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In 2001 The British Psychological Society commissioned a working group to write a formal report on hypnosis.
The remit given to the working group was:
“to provide a considered statement about hypnosis and important issues concerning its application and practice in a range of contexts, notably for clinical purposes, forensic investigation, academic research, entertainment and training.”
You can download the report here: The Nature of Hypnosis (2001)
The working group consisted of leading expert psychologists who specialise in research into hypnosis:
Dr Michael Heap, Clinical Psychologist,Wathwood Hospital, Rotherham (Convenor);
Mrs Phyllis Alden, Clinical Psychologist, Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, Derby;
Dr Richard J. Brown, Research Psychologist, Institute of Neurology, London;
Dr Peter Naish, Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology, The Open University;
Dr David A. Oakley, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University College London;
Dr Graham Wagstaff, Reader in Psychology, University of Liverpool;
Professor Leslie G.Walker, Institute of Rehabilitation, University of Hull.
The 21 page report represents a very well researched and carefully considered statement about the nature of hypnosis from leading researchers and clinicians. I encourage anyone who is interested in hypnosis to read the report as it is not long, well written and provides a concise summary of scientific research into hypnosis.
Let's look at some of the findings published in the BPS report.
“Hypnosis is a valid subject for scientific study and research and a proven therapeutic medium. It is important that theoretical and practical issues and controversies that arise from the study and application of hypnosis are investigated, explained and understood from within the relevant mainstream scientific disciplines. This paper is a summary of what is known about the nature of hypnosis from an essentially non-theoretical standpoint, and addresses important issues that arise from its practice and application.”
What is Hypnosis?
“The term ‘hypnosis’ denotes an interaction between one person, the ‘hypnotist’, and another person or people, the ‘subject’ or ‘subjects’. In this interaction the hypnotist attempts to influence the subjects’ perceptions, feelings, thinking and behaviour by asking them to concentrate on ideas and images that may evoke the intended effects.The verbal communications that the hypnotist uses to achieve these effects are termed ‘suggestions’. Suggestions differ from everyday kinds of instructions in that they imply that a ‘successful’ response is experienced by the subject as having a quality of involuntariness or effortlessness. Subjects may learn to go through the hypnotic procedures on their own, and this is termed ‘self-hypnosis’.”
The report notes that the precise nature and status of hypnotic trance is still an area of scientific controversy and, despite considerable research. uncertainty. However, it also observes that there is good evidence to show that ‘expectation' and ‘enhanced motivation' are psychological factors which contribute to hypnotic suggestibility.
“This state of absorption [trance] does not seem necessary for successful suggested responding (Kirsch, 1991), but it may be that it has some enhancing affect on suggestibility, although this has yet to be well established empirically.
In contrast, there is good evidence that other factors such as expectation and enhanced motivation make an important contribution to the increase in suggestibility often observed when the context has been defined as ‘hypnosis’ by the administration of some kind of induction procedure (Barber & Calverley, 1963a, 1963b, 1965; Glass & Barber, 1961; Kirsch, 1991; Orne, 1959).”
On awareness and amnesia
“…although they may become very absorbed in the suggested ideas and images, subjects typically retain awareness of their environment and respond appropriately to it. Afterwards, they are usually able to recall most, if not all, of what they attended to during the session.” (BPS, 2001)
“Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy.” (BPS, 2001)
“There is convincing evidence that hypnotic procedures are effective in the management and relief of both acute and chronic pain and in assisting in the alleviation of pain, discomfort and distress due to medical and dental procedures and childbirth”. (BPS, 2001)
“Hypnosis and the practice of self-hypnosis may significantly reduce general anxiety, tension and stress in a manner similar to other relaxation and self-regulation procedures.”
“Likewise, hypnotic treatment may assist in insomnia in the same way as other relaxation methods.” (BPS, 2001)
“There is encouraging evidence demonstrating the beneficial effects of hypnotherapeutic procedures in alleviating the symptoms of a range of complaints that fall under the heading ‘psychosomatic illness.' These include tension headaches and migraine; asthma; gastro-intestinal complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome; warts; and possibly other skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis and urticaria [hives].” (BPS, 2001)
“There is evidence from several studies that its [hypnosis'] inclusion in a weight reduction programme may significantly enhance outcome.” (BPS, 2001)
Concerns & Risks
“Hypnosis is generally a benign procedure and consideration of potential risks resemble those for other similar psychological methods.” (BPS, 2001)
“Contrary to earlier accounts, hypnosis may be used adjunctively in the psychological treatment of some depressed patients. However, care should be taken to avoid subjecting the depressed patient to undue distress by, for example, the use of hypnoanalytical procedures that may exacerbate suicidal ideation.” (BPS, 2001)
“During hypnotherapeutic procedures such as regression methods, a patient may become very emotional and may abreact. This has occasionally been reported to occur spontaneously in therapy, without the suggestion of reliving any memory. Therapists should, therefore, be knowledgeable and skilled in assisting patients who are in a state of extreme emotion.” (BPS, 2001)
“There is considerable potential for harm when hypnosis is used on the assumption that it facilitates the recollection of events when no conscious memories of these events exist in the first place. […] What is incontrovertible is that using hypnosis in this way carries a real risk of producing substantial pseudo-memories. Sometimes, these may have such a bizarre quality (e.g. ‘memories' of alien abduction) that they would be dismissed by any reasonable person, but some can be so plausible as to beguile the therapist and client alike into accepting them as accurate. This problem has received a high profile in the so-called ‘Recovered Memories' debate.” (BPS, 2001)