Key Figures in the History of Hypnosis

Key figures in the History of Hypnosis

By Donald Robertson, editor of The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid

These are some of the key figures in the history of hypnosis, with links to their pages on Wikipedia…

Animal magnetism

Was the precursor to hypnotism, founded by Franz Mesmer in the 18th century.

History of hypnosis

This article provides an overview of the whole history of hypnotism.

Franz Mesmer

Mesmer was not a hypnotist, but developed a method called “animal magnetism” that was the forerunner (and bitter rival) of early hypnotism.

Marques of Puységur

A famous follower of Mesmer, who introduced the concept of “artificial somnambulism.”

James Esdaile

Not actually a Mesmerist but Esdaile used a similar method with some success in India, for painless surgery, although his results were subsequently disputed by observers.

John Elliotson

A Mesmerist, contemporary of Esdaile and Braid, and bitter opponent of hypnotism.

James Braid

Braid coined the term “hypnotism” in 1841 and is widely-regarded as the founder of hypnotherapy.

Jean-Martin Charcot

Charcot was an influential French neurologist, whose ideas about hypnotism were essentially debunked by his rival Bernheim and his colleagues.

Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault

A provincial French doctor who employed a method of hypnotism influenced by Braid and taught Bernheim and Coue, founding the so-called Nancy School.

Hippolyte Bernheim

French neurologist and doctor who studied with Liebeault and founded the Nancy School with him, becoming perhaps the most influential figure in the history of hypnotism.

Pierre Janet

French psychologist and rival of Freud, who developed a sophisticated early theory of hypnotism based on the concepts of dissociation and automatism.

Sigmund Freud

The founder of psychoanalysis started as a hypnotist and introduced the concept of hypnotic regression and catharsis.

Émile Coué

A pioneer of self-help who studied hypnotism with Liebeault but went on to develop his “conscious autosuggestion” method of training groups instead.

Morton Prince

An early psychotherapist who used hypnotism and developed the idea of dissociation.

Clark L. Hull

The founder of scientific research into hypnotism, president of the American Psychological Association and one of the most influential American behavioural psychologists.

Andrew Salter

The father of assertiveness training and an early pioneer of behavioural approaches to hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis.

Theodore R. Sarbin

The founder of the nonstate or sociocognitive approach to hypnosis, compared hypnosis to a form of imaginative role-taking rather than an altered state of consciousness

Milton H. Erickson

Perhaps the most influential hypnotist of the 20th century, although his importance has waned because of lack of empirical support for his unique approach to “indirect” hypnosis, some have argued that his methods depart so much from traditional hypnosis, though, that he was effectively doing something else.

Ernest Hilgard

Professor of psychology at Stanford University, authority on pain management, and co-author with Weitzenhoffer of the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS), the most widely-used research tool in the field of hypnosis.

Martin Theodore Orne

Influential hypnosis researchers who developed the idea of the social “demand characteristics” of a situation powerfully influencing the behaviour of experimental subjects.

André Muller Weitzenhoffer

Author of the clinical textbook The Practice of Hypnotism and influential researcher and colleague of Hilgard.

Theodore Xenophon Barber

Influenced by Sarbin, Barber coined the term “cognitive-behavioural” approach to hypnosis in 1974, carrying out a rigorous programme of experimental research on the cognitive factors determining hypnotic responses.

Nicholas Spanos

One of the most prolific researchers in the field of hypnosis, Spanos developed the work of Sarbin and Barber into a systematic programme of hypnotic skills training, and demonstrated that subjects could be trained to respond better to hypnotism.

Irving Kirsch

One of the most influential contemporary researchers in the field of hypnosis, Prof. Kirsch has focused on the role of “response expectancy” in hypnosis and the placebo effect, again from a broadly cognitive-behavioural perspective, rejecting the idea of hypnotic trance.

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