Development of Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy, current Definition

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Dr. Annette Shonder
Psychologist, Sociologist,
American Board
Certified Clinical Counselor
Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist
Phone: 00971-4-4574240

Development of Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy, current Definition

“Hypnosis is a particular state of the human psyche which is characterized by a reduced level of consciousness. In this state some qualities of perception, like focused attention, are restrained whereas others, for example memory of past events and sensory sensations, can be enhanced. In the hypnotic state the capacity to respond to suggestions is increased. The hypnotic state differs from sleep, because during hypnosis a level of consciousness is partially maintained, while during sleep conscious awareness is “switched off.”

The first semi-scientific use of hypnosis as a therapeutic method was implemented by the Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). He left the term “mesmerizing” to posterity.  Mesmer wrongly assumed that the state of hypnosis was created by an invisible magnetic field he called “animal magnetism.”  To induce a hypnotic state he used hand passes, magnetized sticks or magnets he was carrying in his pockets. He and his followers used the “animal magnetism” mostly for treating conditions that at that time were called hysteria, but they were also successful in healing physical diseases. Mesmer and his followers were effective therapeutically despite their wrong theoretical approach about the nature of the psychological state they created.   Hypnosis is a particular state of the human psyche which is characterized by a reduced level of consciousness. In this state some qualities of perception, like focused attention, are restrained whereas others, for example memory of past events and sensory sensations, can be enhanced. In the hypnotic state the capacity to respond to suggestions is increased. The hypnotic state differs from sleep, because during hypnosis a level of consciousness is partially maintained, while during sleep conscious awareness is “switched off.”

The Scottish physician James Braid (1795 – 1860) was the first who proved the idea of Mesmer and his followers wrong. Braid based his views on observation and experiment, rather than on preconceived theories. Braid demonstrated that mere fixation on a small, bright object could produce the state previously known as mesmeric somnambulism. The hand passes of a mesmerist and the use of magnets were quite unnecessary. He coined the term “hypnotism” and created the scientific foundation for the later development of hypnosis and its use as a therapeutic method he called hypnotherapy. Braid opened the door for the later scientific research on hypnosis and – in the end – for the development of psychodynamic psychotherapy. The physicians following his path were the French scientists: Charcot, Liébeault, Bernheim, Janet and – at the beginning of his psychotherapeutic career – also Sigmund Freud.

A new definition of hypnosis, derived from academic psychology, was provided in 2005, when the Society for Psychological Hypnosis, Division 30 of the American Psychological Association (APA), published the following formal definition:

Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one`s imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction. A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions. When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior. Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one`s own. If the subject responds to hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced.

The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as “hypnotherapy.”  The  American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) maintains:

Practitioners use clinical hypnosis in three main ways. First, they encourage the use of imagination. Mental imagery is very powerful, especially in a focused state of attention. The mind seems capable of using imagery, even if it is only symbolic, to assist us in bringing about the things we are imagining. For example, a patient with ulcerative colitis may be asked to imagine what his/her distressed colon looks like. If she imagines it as being like a tunnel, with very red, inflamed walls that are rough in texture, the patient may be encouraged in hypnosis (and in self-hypnosis) to imagine this image changing to a healthy one.

A second basic hypnotic method is to present ideas or suggestions to the patient. In a state of concentrated attention, ideas and suggestions that are compatible with what the patient wants seem to have a more powerful impact on the mind.
Finally, hypnosis may be used for unconscious exploration, to better understand underlying motivations or identify whether past events or experiences are associated with causing a problem. Hypnosis avoids the critical censorship of the conscious mind, which often defeats what we know to be in our best interests. The effectiveness of hypnosis appears to lie in the way in which it bypasses the critical observation and interference of the conscious mind, allowing the client`s intentions for change to take effect.
Some individuals seem to have higher native hypnotic talent and capacity that may allow them to benefit more readily from hypnosis. It is important to keep in mind that hypnosis is like any other therapeutic modality: it is of major benefit to some patients with some problems, and it is helpful with many other patients, but individual responses vary.

Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy used to create subconscious change in a patient in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or feelings
As mentioned above, hypnosis was originally used to treat the condition known in the Victorian era as hysteria. Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of anxiety, depression, certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears, as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia and addiction.

The form of hypnotherapy practiced by most Victorian hypnotists, including James Braid and Hippolyte Bernheim, mainly employed direct suggestion of symptom removal, with some use of therapeutic relaxation and occasionally aversion to alcohol, drugs, etc.

Today Ericksonian hypnotherapy is widespread.  In the 1950s, Milton H. Erickson developed a radically different approach to hypnotism, which has subsequently become known as “Ericksonian hypnotherapy” or “Neo-Ericksonian hypnotherapy.” Erickson made use of an informal conversational approach with clients using complex language patterns and various therapeutic strategies.

Dr. Annette Schonder