(by Joan Friedrich) Mind-body medicine is on the verge of transforming modern healthcare. During the last thirty years, scientists have begun to explore the interconnections between mind and body and how these are linked to our innate healing capabilities. As this evolution takes place, mind-body modalities will secure their place among the many complementary-alternative therapies that can be effective for health maintenance and healing.
Using the power of suggestion and trance states, hypnosis delves into the deepest levels of the mind. The result: the improved behavioral habits and treatment of a wide variety of health conditions. Today, close to fifteen thousand doctors combine hypnotherapy with standard medical treatments. It is estimated that 94 percent of patients benefit from hypnotherapy, even if it is only linked to improved relaxation.
Hypnosis can benefit many psychological and physical disorders including habit control (behavior modification for nail-biting, smoking, stuttering), weight management (reprogramming eating habits), pain control (e.g., back pain, arthritis, chronic pain, migraine), stress and anxiety reduction (reduce stress and help put life events in perspective), phobia elimination (e.g., reduce common fears), creativity (remove blocked potential), goal-setting (set and achieve attainable goals), sleep improvement (improve sleep onset and sound sleep), and motivation (increase confidence). In addition, it is often used for numerous other health conditions including gastrointestinal problems, respiratory conditions, anxiety, and some dental-related problems such as anxiety or as part of a pain-management protocol.
Early Hypnosis References to hypnosis have existed for thousands of years. Ancient literature, mythology, and scriptural writings contain mention of consciousness and crude forms of hypnosis. From the scientific perspective, early reference of altered states and the influence of magnetic fields dates back to the time of Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) and later, to Swiss mesmerist Charles Lafontaine and Austrian theorist, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (1733 -1815).
However, the title, “Father of Hypnosis,” belongs to English physician, Dr. James Braid, MRCS (1795-1860). Although hypnosis was initially rejected by medical authorities, Braid eventually made it a respectable medical practice. Braid’s successful findings eventually attracted the attention of Sigmund Freud, and C.J. Jung, both of whom briefly explored its uses as a therapeutic tool.
Modern Hypnosis In 1933, Clark Hull (1884-1952) helped move hypnosis into the realm of psychology. In 1955, the British Medical Society officially recognized hypnosis as a legitimate medical procedure, and in 1958, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association followed suit.
With the progress and acceptance came the influence of American psychiatrist, Milton H. Erikson (1901-1980). Erikson believed that we all have the resources necessary for change within us. It is the hypnotherapist that helps the client to awaken these latent potentials by providing the client with options. As a result of this perspective, many professionals consider hypnosis the induction (application) of a naturally occurring trance state.
Hypnosis versus hypnotherapy Having treated more than 30,000 patients with hypnosis, Erikson sought to distinguish the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is seen as the process that follows hypnosis. Therefore, many hypnotists are not hypnotherapists. Training in mental health makes the distinction between the two types of professionals. Stage hypnosis, which is performed for entertainment purposes, is neither therapeutic hypnosis nor hypnotherapy.
Clients may experience hypnosis differently, depending on technique and the clients’ personal psychologies. Some people experience intense awareness, others profound relaxation. The instructional words of the hypnotist may be clear, but at other times barely audible. For some individuals, the hypnotist’s voice may seem to fade in and out. Eriksonian work indicated that the client is always free to alter the hypnotic experience and come out of trance at will.
The Practice of Hypnosis One major benefit of hypnosis is that it can provide results in a relatively short period of time. As compared to psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy, hypnosis is a shorter form of therapy that can be highly effective for a number of problems.
In hypnosis, the practitioner is the facilitator. He or she assists the client to reach a state of hypnosis. Five conditions are vital for successful hypnosis. They are:
- a trained hypnotist
- rapport between the hypnotist and subject
- a comfortable environment that is free of distraction
- a willingness of the client to be hypnotized
- the client’s motivation to overcome the problem for which he is seeking assistance
The practitioner’s role is to act as a guide, helping the client make personal changes. The hypnotist encourages imagination since mental imagery assists the client in bringing about the positive changes he or she is seeking. For example, an overweight person with poor eating habits may visualize herself going through the process of making healthier dietary and lifestyle choices, and finally, seeing her desired result and achieving her goal—better health, improved vitality, and a slim, toned body. This process can expand the client’s awareness and ultimately, reprogram her habits from negative to positive. In more therapeutic settings, hypnosis can be used to understand underlying motivations or to identify past events or experiences that may be connected to current problems. Part of the session may also include posthypnotic suggestions to help the client make ongoing successful changes.
Generally, a hypnosis session will last from one hour to ninety minutes. The number of sessions required will usually range from six-to-twelve sessions, once a week. However, this may vary according to each client. An individual can also be taught methods of self-hypnosis. In either case, hypnosis is a learned skill.
Common Areas of Concern Many fears and false notions exist about hypnosis. The image perpetuated by the media is that the hypnotist has some mysterious knowledge. This is not true. Hypnosis is not a magical or secret phenomenon. It is simply a skill the client learns. As a state of relaxation and concentration, it allows the subconscious mind to be more readily accessible. By developing hypnotic ability and with the help of a trained hypnotherapist, individuals can experience improved states of inner awareness and greater self-mastery.
Surprisingly, we have all experienced spontaneous hypnotic-like trances. If you’ve ever experienced daydreaming, staring into a flickering fire with your thoughts a thousand miles away, or becoming so absorbed in reading or watching TV that you fail to notice everything around you, you have experienced a hypnotic-like trance. A simple example of our human suggestibility is the success of television advertising. When we’re in an actual hypnotic trance, we can be even more suggestible.
The vast majority of people who engage in formal hypnosis remember everything that occurs. They know what is being said and what is happening. They can hear the telephone ring and background noise and activity. And they know they can come out of hypnosis. Contrary to some beliefs, only a very small number of people experience amnesia. Although this could occur with very deep states of hypnosis, most hypnosis is done at a lesser-depth trance, where people tend to fully remember everything.
Special Precautions Many conditions treatable by conventional means can also be managed with hypnosis, but it is not a cure-all. Although hypnosis is generally a safe practice when used by a qualified practitioner, caution must be applied in its use.
If an individual has a medical or psychiatric condition, a physician should first be consulted to determine if hypnosis is an option. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hypnosis should not be performed on patients with psychoses, organic psychiatric conditions, or antisocial personality disorders.
Many patients may also be poor candidates for hypnosis due to the type and severity of their condition. In many, the individuals may be unable to reach the proper depth for the posthypnotic suggestions to be effective.
Training and Credentials In most states, hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not licensed professions. However, several types of trained hypnosis professionals do exist throughout the country. Lay hypnotists are people trained in hypnosis. They may hold a certification, but lack psychological or healthcare training. In contrast, clinical hypnotists and hypnotherapists generally have hypnosis training, hypnosis/hypnotherapy certification and graduate level education or higher in either a mental health field or medicine.
Paul Gustafson, R.N., C.H. has been featured on WBZ radio, hosts TV show Healthy Hypnosis, is an Angie’s List ‘Super Service’ provider. Check out his in-office Gastric Band weight loss program. Also available as MP3 download.
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