Hypnotic states have been around since the beginnings of recorded civilization. The ancient Egyptians were familiar with induced trances, as were the Greeks, who used a form of hypnosis for healing in Dream Temples.
All modern hypnotism stems from a Jesuit Priest named (believe it or not!) Father Hell, who effected miraculous cures. He influenced Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese physician who lived in Paris during the mid-to-late 1700s, and from whom we derived the word "mesmerize." Mesmer incorporated the use of magnets in healing, but later discarded them, believing that he could magnetize people himself. He felt that there was a magnetic fluid pervading the universe, including people. When this magnetic fluid was out of balance, illness resulted. It is from his theories that we have the term "animal magnetism." Mesmer achieved enormous popularity in the salons of Paris during the age of Louis XVI. His theories were discredited by an investigative panel of scientists and physicians, led by Benjamin Franklin, who concluded that such cures were due solely to the power of imagination. (!)
Some internet hypnosis websites incorrectly state that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart studied hypnotism, known then as magnetism. This is not true. There was, however, an association, as young Mozart's father was a close friend of Mesmer, who was himself an accomplished musician. The premiere performance Wolfgang Mozart's first opera, composed when he was still a child, was given on Mesmer's palatial estate and, some believe, commissioned by Mesmer. There is even evidence that Mesmer had a small role in the opera!
French students of Mesmer further advanced the body of knowledge about the hypnotic state and the power of suggestion, and in the mid-1800s the word hypnosis was popularized by a Scottish physician, Dr. James Braid, who derived the word from Hypnos, the Greek God of sleep. (Braid was not the first to use this term.) Meanwhile, James Esdaile, a surgeon from Great Britain, utilized hypnosis successfully as an anesthetic for over three thousand surgical operations in India in the mid-1800s, others were exploring its many potentials in England and Europe, and stage hypnotists discovered its use as a vehicle for entertainment. Modern psychotherapy has its roots in hypnotism. Sigmund Freud had a great interest in hypnotizing patients early in his career. When hypnotists successfully treated shell shock victims after WWI, the scientific community began to accept its validity.
In 1958, the study of hypnosis was endorsed by the American Medical Association. Current credible scientific studies continue to prove its effectiveness in helping people relax and reduce stress, overcome bad habits like smoking and overeating, remove fears and phobias, improve performance onstage and in sports, manage pain, experience comfortable childbirth, boost self-confidence, enhance creativity and more.