History of Hypnosis
Historically, hypnosis has had a somewhat chequered past. Its practice has been associated with witchcraft and hysteria, and its reputation and credibility have suffered at the hands of stage hypnotists. Hypnosis was formerly known as mesmerism, named after Franz Mesmer (1734- 1815), a Viennese physician. Mesmerism was renamed animal magnetism (1766) when it was thought that magnets assisted clients to go into trance. This was later dispelled, and in 1843 Braid coined the term hypnosis (as cited in Lynn & Kirsch, 2006), which remains current today. This review of hypnotherapy research and literature describes the characteristics, findings, and conclusions of selected, rigorous studies on pain and anxiety. A comparison of studies and their findings is presented to determine their validity.
Knowledge gaps in the literature are identified and recommendations are made for future research. The Greek word ‘Hypno’ translates as sleep, though the present understanding of hypnosis is that it is not a sleep-like state. The most recent definition of hypnosis published by the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 30 is that hypnosis is “a state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion” (Elkins, Barabasz, Council & Spiegel, 2015, p. 382). Mende (2009, p. 182) states that “even though suggestional phenomena exist outside hypnosis, hypnosis is the only therapeutic technique making systematic, intentional usage of suggestions.” Mende (2009) comments that fMRI studies (functional magnetic resonance imaging) allow for a stronger sense of what hypnosis is not.
Hypnosis is not a ‘waking state’, ‘relaxation’, ‘sleep’, or ‘meditation’. The APA Division 30 describes the process of hypnosis as a hypnotic induction, which is a “procedure designed to induce hypnosis” (Elkins, Barabasz, Council, & Spiegel, 2015, p. 382). Consideration is given to the client’s hypnotisability, which is “an individual’s ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behavior during hypnosis” (pp. 382-383). Yapko (2012, p. 6) provides a useful definition of hypnosis that connects hypnosis and therapy: “hypnosis is conceptualized and treated as a means of helping clients develop powerful personal resources that can be purposefully directed towards achieving their therapeutic goals.” These “powerful personal resources” have not been specifically addressed in this literature review, however, this would be a valuable area for future research.
In general, it is disappointing to realize that the promotion and use of hypnosis may have been unnecessarily delayed due to the sensational history of hypnosis and the lack of evidence-based research. However, hypnosis has emerged over the last fifty years as an evidence-based therapy. The research is strong, as Weisberg (2008, p. 13) states: Page | 3 A substantial body of research demonstrates the efficacy of hypnosis as part of the integrative treatment of many conditions that traditional medicine has found difficult to treat. For some disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome) the evidence for the efficacy of hypnosis is so robust that it could be argued that it is unethical not to inform patients about this treatment modality. Better evidence exists now supporting the use of hypnosis to relieve discomfort associated with many diagnostic and invasive procedures.
Weisberg provides strong support for hypnosis as a treatment modality, and this is further supported by Spiegel’s (2013, p. 348) research, which found that hypnosis has “special relevance to the assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders, including PTSD…
To read more of this paper by Eileen Davis (Senior lecturer and Academic Head, School of Counselling, Australian College of Applied Psychology),