“Learning hypnotherapy does not commit you to drastically changing your therapy practice,” says hypnotherapist Catherine Reiss. “The training will allow you to more quickly and effectively get to the cause of your clients’ unwanted behaviors and the feelings they present with it, but it also facilitates the use of trance in more traditional formats.”
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.
Could imbalance in the autonomic nervous system explain the complexity and heterogeneity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Could teaching kids and families affected by ASD skills in autonomic regulation broadly improve comfort and functioning? This is the first of three blog posts on our work at the Center for Applied Psychophysiology and Self-regulation at RIT.
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Braid worked very closely with his friend and ally the eminent physiologist Professor William Benjamin Carpenter, an early neuro-psychologist who introduced the "ideo-motor reflex" theory of suggestion. Carpenter had observed instances of expectation and imagination apparently influencing involuntary muscle movement. A classic example of the ideo-motor principle in action is the so-called "Chevreul pendulum" (named after Michel Eugène Chevreul). Chevreul claimed that divinatory pendulae were made to swing by unconscious muscle movements brought about by focused concentration alone.
Researchers have used PHA as a laboratory analogue of functional amnesia because these conditions share several similar features. Case reports of functional amnesia, for instance, describe men and women who, following a traumatic experience such as a violent sexual assault or the death of a loved one, are unable to remember part or all of their personal past. However, as in PHA, they might still show “implicit” evidence of the forgotten events. For instance, they might unconsciously dial the phone number of a family member whom they can’t consciously recall. (In contrast, explicit memories are those we consciously have access to, such as remembering a childhood birthday or what you had for dinner last night.) And, as suddenly as they lost their memories, they can just as suddenly recover them.
But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
High hypnotizable people with PHA typically show impaired explicit memory, or difficulty consciously recalling events or material targeted by the suggestion, and a dissociation between implicit and explicit memory, so that even though they can’t recall the forgotten information it continues to influence their behavior, thoughts and actions. The forgetting is reversible—when the suggestion is cancelled, their memories come flooding back. These last two features—the dissociation and reversibility—confirm that PHA is not the result of poor encoding of the memories or of normal forgetting, because the memories return as soon as PHA is cancelled. Rather, PHA reflects a temporary inability to retrieve information that is safely stored in memory. That makes it a useful tool for research.
Braid can be taken to imply, in later writings, that hypnosis is largely a state of heightened suggestibility induced by expectation and focused attention. In particular, Hippolyte Bernheim became known as the leading proponent of the "suggestion theory" of hypnosis, at one point going so far as to declare that there is no hypnotic state, only heightened suggestibility. There is a general consensus that heightened suggestibility is an essential characteristic of hypnosis. In 1933, Clark L. Hull wrote:
In 10th grade my school brought a celebrity hypnotist for an event. My friend signed me up without knowing and we were called up in front of the entire school. First he has us do an experiment with our hands and how we wouldn't be able to open them - then he choose 7 people and we got to be "hypnotized" for the rest of the event (15 mins or so). I got "picked on" the most for the stuff (forgetting my name, forgetting the number 6) were the one's i did alone. Others were (playing a violin, using your shoe as a phone). I remember actively playing along in order to put on a good show - and he choose us because we were willing to play along.
Stand or sit face-to-face. Look into the eyes of the person. Have the person place their hand on top of yours palm to palm. Tell your subject to continue to look into your eyes until you tell them to stop. Pause and tell the subject that you will count to three and that on three they need to press down on your hand and that you will press up against theirs. Explain that what they feel is your energy. Then command them to listen to your instructions.
Poor regulation of hypnosis and deeper relaxation techniques is more serious. Although several professional organizations exist, these groups do not regulate or certify practitioners in hypnotherapy or relaxation. Hypnotherapists with a conventional health care background (such as psychologists, physicians, dentists, and nurses) are regulated by their professional regulatory bodies. Psychotherapists who use hypnotherapy as an adjunctive treatment modality require appropriate training. Individuals who have received a master's degree in counseling or social work or a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology will be likely to have received appropriate training and supervision.
Changes in brain activity have been found in some studies of highly responsive hypnotic subjects. These changes vary depending upon the type of suggestions being given. The state of light to medium hypnosis, where the body undergoes physical and mental relaxation, is associated with a pattern mostly of alpha waves However, what these results indicate is unclear. They may indicate that suggestions genuinely produce changes in perception or experience that are not simply a result of imagination. However, in normal circumstances without hypnosis, the brain regions associated with motion detection are activated both when motion is seen and when motion is imagined, without any changes in the subjects' perception or experience. This may therefore indicate that highly suggestible hypnotic subjects are simply activating to a greater extent the areas of the brain used in imagination, without real perceptual changes. It is, however, premature to claim that hypnosis and meditation are mediated by similar brain systems and neural mechanisms.
In 2007, a meta-analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the therapeutic effect of hypnotherapy was "superior to that of a waiting list control or usual medical management, for abdominal pain and composite primary IBS symptoms, in the short term in patients who fail standard medical therapy", with no harmful side-effects. However the authors noted that the quality of data available was inadequate to draw any firm conclusions.