Hypnotherapy – Medical Recognition

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Summary:

In 1955 the British Medical Association issued a report stating that hypnosis was a valuable medical tool.
In 1958 the American Medical Association recognised hypnosis as a viable scientific modality.
In 1962 the American Psychiatric Association recognised that hypnosis was a viable modality to treat some psychological problems.

Hypnosis has been approved and accepted by the medical profession, and you might find it surprising that the term hypnotism, was a term coined by a Scottish physician called James Braid who categorically rejected any supernatural explanations of trance and grounded the study of hypnotherapy on a firm empirical and scientific basis, publishing his research in Neurypnology (1843).

Over the years the interest in hypnotherapy grew and in 1892 the British Medical Association (BMA) commissioned a special committee of eleven doctors ‘to investigate the nature of the phenomenon of hypnotism, its value as a therapeutic agent, and the propriety of using it’.

Their report was received and published by the BMA (British Medical Association), opening with a clear recognition of the phenomenon of hypnotic trance:

‘The Committee, having completed such investigation of hypnotism as time permitted, have to report that they have satisfied themselves of the genuineness of the hypnotic state.’ (BMA, 1892).

The BMA Committee proceeded to outline a detailed and accurate account of the physical and mental characteristics of hypnotic trance, concluding with a summary of its principal therapeutic benefits, ‘The Committee are of opinion that as a therapeutic agent hypnotism is frequently effective in relieving pain, procuring sleep, and alleviating many functional [i.e., neurotic] ailments.’ (BMA, 1892).

In 1955 the Psychological Medicine Group of the BMA commissioned a Subcommittee of experts to a deliver a second report which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) the same year under the title of ‘Medical use of hypnotism’.

Its terms of reference were:
‘To consider the uses of hypnotism, its relation to medical practice in the present day, the advisability of giving encouragement to research into its nature and application, and the lines upon which such research might be organised.’ (BMA, 1955).

The 1955 Subcommittee endorse the original BMA report, republishing it in the appendix to their work, they comment that its conclusions ‘showed remarkable foresight and are mainly applicable today.’

They agree that hypnotic trance is genuine and ‘a proper subject for scientific enquiry.’ They also provide a more extensive statement on the medical uses of hypnosis and conclude that it is definitely an effective technique in the psychotherapy of neurosis, psycho-somatic conditions and in the alleviation of physical pain:

‘The Subcommittee is satisfied after consideration of the available evidence that hypnotism is of value and may be the treatment of choice in some cases of so-called psycho-somatic disorder and psychoneurosis. It may also be of value for revealing unrecognised motives and conflicts in such conditions. As a treatment, in the opinion of the Subcommittee it has proved its ability to remove symptoms and to alter morbid habits of thought and behaviour. […]

In addition to the treatment of psychiatric disabilities, there is a place for hypnotism in the production of anaesthesia or analgesia for surgical and dental operations, and in suitable subjects it is an effective method of relieving pain in childbirth without altering the normal course of labour.’ (BMA, 1955)

They also comment upon the ‘remarkable and striking nature of the phenomena induced in hypnotism’, they accept that ‘profound and easily measurable changes of physiological function can be induced under hypnotism’, and emphasise ‘the relative simplicity and brevity of hypnotic techniques’ compared to other forms of psychological therapy.

The Committee also noted, with regard to the breadth of application of hypnosis, that ‘the majority of people can be hypnotized but only in a minority is it possible to induce a deep trance in a single session.’ On the subject of the (perceived) dangers of hypnosis they note that hypnotism can, of course, be abused by unethical people, although ‘The dangers of hypnotism have been exaggerated in some quarters.’

Following this report the British Society of Medical & Dental Hypnosis (BSMDH) was formed and its training officially approved by the BMA. The BSMDH was subsequently recognised by the General Medical and Dental Councils, the Medical Protection Society and the Medical Defence Union. The Royal Society of Medicine now has a section devoted to the dissemination of research on ‘Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine’.

Over its long history, hypnotherapy has been the subject of innumerable research studies which lend clear support to its various therapeutic applications. For example, one of the more recent clinical reviews of hypnosis and ‘relaxation therapies’ published in the BMJ reports the following evidence:

  • ‘There is good evidence from randomised controlled trials that both hypnosis and relaxation techniques can reduce anxiety particularly that related to stressful situations such as receiving chemotherapy’.
  • ‘They are also effective for panic disorders and insomnia, particularly when integrated into a package of cognitive therapy,’
  • ‘A systematic review has found that hypnosis enhances the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy for conditions such as phobia,  obesity, and anxiety’.
  • ‘Randomised controlled trials support the use of various relaxation techniques for treating both acute and chronic pain,’
  • ‘Randomised trials have shown hypnosis to be of value in asthma and in irritable bowel syndrome,’
  • There is strong evidence from randomised trials of the effectiveness of hypnosis and relaxation for cancer related anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting, particularly in children.’ [BMJ 1999;319: 1346-1349 ‘Hypnosis and relaxation therapies,’ Vickers & Zollman]

That this is extremely limiting view of conditions. Many more conditions can be added to this list since new processes and methods have been developed over the years, and continue to be developed. See uses of hypnosis.

A great deal of research has been done in hospitals and medical centres using clinical hypnotherapy for a wide variety of physical and mental health problems and conditions.

Nowadays people are more open to using hypnotherapy for a wide range of conditions of mind and body, which can help people of all ages, backgrounds and gender to find an effective solution to many conditions.

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