Placing persons in a drowsy, sleeplike state in which they allegedly become vulnerable to the suggestions made by the hypnotist. Hypnosis may also be used to tap into the unconscious and is often characterized by vivid recall of memories and fantasies. These properties make hypnosis a useful tool in psychotherapy. Hypnosis also has sinister implications, for subjects may be manipulated to perform embarrassing actions or be susceptible to carrying out the hypnotist's commands after the hypnosis session (posthypnotic suggestion).
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.”
“That study changed the whole landscape,” said Dave Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been using hypnosis since the 1980s to help burn victims withstand the intense pain that comes with the necessary but excruciating bandage removal and wound cleaning. Since the ’90s, other well-designed, controlled studies have been published showing similar changes in brain activity. In another slightly trippy example, researchers suggested to people in a hypnotic state that the vibrant primary colors found in paintings by Piet Mondrian were actually shades of gray. “Brain-scan results of these participants showed altered activity in fusiform regions involved in color processing,” notes psychologist Christian Jarrett.
Look for a hypnotherapist who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. To be a member of either of these organizations, a hypnotherapist must have a doctorate level degree in medicine, dentistry, or psychology, or a master’s degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy plus a specific number of hours of approved training in hypnotherapy. In some cases, accredited, doctoral-level practitioners of alternative health care, such traditional Chinese medicine, may also be approved for membership. Of course, in addition to looking at qualifications, you should also find a hypnotherapist with whom you feel confident and comfortable in a therapeutic relationship.