Healing a patient who is in a state of trance is one of the oldest therapeutic arts. Ancient cultures all around the world revered individuals deemed to be in contact with supernatural powers and apparently able to use such contacts to cure the sick and distressed while these people were in a state resembling sleep. The supposed connection with the supernatural powers lies behind many of the prejudices and fears about hypnosis that still exist: the vestigial terror, effectively, of possession by some other entity. But the true value of hypnosis - that it is a state that enables inner connections to be made - has at last begun to be universally accepted.
HOW HYPNOTHERAPY BEGAN
The Austrian Anton Mesmer tried in the 18th century to harness mental energy - known at the time as "animal magnetism" - to effect cures. His results were variable, but he developed a ritual around his treatment, which genuinely hypnotized those who came to him for help. His "mesmerizing" methods received scientific attention throughout the 1800s.
By 1900 Dr. Pierre Janet in France had come to believe that the effects of hypnosis were partly due to a split in the mind between the conscious and unconscious. He concluded (as Freud did) that neurotic symptoms had a hidden meaning, originating in the unconscious, which could be reached through hypnosis.
It wasn't until the 1950s that its use in mainstream medicine and psychotherapy was accepted. In 1958, the American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a useful tool in medicine. Today, in the United States and Britain it has been used to improve physical and mental health at all levels. People suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses can find relief from both the pain and anxiety, as well as other physical symptoms, caused by their condition. Dentists and dental therapists use hypnotherapy to enable patients to overcome the common phobia of dentists and allow them to experience virtually pain-free treatment.
Many 20th Century scientists have struggled to explain hypnotherapy and how it works. It is one of the few therapies taught in conventional medical schools, and it is widely considered to be a useful method of encouraging healing and altering behavioral states.
THEORY AND PRACTICE
There is plenty of clinical evidence that hypnosis can be used to make beneficial changes, even though it cannot be fully explained.
The hypnotic trance is a naturally occurring state of equilibrium somewhere between waking and sleeping. Essentially, it is a state in which inner realities can be contacted and information can be moved around the brain more freely. The conscious mind - the part that uses logic and language - in most people seems to operate principally from the left half of the brain, and the unconscious - concerned with emotions, symbols, and synthesis - from the right.
It would seem that by somehow reaching the right half of the brain through words, hypnosis creates a particular level of activity in both halves and allows a particular type of communication between them.
At a typical hypnotherapy session, the therapist starts by creating a relaxed, calm, and safe atmosphere, and briefly outlines to the client - who is generally sitting or reclining comfortably - what he or she may expect to experience. The room is quiet and has subdued lighting. The therapist then endeavors to relax the client further, using such suggestive terms as "drifting slightly," and "sinking deeper." Sometimes the therapist describes a relaxing scene for the client to visualize. The client's eyes feel heavy, and close.
Under hypnosis, the client is aware of everything that goes on but feels completely detached. Nonetheless, the client is perfectly able to speak if he or she wishes, and to terminate the trance summarily if unhappy. When the client is properly in a state of trance, the therapeutic work can begin. At the end of the session, a simple suggestion brings the client out of hypnosis.
Hypnotism is not effective for people under the influence of drink or drugs, those with psychotic conditions, or children under the age of five.