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  • Bettina Traxler

What is Hypno-Psychotherapy? How did it develop?

Aktualisiert: 26. Nov. 2020

written by Bettina Traxler, NCHP London/Leicester,

13th April 2013.

History of Hypno-Psychotherapy

Hypnosis is a very old tool that has been used by people all over the world throughout history. Used by priests for religious purposes, by shamans for healing or by mothers instinctively to sing or talk their babies into sleep, hypnosis can be a very powerful yet simple way to reach goals.

Rycroft (1972) states that hypnosis is artificially induced sleep. It’s the trance-like state induced by hypnotism. The state of hypnosis has first been mentioned in the bible, where in the book of Genesis it says that God puts Adam into a deep sleep (Morris, 2013).

However, the first documents about hypnosis have been found in ancient Greece and Egypt about the so called temple sleep. The sleep or dream temples were places for ill people to find mental and physical health. Priests induced a trance-like sleep through different techniques like rhythmic chanting or focusing on the sun/light. Often the priests or priestesses then interpreted the person’s dreams to find a cure for the problem (Reeves, 2000–2008).

As to connect hypnosis with psychotherapy, the oldest psychological theorist is thought to be Sigmund Freud. But it was Franz Anton Mesmer who, in the 18th century, discovered animal magnetism also referred to as mesmerism (Counselling Directory, 2013). Mesmer believed in a magnetic fluid flowing through every body. Blockages of the flow of that fluid would cause diseases. Despite Mesmer’s believes being suspected and rejected by the psychological and medical society, it was his ideas that inspired individuals to develop mesmerism further.

James Braid was introduced to animal magnetism by a French man demonstrating the technique during the mid-1800’s. Whorwell (2005) says that Braid, who was a surgeon in Manchester, became very interested in its potential as a tool for controlling pain during surgery. Although he was impressed by the demonstration he didn’t believe that the magnets over the person helped to enter the neuro-hypnotic state. Instead he believed that the fixed gaze of the eyes on the light above the person made the trance possible. So, as many others before him, Braid completely rejected the concept of magnetism being involved. He believed that suggestibility was the key to a “mesmerised” state. James Braid also tried to re-name animal magnetism when writing his book about “Neurypnology“ (Whorwell, 2005). Thus Braid was the first to use the term hypnotism in the English language.

In the late 19th century the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud used hypnosis and suggestion in addition to electrotherapy as therapeutic treatments in his practice in Vienna. As Sallachner and Schinnerl (2013) say, he learned about hypnosis from Jean-Martin Charcot during a visit in Paris. Freud realized that through hypnosis unconscious memories of traumatic experiences could be revealed and so the neurosis could disappear. Furthermore, he found out that the personality of the therapist in relation to the client plays an important role in the therapy setting. His work with neurotic patients led him to believe that mental illness was the result of keeping thoughts or memories in the unconscious. Freud then treated his patients with mainly listening and giving interpretations in order to analyse their personality and thus decrease symptoms (Haggerty, 2013). Sigmund Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis. He made important contributions to psychotherapy with his descriptions of the unconscious, infantile sexuality, the use of dreams and his model of the human mind. Due to his popularity, Freud’s psychoanalysis and other versions of it were then the main psychotherapy used in clinical practice. The use of hypnosis in psychotherapy almost disappeared during that time.

It was the 1st World War, during which time hypnosis found its way back to clinical practice. As ether was missing people were forced to find another possibility to relieve pain. Thus, hypnosis has been used as anaesthesia again.

In the 20th century, the physician Milton H. Erickson revolutionised the practice of hypno psychotherapy. According to Alman and Lambrou (1992) the use of personal experiences and perceptions of the individual in hypnosis and self-hypnosis makes hypnosis successful with almost everyone. The pioneer of a personalised hypnotherapy is Milton H. Erickson. His individual approach to hypnosis and psychotherapy had and still has an enormous influence on many practicioners. The majority of hypnotists and hypno psychotherapists today use some form of Ericksonian approach.

At first a way of overcoming his own physical limitations, Erickson’s relationship to hypnosis was a very personal one (History of Hypnosis, 2012). He became very interested in the therapeutic value of hypnosis. Over time he adopted a very unique approach, as he blended the patient’s own experiences into the suggestions. Milton H. Erickson believed that a success in hypnosis is most likely when his suggestions meshed with the words, symbols and images to which the individual can best relate. Erickson’s language in hypnosis is indirect, permissive and flexible. No commands or directing the person is being used. Furthermore Alman and Lambrou (1992) say that in the Ericksonian approach it is important to imply and leave open possibilities of a different experience. It’s about finding the right technique for each individual. Then practically everyone is hypnotizable. Erickson gave the client the maximum freedom to interpret what is being said in their own way and helped them to reach their own goals, rather than imposing his own ideas of happiness on them. The great achievement of Milton H. Erickson was to bring hypnosis back to the service of the individual, by doing whatever is necessary to make it truly client-focused.

In this sense of freedom and openness in hypnotherapy, psychotherapists have the responsibility to develop their own most effective style of therapy and be open to new psychotherapeutic approaches as they develop further (Milton Erickson Institut, 2013).


Alman, B. and Lambrou, P. (1992) Self-Hypnosis: The Complete Guide to Better Health and Self-Change, second edition, London: Souvenir Press.

Counselling Directory (2013) The History of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Available from [Accessed 26.3.2013].

Haggerty, J. (2013) History of Psychotherapy. Available from [Accessed 5.4.2013].

History of Hypnosis (2012) Milton H. Erickson. Available from [Accessed 13.4.2013].

Milton Erickson Institut (2013) Milton Erickson. Available from [Accessed 13.4.2013].

Morris, H. (2013) Genesis and the Resurrection. Available from [Accessed 26.3.2013].

Reeves, D. (2000–2008) The Roots of Hypnosis. Available from [Accessed 26.3.2013].

Rycroft, C. (1972) A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Sallachner, J. and Schinnerl, I. (2013) Sigmund Freud 1856–1939. Available from [Accessed 5.4.2013].

Whorwell, P. (2005) Review article: ‘The history of hypnotherapy and its role in the irritable bowel syndrome’, Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 22 (11-12), 1061–1067. Available from [Accessed 26.3.2013].

Want to learn more about hypnosis?

This is where I trained in London/Leicester, UK:

Our colleagues in California offer this international training for anyone who is interested:

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