What is hypnosis? Does hypnosis exist? How and why did the concept of
1.1. Hypnosis arose
out of an operator-assisted altered state induction model.
"In the author's experience
there can be developed in a person a special state of awareness that
is termed, for the sake of convenience and historical considerations,
hypnosis or trance.
"This state is characterized
by the subject's ability to retain the same capacities possessed in
the waking state and to manifest these capacities in ways possibly,
though not necessarily, dissimilar to the usual actions of conscious
"Trance permits the operator
to evoke in a controlled manner the same mental mechanisms that are
operative spontaneously in everyday life."
The late master clinical
Hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson
Modern theories of hypnosis
have drastically changed the way we view this subject. Because the most
common popular view of hypnosis is as an altered state of consciousness
of some kind (i.e. trance), this will be used as a departure point to
explain how hypnosis (1) has been viewed since the 18th Century when it
was first systematically studied and mass interest first arose, and (2)
has been deconstructed as a unitary concept by some modern scientific
theorists of the subject.
The most popular traditional
view of hypnosis is a sleep-like state induced by a procedure of some
kind by an operator and in which certain special behaviors seem to result;
particularly extreme responsiveness to suggestions made during the hypnotic
process, including physiological responses, and where anomalies of the
experience of volition and memory are consistently reported by subjects.
Therapeutic interest in hypnosis
results mostly from the fact that response to suggestions apparently includes
some increased capacity to access functions which are normally considered
outside of conscious control and memory. Popular interest in hypnosis
stems from the therapeutic interest, and because of the long associations
of hypnosis with spiritual and secular traditions of self-improvement,
self-insight, or self-fulfillment. There has also been interest in hypnotic
methods in various areas of medical and scientific research.
A truly balanced and comprehensive
study of hypnotic phenomena would probably have to include its relationship
with neuroscience, cognitive science, models of subjective experience,
models of creative thinking processes, theories of psycho-social development,
theories of human language and symbol processing, and various philosophical
stances that are still of interest today (such as moral and ethical considerations
of various conceptions of the human will and responsibility for actions,
and such as the legal status of testimony revealed with the help of hypnosis).
Based on a list developed by
Zeig in 1988, the following frameworks can be identified:
- Janet (and later Hilgard)
thought of hypnosis as dissociation, meaning splitting off of aspects
of consciousness from each other in some way, with one seemingly being
dominant at any given time, but others able to influence behavior at
the same time, or to replace the dominant aspect. This is related to
certain theories of how Multiple Personality Disorder develops. Traditional
theories of spiritualist trances have often involved some notion of
dissociation as well.
- Sarbin and Coe describe
hypnosis in terms of role playing, acting out the expected role of a
hypnotized subject in response to the relationship with the hypnotist.
Spanos is also a leading proponent of this view.
- T.X. Barber defined hypnosis
in terms of non-hypnotic behavioral parameters, such as task motivation
and the labeling of a situations as 'hypnotic.'
- Weitzenhoffer first considered
hypnosis a state of enhanced suggestibility, but later a form of interpersonal
influence via suggestion.
- Gil and Brenmand described
hypnosis in psychoanalytic terms as regression in service of the ego.
Freud, though not highly important in the history of hypnosis, had great
interest in it initially, and concluded, once he deviated from Charcot's
neurological theories, that it represented an eroticized dependent relationship
between hypnotist and subject.
- Edmonston assessed hypnosis
as relaxation (based on a Pavlovian theory of sleep as partial cortical
inhibition). This is linked historically to various physiological theories
of how 'conversion' works in fervent religious activities, such as that
of psychiatrist William Sargant.
- Spiegel and Spiegel implied
that hypnosis was a distinct biological capacity.
- Milton Erickson held that
hypnosis was a unique, inner-directed altered state of functioning.
- Various followers of Erickson's
lead have proposed that hypnosis is best defined subjectively and phenomenologically
as a process between individuals, and a communications strategy for
the achievement of therapeutic goals, with or without recourse to 'trance.'
- We should also reserve at
least one category for the numerous esoteric, non-scientific, or archaic
models which view hypnosis in general as a condition of subtle unidentified
or unobservable bodily fluids, a unique electromagnetic field phenomenon,
or the result of supernatural influences or contacts, or contact with
alternate realms of existence (in a non-metaphorical sense).