History of Pain Management Hypnosis

History of Pain Management Hypnosis

The history of pain management hypnosis traces back to early civilizations. As far as we know, humans have always responded to rhythmic dances and singing, which lead to an altered state. So, it is no wonder that the first written accounts also reported hypnotic practices. Often for ritualistic and propitiatory ends.

The process of focusing and absorbing attention for pain management first appeared during Egyptian times. After the construction of the sleep temples, hypnosis spread to Greece and other parts of the world. Mainly as a tool for healing the mind and managing pain.

Here is a brief overview of the most critical periods and most influential figures in the history of using hypnosis for pain management.


Most likely, shamanic healing techniques are the oldest examples of therapeutic practice in human history. Shamans taught people how to access different parts of themselves that had answers to their issues. As specialists in their field, they acted as storytellers and philosophers. But they also resorted to hypnosis in a lot of ways for their purposes. Usually, they achieved hypnosis through the use of dancing, fasting, or religious rituals.

Entering an altered state of consciousness was a way to get beyond the conscious mind. Mainly to find answers to common issues that people were dealing with on a daily basis. Another use of hypnosis was meditation. Especially to calm the mind and discover inner resources that people needed to attain their goals.

Ancient Egyptians

In ancient Egypt, priests would lead visitors seeking healing into their sleep temples. From what we understand by looking at Egyptian tomb drawings, the hypnotic induction relied on eye fixation methods and positive suggestions. All this happened thousands of years ago, since 1500BC.

The priest-physician knew about medicinal plants. Yet, sorcery was normal in ancient Egypt. So, hypnosis became a tool to help people have dreams inspired by the gods.

With chanted incantations and suggestions, the priest purified the visitor’s mind. His goal was to ward off the evil spirits causing the illness. Entering a trance state was a way to diagnose and cure the affliction.

The Age of Reason (1750-1800)

Many historians point to the Enlightenment period as the beginning of modern hypnotism. In detail, hypnosis took on varying meanings because of two events:

  1. the Scientific Revolution
  2. the birth of experimental psychology

Different doctors in the emerging fields of medicine looked at the hypnotic state as a tool for change and pain management. Above all, superstition stopped playing a big part in the world of hypnosis. From now on, specialists are free to experiment with trance states and study them scientifically.

Some key hypnotists and notable innovators

Franz Anton Mesmer

Franz Anton Mesmer at first wanted to become a catholic priest. But as he studied more and more, he ended up choosing medicine and graduated with honors. Inspired by Newton, the alchemist Paracelso, and the physician Richard Mead, Mesmer theorized that the human spirit was fluid. As a result, he merged the use of magnets and hypnosis into his approach to therapy.

Mesmer coined the term mesmerism. With it, he explained how an invisible fluid acts as the human spirit. During his practice, Mesmer moved his hand around the patients’ bodies for hours. In some instances, he burned incense and played music until people entered a state of deep trance. His methods only worked because of the power of imagination. But his theory would soon create a legacy and many followers.

José Custódio de Faria

Also known as Abbé Faria, Faria did not share Mesmer’s idea of animal magnetism. Instead, he focused on the power of suggestion as a method to influence people. Thanks to Faria’s theories on sleepwalking, which he called lucid sleep, surgeon James Braid later coined the term hypnosis in 1843.

Faria used commands to induce people into a hypnotic state. In a dramatic fashion, he would prepare the subjects for hours. After that, he shouted at them to sleep and gave other orders. His hypnotic procedure was different from today’s hypnotic sessions. But Faria still used oral instructions. Mainly to focus the person’s attention and promote concentration.

As you can read in his later work On the cause of lucid sleep, Faria rejected the notion of mesmerism. He believed that the trance state was a natural occurrence. Plus, hypnosis was to him the key for relief, and even cure, of specific symptoms.

One of Faria’s most valuable contributions was the notion of positive suggestions. In fact, he believed that telling the subject about the beneficial effect of lucid sleep was a critical step to achieve a desirable outcome.

James Braid

Braid was a successful Scottish surgeon. As mesmerism gained popularity, he looked into hypnosis and came up with his ideas. Mainly, Braid believed that the hypnotist was not the person controlling the hypnotic process. Instead, he put the subject at the center of the whole process as the only one in control.

At that time, Braid’s views were not popular. Mostly because he believed that mesmerism and the occult had nothing to do with the beneficial effects of hypnosis. Among his most precious insights, we can list:

  • attributing pain relief during hypnosis to the physiological state of the brain and the spinal cord
  • the importance of eye fixation and concentration to access the trance state

For him, hypnotism was a therapeutic tool. Any physician could have used hypnosis to complement other forms of treatments.

James Braid was a man ahead of his time, looking at hypnosis with a clinical mind. He published the book Neurypnology in 1843. In it, Braid described his experiments with hypnosis. Not only he recounted his successes, but also his failures.

John Elliotson

Doctor John Elliotson was one of the most respected physicians in London. But he also liked to try new therapies and techniques. So, when he heard of mesmerism, he began to test it with his patients.

After the experiments on the Oakley sisters, he gave lectures and demonstrations to large audiences and interested students. Many of his colleagues were not happy about it. So much so that the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London banned the use of mesmerism from hospital wards and lecture theaters.

The medical committee also forced Elliotson to resign from his professorship. Eventually, he reasserted his authority as a world-respected professor to carry out further research. His studies focused on anesthesia and pain control under hypnosis.

James Esdaile

In the mid-1850s, no one used hypnosis for surgery more than James Esdaile. This surgeon reported that he used hypnotic anesthesia with more than 340 patients. At the time, chemical anesthesia was not widespread. So, like Elliotson, he became pretty famous for his surgeries.

Esdaile used Mesmer’s techniques. So, he believed his skills were the cause for successful hypnosis. Preparations for entering the hypnotic state could take hours and even days. Today, we use the term Esdaile state in his honor to refer to a form of hypnotic anesthesia. In this state, subjects are relaxed and aware. But they do not care about what happens. Plus, after emerging out of it, they report no physical sensation.

Émile Coué

Émile Coué published Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion in 1920. As the book’s title implies, the French psychologist and pharmacist Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie promoted autosuggestion. You can consider Coué as the pioneer of the self-help movement.

Thanks to Coué, self-hypnosis gained traction. Coué understood that a patient’s beliefs and expectations relate to the efficacy of the treatment. In other words, he discovered the power of the placebo effect. He taught people that we constantly give ourselves unconscious suggestions. And more importantly, that all we have to do is to give ourselves better conscious ones.

Milton Erikson

Without this man, today’s hypnotic sessions would be a lot different. Milton Erikson developed his observation skills as a child. Stuck in bed with polio for many years, all he could do was watching his family members. Later, he became a prominent psychiatrist and psychologist who focused on hypnosis.

Erikson developed a whole hypnotic framework to promote pain control and healing. He used the unconscious mind to explain the trance state and the resources inside ourselves. Above all, he detailed all his techniques and wrote about them extensively. He left a legacy that influenced many specialists and non-specialists.

Dave Elman

Elman knew about hypnosis because his father had cancer. From his father, he learned some self-hypnotic techniques for pain control. Unlike the previous movers and shakers of hypnosis, Elman never studied medicine. Instead, he became a showman.

His stage hypnotism drew a lot of attention. After a while, he tried to profit from teaching his method to hypnotherapists. But his lessons did not bear fruit in the long run. Still, to this day, the Elman induction is a nifty hypnotic induction for pain management.

Ernest Hilgard

The American psychologist and professor at Stanford University realized that in hypnosis, people can observe themselves. Subjects can notice pain without having to experience it. In his book Hypnosis in the relief of pain, he named this theory the hidden observer.

With the help of a separate part of yourself, you can shift your perspective. The hidden observer hints at the power of a perspective shift when dealing with pain. In a way, this part can provide emotional space for immediate relief. Or to take a more relaxed view of what is going on.

During hypnosis, subjects can split off a part of themselves to observe what is happening. They can achieve a degree of hypnotic anesthesia, pain elimination, or pain reduction. Later on, the notion that we contain parts (and that these parts in our mind have different roles) influenced regression therapy.

Hypnosis now and in the future

Current research on hypnosis and pain relief takes advantage of the latest brain scanning technology. In the last decade, researchers have studied how hypnosis activates different parts of the brain.

In the last two decades, clinical research supported the effectiveness of hypnosis. When compared with other methods, hypnotism shows to be more effective for reducing procedure-related pain. The hypnotic state also relieves labor and delivery pain effectively.

Dr. David Spiegel hypnotized himself during a three-hour shoulder surgery in 1972. Since then, he studies the hypnotic state and what it takes to be hypnotized. As the Wilson Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, his research focuses on stress and health.

Spiegel suggests hypnosis “as a different way to think about practicing medicine.” In his talks, he explains how hypnotism developed from Mesmer and evolved through the early stages. Plus, he shows how hypnosis and words change pain perception in different parts of the brain.

In conclusion, the interest in hypnosis is strongly growing and far from being over. And as new hypnotic techniques and ideas emerge, pain management hypnosis proves to be ever more effective. Especially for anyone dealing with chronic pain and intense mental stress.

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Hypnosis is a medically and scientifically recognized technique that uses the mind’s natural abilities to effectively reduce physical pain and promote wellbeing. Learn how it can help you.

Legal Disclaimer

As a consulting hypnotist, Luis’ role is help you resolve ordinary, everyday problems using hypnosis. He is not a medically trained doctor or a licensed mental health practitioner that can diagnose, prescribe, treat, cure, or heal any physical, mental, or emotional illness. The hypnosis services rendered are not to be considered in any way, a form of health care, psychotherapy, or counseling.