Research into hypnosis in military applications is further verified by the Project MKULTRA experiments, also conducted by the CIA. According to Congressional testimony, the CIA experimented with utilizing LSD and hypnosis for mind control. Many of these programs were done domestically and on participants who were not informed of the study's purposes or that they would be given drugs.
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.
Mesmer's original interest was in the effect of celestial bodies on human lives. He later became interested in the effects of magnetism, and found that magnets could have tremendous healing effects on the human body. Mesmer believed that the human body contained a magnetic fluid that promoted health and well being. It was thought that any blockage to the normal flow of this magnetic fluid would result in illness, and that the use of the mesmerism technique could restore the normal flow.
Following the French committee's findings, Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the "Scottish School of Common Sense", encouraged physicians in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1818) to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of "animal magnetism" with a new interpretation based upon "common sense" laws of physiology and psychology. Braid quotes the following passage from Stewart:
Hypnosis is not a dangerous procedure. It is not mind control or brainwashing. A therapist cannot make a person do something embarrassing or that the person doesn't want to do. The greatest risk, as discussed above, is that false memories can potentially be created and that it may be less effective than pursuing other, more established and traditional psychiatric treatments.
Not every person is hypnotizable to the same degree; some aren’t hypnotizable at all. “Hypnotizability … is modestly correlated with absorption, a personality construct reflecting a disposition to enter states of narrowed or expanded attention and a blurring of boundaries between oneself and the object of perception,” writes John F. Kihlstrom, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 2013 paper in Cortex. “Absorption, in turn, is related to ‘openness to experience,’ one of the ‘Big Five” dimensions of personality.”
Preliminary research has expressed brief hypnosis interventions as possibly being a useful tool for managing painful HIV-DSP because of its history of usefulness in pain management, its long-term effectiveness of brief interventions, the ability to teach self-hypnosis to patients, the cost-effectiveness of the intervention, and the advantage of using such an intervention as opposed to the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, it also poses a risk of creating false memories—usually as a result of unintended suggestions by the therapist. For this reason, using hypnotherapy for certain mental disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.
Hypnotic music became an important part in the development of a ‘physiological psychology’ that regarded the hypnotic state as an ‘automatic’ phenomenon that links to physical reflex. In their experiments with sound hypnosis, Jean-Martin Charcot used gongs and tuning forks, and Ivan Pavlov used bells. The intention behind their experiments was to prove that physiological response to sound could be automatic, bypassing the conscious mind.
Some hypnotists view suggestion as a form of communication that is directed primarily to the subject's conscious mind, whereas others view it as a means of communicating with the "unconscious" or "subconscious" mind. These concepts were introduced into hypnotism at the end of the 19th century by Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory describes conscious thoughts as being at the surface of the mind and unconscious processes as being deeper in the mind. Braid, Bernheim, and other Victorian pioneers of hypnotism did not refer to the unconscious mind but saw hypnotic suggestions as being addressed to the subject's conscious mind. Indeed, Braid actually defines hypnotism as focused (conscious) attention upon a dominant idea (or suggestion). Different views regarding the nature of the mind have led to different conceptions of suggestion. Hypnotists who believe that responses are mediated primarily by an "unconscious mind", like Milton Erickson, make use of indirect suggestions such as metaphors or stories whose intended meaning may be concealed from the subject's conscious mind. The concept of subliminal suggestion depends upon this view of the mind. By contrast, hypnotists who believe that responses to suggestion are primarily mediated by the conscious mind, such as Theodore Barber and Nicholas Spanos, have tended to make more use of direct verbal suggestions and instructions.
Olness thinks there must be something about the intense mental imagery that comes with a hypnotic state. One little boy she worked with told her he was imagining that he was touching the sun. Whether such visions activate different parts of the brain than those associated with rational thought is less clear. As Olness says, “We’re a long way from specifics on that.”
After hypnosis, participants’ memories were tested twice while the fMRI scanner recorded their brain activity. For Test 1, they were asked 40 questions about the content of the movie (for example, the actress knocked on her neighbor’s door on the way home) and 20 questions about the context in which they saw the movie (for instance, during the movie, the door to the study room was closed). These questions required a “yes” or “no” response. For Test 2, participants were asked the same 60 recognition questions, but first they heard the cue to cancel PHA. So Test 1 measured memory performance and brain activity while the PHA suggestion was in effect and Test 2 measured memory performance and brain activity after it was cancelled.
Cancer patients use relaxation and hypnosis. Evidence from randomized trials shows hypnosis and relaxation are effective for cancer-related anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting, particularly in children. Some practitioners also claim that relaxation techniques, particularly the use of imagery, can prolong life, although currently available evidence is insufficient to support this claim.
We also wonder how the suppression mechanism in PHA relates to the vast array of forgetting in the laboratory and in the world? Whereas some forgetting is seen as strategic, effortful and conscious (say, suppression), other forgetting is seen as automatic, effortless and unconscious (say, repression). Having mapped the common features of PHA and functional amnesia, we now need to explore and compare in greater detail their common processes (such as strategy use, motivation, level of awareness).
This method of hypnotherapy is commonly beneficial to hypnotherapists in discovering the psychological root of a problem or symptom, such as social anxiety, depression, or past trauma. These types of trauma are often hidden in unconscious memory and forgotten on a conscious level. Using hypnotherapy for analysis has proven particularly effective at digging into the subconscious memory to attempt to retrieve suppressed memories or early developmental trauma that could result in a wide range of psychological conditions or problematic behavior.
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.