History of Hypnotherapy and Its Uses

Updated on October 12, 2019
louiseelcross profile image

My experience of hypnosis and self-hypnosis for phobia and negative beliefs informs my interest in the history of hypnosis.

Where does modern hypnotherapy come from?
Where does modern hypnotherapy come from?

Ancient Greeks and Hypnosis

Hypnosis is thought by some scholars to be over 40,000 years old. More recent history tells us that the Ancient Greeks, Ancient Egyptians and other ancient civilisations used hypnosis in "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 believed that when mind and body worked together, the mind could be healed.

Hippocrates and Emotion

The father of medicine, Hippocrates (born c. 460 BCE), believed 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.

Although the word hypnosis is taken from the Ancient Greek God of sleep Hypnos, hypnosis is not a form of sleep. Many, including myself, describe being in a state of hypnosis as being in a deeply relaxed state, yet fully alert.

Hypnos God of Sleep
Hypnos God of Sleep

Modern Hypnosis

Modern hypnosis became popular around the late 18th century. Around 1770, Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician from Austria, began using it in Paris and Vienna. Although Mesmer is viewed as the father of modern hypnotism, his other unusual practice was animal magnetism.

Mesmerism: The Original Hypnosis

Mesmer treated physical and emotional ailments by using mesmerism. Mesmerism originally referred to the transfer of energies between the client and the mesmerist without the use of words.

After Mesmers’ death in 1815, one of his followers, Armand de Puysegur, continued developing the work of Mesmer. He realised that he could easily induce a trance using direct commands and that this that was faster than that of Mesmers' technique. He also discovered that when in a trance a patient could have an operation without anesthesia or pain. For many years, surgeons in France used this technique on their own patients during surgery.

Notable Hypnotists

An 18thCentury Scottish doctor, James Braid (1795-1860) credited for coining the word hypnosis, had success alleviating nervous conditions by the use of hypnotherapy.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) also used hypnotherapy for the treatment of mental and physical conditions.

Frank Anton Mesmer
Frank Anton Mesmer | Source

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is an altered state of mind, or a trance state, where a person is in a deeply relaxed "theta state", but not asleep. When a person is in a hypnotised state, the client is neither awake nor asleep; rather, their state of consciousness is changed or "switched off".

Accessing the Subconscious Mind

Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool to access the subconscious mind. It facilitates change in negative habits and beliefs that originate from your subconsciousness. It is thought that hypnotherapy can help patients make changes to thoughts and behaviours that are undesirable.

Hypnotherapy has success in areas of pain control, the treatment of phobias and anxiety disorders, weight loss, dental procedures, childbirth and for changing negative, limiting beliefs.

According to hypnotism, the unconscious mind can be accessed whenever the conscious mind is relaxed. Therefore, the role of the hypnotherapist is to guide the client to a state of deep relaxation. In this state, the conscious mind is bypassed to get to the subconscious mind. This is where all our habits and beliefs can be accessed.

How to Successfully Participate in Hypnotherapy

In order for hypnotherapy to be successful, there needs to be a certain amount of rapport and trust between the hypnotherapist and client. An untrained hypnotherapist that has no psychological training risks enacting serious harm to their clients by uncovering past trauma they are not equipped to deal with, or, by making harmful suggestions whilst the client is in a suggestible state.

Unfortunately, some clients can become highly suggestible when hypnotised. This can cause problems in the form of the creation of false memories.

Conscious Vs. Subconscious

Understanding how the mind functions is important for understanding how hypnosis works. The mind has two parts, the conscious and the subconscious mind.

  • The conscious part of the mind is the part we are aware of and,
  • the subconscious mind is outside our awareness.

The Conscious Mind

The conscious mind has the ability to reason and make decisions but is unable to act out these decisions without the permission of the subconscious. The conscious mind is creative and it can learn new information.

The Subconscious Mind

Subconscious is the programmed mind or the habit mind. 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.

How Hypnosis Affects the Two Minds

The aim of hypnosis is to quiet and distract the conscious mind so that the hypnotherapist can gain access to the subconscious mind and repressed memories, limiting beliefs and bad habits. This enables the client to become more aware of why they are having difficulties and deal with the issues.

Set new standards around belief in your theta state for a healthier presence of mind.
Set new standards around belief in your theta state for a healthier presence of mind. | Source

Reprogramming The Subconscious Mind

Hypnotherapy can be used to reprogram the subconscious mind and change negative beliefs into positive beliefs.

The function of the subconscious mind is to store and retrieve data. Every thought, feeling, experience, skill and habit is stored in the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is the habit-mind where beliefs and programs are created.

The subconscious is the slave of the conscious and obeys its every command. Its function is to make sure we respond exactly the way we are programmed, in line with our belief.

Negative beliefs acquired in childhood and stored in the subconscious as programs affect every thought, feelings and actions negatively. These negative beliefs can be changed to positive beliefs through hypnotherapy. Once the client is in a deeply relaxed state, the theta state, where the conscious mind is switched off, the hypnotherapist is able to communicate directly with the subconscious mind reevaluate the belief system.

Theta State

Theta state is the state of mind where the conscious mind does not yet exist. Young children are like sponges taking sucking up every bit of information of how to live life from their caregivers; they are often in theta state.

Young children in theta state are programmed with the rules of life. In this state, they develop their beliefs negative or positive, about life, themselves and everyone around them, through repetition of word and phrases by their caregivers.

Reprogramming in Theta State

Just as we acquire the negative belief through repetition as children in theta state, we can change them in the same manner, through repetition of the desired belief, in theta state. By use of repetition, we can reprogram or recondition the subconscious mind.

An example of this changing a belief through repetition would be if you felt unloved and unworthy and believed you were unworthy of love, your negative belief will be that you are worthless. Replace this belief by repeating to yourself quietly, out loud and on paper, 'I am worthy, I am loved'. Repeat often as possible until the new belief replaces the old.

Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.

— Napoleon Hill

Hypnotherapy: My Experience

I went to visit a hypnotherapist when my wasp phobia got out of control. Before seeing the hypnotherapist I was beyond terrified of wasps and I did not understand the root of my phobia. If ever I saw a wasp or one came near me, I would experience a blind panic that was often dangerous to me and those around me.

I have stripped off in the street, ran out into traffic, jumped out of my car whilst car was moving because a wasp got in, thrown my shopping bags at a wasp and run away, leaving my shopping behind. I have done many potentially dangerous things to escape from being near a wasp.

I could get no fresh air in Summer because I was afraid to sit outside or have an open window in the warm weather for fear of wasps coming near me. I could not eat and drink outside for fear of wasps being attracted by the smell of food. Often I could not leave my house for fear of wasps being out there. The last straw was when I ran away from a wasp in a blind panic, leaving my child in her pram alone in the street.

The hypnotherapist had psychological credentials and spent time getting to know me before hypnotising me.

The hypnotherapist used a guided relaxation technique to relax and hypnotise me. As he spoke to me quietly and softly, I was to close my eyes and count backward from 100 and imagine the numbers as I counted.

I felt extremely relaxed but very alert for most of the time. Then the hypnotherapist took me backward through my life, to find the start of my phobia of wasps. Each time in my life that he took me back to, was a vivid image in my mind and I felt as if I was actually there.

The hypnotherapist found the cause of my wasp phobia by taking me so far back that I was a baby. I was about aged one. I was strapped into a double hood, coached built pram and left alone in the yard of our home. Under hypnosis, in my mind, I could see the pram clearly. I could see and feel myself in the pram, in the sun and in the yard. It had been forty years since I had seen that yard yet, under hypnosis I could see and remember every detail.

As I sat in the pram on that sunny day, strapped in and unable to escape, a wasp started flying around my face. As a baby, in the image, I was terrified and I saw myself trying to escape the wasp but I could not get away from it. The trauma had stayed with me but I had forgotten the incident until hypnosis revealed it to me.

When I left the hypnotherapist's building that day I came face to face with a wasp. I remember looking at it and being aware of how calm I felt. I remember I smiled as I looked at the wasp, I felt confident that my life had changed for the better. For the first time in my life, I experienced being outside on a summer day and not feeling in fear. I was grateful that I did not feel like running away, screaming and stripping off my clothes.


I use self hypnosis to relax and reprogram my mind. I get myself into a relaxed state by calming my conscious, negatively critical mind and all other thoughts. I listen to a relaxing tape or video of a spoken guided meditation until I feel really relaxed. Then, I either listen to a recording of my new belief or affirmation, or I repeat to myself what belief I would desire in my life.

Changing my negative beliefs to positive beliefs through the use of self-hypnosis and affirmations has changed my life for the better. Now I believe I am capable of achieving anything I want from life.

And Finally

Feel free to leave comments or ask questions in the box below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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    • louiseelcross profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Elcross 

      3 years ago from Preston

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

    • Virginia Matteo profile image

      Virginia Matteo 

      3 years ago

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


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