People have been entering into hypnotic-type trances for thousands of years. In many cultures and religions, it was regarded as a form of meditation. Modern day hypnosis, however, started in the late 18th century and was made popular by Franz Mesmer, a German physician who became known as the father of ‘modern hypnotism’. In fact, hypnosis used to be known as ‘Mesmerism’ as it was named after Mesmer.
Several professional organizations and licensing agencies exist for hypnotherapy practitioners. Examples include the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists. To be an ASCH member, practitioners must attend at least 40 hours of workshop training, 20 hours of individual training, and have completed at least two years of clinical practice as a hypnotherapist.
Milton Erickson (1901–1980), the founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association, was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. He wrote several books and journal articles on the subject. During the 1960s, Erickson popularized a new branch of hypnotherapy, known as Ericksonian therapy, characterised primarily by indirect suggestion, "metaphor" (actually analogies), confusion techniques, and double binds in place of formal hypnotic inductions. However, the difference between Erickson's methods and traditional hypnotism led contemporaries such as André Weitzenhoffer to question whether he was practising "hypnosis" at all, and his approach remains in question.
Relaxation techniques are often integrated into other health care practices; they may be included in programs of cognitive behavioral therapy in pain clinics or occupational therapy in psychiatric units. Complementary therapists, including osteopaths and massage therapists, may include some relaxation techniques in their work. Some nurses use relaxation techniques in the acute care setting, such as to prepare patients for surgery, and in a few general practices, classes in relaxation, yoga, or tai chi are regularly available.
Although there are different techniques, clinical hypnotherapy is generally performed in a calm, therapeutic environment. The therapist will guide you into a relaxed, focused state and ask you to think about experiences and situations in positive ways that can help you change the way you think and behave. Unlike some dramatic portrayals of hypnosis in movies, books, or on stage, you will not be unconscious, asleep, or in any way out of control of yourself. You will hear the therapist’s suggestions, but it is up to you to decide whether or not to act on them.