This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their "masters" -- they have absolute free will. And they're not really in a semi-sleep state -- they're actually hyperattentive.
In hypnosis, patients typically see practitioners by themselves for a course of hourly or half-hourly treatments. Some general practitioners and other medical specialists use hypnosis as part of their regular clinical work and follow a longer initial consultation with standard 10- to 15-minute appointments. Patients can be given a post-hypnotic suggestion that enables them to induce self-hypnosis after the treatment course is completed. Some practitioners undertake group hypnosis, treating up to a dozen patients at a time—for example, teaching self-hypnosis to prenatal groups as preparation for labor.
Meditation practice focuses on stilling or emptying the mind. Typically, meditators concentrate on their breath or a sound (mantra) they repeat to themselves. They may, alternatively, attempt to reach a state of “detached observation,” in which they are aware of their environment but do not become involved in thinking about it. In meditation, the body remains alert and in an upright position. In addition to formal sitting meditation, patients can be taught mindfulness meditation, which involves bringing a sense of awareness and focus to their involvement in everyday activities.
Hypnosis can be defined as a procedure during which changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings or behaviour are suggested. Hypnosis can be used to amplify whatever it is about therapy that makes it therapeutic. It permits a wide range of choices regarding where and how to intervene in the patient's problems. In this paper, we set out to examine the rationale of using hypnotherapy to manage various types of sleep disorders, and to explore the techniques, strategies and hypnotic scripts employed by various hypnotherapists. We also examine the research data available on the efficacy of hypnosis in the treatment of sleep disorders. Acute and chronic insomnia often respond to relaxation and hypnotherapy approaches, along with sleep hygiene instructions. Hypnotherapy has also helped with nightmares and sleep terrors. There are several reports of successful use of hypnotherapy for parasomnias, specifically for head and body rocking, bedwetting and sleepwalking. Hypnosis is a specialised technique, not a therapy itself, and should be used as an adjunctive intervention within a complete psychological and medical treatment package. Most of the literature is limited to case reports or studies with such a small sample that at times it is very difficult to interpret the results. There is a major placebo effect, so uncontrolled trials are of limited value. It is hard to perform a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial to evaluate hypnotherapy given that cooperation and rapport between patient and therapist is needed to achieve a receptive trance state.
People have been entering into hypnotic-type trances for thousands of years. In many cultures and religions, it was regarded as a form of meditation. Modern day hypnosis, however, started in the late 18th century and was made popular by Franz Mesmer, a German physician who became known as the father of ‘modern hypnotism’. In fact, hypnosis used to be known as ‘Mesmerism’ as it was named after Mesmer.
Milton Erickson (1901–1980), the founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association, was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. He wrote several books and journal articles on the subject. During the 1960s, Erickson popularized a new branch of hypnotherapy, known as Ericksonian therapy, characterised primarily by indirect suggestion, "metaphor" (actually analogies), confusion techniques, and double binds in place of formal hypnotic inductions. However, the difference between Erickson's methods and traditional hypnotism led contemporaries such as André Weitzenhoffer to question whether he was practising "hypnosis" at all, and his approach remains in question.
It appears to me, that the general conclusions established by Mesmer's practice, with respect to the physical effects of the principle of imagination (more particularly in cases where they co-operated together), are incomparably more curious than if he had actually demonstrated the existence of his boasted science [of "animal magnetism"]: nor can I see any good reason why a physician, who admits the efficacy of the moral [i.e., psychological] agents employed by Mesmer, should, in the exercise of his profession, scruple to copy whatever processes are necessary for subjecting them to his command, any more than that he should hesitate about employing a new physical agent, such as electricity or galvanism.
People have traveled from 50 countries to study hypnotism in our professional courses. Within the United States, our graduates have come from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Suggestion therapy relies on the patient’s ability to respond to suggestions from the hypnotherapist while in this trance-like state. This method is commonly used to control or stop unwanted behaviors such as smoking, gambling, nail biting, or over-eating. It has also been shown particularly useful in treating pain, or increasing the instance of positive behavior such as self-motivation or confidence.
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.
During your first session, you will likely begin by telling the therapist about your goals and issues. You will then work together to come up with a treatment plan. Once you enter a state of hypnosis, your body will feel calm and relaxed, even as you enter a state of increased awareness, similar to the way you might feel when meditating. Your therapist will speak to you in a calm and gently assertive voice, and place the suggestions you agreed to in your treatment plan into your subconscious mind.
The British Psychological Society commissioned a working group to survey the evidence and write a formal report on hypnotherapy in 2001. They found, “Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
Hypnosis is not a psychotherapeutic treatment or a form of psychotherapy, but rather a tool or procedure that helps facilitate various types of therapies and medical or psychological treatments. Only trained health care providers certified in clinical hypnosis can decide, with their patient, if hypnosis should be used along with other treatments. As with psychotherapy, the length of hypnosis treatment varies, depending on the complexity of the problem.