Hypnosis and Fibromyalgia

I am not a physician and do not "treat" or "cure" fibromyalgia. As a hypnotist I use hypnotism to induce trance and deliver suggestions, which have been shown to provide significant relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Any person suffering from chronic pain should consult a physician first before seeking hypnosis. I use hypnotism for chronic pain only with a referral from a qualified medical professional.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder affecting over 5 million Americans, with 80-90% of those affected being women. Symptoms include widespread muscle pain, tenderness, painful trigger points, problems sleeping, fatigue, and depression. This article presents the scientific evidence that hypnosis is effective in providing relief from the symptoms of fibromyalgia. As this fact has become well established, the focus of research has shifted to the role of the brain, the comparison of hypnotic methods, and the effects of hypnosis when combined with other interventions. From the controlled studies on hypnosis and fibromyalgia, the hypnotist and hypnotherapist can draw conclusions concerning the best hypnotic approach and the likely results when using hypnosis for fibromyalgia.

Studies are conclusive
In the 1990s there were a number of studies on fibromyalgia and mind-based interventions, such as hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and stress reduction exercises.[1] Generally, results have shown that psychological treatment is more effective than the conventional pharmacological approach, especially when hypnosis is added.[2] Hypnosis has proven so effective that German and Israeli guidelines for the treatment of fibromyalgia now include hypnosis.[3]

Two meta-analyses have assessed the effectiveness of hypnosis for fibromyalgia based on the combined results of multiple studies. One considered six separate studies with 239 subjects and concluded that hypnosis with guided imagery does reduce pain.[4] A more comprehensive meta-analysis considered the results of all known controlled studies and concluded that hypnotherapy and guided imagery are recommended.[5]

The findings that hypnosis reduces fibromyalgia symptoms are supported by the observation that cerebral blood flow in patients with fibromyalgia changes during hypnotic analgesia, compared to the waking state. Studies indicate the involvement of multiple areas in the brain and suggest an interplay between the cortical and subcortical brain structures.[6]

Length of treatment
Treatment protocols in these studies are based on experimental design, rather than evaluations of the individual patients. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to know the length of treatment used. In the largest meta-analysis, patients had a median of nine hypnosis sessions.[7] In one study fibromyalgia patients saw a significant decrease in physical and mental discomfort with 12 weeks of hypnotherapy and a follow up at 24 weeks.[8] In another, the patients experienced better overall change and significant improvement of sleep with five sessions over two months, and were also encouraged to practice self-hypnosis.[9]

Which symptoms are affected most?
Hypnosis does reduce strong feelings of physical and psychic pain from fibromyalgia.[10] Using hypnosis, fibromyalgia patients have also experienced significant improvements of sleep[11] and less fatigue on awakening.[12] There is less evidence that hypnosis reduces the general fatigue and depression that can accompany fibromyalgia. In one study hypnosis reduced pain but did not significantly improve the patient’s perceived quality of life as it relates to health.[13] This may suggest that the hypnotist should focus specifically on the reduction of pain, better sleep, and less fatigue on awakening, instead of the patient’s perception of quality of life, general fatigue, or depression.

While hypnotherapy patients did show significantly better outcomes with regard to overall pain, the pain response to manual pressure remained the same.[14] This may be communicated to the patient in order to establish reasonable expectations, lest the patient attempt to test the effectiveness of hypnosis by pressing upon tender areas.

Comparison of hypnotic approaches
Studies on hypnosis and fibromyalgia indicate that certain methods of hypnosis work best.

Relaxation exercises help fibromyalgia patients, but hypnotic trance is distinct from mere rest and has been found particularly effective. Fibromyalgia patients in hypnosis experienced less pain during hypnosis than patients at rest.[15] One study showed that the Ericksonian hypnosis method of analog marking (giving verbal or nonverbal cues to emphasize certain words) was more effective than Schultz’s Autogenic Training method, which is a self-directed form of relaxation with autosuggestion.[16]

Suggestions alone (without a hypnotic induction) can significantly reduce pain, but patients report greater reduction of pain and claim greater control over their pain when suggestions follow a hypnotic induction.[17] Suggestions of analgesia have a greater effect than suggestions of relaxation. In fact, the effect of hypnotic induction followed by suggestions of relaxation was no greater than the effect of relaxation alone.[18]

When working with someone who suffers from chronic pain, it is important to remember that there is more to hypnotic analgesia than direct commands for diminished pain or increased comfort. The scientific study of pain makes a distinction between two components of pain, the sensory component and the suffering component. Sensory pain is the perceptual response to irritation or injury; suffering is the reaction that follows such pain.[19] When the suffering is removed, the sensory aspect tends to become tolerable or may even disappear.[20] Suggestions to relieve the suffering component of pain may be directed, for example, at alleviating the subject’s non-acceptance or fear of the condition, separating sensory from suffering and quality of life, or placing a time limit on suffering. Where appropriate, suggestions may also be directed at releasing self-destructive feelings like guilt and resentment, and addressing any secondary benefit that the subject might gain from the condition or the limitations that it may place on carrying out the responsibilities of life.

Hypnosis and other interventions
Recognizing the effectiveness of both cognitive behavioral training (CBT) and hypnosis for treating fibromyalgia, several studies have investigated the combined effects of CBT and hypnosis. It has been found that psychological treatment provides greater relief from symptoms than conventional pharmacological treatment only, especially when hypnosis is added.[21] A 2012 study of 93 patients with fibromyalgia concluded that hypnosis enhanced the effectiveness of CBT to show greater improvements than drug intervention in terms of pain, catastrophizing, psychological distress, functionality, and sleep.[22]

Hypnosis for fibromyalgia should be considered as a way to alleviate symptoms. A hypnotist is not a physician and does not “treat” or “cure” fibromyalgia.
• Cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective when combined with hypnotherapy.
• Stress reduction and relaxation (in the form of Jacobson’s Progressive Relaxation technique, for example) can alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms. The hypnosis subject should be taught relaxation techniques and/or self hypnosis.
• Hypnotism in which a hypnotist or hypnotherapist induces trance and delivers suggestions (such as Ericksonian analog marking) is more effective than a self-directed approach (such as autogenic training).
• The trance state is particularly important and should be maximized.
• Suggestions should focus on the improvement of generalized pain, sleep, and fatigue.
• Suggestions for analgesia can address both the sensory and suffering components of pain.
• Experimental treatment designs generally employ weekly sessions for 2-3 months.
This approach learned from understanding hypnosis and fibromyalgia may also have application to other chronic pain disorders.


[1] Lauche, R., Cramer, H., Häuser, W., Dobos, G., & Langhorst, J. (n.d.). A Systematic Overview of Reviews for Complementary and Alternative Therapies in the Treatment of the Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-13.

[2] Martínez-Valero, C., Castel, A., Capafons, A., Sala, J., Espejo, B., & Cardeña, E. (n.d.). Hypnotic Treatment Synergizes the Psychological Treatment of Fibromyalgia: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 311-321.

[3] Ablin, J., Fitzcharles, M., Buskila, D., Shir, Y., Sommer, C., & Häuser, W. (n.d.). Treatment of Fibromyalgia Syndrome: Recommendations of Recent Evidence-Based Interdisciplinary Guidelines with Special Emphasis on Complementary and Alternative Therapies. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 1-7.

[4] Bernardy, K., Füber, N., Klose, P., & Häuser, W. (n.d.). Efficacy of hypnosis/guided imagery in fibromyalgia syndrome - a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 133-133.

[5] Thieme, K., Häuser, W., Batra, A., Bernardy, K., Felde, E., Gesmann, M., . . . Köllner, V. (2008). Psychotherapie bei Patienten mit Fibromyalgiesyndrom. Der Schmerz Schmerz, 295-302.

[6] Wik, G., Fischer, H., Bragée, B., Finer, B., & Fredrikson, M. (n.d.). Functional anatomy of hypnotic analgesia: A PET study of patients with fibromyalgia. European Journal of Pain, 7-12.

[7] Bernardy.

[8] Haanen HC, Hoenderdos HT, van Romunde LK, Hop WC, Mallee C, Terwiel JP, Hekster GB. Department of Rheumatology, Sint Antonius Ziekenhuis, Nieuwegein, The Netherlands. Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of refractory fibromyalgia. J. Rheumatol. 1991 Jan;18(1):72-5.

[9] Picard, Jusseaume C, Boutet M, Dualé C, Mulliez A, Aublet-Cuvellier B. Hypnosis for management of fibromyalgia. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2013;61(1):111-23.

[10] Haanen.

[11] Picard.

[12] Haanen.

[13] Bernardy, K., Füber, N., Klose, P., & Häuser, W. (n.d.). Efficacy of hypnosis/guided imagery in fibromyalgia syndrome - a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 133-133.

[14] Haanen.

[15] Wik.

[16] Rucco V, Feruglio C, Genco F, Mosanghini R. Servizio di Terapia Fisica, Ospedale di Medicina Fisica e Riabilitazione, Udine. Autogenic training versus Erickson's analogical technique in treatment of fibromyalgia syndrome. Riv Eur Sci Med Farmacol. 1995 Jan-Feb;17(1):41-50.

[17] Whalley MG, Oakley DA. Fibromyalgia pain and its modulation by hypnotic and non-hypnotic suggestion: an fMRI analysis. Eur J Pain. 2009 May;13(5):542-50.

[18] Castel, A., Pérez, M., Sala, J., Padrol, A., & Rull, M. (n.d.). Effect of hypnotic suggestion on fibromyalgic pain: Comparison between hypnosis and relaxation. European Journal of Pain, 463-468.

[19] Hilgard, E., & Hilgard, J. (1975). Hypnosis in the relief of pain (pp. 27-28). Los Altos, Calif.: W. Kaufmann.

[20] Ewin DM, “Relieving suffering—and pain—with hypnosis” Geriatrics. 1978 Jun; 33 (6): 87-9.

[21] Martínez-Valero.

[22] Castel, A., Cascón, R., Padrol, A., Sala, J., & Rull, M. (n.d.). Multicomponent Cognitive-Behavioral Group Therapy With Hypnosis for the Treatment of Fibromyalgia: Long-Term Outcome. The Journal of Pain, 255-265.


How Psychology Emerged From Hypnosis

Until the late 1800s psychology was a branch of philosophy dealing with speculations about the human mind. There was no experimental or therapeutic practice of psychology as it is known today. Many people think that depth psychology originated solely from Freud’s analytical insights presented in his work The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. However, depth psychology and psychoanalysis actually originated from the practices of hypnosis, mesmerism, and earlier esoteric disciplines.

Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)
“The great thing of the eighteenth century is not the Encyclopedia…it is the sympathetic and miraculous physics of Mesmer.”
- Alphonse Louis Constant
Franz Anton Mesmer was a medical doctor in Austria around the time of the French Revolution. He followed the ideas of the sixteenth century Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541). Paracelsus rejected the idea that illness was due to an imbalance of bodily humors, and was the first to theorize an “unconscious” that could cause disease. Influenced by Paracelsus' ideas, Mesmer produced an altered state of consciousness in his patients to establish communication with the unconscious, then removed their symptoms. He called his process “mesmerism,” which in a later form gave rise to “hypnotism.” Mesmer demonstrated that there are deeper portions of the mind that are not accessible in the usual state of consciousness, and that in certain altered states of consciousness the mind has the power to do extraordinary things, such as healing illnesses.

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893)
Mesmer’s discovery was a matter of great interest in medicine, especially in France, where he did much of his work. It was here that Jean Martin Charcot, a French medical doctor and the founder of modern neurology, inspired depth psychology. Charcot was a highly regarded teacher who gave lecture demonstrations of hypnotism. By suggestion, he produced various symptoms (ex: blindness, deafness, the inability to speak, paralysis) in his hypnotic subjects, and invited his medical students to verify their authenticity. Then when he brought his subjects out of the hypnotic state, their symptoms disappeared. Mesmer had demonstrated that the unconscious could heal illness; Charcot’s lectures made it evident that the unconscious could also produce symptoms of disease.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
As a young, recently graduated medical doctor, Sigmund Freud attended Charcot’s lectures in France. He considered that if one could produce symptoms by giving suggestions to the unconscious, as Charcot did, then it is also possible that the unconscious might produce illness on its own. From this Freud theorized that a patient might be freed from symptoms by gaining access to the unconscious. He practiced hypnosis for a time, but was unable to get his patients into trance effectively. Freud determined that since sleep is an altered state of consciousness like hypnosis, and dreams occur during sleep, one could gain access to the material of the unconscious through dreams. He published his theories on The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, which was the beginning of modern psychoanalysis.

Freud's couch. The traditional image of the psychoanalysis patient reclining on a couch remains as a relic of hypnosis.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Carl Jung was a young Swiss medical doctor specializing in mental illness. After Freud, he could be considered the second founder of psychology. Jung and Freud agreed that the unconscious speaks in the language of symbols, but for Freud the unconscious forces are almost always of a sexual nature. Jung was deeply in touch with his own unconscious. Like Mesmer, Jung studied Paracelsus. He recognized that there are unconscious forces which are not of a sexual origin, but which originate from a “collective unconscious,” and which are of a transcendental, symbolic, mythological, poetic, and inspirational nature. Jung arrived at these insights from his own dreams and visionary experiences. He also put his cousin under hypnosis repeatedly, and from her trance communications he determined that different parts of her psyche presented themselves as different personalities, but all with the same intention of coming together. He concluded that these parts were trying to unify and become a whole person. From this Jung theorized that there are unconscious forces within us trying to come together, and that the work of our lives is to be in communication with these deeper parts of ourselves and become more whole. This process he called “individuation,” referring to becoming an indivisible unity. Jung published his work Transformations and Symbols of the Libido in 1912, which precipitated his break from Freud.

Originally it was Paracelsus who presented the idea of the unconscious. Mesmer discovered that in altered states one could heal diseases. Charcot demonstrated Mesmer’s discovery, also showing that one could induce symptoms by suggestion in hypnosis. This led Freud to the idea that symptoms might be caused by internal unconscious forces, so he explored the unconscious through hypnosis and then dreams. Jung then returned to Paracelsus and the process of using trance to communicate with the unconscious. In this way, the theory of the unconscious, mesmerism, and hypnosis became great contributions to human knowledge and tremendously important influences in modern psychological theory.

Man is a vast being of mind, and a substantial portion of this mind is inaccessible during ordinary waking consciousness. In a way, we are alienated from our own inner natures and incomplete. Wholeness and happiness occur when we come to know our inner natures through non-rational processes, such as trance and meditation, for example. That knowing is not intellectual knowledge, but the empirical knowledge of experience, a “knowledge of the heart.” When you stop to listen to your innermost self and learn to maintain communication with your unconscious, your life is enriched.

This article is inspired by and adapted from a lecture entitled “Wisdom Beyond Psychology” from the C. G. Jung Lectures of Dr. Stephan Hoeller.


Hypnosis for Fertility

Each year in the U.S., approximately 6.7 million women have an impaired ability to become pregnant or carry a baby to full term,[1] and over 176,000 in vitro fertilization cycles are performed.[2] With the average cost of an in vitro fertilization cycle ranging from $10,000 to $15,000, women are using hypnosis to make the procedure more effective and nearly double the odds of conceiving.[3]

What the research shows
Several studies have demonstrated that hypnosis promotes fertility:

▪ In 2006 a significant study on the impact of hypnosis during the in vitro procedure compared pregnancy and implantation rates between two groups: 98 procedures using hypnosis versus 96 procedures without hypnosis. The group using hypnosis obtained 52 pregnancies (53%) with an implantation rate of 28%. The group without hypnosis had 29 pregnancies (30%) with an implantation rate of 14%. Researchers concluded that the use of hypnosis during embryo transfer may significantly improve pregnancy and implantation rates.[4]

▪ In 1999 a study of 1156 women having in vitro fertilization, women who received psychological support, including hypnotherapy, had a higher rate of pregnancy (56%) than those who did not (42%).[5]

▪ The most recent study in 2013 followed 554 couples with “unexplained” reproductive failure (meaning stress-related or otherwise psychosomatic) over a period of 28 years. Using hypnosis to alleviate the stress of infertility as well as marital stress yielded a pregnancy success rate of 72%. Researchers concluded that unexplained reproductive failure is reversible when stress is alleviated with hypnosis.[6]

How does it work?
The human body is built for survival and can adapt to almost any condition. When a person is under physical, mental, or emotional stress, the body responds by mounting an automatic response, called the ‘stress response’ or ‘fight or flight response’ in the central nervous system and endocrine system. The stress response is great for dealing with short-term dangers, but long-term stress can cause serious conditions, including infertility, menstrual problems, and sexual dysfunction. Under stressful conditions, the body undergoes the following changes, which prevent fertilization/conception and carrying a baby to full term:

▪ The stress response prioritizes blood supply to peripheral muscles and the heart, which means decreased blood supply to the digestive and reproductive systems.

▪ When the body is under stress it uses up the pregnancy hormone progesterone to make the stress hormone cortisol. The resulting progesterone deficiency is a problem because progesterone is needed to conceive and to maintain pregnancy.

▪ Cortisol also inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), suppressing sperm count, ovulation and sexual activity.[7]

▪ Physical stress can increase levels of the hormone prolactin, which may disrupt or stop ovulation.

These are some of the mechanisms nature uses to prevent pregnancy under unsuitable (i.e. extreme stress) conditions. The primary mechanism by which hypnosis promotes fertility is probably the reduction of stress hormones by relaxation. Also related to reducing stress, it has also been theorized that hypnosis helps the fallopian tubes relax and dilate so that the ovum can travel successfully down the tube to implant in the uterus.[8] To address the stress that causes infertility, the hypnotic procedure should be relaxing (and train the patient to relax on their own), and posthypnotic suggestions should be given to eliminate stress and tension in general.

Some women have seen remarkable evidence that stress and belief prevent pregnancy when they become pregnant after the misdiagnosis of “blocked tubes.” As soon as they stop worrying about their infertility, they conceive. It can be helpful to give the patient the suggestion that she can stop worrying about becoming pregnant.[9]

Hypnosis can also address other psychosomatic causes of infertility. Sometimes behind the outward desire to get pregnant is a fear of pregnancy, fear of childbirth, or fear of being unprepared for motherhood. The conflicting emotions are a form of stress that affects the physiology and prevents fertility. When appropriate, hypnotherapy for fertility can encourage feelings of motherliness and help the patient resolve fears.[10]

Finally, hypnosis can help soon-to-be mothers stop smoking, eat better, and sleep better, all of which promote better health overall. With so many benefits of hypnosis for pregnancy, it’s no wonder that more women are using hypnosis as a natural approach to increase the odds of conceiving and delivering healthy babies.

[1] Lepkowski, J. M., & National Center for Health Statistics (U.S.), National Survey of Family Growth (U.S.). (2010). The 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth: Sample design and analysis of a continuous survey. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics.

[2] National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (U.S.). (2012). Assisted reproductive technology surveillance --- United States, 2012. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[3] "You're getting sleepy ... and pregnant". (2006). Psychology Today.

[4] Levitas, E., Parmet, A., Lunenfeld, E., Bentov, Y., Friger, M., & Potashnik, G. (2006). Impact of hypnosis during embryo transfer on the outcome of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer: a case-control study. Fertility and Sterility, 85(65), 1404-8.

[5] Poehl, M., Bichler, K., Wicke, V., Domer, V., & Feichtinger, W. (1999). Psychotherapeutic counseling and pregnancy rates in in vitro fertilization. Journal of assisted reproduction and genetics, 16(6), 302-5.

[6] Vyas, R., Adwanikar, G., Hathi, L., & Vyas, B. (2013). Psychotherapeutic intervention with hypnosis in 554 couples with reproductive failure. Journal of the Indian Medical Association, 111(3), 167-9, 173.

[7] Stress increases putative gonadotropin inhibitory hormone and decreases luteinizing hormone in male rats. E. D. Kirby, A. C. Geraghty, T. Ubuka, G. E. Bentley, D. Kaufer. Journal: Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences 2009

[8] Everly, G. S., & Lating, J. M. (2003). A clinical guide to the treatment of the human stress response. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

[9] Kroger, W. S. (1977). Clinical and experimental hypnosis in medicine, dentistry, and psychology. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

[10] Kroger, 1977.


The Signs of Hypnosis

A person in hypnosis can experience a variety of phenomena. The following summary lists the outward signs that a person usually exhibits under hypnosis. Not all of these are experienced by every person in hypnosis, so one should not dismiss the presence of trance if some signs are absent. Many of the signs of hypnosis are subtle and could be recognized by an experienced hypnotherapist, while the person in hypnosis or an observer might miss them altogether.

The muscles relax, and the subject makes efforts to become more comfortable. A person in hypnosis does not remain physically tense. Muscular relaxation is often most noticeable in the facial expression. A person in hypnosis has a smooth, ironed out expression on the face, which usually goes along with a vacant look in the eyes.

Stillness. A person does not have to be frozen still to experience trance, but a person in hypnosis does not make restless movements such as hand wringing or foot shaking, for example. Even people who normally experience tics or twitches do not usually manifest them while in hypnosis. When a person in trance does move, they will be slow and efficient in their movements.

Body warmth is frequently an indication of hypnosis.

A person entering trance begins to blink more slowly.

Fluttering of the eyelids occurs during the initial phase of trance. This is one sign of hypnosis that cannot be imitated.

The eyes sometimes roll upward, so that you see only the whites of the eyes.

Increased lacrimation (watering of the eyes).

In hypnosis there is often a reddening of the eyes.

Though not observable outwardly, a person in trance often reports fogging or blurring of the vision. Hypnosis can also cause tunnel vision, or even changes in the colors, sizes, and shapes of things.

A person in hypnosis will be less distracted by outside sounds. To the extreme, the subject may become so inwardly absorbed that he or she no longer make the effort to listen to the hypnotherapist.

Pulse and respiration
Pulse rate and breathing slow down, although sometimes a person entering hypnosis will experience a temporary increase in pulse and respiration caused by the realization that they are in hypnosis.

The swallowing reflex slows or disappears during trance. Of course, if attention is drawn to it, the subject will usually swallow.

Psychomotor retardation
There is often a lag of time between the time when a suggestion is given and when the subject in hypnosis carries it out.

Signs of reorientation
When the feet and hands begin touching each other restlessly it is a good sign that the subject is exiting trance. Other signs of a person reorienting themselves to the body and the waking state are wetting the lips, shifting the posture, opening the eyes, blinking, yawning, and stretching.

A checklist for meditation and self-hypnosis
Many of the common instructions for meditation and relaxation imitate the signs of hypnosis. Here is a very simple checklist of things you can do to facilitate meditation and trance states.

1. Make sure you are not cold.

2. Find a comfortable position.

3. Be still. If you must move, do it slowly and efficiently.

4. Relax your body, especially your face.

5. With your eyes open, stare at something slightly below eye level. Notice the loss of detail in objects in your peripheral vision.

6. Roll your eyes upward gently.

7. When you cannot keep your eyes open any longer, close your eyes and relax them.


The Phenomena of Hypnosis

The following is a summary of the basic hypnotic phenomena, as described in Dr. William S. Kroger’s classic text Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (1963).

Suggestion Phenomena
Suggestibility is probably the most well known phenomenon of hypnosis. One of the most basic ideas in hypnotherapy is that suggestibility is heightened under hypnosis. But there is more to verbal suggestion than the idea that the subconscious mind hears and accepts words literally. While much of the hypnotherapy field focuses on the precise phrasing of verbal suggestions, semantics, and “neurolinguistic programming,” suggestions can also take the following forms:
- Preverbal (sounds)
- Nonverbal (gestures)
- Intraverbal (modulation of the voice)
- Extraverbal (meanings and implications of words and phrases)

Beyond these modes of suggestion given by Kroger, I have also found that the musical tone, rhythm and resonance of words – and of the spaces in between them – can have powerful effects.

Not all suggestibility relies on trance. Suggestibility heightened without hypnosis is “waking suggestion.” Other methods that heighten suggestibility are reflex conditioning, abstract conditioning (the compounding of suggestion), repetitive sensory stimulation (I often use repetitive ocean waves in the background of my sessions), rapport, the use of imagination, and misdirection of attention (in a similar sense to how magicians use misdirection, thus some hypnosis could be called “mental magic”). Mass suggestion, subliminal projection, brainwashing, propaganda, and, of course, advertising all depend on such methods of suggestion that do not rely on trance. Much of suggestibility can depend on the character, intention, ability of the hypnotherapist to express an idea meaningfully.

A posthypnotic suggestion is a suggestion delivered in hypnosis that is carried out afterward. Some theories see the carrying out of a posthypnotic suggestion as a self-induced miniature replica of the original hypnotic situation, different only in the depth of trance. Some subjects carry out the posthypnotic suggestion as a conscious act, and others do so automatically. Some subjects have amnesia of the posthypnotic act, or remember it only after it is carried out. Posthypnotic suggestions usually do not rely on the depth of hypnosis. A person in a light or medium state of hypnosis can receive and then carry out posthypnotic suggestions. Periodic reinforcement increases the effectiveness of posthypnotic suggestions.

Sensory Phenomena
The brain under hypnosis has the capacity to experience or block sensory activity, referred to as ideosensory responses. People often use the term “imagery” to refer to a visual ideosensory response with the eyes closed, and “hallucination” to describe a more vivid visual ideosensory response, but not all ideosensory responses and hallucinations are visual. They can also be tactile/kinesthetic (feeling), olfactory (smelling), auditory (hearing), or gustatory (tasting). A positive ideosensory response and positive hallucination occurs when you experience something that it not there. A negative ideosensory response and negative hallucination occurs when you do not experience something that is there.

Hypnotic analgesia (reduction of pain) and anesthesia (complete elimination of pain) are negative ideosensory responses, or negative hallucinations. The opposite is hyperesthesia, or increased sensitivity to touch.

Motor Phenomena
Like ideosensory responses refer to sensory experiences in response to hypnosis, ideomotor responses refer to motor phenomena (i.e. actions and behaviors). With an ideomotor response the muscles respond instantaneously to thoughts and feelings. The responses are involuntary reflexes mediated by the subcortical structures of the brain (the unconscious, autonomic control center). A striking example of an ideomotor response is when the pupils contract in response to hallucinated light.

Automatic Writing. “Doodling” while talking or listening is the most common manifestation of automatic writing. On a more advanced level, a hypnotized subject can be told that the writing hand is dissociated from the rest of their body, and engage in a normal conversation while the hand is writing about something completely different. Some techniques then take the subject back into hypnosis to interpret what was written.

Somnabmbulism. Somnambulism is one of the deepest stages of hypnosis. It is what sleepwalkers experience. Generally, after the experience the person has no recollection of it. Hypnotic suggestions that are given in this state become convictions automatically because the subject does not remember them. Somnambulism is not sleep and does not resemble sleep. The subject appears awake, but is hypnotized and will follow directions just as if he or she was awake.

Catalepsy. Catalepsy is one of the most interesting of all hypnotic phenomena. It is the involuntary tonicity of the muscles. The limbs remain in almost any position in which they are placed. During eyeball catalepsy, if you turn the head slowly, the eyes will remain fixed. Catelepsy is possible even in light and medium states of hypnosis.

Memory Phenomena
Amnesia. Many people think that the indication of whether they were under hypnosis is whether they “blank out” and have amnesia. However, amnesia may or may not occur spontaneously during hypnosis. When amnesia does occur spontaneously, it usually indicates the deep state of hypnosis known as somnambulism. Most of the time, amnesia is the result of specific hypnotic suggestions to have amnesia, and is only temporary.
Can hypnosis make you forget someone?

Hypermnesia (Memory Recall). Hypnosis enables memory recall greater than at nonhypnotic levels. However, the material can be inaccurate or false.
Can you lie under hypnosis?

Age Regression (Pseudorevivification). Age regression is a form of hypermnesia. The subject experiences events as past, but identifies with them in the first person. Recall is improved greatly when a memory has a strong emotional component.

Pseudo-regression. This is similar to age regression in that recall is improved, but instead of identifying with the experiences as directly, it is as if the subject is watching the events from another perspective (as if on a television or movie screen). Much of our everyday experience of memory is like this.

Revivification. Revivification is the reliving of an incident at the time at which it occurred, in the present tense. In a true revivification, the memories after the age to which the subject is regressed are eliminated. Under hypnosis a subject may even demonstrate the personality traits or handwriting of the earlier age.

Retrogression (Dynamic Regression). Retrogression is a spontaneous age regression with some element of revivification mixed in.

Age Progression. During age progression the subject hallucinates living in the future. Interestingly, he or she still retains the present chronologic age. Age progression can be a great tool in hypnotherapy to understand how a person might react to a situation in the future.

Perception Phenomena
Dissociation. Dissociation is the inherent ability of a subject to detach from the immediate environment. Dissociation is used frequently for hypnoanesthesia, to separate the subject from the portion of the body that is the source of pain.

Depersonalization. In hypnosis a subject can experience depersonalization, forget his own identity, and even assume that he is another person. Using depersonalization in hypnotherapy a person can see things from a new perspective, which can have a profound effect on thoughts, feelings, or behaviors afterward.

Time distortion. Time Expansion/Lengthening is when time seems longer (2 minutes seems like 20 minutes). An everyday example of time expansion is when a boring lecture or wait seems much longer than it actually was. Time Contraction is the opposite (making 20 minutes seems like 2 minutes), just like the old saying goes that “time flies when you’re having fun.”

By considering the phenomena of hypnosis, we observe that hypnotism and hypnotherapy are much more than helping a person to relax while repeating verbal suggestions countless times. Hypnosis involves many complex aspects of human experience, including the senses, thoughts, actions, memories, sleep, emotions, and even the perception of time and space. Hypnosis truly utilizes and demonstrates the power and mystery of the human mind.


Board Certification, “Dr. Zomb,” and Rachmaninoff’s Hypnotherapist

I am very pleased to announce that in August I was named a Board Certified Hypnotist of the National Guild of Hypnotists, the oldest and largest professional association of hypnotists. I had been a Certified Hypnotist since 2004, and this change in my title represents advancement in my field. NGH Board Certification is the highest and most prestigious certification in hypnotism, and recognizes professional standing as a highly qualified, expert, and ethical practitioner. Only about 500 of 14,000 NGH members (less than 4%) are Board Certified.

Part of the board certification process was an interview and examination at the NGH Convention. It reminded me of my first NGH Convention years ago when, at the opening session, a small 91-year-old gentleman sat next to me and struck up a conversation. When I told him that it was my first hypnosis convention, he encouraged my becoming more involved in hypnotism. I then recognized him as Ormond McGill, the world famous hypnotist and magician who performed under the stage name “Dr. Zomb” in the 1940s and 1950s. He was known as the “Dean of American Hypnotists” and wrote the Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism, the authoritative book on the subject.

Ormond McGill, far right, performing stage hypnotism.

McGill wrote that with mastery of hypnotism “you will have at your command the greatest magic in the world, for beyond question there is no greater magic than the magic of the human mind.” Originally, before I made hypnosis my profession, I had learned traditional hypnotism by studying McGill’s books and recordings and performed stage demonstrations following his instructions For anyone seeking to learn genuine hypnotism, whether for the stage or for hypnotherapy, McGill’s work is foundational. Meeting “Dr. Zomb” was exciting, and to hear his supportive words as I was entering the hypnosis profession was inspiring, to say the least.

At the end of my first convention I experienced a synchronicity that made a lasting impression. During the last session I attended, the presenter played a recording of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. and said that the composer overcame fits of depression and apathy about composing with the help of Dr. Nikolai Dahl, a prominent hypnotherapist in Russia. In fact, Rachmaninoff dedicated the concerto to Dr. Dahl. I took interest in the story, being a pianist and having my master’s degree in music. On the hour-long drive to the home of friends, I thought about the use of hypnosis with musicians and artists. That evening my friends took me to visit a local couple, Dr. and Mrs. Maurice Kouguell. Dr. Kouguell was a hypnotherapist who had served on the faculties of Columbia University and the City College of New York, and he was also a certified instructor of the NGH. He took interest in my background in music because he was a viola player, and because the person who aroused his own curiosity in hypnosis as a child was also a hypnotherapist and musician. Dr. Kouguell then brought out an old photograph of an orchestra conducted by his father, and he pointed to a man in the viola section. It was Rachmaninoff’s hypnotherapist! Dr. Dahl was a close friend of Dr. Kouguell’s parents and gave Dr. Kouguell his first toy violin. We then had a conversation about using hypnosis with artists and musicians, which has influenced my work in several ways.

Dahl Hypnosis
Dr. Nikolai Dahl, 1917.

Reflecting on these experiences surrounding my first hypnosis convention years ago, and also on my recent experience with board certification, I can say that members of the NGH are some of the most accomplished, interesting, and encouraging professionals one could ever hope to meet. I feel honored to be recognized as an NGH Board Certified Hypnotist, and I am grateful to the Examining Committee and to my clients, family, and friends for their support.


Can You Lie Under Hypnosis?

A former radio DJ is on trial for allegedly killing his girlfriend, and his psychologist says that his version of the story is probably true it was tested under hypnosis.

The case is taking place in South Africa, but it may surprise many people to know that the admissibility of testimony retrieved under hypnosis has been ruled on by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Rock vs. Arkansas (107 S.Ct. 2704).

Rock, who was charged with shooting her husband, sought to introduce testimony recalled in hypnosis. The trial court ruled, and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed, that the testimony was inadmissible because it was unreliable. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling, basically because a person has a right to testify on their own behalf, including testimony that is refreshed by hypnosis.

The opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court was that “Hypnosis by trained physicians or psychologists has been recognized as a valid therapeutic technique since 1958…” and “the procedure has been credited as instrumental in obtaining particular types of information.” However, the Court also recognized that “Hypnosis does not guarantee the accuracy of recall.” A person can lie or confabulate (i.e. fabricate false memory without being aware of it and without an intent to deceive) under hypnosis. Therefore, testimony retrieved in hypnosis is not “immune to the traditional means of evaluating credibility.” It is treated as any other testimony, “subject to verification by corroborating evidence and other traditional means of assessing accuracy.”

Forensic hypnosis can be valuable for victims and witnesses of crimes, and for the wrongly accused who may remember some detail that will help their case. However, I would be surprised to see a case where a criminal defendant incriminates himself or herself under hypnosis. A hypnotized person knows what they are saying while they speak, just as in non-hypnotic states, and the psychological principle of self-preservation is not eliminated for a person in hypnosis. Hypnosis can not make someone speak while in an unconscious state and with no control over what they say.


Tetris Effect on Cravings a Form of Hypnosis

A study published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors in December 2015 reported that playing Tetris decreases cravings for drugs (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine), food and drink, and activities like sex and gaming. This follows a 2012 study which showed that playing Tetris may be an effective treatment for post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) by disrupting the mental imagery involved in flashbacks.

The study set out to determine whether playing Tetris would decrease the frequency and strength of cravings. The study followed 31 undergraduate students. The experimental group was instructed to play Tetris for three minutes when they experienced a craving, and reported a decrease in cravings by about 20% (one-fifth). The study authors suggested that the game has the effect of reducing cravings by engaging and distracting the brain’s visual and spatial systems, the same portions that are involved in the visual fantasy of a craving.

Having a person switch their focus from a craving to another activity is an example of the symptom breaking and symptom substitution that have been used in the practice of hypnotism for many decades. In Medical Hypnosis (1948) the influential psychotherapist Lewis Wolberg described giving a person with alcohol addiction the post-hypnotic suggestion that “Every time you crave a drink you will reach for a malted milk tablet, and this will give you a sense of pleasure and relaxation.” This technique is employed when a hypnotherapist suggests to a smoker that if he thinks of a cigarette he will crave water instead, or when it is suggested to the person with an eye blinking tic that she will instead twitch her index finger for one minute. In the latter example, the shift of motor activity to another part of the body, along with the mental activity of watching the minute pass, distracts the mind and disrupts the old habit pattern. When a new symptom replaces the old one, there is no need to worry, because a more recently acquired symptom usually can be removed easily.

Symptom substitution can be thought of in terms of a conditioned response, which is a new response to a stimulus that is created by training. Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist famous for his work on the “conditioned reflex”, found that if a buzzer was sounded at the same time when food was presented to a dog, the dog would eventually salivate at the sound of the buzzer alone. Hypnotherapy sometimes uses conditioning specifically to create a new response to a stimulus. For the person who thinks constantly about food, cigarettes, or checking their phone, hypnosis can train them to notice the craving more immediately, interrupt the mind from reinforcing the problematic conditioned pattern (the imagery of the craving), and divert attention consistently to the new conditioned response, to the end that the new response is experienced as “automatic.” Through hypnosis the subject experiences a new separation between thoughts and behaviors. He identifies with the more powerful role of an observer watching and examining the craving process, instead of viewing himself as a “victim” of cravings as some autonomous force separate from the power of his own thoughts. All this gives the subject enough detachment from the habit to gain control over it and let it go completely.

Wolberg also noted that alcoholics could be helped by engaging in hobbies that completely absorb them. Likewise, many smokers report that they do not think of cigarettes as frequently while occupied with work, and many people with a tic or a habit report that it disappears completely when they are engrossed deeply in an activity or conversation.

I wonder whether the effect observed in the Tetris study could be attributed to the conditioning of symptom substitution or to deep concentration, rather than the “visual cognitive interference” of the game. I also wonder to what extent the power of suggestion and expectation could have influenced the results. College students asked to report their cravings before and after playing Tetris could surmise that the experimenters are testing for a reduction of cravings and respond accordingly. On the other hand, if the result of the study is in fact due to the influence of Tetris on the visual and spatial portions of the brain, this could further suggest the usefulness of hypnosis. Cravings and addictions involve the visual imagination, and hypnosis is the best way to create vivid mental imagery.

Ultimately, hypnosis helps people to rely on their own internal resources, instead of reinforcing the notion that one must turn to an outside device to distract them from their own feelings. Cravings, like most obsessive compulsive behaviors, are often a defense against the normal human feelings of stress, restlessness, and boredom. To truly overcome cravings, these feelings must be resolved. Otherwise, success may be only temporary, or one might adopt another negative habit (unconscious symptom substitution). Turning to a video game every time one experiences a craving reinforces addictive, escapist behavior, and many people already feel compelled to check their smartphones more than they would like. I would not recommend as a substitute symptom something that already has a tendency to develop into a problematic compulsion.

While the Tetris study may have left some people wondering whether they should pull out their smartphone or iPod every time they have a craving, hypnosis remains an effective and practical way to reduce an eliminate cravings without the need to reply on a device. Hypnosis addresses multiple aspects of the habit:

• Because of the increased suggestibility characteristic of hypnosis, hypnotic suggestion can reduce or remove cravings altogether, which is ultimately what most people seeking hypnosis really want.

• Because stress tends to increase cravings and habits, the deep relaxation of trance can reduce stress to such a degree that the subject simply thinks less obsessively overall.

• Hypnosis can help a person resolve inner conflicts when an addiction or compulsion is not just an “empty habit” (i.e. when the habit is not just a reinforced pattern and has its basis in some unconscious motivation).

• Post-hypnotic suggestions can establish that the craving will trigger an acceptable substitute response. For example, the person who craved sugar craves water instead; or the person who bit their nails rubs their thumb against the side of their finger instead.

• Hypnosis can help the subject train his or her mind to divert the mind consistently from the imagery of a craving to a new, positive image, such that the new image becomes a conditioned response that is experienced as “automatic” by the subject.

Finally, there’s one more benefit to using hypnosis. It won’t leave you with that Tetris music playing in your head!


Hypnosis for Sleep

Insomnia can be a serious issue. While it is not usually a sign of illness, lack of sleep has been linked to chronic issues, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, and obesity. Sleeplessness can also contribute to accidents and injuries.[1] For the person with insomnia, the pressing concern is just feeling tired and impaired throughout the day.

Insomnia takes different forms. The most common pattern is difficulty falling asleep. In more serious cases, the person awakens throughout the night. With these forms of insomnia, the person is often worrying about an ongoing problem or situation (ex: upset over a relationship, distressed about the workplace, or concerned for a loved one). People with depression, or who are anxious, worried, or excited about a particular situation (like a job interview, an upcoming performance, or a trip) often find themselves awakening in the morning earlier than they need to, and unable to go back to sleep.[2]

Insomnia can be caused by anything that increases physical or mental arousal. Physical arousal can come from things like noise, light (including the light from electronic devices), hunger, an uncomfortable bed, temperature, and pain. Mental arousal comes in the form of worry and distress. For children, a frequent worry behind insomnia is fear of injury or death to themselves or their parents.[3] For adults, the most common worries seem to be finances, relationships, and health.

Drugs for insomnia can cause addiction, and can become ineffective over time. Drugs can also cause serious side effects, and interfere with REM sleep and dreaming, which are important for mental health. Fortunately, when illness, substance abuse, or the side effects of medications have been ruled out causes of insomnia, hypnosis can help you sleep. Often a single session is effective in restoring the sleep cycle.[4]

In general, hypnotherapy treatments emphasize relaxation, calmness, and tranquility, but merely giving verbal suggestions to a person that they will be calm and fall asleep is not usually enough. Effective hypnotherapy for insomnia addresses the causes – excess physical or mental arousal – by relaxing the physical body and calming the mind.

To relax the body, a hypnotherapist often helps the patient to experience trance, and trains the patient to reenter that state using self-hypnosis. Techniques that combine physical relaxation with concentration, such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Autogenic Training, are known to bring excellent results.[5]

Calming the mind is a different matter. You can sometimes reduce mental arousal by using imagery. The most well known example of using mental imagery to sleep is counting sheep. Many methods of visualizing a number (for example, written on a chalkboard or in the beach sand) and counting downward can help. The focus required to do the task interrupts the problematic thought pattern, and the repetitive nature of the task stimulates a new mental state.[6] In simple terms, doing something boring makes you sleepy.

Hypnotherapy may also be used to dissociate mental activity from physical relaxation and sleep, enabling the patient to sleep without the need for clearing the mind.[7] I have also found success using hypnosis to help patients recognize the signals that sleep is beginning, and to use them to sleep more easily.

In some cases hypnotherapy treats insomnia by helping the patient discover an underlying, unconscious reason they have been keeping themselves awake. For example, one patient in hypnosis remembered being awakened by a house fire.[8] Another remembered students in his dormitory pranking him while he was asleep. Some people using hypnosis remember insomnia beginning after a troubling telephone call in the evening or in the middle of the night. It can help the person with insomnia to think about major life events at the time when sleep became disrupted. When there is a hidden, unconscious cause of insomnia, bringing it to the surface can resolve the issue, sometimes immediately.

Guilt about sleeping can also be an unconscious motive to remain awake. Even though sleep is a natural function and requirement, some people feel guilty for sleeping because they have work to do, or someone needs their care, or they were made to feel guilty for sleeping in at some time in their life. When this is the case, hypnosis can help a person give themselves permission to sleep.

In my experience, most people don’t have an unconscious motive causing insomnia. They just have anxiety or a habit pattern that has disrupted the normal sleep cycle, which needs to be reestablished. It can help to follow these Tips For Better Sleep:

Take care of your body
This may seem obvious, but people who have trouble sleeping sometimes keep their muscles tense, holding the body uncomfortably in a certain position, without realizing it. Pay attention to each muscle group, and consciously let go of any tension you feel, especially in your jaw and facial muscles. It’s amazing how much a little tension in the jaw and facial muscles can transmit tension to the rest of the body and the mind.

Heavy or even moderate exercise can help you sleep. You should avoid heavy exercise a few hours before bedtime.

Watch what you put in your body.
Stop drinking caffeine in the early afternoon. Stop smoking. Like coffee, nicotine is a stimulant and disrupts sleep. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep, but it can cause you to awaken frequently throughout the night. Avoid large meals and foods that cause indigestion for a few hours before going to bed.

Take a hot bath.
An increase and subsequent decrease in body temperature is one way your body prepares you to sleep naturally. When your body temperature increases then decreases after a hot bath it creates the same condition.

Pay attention to the environment:
Comfort is key
It seems obvious that your bed should be comfortable, but many people don’t sleep well because they have the wrong mattress or pillow.

Block out light
Light stimulates wakefulness. Stop looking at electronic devices one hour before bedtime, or dim their lights. Make your bedroom as dark as you can using blackout curtains. Use an eye mask if you can stand having something on your face.

Silence is golden
Not everyone needs complete silence to sleep, but it helps to eliminate annoying sounds. When you can’t get the ticking clock out of the room, fix that dripping faucet, or silence the neighbor’s dog, white noise from an air conditioner or humidifier might help.

Don’t use your laptop or smartphone, or watch television, in bed. You shouldn’t associate your bed with work and mental activity. Whirring sounds, notification alerts, and blinking lights from electronics can also be issues.

Things you can do for your sleep cycle:
Stick to a schedule
If you have trouble sleeping, set an alarm to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. You might find that this resets your sleep cycle.

Wind down
Create a relaxing environment an hour before bedtime. Dim the lights. Put away electronic devices. Move more slowly. Do something that calms you down, like some light reading, meditation, prayer, or yoga. Have a quiet conversation.

Don’t hit the snooze button
The sleep you get after you hit the snooze button is usually poor anyway, and waiting for the imminent ringing of the alarm while you are half asleep may train you to sleep lightly. You are better off getting out of bed when your alarm rings the first time.

Get some sun
Getting some natural sunlight, especially in the early part of your day, can help you reset your sleep cycle.

How to clear your mind:
Make a list
People with insomnia often have racing thoughts about upcoming tasks. Make a to-do list instead of trying to keep it all in your mind. It’s hard to sleep when you feel like you are trying to remember a list of things to do the next day.

Relaxation, self-hypnosis, and meditation
Breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga can help slow down your heart and brain before bedtime. Self-hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenic training can be especially helpful.

Try not to worry
The more you worry about how the lack of sleep will affect you, the less likely you are to fall asleep. If you cant sleep, and you can’t do anything other than lie in bed worrying about it, get out of bed and do something relaxing to break that thought pattern until you feel tired again.

[1] Insufficient Sleep Among New York Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2015, from Click Here
[2] Spiegel, H., & Spiegel, D. (1978). Trance and treatment: Clinical uses of hypnosis (p. 233). New York: Basic Books.

[3] Watkins, J. (1987). Hypnotherapeutic techniques (p. 292). New York: Irvington.

[4] Kroger, W. (1977). Clinical and experimental hypnosis in medicine, dentistry, and psychology (2d ed., p. 276). Philadelphia: Lippincott.

[5] Spiegel, H., & Spiegel, D. (1978). Trance and treatment: Clinical uses of hypnosis (p. 234). New York: Basic Books.

[6] Watkins, J. (1987). Hypnotherapeutic techniques (p. 291). New York: Irvington.

[7] Spiegel, H., & Spiegel, D. (1978). Trance and treatment: Clinical uses of hypnosis (p. 234). New York: Basic Books.

[8] Watkins, J. (1987). Hypnotherapeutic techniques (p. 292). New York: Irvington.


Hypnosis in America

In an previous post I described how hypnosis began as a form of healing in the sleep temples of the Egyptians around 1550 B.C., and is inseparable from the origins of modern psychology and medicine. Going back to Mesmer in the last quarter of the 1700s, hypnosis was investigated intensely by psychologists. Simultaneously, hypnosis was used as anesthesia, with thousands of surgical operations performed using hypnosis.

Hypnosis was commonplace in the mid-1800s when chemical anesthetics were discovered. Street-corner “tent-shows” were popular entertainments where hypnosis was demonstrated, along with new inhalation drugs and other wonders of chemistry. It was at one of these shows that Horace Wells first got the idea of use nitrous oxide for dental extractions. As chemical anesthetics became popular, the widespread use of hypnosis for anesthesia declined.

In the 1800s there was a deep interest in metaphysical, psychic, and spirit phenomena, and this spawned different types of spiritual healing and mental healing movements. Because hypnosis was already widely known, it was natural for some spiritual healers to induce trance as part of their method. Their movements usually presented their cures as coming from a spiritual source, but the cures probably resulted more often from the combination of trance with the suggestions of the healer and the belief of the subject.

Fortunately, despite the appropriation of hypnosis for tent-shows and spiritual healing, the scientific and academic investigation of hypnosis continued. In the first half of the 20th century Joseph Jastrow taught hypnosis at the University of Wisconsin. His student, Clark Hull, became an experimental psychologist at Yale University who advanced hypnosis research significantly. In 1933 Hull published Hypnosis and Suggestibility, the first major review of hypnosis applying the standards of modern experimental psychology. Ernest Hilgard and Andre Weitzenhoffer conducted significant research at Stanford. Hypnosis gained even more scientific attention when it was used in World Wars I and II and the Korean Conflict to treat war neuroses. Since that time, hypnosis has remained a subject of rigorous scientific study.

Quite apart from the detached academic study of hypnosis, the 20th century had several influential figures using hypnosis in the field. Dave Elman, a hypnosis performer who popularized a rapid induction method of hypnosis, taught his techniques to many doctors and physicians. The American psychiatrist and psychologist Milton Erickson was one of the greatest influences on the hypnosis field. His theories that the unconscious mind is always listening led to indirect techniques of hypnosis, including subliminal suggestion and neurolinguistic programming (NLP).

In the 20th century hypnosis has also been approved by the following major medical and psychological organizations:

• 1955 – The British Medical Association approved hypnosis for treatment of neuroses and for anesthesia during childbirth and surgery, and recommended hypnosis training for medical students and physicians.

• 1958 – The American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure and recommended hypnosis training for medical students. In 1987 the AMA rescinded this along with all endorsements made before 1958).

• 1958 – The Canadian Medical Association endorsed hypnosis.

• 1958 – The Canadian Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis.

• 1960 – The American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis.

• 1961 – The American Psychiatric Association endorsed hypnosis.

From an historical standpoint it is interesting to note that, although hypnosis was at times attached to various passing fads and movements, the clinical practice and scientific study of hypnosis have survived. That alone is a great testament to the enduring power of hypnosis to help people. Thankfully, the medical and academic fields have continued to use and validate hypnosis as a therapeutic procedure, and hypnosis research seems as active as ever. A search of medical periodicals for the terms “hypnosis” or “hypnotherapy” yields over 13,000 results. With new ways of understanding the mind, the brain, consciousness, and memory, I am excited to see what new understandings of hypnosis the 21st century may bring.

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