What is hypnosis?
Widely defined as a state of heightened attention, hypnosis is often used to increase a person's susceptibility to suggestion. In short, this means that a hypnotised person is more likely to do – or not do – something that is suggested to them. For this reason, it is sometimes used as a form of stage entertainment whereby volunteers will be asked to do silly things. It can also be used for helping in certain psychological disorders – Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psychotherapy, was an advocate of it, for example. Some people have tried to use it to brainwash others for nefarious ends, including crime. However, it is much more common that hypnosis will be used for practical applications nowadays, often delivered by a professional hypnotherapist to help people give up on smoking or to gain more confidence, to offer just two common examples.
Where did hypnosis begin?
Although the term hypnosis has origins in ancient Greek, it did not gain its modern meaning until the first half of the nineteenth century. A procedure that was akin to hypnosis was developed by a German doctor called Franz Mesmer who gave his name to mesmerism, sometimes also called animal magnetism. This was developed by physicians like James Braid, who pioneered the term hypnotism as well as, later, hypnotherapy. Later ideas that connected hypnosis to the subconscious mind were put forward by Freud and Pierre Janet, a French psychologist noted for his work on traumatic memories and disassociation theories.
How does hypnosis work in psychology?
Many psychotherapists have use hypnosis in the past to focus the attention of their patients on potentially traumatic things in their memory which may only be accessible by remembering via their subconscious mind. Many psychologists don't use such techniques these days but may refer patients to specialist hypnotherapists instead. It can be used as an additional treatment option alongside cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, or as a means of helping to beat addiction. In some cases, it can help to boost self-image or to aid relaxation. Many psychologists agree that it is not a therapy in its own right but part of a wider package of treatments. Understandably, perhaps, some hypnotherapists disagree with this point of view.
What can hypnosis do for you?
As mentioned, hypnosis can help with a wide range of physical and mental conditions. It has been shown to help with anything from handling feelings of anxiety to overcoming fully blown phobias. It is widely used to help people suffering from compulsive behaviours or substance misuse, too. Some sportspeople also use it to help improve their performance.
Will hypnosis work for everyone?
According to some theories, hypnosis only really works on people who are susceptible to suggestibility already. However, there is nothing that proves this one way or another. Although hypnosis can help a wide range of people and is often worth trying, there are no guarantees of its success.