"You, Randal Churchill, founded HTI as one of the original four licensed hypnotherapy schools and you continue to be a pioneer of the newest hypnotherapy and teaching methods. HTI has grown uniquely vast, sustained by a large web of relationships and thousands of grateful hypnotherapists worldwide. You can be proud to have personally woven a worldwide web of excellent masters of their professions for which you laid the cornerstone as "The Teacher of the Teachers."™
Mesmer's technique appeared to be quite successful in the treatment of his patients, but he was the subject of scorn and ridicule from the medical profession. Because of all the controversy surrounding mesmerism, and because Mesmer's personality was quite eccentric, a commission was convened to investigate his techniques and procedures. A very distinguished panel of investigators included Benjamin Franklin, the French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, and physician Jacques Guillotin. The commission acknowledged that patients did seem to obtain noticeable relief from their conditions, but the whole idea was dismissed as being medical quackery.
Braid worked very closely with his friend and ally the eminent physiologist Professor William Benjamin Carpenter, an early neuro-psychologist who introduced the "ideo-motor reflex" theory of suggestion. Carpenter had observed instances of expectation and imagination apparently influencing involuntary muscle movement. A classic example of the ideo-motor principle in action is the so-called "Chevreul pendulum" (named after Michel Eugène Chevreul). Chevreul claimed that divinatory pendulae were made to swing by unconscious muscle movements brought about by focused concentration alone.
As a hypnotherapist, I've seen first-hand the incredible changes that this form of therapy can bring. I once had a client with an intense phobia of maggots who couldn't so much as utter the word without experiencing a strong physical and emotional response. But after just two sessions she found that she was able to talk about them comfortably and was also willing to watch videos of them online without feeling disturbed. She was hardly able to believe her progress.
"When I started I was taking it for a thesis topic and only expected to complete the first level. The more I learned, the more I realized this is what I really wanted to do. By the time of my Level 4 Graduation, I felt this could be my profession. I quickly developed a full-time hypnotherapy practice, with at least 6-8 clients per day. I have referrals referring referrals!
During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration. The person can concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory, while blocking out sources of distraction. Hypnotised subjects are said to show an increased response to suggestions. Hypnosis is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction involving a series of preliminary instructions and suggestion. The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as "hypnotherapy", while its use as a form of entertainment for an audience is known as "stage hypnosis". Stage hypnosis is often performed by mentalists practicing the art form of mentalism.
Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, it also poses a risk of creating false memories—usually as a result of unintended suggestions by the therapist. For this reason, using hypnotherapy for certain mental disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.
The science behind hypnotherapy is just now beginning to catch up to reports of its beneficial nature. The scientific community is beginning to rave about the potential benefits of hypnosis and what it could do for patients who are looking for a new treatment option. Hypnosis could prove to be a valuable weapon in fighting a multitude of psychological, physical, or behavioral issues.
Research into hypnosis in military applications is further verified by the Project MKULTRA experiments, also conducted by the CIA. According to Congressional testimony, the CIA experimented with utilizing LSD and hypnosis for mind control. Many of these programs were done domestically and on participants who were not informed of the study's purposes or that they would be given drugs.
Confusion can occur when one seeks a hypnotherapist, as a result of the various titles, certifications, and licenses in the field. Many states do not regulate the title "hypnotist" or "hypnotherapist," so care must be exercised when selecting someone to see. As a rule, it is best to consult a professional in the field of mental health or medicine, although alternative sources for hypnosis are available. Care must be taken also by the therapist to ensure adequate training and sufficient experience for rendering this specialized service. The therapist must be well grounded in a psychotherapeutic approach before undertaking the use of hypnotherapy. Professionals should not attempt hypnotherapy with any disorder for which they would not use traditional therapeutic approaches. The patient seeking hypnotherapy is reminded that unskilled or amateur hypnotists can cause harm and should not be consulted for the purpose of implementing positive change in an individual's life. The detrimental effects of being subjected to amateur or inadequately trained persons can be severe and long lasting. (See abnormal results below.)
Anecdotal reports suggest that hypnotherapy may be effective in treating allergies, amnesia, anorexia, anxiety, arthritis, bedwetting, bulimia, chronic fatigue syndrome, claustrophobia, depression, dermopathies, fear, flatulence, forgetfulness, gastrointestinal tract problems (such as colitis and irritable bowl syndrome), gout, hypertension, hyperventilation, insomnia, jet lag, low back pain, menstrual defects, migraines, pain and neuralgias, mood swings, panic attacks, phobias, postpartum pain, premenstrual syndrome, psychosomatic disease, sciatica, sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders, sports injuries, stress, stuttering, tension, tics and warts.
One well-known example of a relaxation technique is known variously as progressive muscle relaxation, systematic muscle relaxation, and Jacobson relaxation. The patient sits comfortably in a quiet room. He or she then tenses a group of muscles, such as those in the right arm, holds the contraction for 15 seconds, then releases it while breathing out. After a short rest, this sequence is repeated with another set of muscles. In a systematic fashion, major muscle groups are contracted, then allowed to relax. Gradually, different sets of muscle are combined. Patients are encouraged to notice the differences between tension and relaxation.
Around 1900, there were very few preoperative anesthetic drugs available. Patients were naturally apprehensive when facing surgery. One out of four hundred patients would die, not from the surgical procedure, but from the anesthesia. Dr. Henry Munro was one of the first physicians to use hypnotherapy to alleviate patient fears about having surgery. He would get his patients into a hypnotic state and discuss their fears with them, telling them they would feel a lot better following surgery. Ether was the most common anesthetic at that time, and Dr. Munro found that he was able to perform surgery using only about 10% of the usual amount of ether.
The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist and typically responds in an uncritical, automatic fashion while ignoring all aspects of the environment other than those pointed out by the hypnotist. In a hypnotic state an individual tends to see, feel, smell, and otherwise perceive in accordance with the hypnotist's suggestions, even though these suggestions may be in apparent contradiction to the actual stimuli present in the environment. The effects of hypnosis are not limited to sensory change; even the subject's memory and awareness of self may be altered by suggestion, and the effects of the suggestions may be extended (posthypnotically) into the subject's subsequent waking activity.
One obvious risk to patients is the insufficiently trained therapist. The inadequately trained therapist can cause harm and distort the normally pleasant experience of hypnotherapy. A second risk for patients is the unscrupulous practitioner who may be both inadequately trained and may have some hidden agenda. These rare individuals are capable of causing great harm to the patient and to the profession. As mentioned above, the patient should carefully scrutinize their chosen therapist before submitting themselves to this dynamic form of therapy.
The American Psychological Association published a study comparing the effects of hypnosis, ordinary suggestion, and placebo in reducing pain. The study found that highly suggestible individuals experienced a greater reduction in pain from hypnosis compared with placebo, whereas less suggestible subjects experienced no pain reduction from hypnosis when compared with placebo. Ordinary non-hypnotic suggestion also caused reduction in pain compared to placebo, but was able to reduce pain in a wider range of subjects (both high and low suggestible) than hypnosis. The results showed that it is primarily the subject's responsiveness to suggestion, whether within the context of hypnosis or not, that is the main determinant of causing reduction in pain.
Cancer patients use relaxation and hypnosis. Evidence from randomized trials shows hypnosis and relaxation are effective for cancer-related anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting, particularly in children. Some practitioners also claim that relaxation techniques, particularly the use of imagery, can prolong life, although currently available evidence is insufficient to support this claim.
Despite briefly toying with the name "rational Mesmerism", Braid ultimately chose to emphasise the unique aspects of his approach, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career in order to refute practices that invoked supernatural forces and demonstrating instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the observed effects.
In the brain, this state looks stranger still. A landmark study in the prestigious journal Science in the late 1990s, led by Pierre Rainville of the University of Montreal, described a study in which hypnotized people briefly placed their left hand in either painfully hot water, heated to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or room-temperature water. Some of them had been told that they would be experiencing pain, but that they wouldn’t be very bothered by it — if, on a scale of one to ten, the hurt would normally register at an eight, they’d feel it as if it were a four. As all the participants placed their hands in the 116-degree water, their brains were scanned. The results were clear: Those who had been told that the pain would be less intense showed less activity in their brains — specifically, in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain processing.
Cally Stewart, OTD, OTR/L, CH joined the Center for Healthy Living in January 2017. She was certified in hypnotherapy in 2009 and has practiced in a variety of health care settings including cancer care, family medicine, rehabilitation from injury or surgery, and chronic disease self-management. Cally has a B.A. in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her master's and doctorate in occupational therapy at Tufts University and is a licensed occupational therapist in Massachusetts. She also holds a certification in hypnotherapy through the International Association of Counselors and Therapists.
A typical hypnotherapy session has the patient seated comfortably with their feet on the floor and palms on their lap. Of course, the patient could choose to lie down if that option is available and if that will meet the patient's expectation of hypnosis. The therapist can even set the stage for a favorable outcome by asking questions like, "Would you prefer to undergo hypnosis in this chair or on the sofa?" Once patients make the choice, they are in effect agreeing to undergo hypnosis. Depending on the approach used by the therapist, the next events can vary, but generally will involve some form of relaxing the patient. Suggestions will lead the patient to an increasingly relaxed state. The therapist may wish to confirm the depth of trance by performing tests with the patient. For example, the therapist may suggest that when the eyes close that they will become locked and cannot be opened. The therapist then checks for this by having patients try to open their eyes. Following a successful trial showing the patient's inability to open the eyes, the therapist might then further relax them by using deepening techniques. Deepening techniques will vary for each patient and depend largely on whether the patient represents information through auditory, visual, or kinesthetic means. If the patient is more affected by auditory suggestions, the therapist would use comments such as "You hear the gentle patter of rain on the roof;" or, "The sound of the ocean waves allow you to relax more and more." For the visual person, the therapist might use statements such as, "You see the beautiful placid lake, with trees bending slightly with the breeze." Finally, with the kinesthetic person phrases such as, "You feel the warm sun and gentle breeze on your skin," could be used. It is important for the therapist to know if the patient has difficulty with the idea of floating or descending because these are sometimes used to enhance the experience for the patient. However, if the patient has a fear of heights or develops a feeling of oppression with the thought of traveling downward and going deeper and deeper, suggestions implying the unwanted or feared phenomenon will not be taken and can thwart the attempt.
More than 200 years later, research in neuroscience is confirming at least parts of Mesmer’s outlandish theory. No, there is not magnetic fluid coursing through our bodies. But the power of mere suggestion — of imagination, as Franklin phrased it — is a more effective treatment than many modern skeptics might expect, causing real, measurable changes in the body and brain. Hypnotism has been shown to be an effective treatment for psychological problems, like phobias and eating disorders, but the practice also helps people with physical problems, including pain — both acute and chronic — and some gastrointestinal diseases. Physicians and psychologists have observed this with their own eyes for decades; now, many of them say that brain-imaging studies (not to mention the deep respect people tend to have for all things prefixed by “neuro”) are helping them finally prove their point.
Hypnosis, when using proven therapeutic procedures, can be a highly effective form of treatment for many mental, psychosomatic, and physical disorders. For example, through the use of regressive techniques, an adult patient may mentally voyage back to a point in youth that was particularly troublesome, allowing the healing of old emotional wounds. Another patient can be led to understand that emotional pain has been converted to physical pain, and that the pain can be eliminated once the source has been addressed. Or, a person suffering from chronic pain can be taught to control the pain without use of medications. There are a number of techniques for correcting dysfunctional behaviors such as self-destructive habits, anxiety disorders, and even managing side effects of various medical treatments and procedures.
Linda Bennett, Ph.D, is Senior Curriculum Specialist and the Hypnotherapy Program Director for both our On Campus and Online Hypnotherapy Programs at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. Linda is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Board Certified Hypnotherapy Instructor and Certifying Examiner as well as a Certified Life Coach. She has worked for more than 25 years in the fields of higher education development and corporate training. Linda is the 2014 International Medical & Dental Hypnotherapy Association Educator of the Year, received the National Association of Transpersonal Hypnotherapists’ 2011 Outstanding Clinic Contribution Award, and was recognized for “Outstanding Creativity in the Classroom” for 2005-2006 by the Arizona Private Schools Association. Linda’s passion is to make learning a comprehensive and fun experience that is engaging to all students, whatever their learning style.
As with other treatment providers, recommendations from family or friends are a great place to start. You can also check with a therapist, naturopath, or acupuncturist for recommendations. There are several databases of certified hypnotherapists online too. Try checking the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis’s database, or the General Hypnotherapy Register. You’ll want to check the therapist’s website before you choose, making sure to look for credentials and testimony from previous patients if available.
But the reason why this ever works, for anyone, is still not clear. Some researchers argue that hypnosis may help us tap into “the autonomic nervous system to influence physical systems that aren’t usually under voluntary control,” Marchant writes in her book. She points to Karen Olness, a retired pediatrician and former member of the NIH Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, who has worked with children who could, through hypnosis, increase the temperature of their fingertips “way beyond what would be achieved merely from relaxation.”
Hypnosis or deep relaxation can sometimes exacerbate psychological problems—for example, by retraumatizing those with post-traumatic disorders or by inducing “false memories” in psychologically susceptible individuals. Evidence, although inconclusive, has raised concerns that the dissociation necessary to participate in relaxation or hypnosis can lead to the manifestation of the symptoms of psychosis. Only appropriately trained and experienced practitioners should undertake hypnosis. Its use should be avoided in patients with borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, or with patients who have histories of profound abuse. Competent hypnotherapists are skilled in recognizing and referring patients with these conditions.
The Mitchell method involves adopting body positions that are opposite to those associated with anxiety (fingers spread rather than hands clenched, for example). In autogenic training, patients concentrate on experiencing physical sensations, such as warmth and heaviness, in different parts of their bodies in a learned sequence. Other methods encourage the use of diaphragmatic breathing that involves deep and slow abdominal breathing coupled with a conscious attempt to let go of tension during exhalation.
Stage hypnosis is a form of entertainment, traditionally employed in a club or theatre before an audience. Due to stage hypnotists' showmanship, many people believe that hypnosis is a form of mind control. Stage hypnotists typically attempt to hypnotise the entire audience and then select individuals who are "under" to come up on stage and perform embarrassing acts, while the audience watches. However, the effects of stage hypnosis are probably due to a combination of psychological factors, participant selection, suggestibility, physical manipulation, stagecraft, and trickery. The desire to be the centre of attention, having an excuse to violate their own fear suppressors, and the pressure to please are thought to convince subjects to "play along". Books by stage hypnotists sometimes explicitly describe the use of deception in their acts; for example, Ormond McGill's New Encyclopedia of Stage Hypnosis describes an entire "fake hypnosis" act that depends upon the use of private whispers throughout.
When James Braid first described hypnotism, he did not use the term "suggestion" but referred instead to the act of focusing the conscious mind of the subject upon a single dominant idea. Braid's main therapeutic strategy involved stimulating or reducing physiological functioning in different regions of the body. In his later works, however, Braid placed increasing emphasis upon the use of a variety of different verbal and non-verbal forms of suggestion, including the use of "waking suggestion" and self-hypnosis. Subsequently, Hippolyte Bernheim shifted the emphasis from the physical state of hypnosis on to the psychological process of verbal suggestion:
"YOUR HAPPINESS IS IN YOUR HANDS but you have to take action. You just have to make some simple changes and enjoy the results. Many have done it, and so can you. What Clients Have Said: BJS: Working with Faith has been a Godsend. I had some very unfortunate things happen to me ... My life was spinning out of control. I've learned how to understand and deal with grief and stress in a new way. She has also given me help with my relationships and even on working with my young children in a more effective way."
For some psychologists who uphold the altered state theory of hypnosis, pain relief in response to hypnosis is said to be the result of the brain's dual-processing functionality. This effect is obtained either through the process of selective attention or dissociation, in which both theories involve the presence of activity in pain receptive regions of the brain, and a difference in the processing of the stimuli by the hypnotised subject.
The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep the eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of that one object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted: They will shortly begin to dilate, and, after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object toward the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion. If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried towards the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed, in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above the eyes. In general, it will be found, that the eyelids close with a vibratory motion, or become spasmodically closed.
Hypnotherapy is a therapy that spans hundreds of years and has many practitioners across the United States. Researchers have studied whether hypnosis can treat a variety of medical conditions, from irritable bowel syndrome to anxiety and depression. The goal for hypnotherapy is to help a patient learn to better control their state of awareness. In the case of depression, hypnotherapy sessions may be focused on helping a person achieve a state of relaxation. In this relaxed state, they can discuss their feelings and emotions without raising stress and anxiety levels.
Additionally, hypnosis is often utilized in a manner that allows deep self-exploration and discovery of unconscious intentions, motivations, or events and experiences that result in symptoms undesirable to a person. Hypnosis circumvents conscious thought processes, allowing a person to gain better insight into a particular problem. Individuals achieve different results with hypnosis, as they do with other forms of therapy. However, it appears that some people are more receptive to this form of treatment than others and achieve increased benefits.