More than 200 years later, research in neuroscience is confirming at least parts of Mesmer’s outlandish theory. No, there is not magnetic fluid coursing through our bodies. But the power of mere suggestion — of imagination, as Franklin phrased it — is a more effective treatment than many modern skeptics might expect, causing real, measurable changes in the body and brain. Hypnotism has been shown to be an effective treatment for psychological problems, like phobias and eating disorders, but the practice also helps people with physical problems, including pain — both acute and chronic — and some gastrointestinal diseases. Physicians and psychologists have observed this with their own eyes for decades; now, many of them say that brain-imaging studies (not to mention the deep respect people tend to have for all things prefixed by “neuro”) are helping them finally prove their point.
Abnormal results can occur in instances where amateurs, who know the fundamentals of hypnosis, entice friends to become their experimental subjects. Their lack of full understanding can lead to immediate consequences, which can linger for some time after the event. If, for example, the amateur plants the suggestion that the subject is being bitten by mosquitoes, the subject would naturally scratch where the bites were perceived. When awakened from the trance, if the amateur forgets to remove the suggestion, the subject will continue the behavior. Left unchecked, the behavior could land the subject in a physician's office in an attempt to stop the itching and scratching cycle. If the physician is astute enough to question the genesis of the behavior and hypnosis is used to remove the suggestion, the subject may experience long-term negative emotional distress and anger upon understanding exactly what happened. The lack of full understanding, complete training, and supervised experience on the part of the amateur places the subject at risk.
Hypnotherapy expert, Dr Peter Marshall, former Principal of the London School of Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Ltd. and author of A Handbook of Hypnotherapy, devised the Trance Theory of Mental Illness, which provides that people suffering from depression, or certain other kinds of neurosis, are already living in a trance and so the hypnotherapist does not need to induce them, but rather to make them understand this and help lead them out of it.
Some therapists use hypnosis to recover possibly repressed memories they believe are linked to the person's mental disorder. However, the quality and reliability of information recalled by the patient under hypnosis is not always reliable. Additionally, hypnosis can pose a risk of creating false memories -- usually as a result of unintended suggestions or the asking of leading questions by the therapist. For these reasons, hypnosis is no longer considered a common or mainstream part of most forms of psychotherapy. Also, the use of hypnosis for certain mental disorders in which patients may be highly susceptible to suggestion, such as dissociative disorders, remains especially controversial.
One obvious risk to patients is the insufficiently trained therapist. The inadequately trained therapist can cause harm and distort the normally pleasant experience of hypnotherapy. A second risk for patients is the unscrupulous practitioner who may be both inadequately trained and may have some hidden agenda. These rare individuals are capable of causing great harm to the patient and to the profession. As mentioned above, the patient should carefully scrutinize their chosen therapist before submitting themselves to this dynamic form of therapy.
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 many clients and complex language patterns, and therapeutic strategies. This divergence from tradition led some of his colleagues, including Andre Weitzenhoffer, to dispute whether Erickson was right to label his approach "hypnosis" at all.
After developing a substantial following — “mesmerism” became “the height of fashion” in late 1780s Paris, writes Marchant — Mesmer became the subject of what was essentially the world’s first clinical trial. King Louis XVI pulled together a team of the world’s top scientists, including Benjamin Franklin, who tested mesmerism and found its capacity to “cure” was, essentially, a placebo effect. “Not a shred of evidence exists for any fluid,” Franklin wrote. “The practice … is the art of increasing the imagination by degrees.”
Hypnosis has been used as a supplemental approach to cognitive behavioral therapy since as early as 1949. Hypnosis was defined in relation to classical conditioning; where the words of the therapist were the stimuli and the hypnosis would be the conditioned response. Some traditional cognitive behavioral therapy methods were based in classical conditioning. It would include inducing a relaxed state and introducing a feared stimuli. One way of inducing the relaxed state was through hypnosis.
Jump up ^ Braid, J. (1844/1855), "Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., etc. Historically and Physiologically Considered", The Medical Times, Vol.11, No.272, (7 December 1844), pp.203-204, No.273, (14 December 1844), p.224-227, No.275, (28 December 1844), pp.270-273, No.276, (4 January 1845), pp.296-299, No.277, (11 January 1845), pp.318-320, No.281, (8 February 1845), pp.399-400, and No.283, (22 February 1845), pp.439-441: at p.203.
Hypnosis is not a dangerous procedure. It is not mind control or brainwashing. A therapist cannot make a person do something embarrassing or that the person doesn't want to do. The greatest risk, as discussed above, is that false memories can potentially be created and that it may be less effective than pursuing other, more established and traditional psychiatric treatments.
High hypnotizable people with PHA typically show impaired explicit memory, or difficulty consciously recalling events or material targeted by the suggestion, and a dissociation between implicit and explicit memory, so that even though they can’t recall the forgotten information it continues to influence their behavior, thoughts and actions. The forgetting is reversible—when the suggestion is cancelled, their memories come flooding back. These last two features—the dissociation and reversibility—confirm that PHA is not the result of poor encoding of the memories or of normal forgetting, because the memories return as soon as PHA is cancelled. Rather, PHA reflects a temporary inability to retrieve information that is safely stored in memory. That makes it a useful tool for research.
It is used for a wide variety of applications, and studies into its efficacy are often of poor quality which makes it difficult to determine efficacy. Several recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews of the literature on various conditions have concluded that the efficacy of hypnotherapy is "not verified", that there is no evidence or insufficient evidence for efficacy.