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Hypnosis has been a phenomenon for thousands of years; shamans, healers, and medicine men and women of ancient tribes used trance and other states of consciousness to heal sickness and appease their gods. Some of today's professional hypnotherapists suggest that hypnotherapy began with these ancient healers.

The first recorded instance of hypnosis in modern times occurred in the 1700s, when Austrian physician Franz Mesmer touted the healing potential of the trance state in his patients. Mesmer had a very flamboyant hypnotic style, and he claimed considerable success in helping his patients to heal. This trance state became know as "mesmerism," in honor of this early practitioner.

Mesmerism continued to be used in Europe in the mid-1800s, albeit sparingly and with little encouragement from the established medical community. Records indicate that Scottish surgeon James Esdaile used mesmerism as the sole anesthetic during surgery, and John Elliotson, a British surgeon, had similar success in pain management. English physician James Braid coined the word "hypnosis" in the late 1800s, using the Greek word for sleep, hypnos.

In the years that followed, a number of French physicians began to investigate hypnosis more earnestly. Jean Martin Charcot determined that hypnosis was an abnormal, unsafe state. However, French physicians August Ambrose LiƩbeault and Hippolyte Bernheim actually considered hypnosis to be a very normal state of mind that was largely untapped. They did more research into the idea of suggestibility during the hypnotic state. Gradually, hypnosis became more accepted in wider circles.

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud also began to investigate hypnosis to explore his patients' psyches, but he eventually rejected it in favor of dream analysis and psychoanalysis. Freud's early rejection of hypnotherapy caused many in the medical establishment to lose interest in the field until the 1950s, when hypnosis regained popularity. The establishment of the National Guild of Hypnotists in 1950/1951 helped bring solidarity and credibility to the profession.

In the 1960s and 1970s, hypnotherapy became a popular alternative therapy in the United States and the United Kingdom. Today, hypnotherapy is gaining more acceptance in the mainstream, although it may never reach the level of acceptance of more traditional therapies.