Hypnosis is a psychological state with physiological attributes superficially resembling sleep. And it is marked by an individual’s level of awareness other than the ordinary conscious state. Another description of the phenomenon is that of an altered mental state, while another links it to imaginative role-enactment.
A person under hypnosis is said to have heightened focus and concentration with the ability to concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory, while blocking out sources of distraction. Hypnosis is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction involving a series of preliminary instructions and suggestions. The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as “hypnotherapy”, while its use as a form of entertainment for an audience is known as “stage hypnosis”.
The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word hypnos, “sleep”, and the suffix –osis, or from hypnoō, “(I) put to sleep” (stemof aorist hypnōs-) and the suffix –is. The words “hypnosis” and “hypnotism” both derive from the term “neuro-hypnotism” (nervous sleep) coined by the Scottish surgeon James Braid around 1841. Braid based his practice on that developed by Franz Mesmer and his followers (“Mesmerism” or “animal magnetism”), but differed in his theory as to how the procedure worked.
There is a belief that hypnosis is a form of unconsciousness resembling sleep, but contemporary research suggests that hypnotic subjects are fully awake and are focusing attention, with a corresponding decrease in their peripheral awareness. Subjects also show an increased response to suggestions. In the first book on the subject, Neurypnology (1843), Braid described “hypnotism” as a state of physical relaxation accompanied and induced by mental concentration (“abstraction”).
A person under hypnosis experiences heightened suggestibility and focus accompanied by a sense of tranquility. It could be said that hypnotic suggestion is explicitly intended to make use of the placebo effect. For example, in 1994, Irving Kirsch distinguished hypnosis as a “nondeceptive placebo,” i.e., a method that openly makes use of suggestion and employs methods to amplify its effects.
The earliest definition of hypnosis was given by Braid, who coined the term “hypnotism” as an abbreviation for “neuro-hypnotism”, or nervous sleep, which he opposed tonormal sleep, and defined as: “a peculiar condition of the nervous system, induced by a fixed and abstracted attention of the mental and visual eye, on one object, not of an exciting nature.”
Braid elaborated upon this brief definition in a later work:
[…] the real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition, is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as, for the nonce, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought. The hypnotic sleep, therefore, is the very antithesis or opposite mental and physical condition to that which precedes and accompanies common sleep […]—Braid, Hypnotic Therapeutics, 1853
Therefore, Braid defined hypnotism as a state of mental concentration that often leads to a form of progressive relaxation, termed “nervous sleep”. Later, in his The Physiology of Fascination (1855), Braid conceded that his original terminology was misleading, and argued that the term “hypnotism” or “nervous sleep” should be reserved for the minority (10%) of subjects who exhibit amnesia, substituting the term “monoideism”, meaning concentration upon a single idea, as a description for the more alert state experienced by the others.
A new definition of hypnosis, derived from academic psychology, was provided in 2005, when the Society for Psychological Hypnosis, Division 30 of the American Psychological Association (APA), published the following formal definition:
Hypnotherapy is a use of hypnosis in psychotherapy. It is used by licensed physicians, psychologists, and others. Physicians and psychiatrists may use hypnosis to treat depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders, compulsive gaming, and posttraumatic stress, while certified hypnotherapists who are not physicians or psychologists often treat smoking and weight management.
Modern hypnotherapy has been used in a variety of forms with varying success, such as:
A number of studies show that hypnosis can reduce the pain experienced during burn-wound debridement, bone marrow aspirations, and childbirth. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis found that hypnosis relieved the pain of 75% of 933 subjects participating in 27 different experiments.
Hypnosis is effective in reducing pain from and coping with cancer and other chronic conditions. Nausea and other symptoms related to incurable diseases may also be managed with hypnosis.
Treating skin diseases with hypnosis (hypnodermatology) has performed well in treating warts, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.
Self-hypnosis happens when a person hypnotises oneself, commonly involving the use of autosuggestion. The technique is often used to increase motivation for a diet, quitsmoking, or reduce stress. People who practice self-hypnosis sometimes require assistance; some people use devices known as mind machines to assist in the process, whereas others use hypnotic recordings.
Self-hypnosis is claimed to help with stage fright, relaxation, and physical well-being.