Clinical Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

Marc I. Oster, Psy.D., ABPH
President-elect, American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (2002)

The public often has questions about hypnosis. In spite of being well educated and informed, many people, including professionals, harbor misconceptions about what hypnosis is and is not. The article below will address the most common of questions I’m often asked. What is Clinical Hypnosis?

The following definition is one that I often use and was developed from several sources in the professional literature on hypnosis as well as my own research and experiences. Hypnosis is the outcome of a collaborative interpersonal relationship in which one individual, the therapist, facilitates in the other person, a patient or client, an experience that enables the client or patient to be open to changes in their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. This process usually involves three elements in the person receiving treatment: an ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to separate oneself from surrounding distractions, and an increase in their receptiveness to suggestion.

Myths and Facts about Hypnosis

One or more of the following traits are often found in hypnotizable individuals: enjoys reading, especially science fiction; enjoys dramatic arts or role-taking activities; when a child, they had an imaginary playmate; subscribes to religious beliefs; experiences emotions easily (e.g. cries at movies); is an adventuresome or thrill-seeking person; experienced severe early childhood punishment or abuse; has a degree of comfort being lost in fantasy or feeling psychologically separated from one’s surroundings; is comfortable with symbolic thought and makes use of transitional objects (e.g. keeps mementos from ones past, especially childhood). Generally, brighter, better educated, more insightful and creative individuals are likely to be hypnotically responsive.

Hypnosis does not involve surrendering one’s free will to the therapist. It is not similar to a black out experience in which the person has no awareness of what just transpired. Professional training, ethical, moral, and legal constraints prohibit the clinician from doing anything hurtful or humiliating to the patient.

Clinical hypnosis is not a discipline or a profession. It is also not a therapy or treatment, but a vehicle through which the clinician conducts their therapy or treatment. It is a tool to be used by qualified health care professionals. Hypnosis is used as an adjunct to the standard methods used by clinical psychologists and other health care professionals. We subscribe to the belief that before one can be effective as a hypnotherapist, one must first be fully trained in a primary discipline, such as clinical psychology, social work, dentistry, nursing, or medicine. What Kinds of Conditions can Hypnosis be Used to Treat?

Areas in which clinical hypnosis may be of help in treatment include a variety of psychological conditions or traumas, gastrointestinal disorders, skin problems, chronic pain, burns, anxiety, stress, depression, and childbirth preparation. Hypnosis is also helpful with self-esteem problems, smoking cessation, sexual dysfunction, performance anxiety, and preparation for surgery or other medical procedures. How Long or How Many Sessions Will I Need?

The number of sessions needed, or the amount of time needed to address any problem is always dependent on individual circumstances. Ethical clinicians can never promise or guarantee a specific treatment plan or outcome without first properly assessing the patient and their unique circumstances. When appropriate, I use a short-term, problem-solving model of therapy. Who is Qualified to Use Hypnosis?

In selecting a qualified clinician who uses hypnosis, one might look for the following: 1. A graduate-trained health care provider licensed to practice in the state where they practice. 2. Formal training in clinical hypnosis from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH), the Society of Psychological Hypnosis of the American Psychological Association (APA), or the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (SDBP). 3. Certification or status as an Approved Consultant in Clinical Hypnosis, a Fellow of the ASCH, SCEH, or the APA’s Society for Psychological Hypnosis, or status as a Diplomate awarded by a member board of the American Boards of Clinical Hypnosis.