“What is Hypnosis?” Describe the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis and discuss the role of relaxation in Hypnotherapy.
‘No-one really knows what hypnosis is; this is part of the attraction of the view that
there really is no such thing.’
(Waterfield 2011, Introduction)
Hypnosis, as a term and as a practice, is shrouded in centuries of mystery and surrounded by misconception. Even the word itself, derived from the Greek ‘hypnos’, meaning sleep, is misleading; most people today, even if they hadn’t experienced it themselves, would recognise that being in a hypnotic state is not the same as being asleep. In order to reach a satisfactory definition of hypnosis, it is necessary therefore to explore its origins, examine its physical and psychological effects, and perhaps explode a few myths along the way.
There is some disagreement about when the first known cases of hypnosis occurred in history. Oriental, Aborigine and Ancient Egyptian cultures all appear, from many centuries ago, to have featured practices which we might identify as being akin to hypnosis. However, from relatively recent history, most acknowledge that Franz Anton Mesmer was ‘the grandfather of hypnosis’ (Chrysalis Module One, course notes).
Mesmer became famous in the 18th century for his theory of ‘animal magnetism’; he believed that magnets could be used for healing based on the idea that ‘the fluid [in a person’s body] ebbed and flowed according to the laws of magnetism’ (Chrysalis course notes). He later progressed to using other techniques to impact this magnetic flow, including having patients hold iron rods in a container of water, and enjoyed considerable renown, but was eventually discredited.
Mesmer’s influence, however, outlived him and subsequent practitioners came to realise that the success he did have in treating ailments was probably due less to magnetism and more to suggestion. Various doctors working in the 19th century, among them Dr James Esdaile, Dr John Eliotson and Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault, developed these theories and used hypnosis to treat their patients, but often met with resistance from the medical establishment.
Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist born in 1901, was a pioneer in the study of the unconscious mind and the varying ‘trance states’, and how these could be unlocked to induce therapeutic change. Erickson became ‘the most respected and famous hypnotherapist in the world’ (Waterfield 2011, page 317) and has continued to be widely read and highly influential since his death in 1980.
When we talk about a trance state, or a hypnotic trance, what do we mean? Erickson’s own definition, in the 1954 Encyclopedia Britannica, is:
‘a special psychological state with certain physiological attributes, resembling sleep
only superficially, and characterised by a functioning of the individual at a level of
awareness other than the ordinary state, a level of awareness termed, for
convenience in conceptualization, unconscious or subconscious awareness’.
(Waterfield 2011, page 341).
The first chapter of Hadley and Staudacher’s Hypnosis for Change describes five levels of consciousness. Book-ended by ‘alert’ and ‘asleep’, the three ‘middle’ levels of light trance, moderate trance and deep trance are the states in which an individual is most susceptible to hypnotic suggestion.
Today’s hypnotherapists use hypnosis, in a therapeutic setting, to manage or treat a number of conditions, most commonly to help with smoking cessation, weight control, anxiety and phobias. By examining what happens to both body and mind during hypnosis, we can understand why, and how effectively, hypnotic techniques can be used to treat these and other conditions.
A typical course of hypnotherapy involves a therapist and a patient, or subject. Initially there is usually a period of getting to know each other, when the issues to be tackled can be explored, any questions asked and answered, and both...
Bibliography: Josie Hadley and Carol Staudacher, Hypnosis for Change (Third Edition), New Harbinger, 1996
Michael Heap, Hypnotherapy: A Handbook (Second Edition), OUP, 2011
Helmut W.A. Karle and Jennifer H. Boys, Hypnotherapy: A Practical Handbook, Free Association Books, 2010
Robin Waterfield, Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis, Kindle edition, 2011
Chrysalis Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling, Year One - Hypnotherapy and Counselling Skills - Module One, course notes
Please join StudyMode to read the full document