But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
Now say, "As you press down on my hand, you will begin to feel as though your eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. You feel yourself sitting in your living room late at night watching an old black and white movie on the television. You feel your eyes drooping as you struggle to stay awake." (Mentally count to three.) "Now close your eyes." (Mentally count to three.) "SLEEP!" Quickly swipe away your hand from them so they jerk forward in a falling motion. Remember to guide them to your shoulder, placing their head outward into the crook of your arm. Get some help and then put them in a chair seated upright comfortably. At this point, the person is in a trance and is highly suggestible.
It is far easier to describe what hypnosis is not rather than to describe what it is. For example, it is not one person controlling the mind of another. The patient is not unconscious and does not lose control of his or her faculties. People will not do things under hypnosis that they would be unwilling to do otherwise. The person being hypnotized is always in control. The hypnotized person decides how deep the trance will be, what suggestions will be accepted, and when to awaken. Therefore, a hypnotyized person cannot be forever "lost" if the therapist should fall dead during an induction or while the patient is deep in trance.
Hypnosis or deep relaxation can sometimes exacerbate psychological problems—for example, by retraumatizing those with post-traumatic disorders or by inducing “false memories” in psychologically susceptible individuals. Evidence, although inconclusive, has raised concerns that the dissociation necessary to participate in relaxation or hypnosis can lead to the manifestation of the symptoms of psychosis. Only appropriately trained and experienced practitioners should undertake hypnosis. Its use should be avoided in patients with borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, or with patients who have histories of profound abuse. Competent hypnotherapists are skilled in recognizing and referring patients with these conditions.
In the brain, this state looks stranger still. A landmark study in the prestigious journal Science in the late 1990s, led by Pierre Rainville of the University of Montreal, described a study in which hypnotized people briefly placed their left hand in either painfully hot water, heated to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or room-temperature water. Some of them had been told that they would be experiencing pain, but that they wouldn’t be very bothered by it — if, on a scale of one to ten, the hurt would normally register at an eight, they’d feel it as if it were a four. As all the participants placed their hands in the 116-degree water, their brains were scanned. The results were clear: Those who had been told that the pain would be less intense showed less activity in their brains — specifically, in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain processing.
After hypnosis, participants’ memories were tested twice while the fMRI scanner recorded their brain activity. For Test 1, they were asked 40 questions about the content of the movie (for example, the actress knocked on her neighbor’s door on the way home) and 20 questions about the context in which they saw the movie (for instance, during the movie, the door to the study room was closed). These questions required a “yes” or “no” response. For Test 2, participants were asked the same 60 recognition questions, but first they heard the cue to cancel PHA. So Test 1 measured memory performance and brain activity while the PHA suggestion was in effect and Test 2 measured memory performance and brain activity after it was cancelled.
Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears, as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia and addiction. Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures, in breast cancer care and even with gastro-intestinal problems, including IBS.
People have been entering into hypnotic-type trances for thousands of years. In many cultures and religions, it was regarded as a form of meditation. Modern day hypnosis, however, started in the late 18th century and was made popular by Franz Mesmer, a German physician who became known as the father of ‘modern hypnotism’. In fact, hypnosis used to be known as ‘Mesmerism’ as it was named after Mesmer.
Confusion can occur when one seeks a hypnotherapist, as a result of the various titles, certifications, and licenses in the field. Many states do not regulate the title "hypnotist" or "hypnotherapist," so care must be exercised when selecting someone to see. As a rule, it is best to consult a professional in the field of mental health or medicine, although alternative sources for hypnosis are available. Care must be taken also by the therapist to ensure adequate training and sufficient experience for rendering this specialized service. The therapist must be well grounded in a psychotherapeutic approach before undertaking the use of hypnotherapy. Professionals should not attempt hypnotherapy with any disorder for which they would not use traditional therapeutic approaches. The patient seeking hypnotherapy is reminded that unskilled or amateur hypnotists can cause harm and should not be consulted for the purpose of implementing positive change in an individual's life. The detrimental effects of being subjected to amateur or inadequately trained persons can be severe and long lasting. (See abnormal results below.)
Jump up ^ The accreditation criteria and the structure of the accreditation system were based on those described in Yeates, Lindsay B., A Set of Competency and Proficiency Standards for Australian Professional Clinical Hypnotherapists: A Descriptive Guide to the Australian Hypnotherapists' Association Accreditation System, Australian Hypnotherapists' Association, (Sydney), 1996. ISBN 0-646-27250-0  Archived 2009-09-12 at the Wayback Machine.
An approach loosely based on information theory uses a brain-as-computer model. In adaptive systems, feedback increases the signal-to-noise ratio, which may converge towards a steady state. Increasing the signal-to-noise ratio enables messages to be more clearly received. The hypnotist's object is to use techniques to reduce interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).
Hypnosis is first and foremost a self-accepted journey away from the reality of the moment. Although the trance state is often referred to as if the patient is asleep, nothing could be further from the truth. The patient is fully awake at all times. The hypnotic subject is simply in a heightened, more receptive state of mind. This fact is proven with inductions called open-eye techniques, where the patient keeps his/her eyes open during the hypnotherapy. Full and deep trance is still achievable.
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.