What Is Hypnosis? Describe the psychological and physical aspects of hypnosis and discuss the role of relaxation in Hypnotherapy. Before we can begin to discuss anything about hypnotherapy, it is important to discuss what hypnosis actually is. This essay aims to arrive at a definition of hypnosis by describing the psychological and physical aspects and looking at it use by hypnotherapists and the role of relaxation within this. The history of hypnosis dates back to the times of ancient Egypt and it has been quite a contentious history. From Mesmer to de Puysegur in the 1700’s; from the first use of the term hypnosis by Braid in 1840 to it’s use as an anaesthetic in surgery by Esdaile and Elliotson; from the work of Erikson (widely regarded to be the grandfather of modern hypnosis) to the present day, the debate continues and theorists are divided as to the true nature of hypnosis. These differences of opinion stem from difficulties in actually measuring hypnosis. Hypnosis is a subjective experience and, as such, no two individuals who undergo the process will have exactly the same experience. Often requiring the use of psychological measures, it is, therefore, more difficult to measure reliably in comparison to physiological matters such as heart rate and blood pressure; although, technological advances in the use of EEG’s (electroencephalograms) and neuroimaging have been very useful. Hence, the nature of hypnosis has long been the subject of contentious debate between those who seek scientific experimental explanations of its various psychological and physical aspects and those hypnotherapists who seek to use it as a tool with which to help people. Even today, theorists are divided into two camps: State theorists who believe that the practice of hypnosis brings about an altered state of consciousness and non-state theorists who believe that the hypnotic state or trance is little different from everyday relaxation and that its effects are merely reactions to suggestions which would have occurred without the use of hypnotic induction, e.g. Spanos (1982). However, for the purpose of this essay, I will assume that the state theorists are correct and assert that hypnosis is an altered state of mind which occurs through the use of a set of techniques by the hypnotist. It can enhance a person’s concentration and responsiveness to suggestion in order to enable them to make desired and beneficial changes to their behaviours, feelings, thoughts and physiological state, thereby enhancing their lives. There are a number of complex psychological aspects involved in hypnosis. In 1951, Solomon Asch carried out a study of conformity whereby subjects were told that they were taking part in a study of visual perception with 6 other people. In fact, only one person in each group was the true subject of Asch’s experiment as the other 6 were aware of the true nature of the study. Each participant in turn (the subject being last) was asked to say which line from a set of three was the same length as the line on the target card. The answers were obvious, but on hearing all the other participants give incorrect answers, in one out of three trials they gave the same incorrect answers. In the control group where the subjects were asked to write their answers in private, incorrect responses were rare. This experiment has been difficult to replicate more recently as modern culture has changed the way that people conform. The work of Milgram in 1963 showed that ordinary people (65% of subjects) were willing to follow the instructions of an authority figure even if this involved apparently causing harm to others i.e, punishing them with a shock of 450 volts for answering a question incorrectly. Such studies show that, as people, we tend to be more comfortable when we fit in, conform, or comply with the instructions of those in authority. As clients would generally be considered to have some level of rapport with their hypnotist it is reasonable...
References: Hadley, J. & Staudacher, C. 1996, Hypnosis for Change; 3rd edn; Canada, New Harbinger publications
Heap, M., & Dryden, W., 1991, Hypnotherapy: A Handbook, OU Press
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