The central theoretical disagreement regarding hypnosis is known as the "state versus nonstate" debate. When Braid introduced the concept of hypnotism, he equivocated over the nature of the "state", sometimes describing it as a specific sleep-like neurological state comparable to animal hibernation or yogic meditation, while at other times he emphasised that hypnotism encompasses a number of different stages or states that are an extension of ordinary psychological and physiological processes. Overall, Braid appears to have moved from a more "special state" understanding of hypnotism toward a more complex "nonstate" orientation.
Despite briefly toying with the name "rational Mesmerism", Braid ultimately chose to emphasise the unique aspects of his approach, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career in order to refute practices that invoked supernatural forces and demonstrating instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the observed effects.
There are numerous applications for hypnosis across multiple fields of interest, including medical/psychotherapeutic uses, military uses, self-improvement, and entertainment. The American Medical Association currently has no official stance on the medical use of hypnosis. However, a study published in 1958 by the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association documented the efficacy of hypnosis in clinical settings.
Milton Erickson (1901–1980), the founding president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychopathological Association, was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. He wrote several books and journal articles on the subject. During the 1960s, Erickson popularized a new branch of hypnotherapy, known as Ericksonian therapy, characterised primarily by indirect suggestion, "metaphor" (actually analogies), confusion techniques, and double binds in place of formal hypnotic inductions. However, the difference between Erickson's methods and traditional hypnotism led contemporaries such as André Weitzenhoffer to question whether he was practising "hypnosis" at all, and his approach remains in question.
Hypnosis might not be appropriate for a person who has psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, or for someone who is using drugs or alcohol. It should be used for pain control only after a doctor has evaluated the person for any physical disorder that might require medical or surgical treatment. Hypnosis also may be a less effective form of therapy than other more traditional treatments, such as medication, for psychiatric disorders.
Pierre Janet originally developed the idea of dissociation of consciousness from his work with hysterical patients. He believed that hypnosis was an example of dissociation, whereby areas of an individual's behavioural control separate from ordinary awareness. Hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind, and the individual would respond with autonomic, reflexive behaviour. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."
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In the 1950s, Milton H. Erickson developed a radically different approach to hypnotism, which has subsequently become known as "Ericksonian hypnotherapy" or "Neo-Ericksonian hypnotherapy." Erickson made use of an informal conversational approach with many clients and complex language patterns, and therapeutic strategies. This divergence from tradition led some of his colleagues, including Andre Weitzenhoffer, to dispute whether Erickson was right to label his approach "hypnosis" at all.