He also believed that hypnosis was a "partial sleep", meaning that a generalised inhibition of cortical functioning could be encouraged to spread throughout regions of the brain. He observed that the various degrees of hypnosis did not significantly differ physiologically from the waking state and hypnosis depended on insignificant changes of environmental stimuli. Pavlov also suggested that lower-brain-stem mechanisms were involved in hypnotic conditioning.
Charcot operated a clinic at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (thus, known as the "Paris School" or the "Salpêtrière School"), while Bernheim had a clinic in Nancy (known as the "Nancy School"). Charcot, who was influenced more by the Mesmerists, argued that hypnotism was an abnormal state of nervous functioning found only in certain hysterical women. He claimed that it manifested in a series of physical reactions that could be divided into distinct stages. Bernheim argued that anyone could be hypnotised, that it was an extension of normal psychological functioning, and that its effects were due to suggestion. After decades of debate, Bernheim's view dominated. Charcot's theory is now just a historical curiosity.
Hypnosis is effective in decreasing the fear of cancer treatment reducing pain from and coping with cancer and other chronic conditions. Nausea and other symptoms related to incurable diseases may also be managed with hypnosis. Some practitioners have claimed hypnosis might help boost the immune system of people with cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, "available scientific evidence does not support the idea that hypnosis can influence the development or progression of cancer."
The practice of many relaxation techniques is poorly regulated, and standards of practice and training are variable. This situation is unsatisfactory, but given that many relaxation techniques are relatively benign, the problem with this variation in standards is more in ensuring effective treatment and good professional conduct than in avoiding adverse effects. By selecting a license mental health professional (psychologist or social worker), patients are more likely to receive treatment from individuals who are well trained in the appropriate use of behavioral techniques.
“With hypnosis, you might help someone stop smoking by suggesting the taste or smell of cigarettes is worse than it actually is. But a hypnotherapist can also use age regression to examine the impulse that fuels the client’s habit and discover old conclusions and behaviors. The healing will take place when the client creates new conclusions about old memories and chooses new behaviors rather than smoking.”
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In Trance on Trial, a 1989 text directed at the legal profession, legal scholar Alan W. Scheflin and psychologist Jerrold Lee Shapiro observed that the "deeper" the hypnotism, the more likely a particular characteristic is to appear, and the greater extent to which it is manifested. Scheflin and Shapiro identified 20 separate characteristics that hypnotized subjects might display: "dissociation"; "detachment"; "suggestibility", "ideosensory activity"; "catalepsy"; "ideomotor responsiveness"; "age regression"; "revivification"; "hypermnesia"; "[automatic or suggested] amnesia"; "posthypnotic responses"; "hypnotic analgesia and anesthesia"; "glove anesthesia"; "somnambulism"; "automatic writing"; "time distortion"; "release of inhibitions"; "change in capacity for volitional activity"; "trance logic"; and "effortless imagination".
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.
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Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears, as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia and addiction. Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures, in breast cancer care and even with gastro-intestinal problems, including IBS.
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.