The term "hypnosis" denotes an interaction between one person, in this instance the ´healthcare professional' (HCP), and another person, the ´patient´. In this interaction the HCP works with the patient to bring about a therapeutic change in perceptions, feelings, thinking and behaviour. The HCP will use ´suggestions´ and invite the patient to use associated imagery which will allow the subject to experience therapeutic change.
Over the years people have defined hypnosis differently and it still remains a contentious issue. Here are a number of important definitions: 'Hypnosis is essentially a psychophysiological state of aroused, attentive, receptive focal attention with a corresponding diminution in peripheral awareness.’ (Spiegel & Spiegel, 2004)
Hypnosis uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person's attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. (Griffin & Tyrrell, 2003)
"Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or subject experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior. The hypnotic context is generally established by an induction procedure. Although there are many different hypnotic inductions, most include suggestions for relaxation, calmness, and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included in hypnotic inductions". (Irving Kirsh 1994)
"The term hypnosis´ is used to denote an interaction between two people (or one person and a group) in which one of them, the hypnotist, by means of verbal communication, encourages the other, the suject or subjects, to focus their attention away from their immediate realities and concerns and on inner experiences such as thoughts feelings and imagery. The hypnotist further attempts to create alterations in the subjects´ sensations, perceptions an, feelings, thoughts and behaviour by directing them to imagine various events or situations that, were they to occur in reality, would evoke the intended changes" (Heap & Aravind 2002)
‘From personal observation, hypnosis is not always received with the positive attention it deserves, Barling & de Lucchi (2004) argue stage shows which make hypnotised individuals perform humiliating behavioural routines for the entertainment of others, tends to reduce publics belief in the value of hypnosis. (Barling & De Lucchi, 2004)’
For HCPs the important thing is to help the patient into an appropriate state of mind where the observable benefits of hypnosis can occur.
What is an induction?
Induction is the process by which a patient enters hypnosis (Simons, Potter, & Temple, 2007). It is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client or patient experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behaviour within a hypnotic context. Although there are many different hypnotic inductions, most include suggestions for relaxation, calmness, and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included in hypnotic inductions.
How would I feel in hypnosis?
People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe their experience as an altered state of consciousness or similar to a meditative state. Others describe hypnosis as a normal state of focused attention, in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Regardless of how and to what degree they respond, most people describe the experience as very pleasant. You can still speak in hypnosis although it might feel an efffort to do so and at all times you can decide not to follow the suggestions being given and re-alert yourself. A hypnotic induction is not like a light switch. At different times you may be more focused inwards or become more aware of your surroundings.
Can anyone be hypnotised?
Some people are very responsive to hypnotic suggestions and others are less responsive. A person´s ability to experience hypnotic suggestions can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Contrary to some depictions of hypnosis in books, movies or on television, people who have been hypnotized do not lose control over their behaviour. They typically remain aware of who they are and where they are, and unless amnesia has been specifically suggested, they usually remember what transpired during hypnosis. Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences. Hypnosis should not be used in certain conditions such as acute psychoses unless the health professional has experience of treating these conditions outside of hypnosis.
What can hypnosis be used for?
Hypnosis is not a type of therapy, like psychoanalysis or behaviour therapy. Instead, it is a procedure that can be used to facilitate therapy. Because it is not a treatment in and of itself, training in hypnosis is not sufficient for the conduct of therapy. Clinical hypnosis should be used only by properly trained and credentialed health care professionals (e.g. licensed clinical psychologists), who have also been trained in the clinical use of hypnosis and are working within the areas of their professional expertise.
Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety, stress, habit disorders, and many other psychological and medical problems. However, it may not be useful for all psychological problems or for all patients or clients. The decision to use hypnosis as an adjunct to treatment can only be made in consultation with a qualified health care provider who has been trained in the use and limitations of clinical hypnosis.
In addition to its use in clinical settings, hypnosis is used in research, with the goal of learning more about the nature of hypnosis itself, as well as its impact on sensation, perception, learning, memory, and physiology. Researchers also study the value of hypnosis in the treatment of physical and psychological problems.
Barling, N. R., & De Lucchi, D. A. (2004). Knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about clinical hypnosis. Australian Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 32(1); 36–52.
British Society of Clinical Hypnosis (BSCAH). (2012). Handbook of Contemporary Clinical Hypnosis Theory and Practice. (L. Bran, J. Owens, & W. Ann, Eds.) Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
Griffin, J., & Tyrrell, I. (2003). Human GivensChalvington: HG Publishing. Chalvington: Human Givens.
Heap, M., & Aravind, K. K. (2002). Hartland's Medical and Dental Hypnosis. London: Churchill Livingstone.
Kirsch, I. (1994) Clinical Hypnosis as a Nondeceptive Placebo: Empirically Derived Techniques. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Vol 37 (2) 95-106
Simons, D., Potter, C., & Temple, G. (2007). Hypnosis and Communication in Dental Practice. London: Quintessence.
Spiegel, H., & Spiegel, D. (2004). Trance and Treatment Clinical Uses of Hypnosis (2nd) edition. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing Inc.