Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy used to create change in a patient while in a state of sleep, or unconsciousness, known as hypnosis. The word hypnosis comes from the Greek word “hypnos” which simply means, “sleep.” The therapy itself uses guided relaxation techniques from a trained hypnotist that invoke feelings of intense relaxation, concentration, and/or focus to achieve a heightened state of awareness or trance-like state.
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.
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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.
The regulation of the hypnotherapy profession in the UK is at present the main focus of UKCHO, a non-profit umbrella body for hypnotherapy organisations. Founded in 1998 to provide a non-political arena to discuss and implement changes to the profession of hypnotherapy, UKCHO currently represents 9 of the UK's professional hypnotherapy organisations and has developed standards of training for hypnotherapists, along with codes of conduct and practice that all UKCHO registered hypnotherapists are governed by. As a step towards the regulation of the profession, UKCHO's website now includes a National Public Register of Hypnotherapists who have been registered by UKCHO's Member Organisations and are therefore subject to UKCHO's professional standards. Further steps to full regulation of the hypnotherapy profession will be taken in consultation with the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health.
“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.”
One obvious risk to patients is the insufficiently trained therapist. The inadequately trained therapist can cause harm and distort the normally pleasant experience of hypnotherapy. A second risk for patients is the unscrupulous practitioner who may be both inadequately trained and may have some hidden agenda. These rare individuals are capable of causing great harm to the patient and to the profession. As mentioned above, the patient should carefully scrutinize their chosen therapist before submitting themselves to this dynamic form of therapy.
Look for a hypnotherapist who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. To be a member of either of these organizations, a hypnotherapist must have a doctorate level degree in medicine, dentistry, or psychology, or a master’s degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy plus a specific number of hours of approved training in hypnotherapy. In some cases, accredited, doctoral-level practitioners of alternative health care, such traditional Chinese medicine, may also be approved for membership. Of course, in addition to looking at qualifications, you should also find a hypnotherapist with whom you feel confident and comfortable in a therapeutic relationship.