What is Hypnosis?


Long perceived as the wizardry of magicians and Svengalis hypnosis is now being rethought as reported in the magazines Newsweek, “O” Oprah, ePregnancy, and the Jane Pauley and Date Line TV shows which are explaining why health care is Rethinking Hypnosis.

Hypnosis can be defined as an altered state of consciousness, awareness, or perception. Hypnosis is a highly relaxed state in which a person’s conscious and subconscious mind is focused and receptive to positive suggestion and imagery. Almost everyone has experienced an altered state at some time in his or her life.

Think of those times when you were driving to work and you get there not remembering passing streets or buildings totally unaware of what you were doing until you pulled into the parking lot What about when you or your children were so engrossed in a TV program that you were unaware that someone else had entered the room.

These are the simplest explanations of what hypnosis is. NO mind control, no giving away of secrets, not sleep just a safe and relaxed experience that is pleasant, refreshing and beneficial.

History of Hypnosis

Hypnosis is older than medicine itself and has been with us since mankind had its beginnings. Virtually every culture and race of people has used it. Cave drawings suggest that man was experimenting with hypnosis 100,00 years ago.

Hypnosis under various names has been used for as long as records have been kept. Mesmerism is what we hear it referred as most often. Modern hypnosis is usually dated from about 1773. James Braid, M.D., coined the term hypnosis in approximately 1841. However even before this James Easdale, M.D. had documented over 3,000 surgical operations using Mesmerism in India. The American Medical Association approved the use of hypnosis as an appropriate technique for dealing with many medical problems in 1958.

In Biblical times, people went to “sleep temples” to be cured of their illnesses by the Egyptian priests. The ancient Chinese employed hypnotic techniques in the form of prayer and meditation. There is evidence that the Romans used “magic sleep” for various purposes. The Greeks unknowingly used hypnosis, thinking that cures came from the Gods. Hippocrates wrote about impressing health on the ill by inducing trances and making passes.

Throughout the centuries, many great medical men have studied, researched, and experimented with hypnosis. In doing so, they usually were labeled charlatans, quacks, or imposters. It is impossible to mention all of those individuals who contributed to the development and progress of modern hypnosis, but it seems necessary to mention a few.

Ancient history: Pre-History to Mid-18th Century Shamans, religious rituals, sweat lodge ceremonies, music, drumming, chanting, drugs and meditation

Modern History: Mid- 18th Century to Present

One thing that will become apparent in the following is that many of those we consider to be pioneers in the field of hypnosis were frequently dismissed by their peers. Even though many proved to be very successful healers.

1734 – 1815 Franz Anton Mesmer was born in Vienna. Mesmer is considered the father of hypnosis. He is remembered for the term Mesmerism which described a process of inducing trance through a series of passes he made with his hands and/or magnets over people. He worked with a person’s animal magnetism (mental and electromagnetic energies). The medical community eventually discredited him despite his considerable success treating a variety of ailments.

1795-1860 James Braid, an English physician, originally opposed mesmerism (as it became to be known) but then became interested. He said that cures were not due to animal magnetism, but rather to suggestion. He developed the eye fixation technique (also know as Braidism) of inducing relaxation and called it hypnosis (after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep), as he thought the phenomenon was a form of sleep. Later, realizing his error, he tried to change the name to monoeidism (meaning, influence of a single idea) however, the original name stuck.

1825 – 1893 Jean Marie Charcot, a French neurologist, disagreed with the Nancy School of Hypnotism and contended that hypnosis was simply a manifestation of hysteria. There was bitter rivalry between Charcot and the Nancy group (Liebault and Bernheim). He revived Mesmer’s theory of Animal Magnetism and identified the three stages of trance; lethargy, catalepsy and somnambulism.

1845 – 1947 Pierre Janet was a French neurologist and psychologist who was, initially, opposed to the use of hypnosis until he discovered its relaxing effects and promotion of healing. Janet was one of the few people who continued to show an interest in hypnosis during the Psychoanalytic Age.

1849-1936 Ivan Petrovich Pavlov – a Russian physiologist who actually was more focused on the study of the digestive process. He is known primarily for his development of the concept of the conditioned reflex (or Stimulus Response Theory). In his classic experiment, he trained hungry dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, which was previously associated with the sight of food. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1904 for his work on digestive secretions. Though he had nothing to do with hypnosis, his Stimulus Response Theory is a cornerstone in linking and anchoring behaviors, particularly in NLP.

1857 – 1926 Emile Coue`, a physician formulated the Laws of Suggestion. He is also known for encouraging his patients to say to themselves 20-30 times each night before going to sleep, “Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better.” He also discovered that delivering positive suggestions when prescribing medication proved to be a more effective cure than prescribing medications alone. He eventually abandoned the concept of hypnosis in favor of just using suggestion, feeling hypnosis and the hypnotic state impaired the efficiency of the suggestion.

1856-1939 – Sigmund Freud traveled to Nancy and studied with Liebault and Bernheim, and then did additional study with Charcot. Freud did not incorporate hypnosis in his therapeutic work, however, because he felt he could not hypnotize patients to a sufficient depth, felt that the cures were temporary, and that hypnosis stripped patients of their defenses. Freud was considered a poor hypnotist, given his paternalism. However, his clients often went into trance and he often, unknowingly, performed non-verbal inductions when he would place his hand on his patient’s head to signify the doctor-dominant, patient-submissive roles. Because of his early dismissal of hypnosis in favor of psychoanalysis, hypnosis was almost totally ignored.

1875-1961 – Carl Jung, a student and colleague of Freud’s, rejected Freud’s psychoanalytical approach and developed his own interests. He developed the concept of the collective unconscious and archetypes. Though he did not actively use hypnosis, he encouraged his patients to use active imagination to change old memories. He often used the concept of the inner guide in healing work. He believed that the inner mind could be accessed through tools like the I Ching and astrology. The conservative medical community rejected him as a mystic. However, healers actively embrace many of his ideas and theories to this day.

1932-1974 – Milton Erickson, a psychologist and psychiatrist pioneered the art of indirect suggestion in hypnosis. He is considered the father of modern hypnosis. His methods bypassed the conscious mind through the use of both verbal and nonverbal pacing techniques including metaphor, confusion, and many others. He was a colorful character and has immensely influenced the practice of contemporary hypnotherapy, and its official acceptance by the AMA. His work, combined with the work of Satir and Perls, was the basis for Bandler and Grinder’s Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

For more on the history of hypnosis please visit the online Hypnosis Museum  Curator: William Breuer, FAPHP – Fellow of the Association for Professional Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, G.B.

What Training is Required?

In most states any one can practice hypnosis. The stage hypnotist is an example. The major professional hypnosis organizations (licensed health professionals) require 60 clock hours of training. Para-professional organizations (non-licensed) offer 100 clock hours of training to become a certified hypnotist and require annual continuing education for recertification. Para-professionals are limited in their practice to using hypnosis for behavior modification such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and stress management. If the hypnotist is not a licensed health care provider he or she can only work with medical issues through referrals from a licensed health care provider.

Hypnotists advocate patient’s rights and a strict code of ethics.

How is Hypnosis Typically Used?

Some examples of the utilization of hypnosis, by discipline, are:

  • Health Prevention – Habit control such as smoking, hair pulling and weight control, phobias, depression, anxiety, sexual problems, alcoholism, speech problems, chronic pain, self-esteem/ego strengthening, and memory/concentration improvement.
  • Medicine – Chronic pain, cancer pain, anesthesia and surgery, childbirth, psychosomatic disease, gynecology, control of bleeding, burn therapy, dermatology, pain control, irritable bowel, preparing for surgery, high blood pressure, diabetic treatment compliance, stress management, and much more.
  • Dentistry – Fear of dentistry, dental surgery, bruxism, control of bleeding, tongue biting, saliva control, orthodontia, gagging, ease of dentures, and general oral hygiene.
  • Other Uses– Sports enhancement, improve study habits, meditation, test anxiety, relaxation, enhance the immune system, sleep better, road rage, and healing from within.

Are there physical or emotional conditions?

The hypnotist involved should make the decision whether or not hypnotic treatment is appropriate. He or she will take the individual’s complete history in order to determine if there are physical or emotional conditions that would indicate if hypnosis would be inappropriate.

The hypnotist will probably not utilize hypnosis with individuals who display such physical problems as severe heart disease, or other major physical conditions where there might be a danger of masking an illness. Persons with significant emotional problems, such as borderline psychosis, may not be appropriate patients for hypnotherapeutic treatment unless their illness is controlled with mediation.

How long does hypnotic treatments take?

Length of hypnotic treatment is like most other treatment procedures. It will vary depending on the nature and severity of the problem. Treatment may be as short as one session for such things as smoking, to several sessions for other problems.

Hypnosis is frequently used in conjunction with other forms of medical treatment. Hypnotic treatment is only one tool, and when used by itself the treatment is usually short term.

Will my health insurance cover the cost?

Most insurance companies do not cover hypnosis.

Misconceptions About Hypnosis

Loss of consciousness. One of the major myths about hypnosis is that you will lose consciousness. Hypnosis is altered level of consciousness, but you are not rendered unconscious. You will be aware of everything in the environment and hear everything that the hypnotist is saying.

Weakening your will. Your will is not weakened or changed in anyway. You are in control and, if you wish for any reason to terminate the hypnotic state, you may do so simply by opening your eyes. You cannot be made to do anything against your will.

Spontaneous talking. Patients do not spontaneously begin talking or revealing information they wish to keep secret. You can talk while under hypnosis and you and your hypnotherapist may wish to use some talking procedure in order to assist you with your problem.

Sleep. Hypnosis is not sleep; you will not fall asleep. The hypnotic EEG pattern is entirely different from the sleep EEG pattern.

What if I can’t come out of hypnosis?

In the hands of a trained professional there is no danger in the use of hypnosis. Since the client/patient holds the control, there is no difficulty in terminating the hypnotic state. The professional will take your complete history before using hypnosis, and if there are any contraindications to the use of hypnosis, another form of therapy will be recommended.

To encourage and promote excellence in the use of hypnosis and other complementary medicine by qualified individuals; to advance scientific research, education and standards of practice in hypnosis, and to advise others about the value, application and ethical use of complementary medicine.

What is Hypnosis used for?

HYPNOSIS IS USED FOR…Pain Management Hypnosis & self-hypnosis are endorsed
by the National Institutes of Health and the Joint Commission Association for Health Care Organizations (JCAHO) as an adjunctive coping skill in the treatment of chronic and cancer pain.Stress Management On an average workday, an estimated one million workers do not make it to work due to stress. Hypnosis and self-hypnosis are the best avenue for dealing with stress.

Endorsed by the National Institutes of Health.Weight Management Hypnosis Works! “Dateline” in November 2003, hypnosis is the easiest and most successful means for relaxing away those excess pounds.Smoking Cessation As seen on Dateline – a great tool. “I was smoking 5 packs of Camels a day – I have not had a cigarette in 3 years thanks to Ron’s Smoking Cessation Program.” Navy LT, Newport, RI.Childbirth Pain Free Child Birth as seen on Dateline.

Studies show a decrease in hospitalization for Pregnancy Induced Hypertension by 50%. Labor shortened by 2-4 hours. Decreases c-sections from 30% (national average) to less than 5%.Fears Multiple studies have shown the efficacy of hypnosis in overcoming multiple fears. Included are: Fear of flying, spiders, snakes and public speaking.Irritable Bowel Syndrome Hypnosis is proven to be 85% effective in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).Surgery Preparation Blue Shield of California did studies showing quicker recovery, less nausea and vomiting, and less pain when using hypnotic techniques 2-3 weeks prior to surgery.

Children Success with bed wetting, nail biting, sports and study habitsCancer Research has shown that hypnosis help manage cancer pain and is effective in increasing the immune system while decreasing the uncomfortable side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.Most insurance companies do not cover hypnosis.

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