Hypnosis is not a psychotherapeutic treatment or a form of psychotherapy, but rather a tool or procedure that helps facilitate various types of therapies and medical or psychological treatments. Only trained health care providers certified in clinical hypnosis can decide, with their patient, if hypnosis should be used along with other treatments. As with psychotherapy, the length of hypnosis treatment varies, depending on the complexity of the problem.
We experience trance states every day of our lives. When you are day-dreaming, in deep thought, or even watching television, you are in a trance. When you are going to sleep at night, you are in a trance. Trance states are observed in science by brainwave activity. These waves change when a person's brain becomes relaxed. A trance can be light, or very deep like deep sleep.
As an experienced Hypnotist, I could go on and on about all the different issues that are presented to me by my hypnosis clients. Many times clients have contacted me with problems I have never considered for hypnosis, yet I find that the powerful combination of my extensive hypnotherapy training and experience as a hypnotist provides me with the knowledge and understanding about hypnosis that I need to help them resolve their issues and lead a better and more fullfilling life due to the changes we have been able to achieve during their hypnosis session.
Mesmer developed a general theory of disease he called “animal magnetism,” which held that every living thing carries within it an internal magnetic force, in liquid form. Illness arises when this fluid becomes blocked, and can be cured if it can be coaxed to flow again, or so Mesmer’s thinking went. To get that fluid flowing, as science journalist Jo Marchant describes in her recent book, Cure, Mesmer “simply waved his hands to direct it through his patients’ bodies” — the origin of those melodramatic hand motions that stage hypnotists use today.”
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.
Whereas the older "depth scales" tried to infer the level of "hypnotic trance" from supposed observable signs such as spontaneous amnesia, most subsequent scales have measured the degree of observed or self-evaluated responsiveness to specific suggestion tests such as direct suggestions of arm rigidity (catalepsy). The Stanford, Harvard, HIP, and most other susceptibility scales convert numbers into an assessment of a person's susceptibility as "high", "medium", or "low". Approximately 80% of the population are medium, 10% are high, and 10% are low. There is some controversy as to whether this is distributed on a "normal" bell-shaped curve or whether it is bi-modal with a small "blip" of people at the high end. Hypnotizability Scores are highly stable over a person's lifetime. Research by Deirdre Barrett has found that there are two distinct types of highly susceptible subjects, which she terms fantasizers and dissociaters. Fantasizers score high on absorption scales, find it easy to block out real-world stimuli without hypnosis, spend much time daydreaming, report imaginary companions as a child, and grew up with parents who encouraged imaginary play. Dissociaters often have a history of childhood abuse or other trauma, learned to escape into numbness, and to forget unpleasant events. Their association to "daydreaming" was often going blank rather than creating vividly recalled fantasies. Both score equally high on formal scales of hypnotic susceptibility.
Finally, the neural underpinnings of PHA will be even clearer when we incorporate its most important aspect in imaging studies—the dissociation between implicit and explicit memory. In PHA (and in functional amnesia) the person is unable to explicitly recall certain information, yet we see evidence of this material on implicit measures. For instance, a participant given PHA may fail to recall the word “doctor,” learned earlier, but will have no trouble completing the word fragment “d _ _ t _ r”. Mendelsohn et al. did not assess implicit memory. Rather, they tested recognition, which in a sense confounds explicit and implicit memory. We’d like to compare brain scans of a PHA group trying to explicitly recall the movie (they should show reduced activation, as above) with brain scans of the same group completing an implicit memory measure of the movie (they should show normal activation). This would be tricky to do—implicit measures of complex material such as movies and autobiographical memories are hard to find or construct. But it would contribute to a more complete neural picture of the processes involved in these fascinating forms of forgetting.
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.