The Beginnings of Hypnosis

Tim Langhorn – Hypnotherapist in Bath – Explores the beginnings of hypnosis and the practice of hypnotherapy as we know it today

The history of hypnosis

Many are aware of how hypnotherapy can help with a habit, such as smoking or nail-biting. Often used to help lower stress or anxiety. It is widely known that hypnotherapy also helps release unwanted fears or phobias. However, not many people know the origins of this form of therapeutic help.

Blog hypnosis by Tim Langhorn - Hypnotherapist, Counsellor, Life Coach & Children's Therapist in Bath BA23QU

Hypnosis has been around a very long time. Roughly 242 years give or take. In the year 1775 the German physician, Franz Mesmer, investigated an effect called animal magnetism (aka mesmerism). He believed this phenomena to be an invisible force which all living animals and mammals possessed.

To get an idea of how long ago this was, these are some of the events happening in that year:

  • King George III was on the throne of Great Britain
  • The American war of independence begins
  • Jane Austin the English novelist was born
  • Captain James Cook was still exploring the world
  • In London, William Turner, the painter was born
  • The Royal Crescent in Bath was finally completed after eight years

Mesmer had the idea that this animal magnetism could have physical effects. Which would lead to healing the organism, such as physical damage or disease. Somehow repairing the living tissue or the organs of the body. He was persistent in his beliefs and tried many times to achieve scientific recognition for his work. But without success.

All those years later we still use the term ‘mesmerism’. Named after the man who came up with the original idea. Because, to be mesmerised by something, was the beginnings of what we now call, ‘an altered state of consciousness’. In this state of altered consciousness we are fully engaged  in an activity or event in our mind. We are, for that moment in time, engaged so deeply and so focussed, that we exclude all other things around us.

The founding father of hypnosis

Franz Mesmer may well have got the hypnotic ball rolling, but it wasn’t he who named it, hypnosis. That was down to a Scottish surgeon James Braid. It was James Braid who adopted the term hypnosis in 1841. Braid defined hypnotism as ‘a state of focussed attention upon a single idea or mental image’.

Braid had attended a public performance of animal magnetism by a travelling demonstrator of mesmerism, Charles Lafontaine. James Braid had observed the effects of this unusual phenomenon and thought there must be something in it. Braid was one of a number of medics invited to get up close to the subject, who had been mesmerised by Lafontaine. Braid concluded that the subject was in some form of physical state. A state which was quite different to the norm. James Braid attended another two demonstrations from Lafontaine, before he decided to carry out some experiments of his own.

James Braid did in fact experiment with ‘self-hypnotisation’, what we nowadays call self-hypnosis. He was without doubt, that he had discovered a natural psycho-physiological process. He gave his first public lecture in Manchester, England in November 1841. He was able to demonstrate successfully, that he could replicate the effects of Lafontaine but without the need for any physical intervention on his part toward the subject. And so, hypnosis was born.

Again to get some perspective on the timeline for this, some events happening in the year 1841 were:

  • Queen Victoria, age 22, had been on the throne four years
  • David Livingstone ‘I presume’ arrives in Africa, for his first posting
  • French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born
  • Thomas Cook arranges his first excursion. A return rail journey from Leicester to Loughborough carrying 500 passengers a distance of 12 miles, for one shilling (5p in today’s money)
  • The population of London, was 1.58million (2017 est. over 8.5m). And less than two-thirds of its inhabitants born there. New arrivals came from as far afield as India, China, Poland, France and Italy. Hmm! Immigration not a new thing then Brexiteers

The meaning of hypnosis

Braid himself was keen to clarify ‘that although the Greek word hypnos means “sleep”, hypnosis was essentially a state of conscious attention. This being virtually opposite of the sleep we take in our beds at night’.

In his book Magic, Witchcraft, Animal Magnetism, etc. (1852), James Braid defined hypnotism ‘as a state of focused attention upon a single idea or mental image’.  And continued; ‘The hypnotic sleep, therefore, is the very antithesis or opposite mental and physical condition to that which precedes and accompanies common sleep; for the latter arises from a diffusive state of mind, or complete loss of power of fixing the attention, with suspension of voluntary power’.

The modern day dictionary (least the one I read), describes the word ‘Hypnosis’ as ‘a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion’. The word origin of ‘hypno-‘ is from Greek ‘hupnos’ meaning ‘sleep’ . Then added to that you have -osis suffix (via Latin from Greek -ōsis, verbal noun ending) denoting a process or condition.

Well I do hope that dictionary definition is clear to everyone? If you think that is a bit much you should try reading about Quantum Mechanics.

The use of  the hypnotic experience

The world renown psychologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud used hypnotherapy with his patients. The father of psychoanalysis himself back in 1885. And that’s well over 125 years ago. Yet hypnosis is still surrounded by a certain amount of mysticism and myth. Many people I meet at my consulting room in Bath, have little or no experience with hypnosis. Apart from what they have seen on the telly or on stage. A few have seen the helpful side, from people like Paul McKenna. But most have just experienced the stage hypnotist and his “look into  my eyes, not around the eyes” tomfoolery.

So the mysticism and myth is promoted in part, by the work of the stage hypnotist. Because it conjures up thoughts of people running around on stage, acting like frenzied chickens. This use of hypnosis is for entertainment only. It often humiliates and ridicules and is not what hypnotherapy is about. Far from it. The problem for therapists, is that this is often the only thing people know about hypnosis. So many people attending the hypnotherapists consulting room for the first time are, not surprisingly, quite anxious about the process.

So, I wan to reassure those out there who are tainted by myth and mysticism. The stage hypnotist gives the impression that they are all powerful. They somehow have control over your self-will and you always do as they command. This is in fact, not the case. Sorry to break your bubble of belief in hypnotists, but you are always still in control. You are in control of what you do, and only go along with their suggestions, because you’re game for a laugh. When you experience hypnosis with a qualified hypnotherapist, you are also still in control.  However, you go along with their suggestions, because you know that these suggestions are the pathways to the changes that will help you. To achieve your goals, safely.

When it comes down to it, the hypnotic state is a natural phenomenon. It is what we call ‘an altered state of consciousness’. When you read a book or daydream. When you focus that thought to the exclusion of all else to the point where the rest of world carries on in the distance. You are, for that moment, distancing yourself from conscious reality and conscious interference. There you have it. That’s what we call an altered state of consciousness. That’s the hypnotic state. As natural as breathing. Or thinking.


Hypnotherapy exploits that calm, relaxed and focussed state of mind, in such a way as to bring about positive change. Hypnotists however, those people in the entertainment industry, use it to get people to make fools of themselves. However, there are two things I have in common with a hypnotist:

  1. We both use hypnosis
  2. We both need willing participants

But that’s as far as it goes. Otherwise, we are not at all alike with the way we use hypnosis. They use it for fooling around and getting an audience to laugh at other people’s expense. I use it to help people deal with emotional, behavioural, habitual and psychological symptoms or issues. Everything the hypnotist does has no useful purpose for the people they manipulate. Everything I do, is done with a positive intent to help, support. To steer people into a direction whereby they will manage their lives in a more constructive and positive way.

Tim Langhorn Hypnotherapist in Bath, helping you to help yourself…

About the Author

Tim Langhorn

I am Tim Langhorn and I offer behavioural and psychological therapy from my consulting room in the City of Bath. The therapy I offer can help people manage their emotions, deal with unnecessary behaviour and alleviate the anxiety which is so prevalent when issues occur. I have been living and working in Bath for over ten years and offer therapy to adults and children alike.

Anxiety is at the heart of many symptoms or conditions faced by people who engage in the therapy I offer in Bath. Hypnotherapy for example, is renowned for the way it helps deal with anxiety and is a therapy which enables you to reinforce your inner resources and reintroduce an alternative way to respond.

Since 1982 I have been offering therapy to children and adults in a variety of settings and of varying ages. This experience has enabled me to fine tune the therapy I now offer you at my practice in Bath.

Anxiety may be one which interferers with everyday life or social gatherings. It may be that your anxiety has led you to create a habit you now wish to stop. Unresolved emotions can cause stress and anxiety which in turn can lead to an ever deepening depressive state of mind. The therapy I offer can help people understand their anxiety and learn to find new ways to overcome the unnecessary anxiety they feel.