While it is difficult to describe the nature of hypnosis scientifically, procedurally a therapist induces a trance, or deeply relaxed state, in a person through the means of suggestion of alterations of sensations, consciousness, and cognitions. As with the broader field of psychotherapy, there is an array of historical, theoretical, and technical assumptions that constitute the underpinnings of clinical hypnosis that are far too extensive for the scope of this entry.
Clients differ in their beliefs, needs, and goals; thus, it is important to explore the usefulness and risks of hypnosis and specific hypnotic techniques with a client within an established therapeutic relationship prior to undertaking such procedures. Historically, hypnosis has been viewed with wariness and a fear that one may acquiesce to the commands of the hypnotist and lose control both cognitively and physically. A thorough explanation of the procedures to be used and their purposes can serve to allay these concerns.
Similar to a very deep state of relaxation, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. The hypnotized client has a more focused awareness and is open to suggestion or direction by the therapist. Various approaches within hypnosis exist. For example, a therapist might use hypnosis to help a client visualize how to achieve a particular goal; a therapist might also use hypnosis to stimulate vivid images and thereby achieve a focused state of relaxation or expectation. For counseling clients with health-related concerns (e.g., chronic pain), hypnosis appears to be a positive adjunct to ongoing coping skills treatment.
Individual experiences of the hypnotic state appear to vary from person to person. However, positive expectations and comfort of both the clinician and the client affect the likelihood of inducing trance and enhancing suggestibility. Therefore, it becomes important that the hypnotist have the knowledge and experience to create a trusting environment in which the client anticipates success. In addition, the ethical use of hypnotic techniques requires training and supervised application to assure that the clinician is practicing within the bounds of her or his expertise.
Currently, hypnosis is most often used therapeutically in combination with more extensive theoretical approaches and treatment strategies in clinical practice.
- Lynn, S. J., & Kirsch, I. (2006) Essentials of clinical hypnosis: An evidence-based approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Meyer, R. G. (1992). Practical clinical hypnosis: Techniques and applications. New York: Lexington Books.
- Rhue, J. W., Lynn, S. J., & Kirsch, I. (Eds.). (1993). Handbook of clinical hypnosis. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.