After developing a substantial following — “mesmerism” became “the height of fashion” in late 1780s Paris, writes Marchant — Mesmer became the subject of what was essentially the world’s first clinical trial. King Louis XVI pulled together a team of the world’s top scientists, including Benjamin Franklin, who tested mesmerism and found its capacity to “cure” was, essentially, a placebo effect. “Not a shred of evidence exists for any fluid,” Franklin wrote. “The practice … is the art of increasing the imagination by degrees.”
People who practice hypnotism in a clinical setting have long argued that the hypnotized patient enters an altered state of consciousness. Even if you’ve never undergone hypnotherapy, chances are you’ve experienced this state yourself. “It’s like getting so caught up in a good movie that you forget you’re watching a movie, and you enter the imagined world,” said Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist and the medical director of Stanford University’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
Although most practitioners receive their training in hypnotherapy or relaxation as a part of their academic training, the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis maintain training programs as well as a registry of practitioners (see previous box). Training in teaching relaxation techniques is provided through various routes from self-teaching and apprenticeships to a number of short courses. Many yoga centers also teach relaxation and offer courses to train yoga teachers.teachers.
That's not to say that hypnotherapy is a "quick fix." Unfortunately there is no magic wand, no miracle cure, and if I could just click my fingers and change lives then believe me, I'd be a lot richer! Hypnotherapy is something that we, my client and I, do together — they commit to their intentions and I give them the metaphorical assistance they need.
“With hypnosis, you capture people’s attention. … You get people to turn to a more passive state of attention and to stop judging everything. To just let it happen,” Patterson said. “And when you do this, the amazing thing is that it’s as if you’re talking directly to the part of the brain that’s monitoring the reactions.” In his work, he ties suggestions of comfort to the daily practice of caring for burn wounds. “In burn care you know they’re going to pull off the bandages and then they’re going to start washing the wounds,” he explains. “The message is that when your wounds are washed, that will be the reminder of how comfortable you are.” The patient will often look like they’re asleep. “But if you ask them, ‘If you can still hear me, feel your head nod,’ almost always you’ll get that head nod,” he said. He’s seen this work for decades, but is so grateful for the recent advent of brain-imaging studies. They serve as evidence he can hold up to skeptics: See? Do you believe me now?
In person, this looks strange enough. “There are a lot of ways to go into this state, but one way is to count to three,” Spiegel explains. “On one, you do one thing — look up. Two, two things — slowly close your eyes and take a deep breath. And three, three things — let the breath out, keep your eyes relaxed, and keep them closed. Let your body float. And then let one hand or the other float up in the air like a balloon.” When in this state, the hypnotized person’s hand will rise up into the air, as if on its own accord; Spiegel can reach over and gently pull the hand down, but it will float right back up again, as if it’s filled with helium.
In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. But most psychiatrists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
Hypnosis is normally preceded by a "hypnotic induction" technique. Traditionally, this was interpreted as a method of putting the subject into a "hypnotic trance"; however, subsequent "nonstate" theorists have viewed it differently, seeing it as a means of heightening client expectation, defining their role, focusing attention, etc. There are several different induction techniques. One of the most influential methods was Braid's "eye-fixation" technique, also known as "Braidism". Many variations of the eye-fixation approach exist, including the induction used in the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS), the most widely used research tool in the field of hypnotism. Braid's original description of his induction is as follows:
It is used for a wide variety of applications, and studies into its efficacy are often of poor quality which makes it difficult to determine efficacy. Several recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews of the literature on various conditions have concluded that the efficacy of hypnotherapy is "not verified", that there is no evidence or insufficient evidence for efficacy.