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The history of hypnosis therapy can be traced back to the prehistoric times. However, it is not until the middle of the 20th century that the use of hypnotherapy in clinical psychology became official and popular. At present, the benefits of hypnosis in clinical care are widely recognized.
Thousands of people throw themselves into the state of altered consciousness to improve their health and wellbeing. Of course, the way hypnosis influences the human organism is difficult to understand.
For many clinical psychologists, its mechanism is still unclear. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that hypnotherapy will become much more popular, as the whole health care system is shifting towards non-traditional, alternative methods of health regulation.
The History of Hypnotherapy
As stated earlier, the use of hypnotherapy in psychology is not new. The first descriptions of hypnosis and its power can be found in ancient writings (Whorwell, 2005). However, until the 18th century, the study of hypnosis and hypnotherapy had been very unsystematic.
The first time hypnotherapy became a matter of professional concern was when Franz Anton Mesmer, Austrian physician, described the state of animal magnetism (Whorwell, 2005). Mesmer believed that physical health depended on the balance of the so-called “distribution” fluids, and the use of magnetic fields could potentially restore that balance.
He also claimed that placing the patient into a trance-like state was essential to the healing process (Whorwell, 2005). Mesmer was well-known for his eccentric personality, but his idea of animal magnetism eventually survived. With time, magnetism and hypnosis became popular medical approaches in Europe and the United States.
In the middle of the 19th century, Manchester surgeon James Braid was put into the state of trance by a travelling French demonstrator (Whorwell, 2005). He became very interested in the hypnosis technique and wrote a whole book about it. It is in his work that the word “hypnotism” was used for the first time; it came to replace the term “animal magnetism” that originated in Mesmer’s writings.
Almost at the same time, another professor of medicine in London was starting to apply the hypnosis technique in his practice (Whorwell, 2005). He had to resign and start a private practice, because his experiments and their outstanding results were generating hostility in the medical community (Whorwell, 2005).
During WWII, hypnosis was already used to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Hypnotic susceptibility scales were developed to make the use of hypnosis more professional and advanced. Today, hypnosis is quite popular among clinical psychologists and it is actively used to address the most controversial health conditions.
The Case of Anna O.: Hypnosis that Changed the World
The case of Anna O. was truly a turning point in the evolution and popularization of hypnotherapy. It is possible to say that the outcomes of the case served as a very good basis for the development of hypnosis as an official therapy in clinical psychology in other medical fields.
The first time Anna O. was attended by a physician was in 1880. She complained having nervous cough and had the symptoms of physical deterioration, which developed as a result of “overzealous nursing of her very sick father” (MacMillan, 1997, p.4). Her behaviors were quite peculiar, and it was not surprising that the physician immediately diagnosed her as being mentally ill (MacMillan, 1997).
Those symptoms included a strange, even weird, tendency to be sleeplike and autohypnotic in the afternoons (MacMillan, 1997). At times, the sleeplike state would give place to increased, unreasonable excitement (MacMillan, 1997).
The decision to use hypnosis was justified by the fact that Anna O. could not remember what was happening to her during her sleeplike states, nor could she clearly explain what was responsible for her shaking psychological state. The psychiatrist used hypnosis to make Anna O. speak about her problems. He wanted to discover the secret of her disease, and it worked.
The case of Anna O. was, probably, the first time hypnosis was officially used in psychiatry and psychology. With Anna O., hypnosis helped obtain additional knowledge about her emotional and mental health state. What Anna O. shared during hypnosis sessions was used by her counselor to develop the list of topics and discuss them during their meetings (MacMillan, 1997).
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The outcomes of hypnotherapy were very promising. The case showed that hypnotherapy was a self-directed cure. The patient provided the information needed to guide further counseling sessions. The case of Anna O. changed the world of clinical psychology and introduced hypnosis as a good alternative to medicines and coercive treatment of mentally ill patients.
Hypnotherapy: Definition and How It Works
Hypnosis can be defined as “a temporary condition of altered attention in the subject which may be induced by another person and in which a variety of phenomena may appear spontaneously or in response to verbal and other stimuli” (Whorwell, 2005, p.1061). Hypnosis is always associated with the changes in consciousness.
In this state of mind, individuals produce unexpected responses and are sensitive to suggestions (Whorwell, 2005). It is not uncommon to see a counselor or psychiatrist speak to a patient in the state of hypnosis.
In the hypnotic state, the psychologists can either induce or remove muscle rigidity and even paralysis; vasomotor changes may also take place (Whorwell, 2005). Hypnosis changes the world around and in the patient, opening new spaces for discussion and analysis.
Hypnosis is particularly useful in the analysis of various subconscious events and motives. Millions of people around the world face problems or behave in ways that cannot be explained. Unfortunately, hypnotherapy is still poorly explored. Even psychologists and psychiatrists, who are expected to have at least the basic knowledge of the technique, often have no direct experience with hypnosis (Whorwell, 2005).
The mechanism of the hypnotic process is surrounded by a lot of controversy. This misunderstanding is further reinforced by the stereotypes and folklore beliefs about hypnotherapy. Many patients still believe that hypnosis is dangerous to their health. They have a fear of being hypnotized against their will.
They think that, while in the state of hypnosis, their minds can be changed or taken over, and they will lose any control over their behaviors and decisions (Whorwell, 2005). In reality, hypnotherapy implies the use of trance and relaxation. The patient is allowed to speak about the most hidden thoughts and even make suggestions for improvement.
At present, hypnotherapy is actively used to treat acute stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and smoking cessation problems. The main benefit of hypnotherapy is that it treats most health conditions as psychological, not physical. As a result, it is possible to avoid the heavy loads of pharmaceutical prescriptions and, instead, enjoy the relaxing atmosphere during hypnotherapy.
How Hypnosis Therapy Is Used
Present-day researchers actively explore the benefits and effects of hypnotherapy on different groups of patients. The most common associations are with acute stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and smoking cessation.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
In terms of ASD, hypnotherapy is often used in combination with other cognitive and behavioral therapies. Patients with the symptoms of ASD can be placed in the state of hypnosis, followed by the use of cognitive-behavioral or any other therapy (Bryant, Moulds, Guthrie & Nixon, 2005).
The research shows that patients, who undergo hypnosis and CBT, have fewer symptoms of ASD and better chances to improve their quality of life. Nevertheless, the exact way in which hypnosis therapy influences individuals with ASD needs to be better understood.
Hypnosis therapy is often used to make the process of smoking cessation easier and less painful. It is no secret that individuals, who want to quit smoking, have to go through numerous and very serious changes to give up their harmful habit. Not everyone has the power and strength to resist the smoking temptation.
In this context, hypnotherapy can become a good alternative to the traditional methods of smoking cessation. Hypnosis does not eliminate the smoking cramps, but it helps manage thoughts about smoking more effectively (Riegel & Tonnies, 2011). Hypnosis transforms the ways, in which individuals think about smoking. They find it easier to cope with the desire to smoke a puff.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
It has become quite common to use hypnotherapy in the management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS was found to influence every fourth human at some point of their lives (Houghton, Heyman & Whorwell, 1996; Whorwell, Prior & Colgan, 1987). IBS greatly increases the burden of gastroenterological diseases.
Apart from the direct colonic symptoms, including disordered bowel habit, IBS also leads to the development of non-colonic health problems, such as backache (Houghton et al., 1996). Earlier methods of treatment have proved to be relatively or somewhat effective. Hypnotherapy has been a measure of last resort, but now it gives patients with IBS much more hope that their health can improve.
Hypnotherapy not only reduces the symptoms of IBS but also improves patients’ quality of life. Patients with IBS experience chronic pain, and hypnosis helps reduce its scope (Elkins, Jensen & Patterson, 2007). It is not difficult to imagine that, because of IBS, thousands of people should leave work and stay at home. Thus, hypnotherapy also has some economic benefits.
Hypnosis therapy is becoming more popular. By placing patients into the state of trance, clinical psychologists have better chances to understand their most complicated problems. Hypnotherapy suggests that most health problems have psychological roots. As a result, it is possible to replace traditional and costly methods of pharmacological treatment with hypnosis.
Today, hypnosis is actively used to treat acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and even make the process of smoking cessation easier. Patients who have experience with hypnosis report improved health, wellbeing, and the quality of life.
Nevertheless, the knowledge of hypnotherapy and its mechanisms is quite poor. Moreover, the use of hypnotherapy in clinical psychology is still surrounded by myths. Many people believe that, while in hypnosis, someone can take over the control over their behaviors and lives.
Undoubtedly, the current understanding of hypnotherapy is still in its infancy, but hypnosis does have the potential to become a cost-effective model of treatment in many health states and disorders. Through better education and research, clinical psychologists will be able to make hypnosis an acceptable form of medical treatment.
Bryant, R.A., Moulds, M.L., Guthrie, R.M. & Nixon, R.D. (2005). The additive benefit of hypnosis and cognitive-behavioral therapy in treating acute stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(2), 334-40.
Elkins, G., Jensen, M.P. & Patterson, D. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55(3), 275-287.
Houghton, L.A., Heyman, D.J. & Whorwell, P.J. (1996). Symptomatology, quality of life and economic features of irritable bowel syndrome – The effects of hypnotherapy. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 10, 91-95.
MacMillan, M. (1997). Freud evaluated: The complete arc. Amsterdam, Netherlands: MIT Press.
Riegel, B. & Tonnies, S. (2011). Hypnosis in smoking cessation: The effectiveness of some basic principles of hypnotherapy without using formal trance – A case study. Journal of Smoking Cessation, 6(2), 83-84.
Whorwell, P.J., Prior, A. & Colgan, S.M. (1987). Hypnotherapy in severe irritable bowel syndrome: Further experience. Gut, 28, 423-425.
Whorwell, P.J. (2005). Review article: The history of hypnotherapy and its role in the irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 22, 1061- 1067.