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.”
Australian hypnotism/hypnotherapy organizations (including the Australian Hypnotherapists Association) are seeking government regulation similar to other mental health professions. However, the various tiers of Australian government have shown consistently over the last two decades that they are opposed to government legislation and in favour of self-regulation by industry groups.
Hypnosis is a wellness technique that works by promoting positive behavioral or cognitive changes. During successful hypnosis, the client should be eased into a state of deep relaxation in which the conscious mind takes a back seat and the subconscious mind becomes more active. The client is often able to let go of critical thoughts and become receptive to the therapist’s suggestions. In this state of hypnosis, motivating suggestions can bypass your usual mental resistance and internal defense mechanisms. For example, even if you want to quit overeating cupcakes, you may have some level of resistance that your rational mind can’t overcome. During hypnosis, the positive suggestions made by the hypnotherapist can bypass your usual blocks, helping you to achieve the formerly unachievable: stopping overeating, quitting smoking, mastering public speaking, or losing your fear of heights. The goal of hypnosis is to strengthen and empower the client’s motivation, commitment and focus. Consider working with someone who is not just trained in hypnosis but also is a licensed therapist or psychotherapist who can bring their academic background into your session.
The next major development came from behavioural psychology in American university research. Clark L. Hull (1884–1952), an eminent American psychologist, published the first major compilation of laboratory studies on hypnosis, Hypnosis & Suggestibility (1933), in which he proved that hypnosis and sleep had nothing in common. Hull published many quantitative findings from hypnosis and suggestion experiments and encouraged research by mainstream psychologists. Hull's behavioural psychology interpretation of hypnosis, emphasising conditioned reflexes, rivalled the Freudian psycho-dynamic interpretation which emphasised unconscious transference.
To investigate the effectiveness of cognitive hypnotherapy (CH), hypnosis combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), on depression, 84 depressives were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of treatment of either CH or CBT alone. At the end of treatment, patients from both groups significantly improved compared to baseline scores. However, the CH group produced significantly larger changes in Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Hopelessness Scale. Effect size calculations showed that the CH group produced 6%, 5%, and 8% greater reduction in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, respectively, over and above the CBT group. The effect size was maintained at 6-month and 12-month follow-ups. This study represents the first controlled comparison of hypnotherapy with a well-established psychotherapy for depression, meeting the APA criteria for a "probably efficacious" treatment for depression.
Braid soon assimilated Carpenter's observations into his own theory, realising that the effect of focusing attention was to enhance the ideo-motor reflex response. Braid extended Carpenter's theory to encompass the influence of the mind upon the body more generally, beyond the muscular system, and therefore referred to the "ideo-dynamic" response and coined the term "psycho-physiology" to refer to the study of general mind/body interaction.
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.
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.