most foully worked on the diseased fancy of Englishmen …thrown the nation into a feverish slumber, and is now bringing it to a crisis which may convulse mortality!” - Requoted from: Fulford, Tim. Conducting and Vital Fluid: The Politics and Poetics of Mesmerism in the 1790s. Studies in Romanticism 43.1 (2004): pg.1

In the rest of the Western world including the revolutionary France, the experimentation continued, and in the 1820's a young Paris physician, P. Foissac (1801-1884?) wrote a to the National Academy of Medicine (Académie Nationale de Médecine) suggesting that the time was ripe for a further examination of animal magnetism. After five years, the appointed a commission investigating the subject presented a report. This report gave a good statement of the practical operation of magnetism, mentioning the phenomena of somnambulism, anesthesia, loss of memory, and the various other symptoms of the hypnotic state as we know it. It was thought that magnetism had a right to be considered as a therapeutic agent, and that it might be used by physicians, though others should not be allowed to practice it. In 1837 another commission made a decidedly unfavorable report.

Soon after this Burdin, a member of the Academy, offered a prize of 3,000 francs to any one who would read the number of a bank-note or the like with his eyes bandaged (under certain fixed conditions), but it was never awarded, though many claimed it, and there has been considerable evidence that persons in the hypnotic state have (sometimes) remarkable clairvoyant powers.

Soon after this, the term magnetism, or new magnetism since the theory and practice had suffered subtle but considerable changes, fell into very low repute throughout France and Germany, and scientific men became loath to have their names connected with the study of it in any way. The study had not yet been seriously taken up in England, and two physicians who gave some attention to it suffered decidedly in professional reputation.

Major politicians and people in power were accused by radicals to be practicing animal magnetism on the general population. In Roy Porter’s article “Under the Influence: Mesmerism in England”, he notes James Tilly Matthews' accusations of French infiltration into England via animal magnetism. Matthews believed that “magnetic spies” would invade England and bring it under subjection by transmitting waves of animal magnetism to subdue the government and people.

Hypnotic seance.

It is to an English physician, however, that we owe the scientific character of modern hypnotism. Indeed he invented the name of hypnotism, formed from the Greek word meaning 'sleep', and designating 'artificially produced sleep'. His name is James Braid, and so important were the results of his study that hypnotism has sometimes been called "Braidism", though it was used infrequently.

James Braid[edit]

James Braid (19 June 1795 – 25 March 1860), a Scottish physician and surgeon, member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh from 1815 until his death, specialized in eye and muscular conditions, was an important and influential pioneer of hypnotism and hypnotherapy. Braid maintained an active interest in hypnotism until his death.

Braid became interested in the phenomenon known as mesmerism, when he personally observed demonstrations given by the traveling Swiss mesmerist Charles Lafontaine. In particular, he examined the physical condition of Lafontaine's mesmerized subjects and concluded that they were, indeed, in quite a different physical state.

Doctor Courmelles gives the following interesting summary of Braid's experiences:

"November, 1841, he witnessed a public experiment made by Monsieur Lafontaine, a Swiss magnetizer. He thought the whole thing a comedy; a week after, he attended a second exhibition, saw that the patient could not open his eyes, and concluded that this was ascribable to some physical cause. The fixity of gaze must, according to him, exhaust the nerve centers of the eyes and their surroundings. He made a friend look steadily at the neck of a bottle, and his own wife look at an ornamentation on the top of a china sugar bowl: sleep was the consequence. Here hypnotism had its origin, and the fact was established that sleep could be induced by physical agents. This, it must be remembered, is the essential difference between these two classes of phenomena (magnetism and hypnotism): for magnetism supposes a direct action of the magnetizer on the magnetized subject, an action which does not exist in hypnotism."

Within a few days following his observation, upon reflection, he became convinced that he had discovered the natural psychophysiological mechanism underlying these quite genuine phenomena.

He completely rejected Franz Mesmer's idea that a magnetic fluid caused hypnotic phenomena, because anyone could produce them in "himself by attending strictly to the simple rules" that he had laid down.

Braid began experimenting with his own method, leading him to write a report entitled "Practical Essay on the Curative Agency of Neuro-Hypnotism", to the British Association, and having it rejected. After that he immediately started delivering a series of five public lectures, conversaziones, in Manchester that commenced on 27 November 1841, at which he read it.

Braid thought he had discovered a new theoretical view of the phenomena, for at this time he believed that hypnotism was largely, if not purely, mechanical and physical. He noted that during one phase of hypnotism, known as catalepsy, the arms, limbs, etc., might be placed in any position and would remain there; he also noted that a puff of breath would usually awaken a subject, and that by talking to a subject and telling him to do this or do that, even after he awakes from the sleep, he can be made to do those things. Braid thought he might affect a certain part of the brain during hypnotic sleep, and if he could find the seat of the thieving disposition, or the like, he could cure the patient of desire to commit crime, simply by suggestion, or command.

Braid's conclusions were, in brief, that there was no fluid, or other exterior agent, but that hypnotism was due to a physiological condition of the nerves. It was his belief that hypnotic sleep was brought about by fatigue of the eyelids, or by other influences wholly within the subject. In this he was supported by Carpenter, the great physiologist; but neither Braid nor Carpenter could get the medical organizations to give the matter any attention, even to investigate it.

Although Braid he was the first to use the terms hypnotism, hypnotize and hypnotist in English, the cognate terms hypnotique, hypnotisme, hypnotiste had been intentionally used by the French magnetist Baron Etienne Félix d'Henin de Cuvillers (1755–1841) at least as early as 1820.

Braid therefore began using the term "neuro-hypnotism" in late November 1841 and later adopted the term "hypnotism" as an abbreviation for "neuro-hypnotism" or nervous sleep (that is, sleep of the nerves), in his lectures of 1841-2, and it is from his influential work that others derived the term "hypnosis" in the 1880s.

In early 1842 — as a response to a personal attack upon himself and his work that had been made in a sermon delivered by a Manchester cleric, M‘Neile, and had been published a few days later in an unaltered form, despite Braid's attempts to rectify the misunderstandings he felt it contained — Braid privately published the contents of an (unanswered) letter that he had written to the cleric as a twelve page booklet entitled Satanic Agency and Mesmerism Reviewed (Braid, 1842).

In this booklet, Braid uses the terms "neurohypnotism", "hypnotic", and "neurohypnology", perhaps for the first time (rather than in his 1843 work, Neurypnology, as is often asserted). However, he seems to have used "Neuro-Hypnotism" in the title of his unpublished report rejected by the British Association, and read at his own public lectures, as early as November or December 1841.

In 1843 he published Neurypnology; or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism…, his first and only book-length exposition of his views. According to Bramwell (1896, p. 91) the work was popular from the outset, selling 800 copies within a few months of its publication.

Braid thought of hypnotism as producing a "nervous sleep" which differed from ordinary sleep. The most efficient way to produce it was through visual fixation on a small bright object held eighteen inches above and in front of the eyes. Braid regarded the physiological condition underlying hypnotism to be the over-exercising of the eye muscles through the straining of attention.

“The various theories at present entertained regarding the phenomena of mesmerism may be arranged thus:— First, those who believe them to be owing entirely to a system of collusion and delusion; and a great majority of society may be ranked under this head. Second, those who believe them to be real phenomena, but produced solely by imagination, sympathy, and imitation. Third, the animal magnetists, or those who believe in some magnetic medium set in motion as the exciting cause of the mesmeric phenomena. Fourth, those who have adopted my views, that the phenomena are solely attributable to a peculiar physiological state of the brain and the spinal cord.”, Tinterow (1970), p.320.

James Braid published many letters and articles and several small books and booklets. His first major publication was Neurypnology, or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep (1843), written less than two years after his discovery of hypnotism. However, Braid continually revised his theory and practice and carried out many, albeit primitive, experiments on hypnosis.

“Although Braid believed that hypnotic suggestion was a valuable remedy in functional nervous disorders, he did not regard it as a rival to other forms of treatment, nor wish in any way to separate its practice from that of medicine in general. He held that whoever talked of a "universal remedy" was either a fool or a knave: similar diseases often arose from opposite pathological conditions, and the treatment ought to be varied accordingly. He objected being called a hypnotist; he was, he said, no more a "hypnotic" than a "castor-oil" doctor.” — John Milne Bramwell (1852–1925)

In a letter written to the editor of The Lancet in 1845, Braid emphatically states that (emphasis used to show Braid's position):

"I adopted the term "hypnotism" to prevent my being confounded with those who entertain those extreme notions [sc. that a mesmeriser's will has an "irresistible power… over his subjects" and that clairvoyance and other "higher phenomena" are routinely manifested by those in the mesmeric state], as well as to get rid of the erroneous theory about a magnetic fluid, or exoteric influence of any description being the cause of the sleep. I distinctly avowed that hypnotism laid no claim to produce any phenomena which were not "quite reconcilable with well-established physiological and psychological principles"; pointed out the various sources of fallacy which might have misled the mesmerists; [and] was the first to give a public explanation of the trick [by which a fraudulent subject had been able to deceive his mesmerizer]…
[Further, I have never been] a supporter of the imagination theory — i.e., that the induction of [hypnosis] in the first instance is merely the result of imagination. My belief is quite the contrary. I attribute it to the induction of a habit of intense abstraction, or concentration of attention, and maintain that it is most readily induced by causing the patient to fix his thoughts and sight on an object, and suppress his respiration.

Braid, was the first person to use "hypnotism" in referring to a "psycho-physiological" theory rather than the "occult" theories of the magnetists, this is the principal reason why Braid is regarded by many as the first genuine "hypnotherapist" and the "Father of Modern Hypnotism".

In his first publication, he had also stressed the importance of the subject concentrating both vision and thought, referring to "the continued fixation of the mental and visual eye". The concept of the mind's eye first appeared in English in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale in his Canterbury Tales, where he speaks of a man "who was blind, and could only see with the eyes of his mind, with which all men see after they go blind", in a reference to the engagement of the natural physiological mechanism that was already hard-wired into each human being.

“I shall merely add, that my experiments go to prove that it is a law in the animal economy that, by the continued fixation of the mental and visual eye on any object in itself not of an exciting nature, with absolute repose of body and general quietude, they become wearied; and, provided the patients rather favour than resist the feeling of stupor which they feel creeping over them during such experiment, a state of somnolency is induced, and that peculiar state of brain, and mobility of the nervous system, which render the patient liable to be directed so as to manifest the mesmeric phenomena. I consider it not so much the optic, as the motor and sympathetic nerves, and the mind, through which the impression is made. Such is the position I assume; and I feel so thoroughly convinced that it is a law of the animal economy, that such effects should follow such condition of mind and body, that I fear not to state, as my deliberate opinion, that this is a fact which cannot be controverted.", in Braid, Satanic Agency, Tinterow (1970), p.321.

Braid’s work had a strong influence on a number of important French medical figures, especially Étienne Eugène Azam (1822–1899) of Bordeaux (Braid’s principal French “disciple”), the anatomist Pierre Paul Broca (1824–1880).

"Braid later changed his sleep-based physiological theory to a psychological one which emphasized mental concentration on a single idea, giving this the name of monoideism in 1847". Braid summarized and contrasted his own view with the other views prevailing at that time. This las change to his theory puts the "hypnotism" more in-line with its modern sense.

In 1848 an American named Grimes succeeded in obtaining all the phenomena of hypnotism, and created a school of writers who made use of the word "electro-biology."

In 1850 Braid's ideas were introduced into France, and Dr. Azam, of Bordeaux, published an account of them in the "Archives de Medicine". From this time on the subject was widely studied by scientific men in France and Germany, and it was more slowly taken up in England.

According to a lengthy report (dated 16 December 1859), "Hypnotism — Important Medical Discovery" from the anonymous "Paris correspondent" of the New York Herald, in the Thursday, 5 January 1860 edition of the Herald (p.5), Azam had introduced Braid's techniques to Broca; and Broca subsequently performed a number of operations using Braid's hypnotic techniques (i.e., rather than using mesmerism as Esdaile had done) for anaesthesia, and the eminent French surgeon, Velpeau (1795-1867) was so impressed that he read a paper on Broca's experiments to the French Academy of Sciences on Broca's behalf.

Braid hypnotised the English Swedenborgian writer Dr. J.J.G. Wilkinson, who observed him hypnotising others several times, and began using hypnotism himself. Wilkinson soon became a passionate advocate of Braid's work and his published remarks on hypnotism were quoted enthusiastically by Braid several times in his later writings.

"I consider the hypnotic mode of treating certain disorders is a most important ascertained fact, and a real solid addition to practical therapeutics, for there is a variety of cases in which it is really most successful, and to which it is most particularly adapted; and those are the very cases in which ordinary medical means are least successful, or altogether unavailing. Still, I repudiate the notion of holding up hypnotism as a panacaea or universal remedy. As formerly remarked, I use hypnotism ALONE only in a certain class of cases, to which I consider it peculiarly adapted — and I use it in conjunction with medical treatment, in some other cases; but, in the great majority of cases, I do not use hypnotism at all, but depend entirely upon the efficacy of medical, moral, dietetic, and hygienic treatment, prescribing active medicines in such doses as are calculated to produce obvious effects" — James Braid, Magic, Witchcraft, Animal Magnetism, Hypnotism, and Electro-Biology, etc., (1852), pp.90-91 (emphasis in the original).

Just three days before his death he sent a (now lost) manuscript, written in English,On hypnotism, to the French surgeon Étienne Eugène Azam.

It was due to the researches of Braid that hypnosis was placed on a scientific basis, and his coining and application of the terms hypnotism and hypnosis [sic., Braid never used "hypnosis"] to the phenomenon instead of the misnomer of Mesmerism facilitated its acceptance by the medical profession. In the course of his investigations Braid reached the conclusion that hypnotism was wholly a matter of suggestion, which constituted the first attempt at a scientific and psychological explanation. He made a detailed study of the technique of hypnosis and the various phenomena obtained in trances. He was a prolific writer and left extensive treatises which are surprisingly modern in their conceptions. — Milton H. Erickson, ‘Historical Sketch’, Medical Record, December 5, 1934.

In 1997 Braid’s part in developing hypnosis for therapeutic purposes was recognized and commemorated by the creation of the James Braid Society (http://www.jamesbraidsociety.com) a discussion group for those “involved or concerned in the ethical uses of hypnosis.” The society meets once a month in central London, usually for a presentation on some aspect of hypnotherapy.

In April 2009, Robertson published a reconstructed English version, backward translated from the French, of Braid's last (lost) manuscript (On Hypnotism), addressed by Braid to the French Academy of Sciences.

Apart from Neurypnology, his first book, all of Braid's works have been out of print since his death; however, many are now available on-line (see Wikipedia's article on James Braid links in the Further reading section). The 2009 publication of Robertson (Discovery of Hypnosis) contains all of Braid's major works and many letters and articles by him, including "On Hypnotism".


Like any other part of human culture, scientific beliefs and theories are often affected and distorted by prevailing trends that are only explainable by understanding the contextual reality that they shared. This is demonstrated in the original work of A. Alpheus, Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-reading and spiritualism from 1903 (book published in the USA) used in the elaboration of this book. The author makes many references to racial, ethnic and religious considerations that are now outdated, even if not directly expressed A. Alpheus makes racial considerations and even that females are more open to suggestion. This is not a fault of the author but the cultural reality that prevailed at the time. I felt important to include this note in this section of the History of hypnosis to permit the reader to understand what the mind set was like at that time. I have tried to fallow a chronological narration of events as best as I could.

"It may be stated here that the French and other Latin races are much more easily hypnotized than the northern races, Americans perhaps being least subject to the hypnotic influence, and next to them the English. On the other hand, the Orientals are influenced to a degree we can hardly comprehend." - A. Alpheus

Of course this today has been disproven, in fact most practitioners and users of hypnosis today are found in the USA, UK (and Commonwealth), this is probably due to the simplicity of the English language, its cultural difusion and how it facilitates semiosis, but we will cover susceptibility to hypnotism later on.


To do:
Cover any advances in France under Napoleon's rule (from 1851 to 4 September 1870) and after.

Autosuggestion (from the Greek: αὐτός, autós, "self") must not be confused with automatic suggestion.

Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie[edit]

Émile Coué de Châtaigneraie (February 26, 1857 – July 2, 1926) was a French psychologist and pharmacist who introduced a method of psychotherapy and self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion.

The application of his mantra-like conscious autosuggestion, "Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better" (French: Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux) is called Couéism or the Coué method.

The Coué method centers on a routine repetition of this particular expression according to a specified ritual, in a given physical state, and in the absence of any sort of allied mental imagery, at the beginning and at the end of each day. Unlike a common held belief that a strong conscious will constitutes the best path to success, Coué maintained that curing some of our troubles requires a change in our unconscious thought, which can only be achieved by using our imagination. Although stressing that he was not primarily a healer but one who taught others to heal themselves, Coué claimed to have effected organic changes through autosuggestion.

The Coué method[edit]
Development and origins

Coué noticed that in certain cases he could improve the efficiency of a given medicine by praising its effectiveness to the patient. He realized that those patients to whom he praised the medicine had a noticeable improvement when compared to patients to whom he said nothing. This began Coué’s exploration of the use of hypnosis and the power of the imagination.

His initial method for treating patients relied on hypnosis. He discovered that subjects could not be hypnotized against their will and, more importantly, that the effects of hypnosis waned when the subjects regained consciousness. He thus eventually turned to autosuggestion, which he describes as

... an instrument that we possess at birth, and with which we play unconsciously all our life, as a baby plays with its rattle. It is however a dangerous instrument; it can wound or even kill you if you handle it imprudently and unconsciously. It can on the contrary save your life when you know how to employ it consciously. in Coué, E: "Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion", page 19, 1922

Coué believed in the effects of medication. But he also believed that our mental state is able to affect and even amplify the action of these medications. By consciously using autosuggestion, he observed that his patients could cure themselves more efficiently by replacing their "thought of illness" with a new "thought of cure". According to Coué, repeating words or images enough times causes the subconscious to absorb them. The cures were the result of using imagination or "positive autosuggestion" to the exclusion of one's own willpower.

Underlying principles

Coué thus developed a method which relied on the principle that any idea exclusively occupying the mind turns into reality, although only to the extent that the idea is within the realms of possibility. For instance, a person without hands will not be able to make them grow back. However, if a person firmly believes that his or her asthma is disappearing, then this may actually happen, as far as the body is actually able to physically overcome or control the illness. On the other hand, thinking negatively about the illness (ex. "I am not feeling well") will encourage both mind and body to accept this thought. Likewise, when someone cannot remember a name, they will probably not be able to recall it as long as they hold onto this idea (i.e. "I cannot remember") in their mind. Coué realized that it is better to focus on and imagine the desired, positive results (i.e. "I feel healthy and energetic" and "I can remember clearly").


Coué observed that the main obstacle to autosuggestion was willpower. For the method to work, the patient must refrain from making any independent judgment, meaning that he must not let his will impose its own views on positive ideas. Everything must thus be done to ensure that the positive "autosuggestive" idea is consciously accepted by the patient, otherwise one may end up getting the opposite effect of what is desired.

For example, when a student has forgotten an answer to a question in an exam, he will likely think something such as "I have forgotten the answer". The more he or she tries to think of it, the more the answer becomes blurred and obscured. However, if this negative thought is replaced with a more positive one ("No need to worry, it will come back to me"), the chances that the student will come to remember the answer will increase.

Coué noted that young children always applied his method perfectly, as they lacked the willpower that remained present among adults. When he instructed a child by saying "clasp your hands and you cannot open them", the child would thus immediately follow.


A patient's problems are likely to increase when his willpower and imagination (or mental ideas) are opposing each other, something Coué would refer to as "self-conflict". In the student's case, the will to succeed is clearly incompatible with his thought of being incapable of remembering his answers. As the conflict intensifies, so does the problem: the more the patient tries to sleep, the more he becomes awake. The more a patient tries to stop smoking, the more he smokes. The patient must thus abandon his willpower and instead put more focus on his imaginative power in order to fully succeed with his cure.


Thanks to his method, which Coué once called his "trick", patients of all sorts would come to visit him. The list of ailments included kidney problems, diabetes, memory loss, stammering, weakness, atrophy and all sorts of physical and mental illnesses. According to one of his journal entries (1916), he apparently cured a patient of a uterus prolapse as well as "violent pains in the head" (migraine).

C. (Cyrus) Harry Brooks (1890–1951), author of various books on Coué, claimed the success rate of his method was around 93%. The remaining 7% of people would include those who were too skeptical of Coué's approach and those who refused to recognize it.

Medicines and autosuggestion

The use of autosuggestion is intended to complement use of medicine, but no medication of Coué's time could save a patient from depression or tension. Coué recommended that patients take medicines with the confidence that they would be completely cured very soon, and healing would be optimal. Conversely, he contended, patients who are skeptical of a medicine would find it least effective.

Milton Erickson[edit]

Recognized by the method named after himself, the Milton Erickson's hypnotherapy, for which, however, he did not provide an orthodox methodology. Erickson would put his patients in trance with short stories. While keeping the ego of his patients occupied, he would target his healing messages straight at their unconscious mind, which he believed to have considerable self-healing powers. In this way he claimed to have healed himself of the paralysis that affected him when young and to which he did finally succumb later in life.

Erickson is noted for his often unconventional approach to psychotherapy, such as described in the book Uncommon Therapy, by Jay Haley, and the book Hypnotherapy: An Exploratory Casebook, by Milton H. Erickson and Ernest L. Rossi (1979, New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc.). He developed an extensive use of therapeutic metaphor and story as well as hypnosis and coined the term brief therapy for his approach of addressing therapeutic changes in relatively few sessions.

Erickson's use of interventions influenced the strategic therapy and family systems therapy practitioners beginning in the 1950s among them, Virginia Satir and Jay Haley. He was noted for his ability to "utilize" anything about a patient to help them change, including their beliefs, favorite words, cultural background, personal history, or even their neurotic habits.

Through conceptualizing the unconscious as highly separate from the conscious mind, with its own awareness, interests, responses, and learnings, he taught that the unconscious mind was creative, solution-generating, and often positive.

He was an important influence on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which was in part based upon his working methods.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)[edit]

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a controversial extrapolation from hypnosis, specially from Milton Erickson's hypnotherapy. It is chiefly based on patterns of behavior and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them.

It may be still too early to include NLP in the history of Hypnosis but at the same time there are some aspects that do have a positive impact on suggestion, even in normal dialog and direct interaction. Most of it may seem commonsense, use of brevity, positive reenforcement, reading body language, augmented empathy, optimal phrase structure, all this has been streamlined by the two co-founders of the movement, Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder and seems useful, but it is hard to classify it as an innovation, nevertheless we can certainly say that the concepts defended by NLP have had a real impact on hypnosis.

We will talk a little more about NLP in Chapter 6 in relation to conversational hypnosis.