The term Hypnosis was first used by the scottish doctor James Braid in 1842 when he was the first to give it a psychological explanation. Previously the phenomenon had been explained by strange theories such as ‘animal magnetism’.
Hypnosis was popular with surgeons during the American Civil war for anaesthesia during surgery before the introduction of chemical anaesthesia.
In 1892 the British Medical Association endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis.
The modern scientific study of hypnosis was started in the 1920s by Clark L. Hull, a psychologist at Yale University. Hull’s experiments clearly demonstrated therapeutic uses such as pain reduction and inhibition of bad memories. He also disproved the old idea that hypnosis was a type of sleep.
The American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology in 1960.
In traditional hypnosis the therapist gives direct suggestions to the client such as, “you are going into a trance”, which is often resisted by the client. In the 1970s Milton Erickson developed a modern, indirect technique in which the psychologist would say something more permissive such as, “you can comfortably learn how to go into a trance”. The client accepts indirect suggestions at their own pace and takes ownership of the therapeutic changes.
American psychologist, Michael Yapko developed ‘Strategic Psychotherapy’ in the 1990s, which targets the thoughts and habits that create and maintain the problem. It is brief, goal oriented therapy that focuses on practical behavioural strategies and coping skills. Strategic psychotherapy provides the theoretical basis for the psychologist to identify the most effective targets while the client is in hypnosis.
From the client’s point of view the first session involves an interview for the client to give some background and describe the problem or problems and their goals. The psychologist asks some questions to help clarify the underlying processes. It is very different to other types of counselling or psychotherapy that try to interpret the meaning of past events. The psychologist suggests the thoughts or habits that can be changed most effectively and discusses them with the client to obtain consent before starting the hypnosis.
Going into hypnosis is just relaxing your body and mind and becoming absorbed in the experience. For those who have not experienced hypnosis, it is often both less exciting and more exciting than they expect. Many first timers often wonder if they actually went into hypnosis, because they didn’t experience anything strange or unnatural. However, after the hypnotherapy clients are excited to find that they have changed in exactly the way that they wanted, but it has happened so naturally that they may not even notice until someone else points it out.
First timers often come to hypnotherapy with impressions of hypnosis they have picked up from hypnosis performances they have seen on stage, TV or the internet. What we are not shown in these performances is how carefully they select the audience participants. They only choose participants who want to give up their inhibitions in front of an audience, but it gives the impression that a hypnotist has a strange power to make a person do something they would never otherwise do.
In clinical hypnotherapy the client sets the goals, understands the treatment and consents to it, and can stop or change the treatment at any time. Hypnosis will only work if the client wants it to work.
Another myth about hypnosis is that some people are not hypnotisable. This is not true. If a client can understand the psychologist and has the capacity to relax and become absorbed in what is being said then they can respond to hypnotherapy. Responsiveness to hypnotherapy depends more on how well the psychologist tailors the treatment to the individual client than on any innate characteristic of the client.
The scientific research shows clearly that modern hypnotherapy works in clinical practice and under experimental conditions. Moreover it works faster and more efficiently than other psychotherapies which may take months or even years. Hypnotherapy is described as brief psychotherapy and is typically completed in 3 to 7 sessions.
We can divide hypnotherapists into two broad groups: traditional and modern. Traditional hypnotherapists use standardised scripts for each problem type. This technique relies on the client accepting authoritarian suggestions such as “you are becoming more and more self confident”. Modern ‘Ericksonian’ hypnotherapy (developed by Milton Erickson) offers more permissive suggestions that indirectly evoke the response such as, “I don’t know exactly how you are becoming more self confident”. The Ericksonian technique also employs metaphors which deliver intended messages to the client in an indirect way.
The advantages of direct suggestions are the obvious direct relation between the problem and the suggested solution, which can diminish anxiety about uncertainty. The disadvantages of direct suggestions are that they can evoke resistance in the client and limit access to unconscious resources.
The advantages of indirect suggestions are that they encourage the client to project their own solutions onto the suggestions and stimulate personal involvement through the search for relevance. This improves access to unconscious resources.
Hypnotherapy can be useful for a wide range of clinical applications including anxiety, depression, phobias, compulsions, addictions, pain, insomnia, anaesthesia, as well as performance enhancement.