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Hypnotherapy, hypnosis
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Abreaction therapy, altered states of consciousness, antenatal self-hypnosis, autogenic training, auto-hypnosis, aversion therapy, biofeedback, cognitive hypnotherapy, conditioning therapy, creative visualization, dream therapy, guided imagery, hypnoanalgesia, hypnobirthing, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, imagery, imagination training, meditation, mesmerism, pain relief therapy, post-hypnotic suggestion, regression therapy, relaxation, relaxation mental imagery (RMI), selective attention, self-hypnosis, shamanism, switch-wire imagery, symptom relief therapy, trance, visualization.

Background

  • Various forms of hypnosis, trance, and altered states of consciousness have been documented in a number of cultures throughout history. Hypnosis-like practices can be traced to ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Persia, Britain, Scandinavia, America, Africa, India, and China. Wong Tai, a father of Chinese medicine, made an early written reference to hypnosis in 2600 BC. Hypnotic practices have played roles in religion and religious ceremonies. Mention is made in the Bible, Talmud, and Hindu Vedas, and trance-states are included in some Native American and African ceremonies.
  • The term hypnosis is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep. The origin of modern Western hypnotherapy is often traced to the Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). Mesmer believed that illness is caused by an imbalance of magnetic fluids in the body that can be corrected through "animal magnetism." He asserted that the hypnotist's own personal magnetism can be transferred to a patient. The term "mesmerize" is derived from Mesmer's name.
  • In the mid 20th Century, the British and American Medical Associations and the American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a medical procedure. In 1995, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a consensus statement noting the scientific evidence in favor of the use of hypnosis for chronic pain, particularly pain associated with cancer.
  • The process of hypnotherapy can be divided into pre-suggestion, suggestion, and post-suggestion phases. The pre-suggestion component may include selective attentional focusing with distraction, imagery, and relaxation methods. An aim is to reach an altered state of consciousness in which the conscious mind is relaxed, the unconscious mind is more accessible, and the subject is susceptible to suggestion. In the suggestion phase, specific goals or impressions are presented, questions may be asked of the subject, or memories may be explored. The post-suggestion phase occurs after a return to a normal state of consciousness, and new behaviors based on hypnotic suggestions may be practiced. It has been suggested that there is a risk of false memories (confabulation) as a result of some types of hypnotherapy, although scientific research is limited in this area.
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Theory

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Evidence

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Safety

Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.