The history of hypnosis as a healing art dates back millennia. Its modern expression as a medical treatment emerged in the eighteenth century, with proponents such as Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician who practiced in Vienna and Paris in the late 1700s. Mesmer, from whose name the term “mesmerize” was derived, believed that illness was caused by an imbalance of magnetic fluids in the body, which could be corrected by the “personal magnetism” of the hypnotist. Discredited in 1784 by a French royal commission appointed to investigate Mesmer’s techniques and chaired by Benjamin Franklin, hypnosis has since regained respectability. Franklin himself wrote an opinion that the patient’s beliefs could influence bodily effects. The Scottish surgeon James Braid in 1843 coined the term “hypnosis,” from the Greek word for “sleep,” and espoused its use as a medical treatment. In the 1930s, Clark Hull and his student Milton Erickson conducted early research on hypnosis. Erickson went on to become a pivotal practitioner, researcher, and teacher of a generation of hypnotherapists. In the 1950s, the British and American Medical Associations recommended incorporating hypnosis into the medical curriculum. The American Psychological Association in 1960 endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology. In 1995, the U.S. National Institutes of Health issued a consensus statement with evidence supporting the use of hypnosis for the alleviation of chronic pain.
Hypnosis appears to be a special manifestation of the mind–body system’s ability to process information by transforming it from a semantic to a somatic modality. Its therapeutic effectiveness is supported by both research and clinical experience. Today, hypnosis is widely used to treat a variety of conditions—pain, airway restriction, gastrointestinal disorders, skin lesions, burns, and anxiety—as well as to prepare patients for surgical procedures and to facilitate behavior change (such as smoking cessation or weight loss).
Trance and suggestion occur naturally throughout human experience and are a function of how the mind works. Becoming absorbed in a novel and being unaware of surrounding sounds, or daydreaming while driving and not remembering the last few miles, are common experiences that illustrate the ubiquitous nature of trance. Responding to subliminal messages in advertising by purchasing a product represents a familiar reaction to suggestions made in a carefully crafted trance. These common experiences of trance and suggestion also occur with patients in health care.
This chapter will describe the therapeutic use of suggestion within the context of the patient’s naturally occurring trance states and in the course of clinician–patient discourse. This application can be used routinely by clinicians in all patient encounters. We will also describe the role of therapeutic hypnosis, usually provided by a specialist trained in this procedure, in treating a variety of medical conditions.