Much of the last 50 years of the study of hypnosis has been dominated by the ‘state’ verses ‘non-state’ debate. This is where those that support the ‘state’ argument say hypnosis is a special trance state that is a unique type of consciousness. Those on the opposing side of the debate say that hypnosis is not a special unique state but something that can be accounted for by normal conscious processes such as suggestibility. Nicholas Spanos was a strong proponent of the non-state argument and said that hypnosis was dependant on social context and that the person being hypnotised brought their own interpretation to the process. He suggested that people act as they think they are supposed to when hypnotised. Theodore Barber who put forward his social-cognitive theory was also a supporter of the non-state model and said that motivation, expectation and belief played a huge role in hypnosis.
Dave Elman who was originally a vaudeville stage hypnotist adapted the rapid induction techniques he used for therapeutic use. He taught them to doctors and in 1964 published his book Hypnotherapy which has become a classic. The Elman induction which can put a client into hypnosis quickly allows more time for the hypnotherapist to do their work and is still used widely today. This induction moved away from the more authoritarian style of inductions where clients are instructed to ‘feel sleepy’.
A person who had an enormous impact on hypnotherapy was Milton H Erickson (1901-1980). He is known as one of the biggest influences on modern hypnotherapy due to his unique methods while conducting his therapy sessions. He believed that every person processed their experience in their own unique way and that everyone had the resources to overcome their problems. In Ericksonian therapy a client would be encouraged to discover their own resources.
Some of the methods he would use included metaphor, indirect suggestions, confusion, reframing and utilisation. Erickson would use ambiguous language patterns containing embedded suggestions that would cause the client to pause and search internally for meaning which was found to be very effective in hypnosis. One description of the language patterns is ‘artfully vague’ as the sentences used intentionally didn’t communicate a clear proposition.
A lot of what Erickson developed was adopted by NLP and named the Milton Model. NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. It was developed in the 1970’s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. If we look at the three words in NLP, Neuro refers to the way we think and the way thoughts are managed, Linguistic refers to the patterns of language used and Programming refers to the way we think, behave and communicate. NLP is a tool that helps us understand the thinking patterns people have that dictate the way they behave, once we have that understanding their behaviour can be changed by remodelling the patterns.
Irving Kirsch put forward the idea that hypnosis is effective because people expect it to be. For him hypnosis has the same basic underlying mechanism that makes placebos work. He described hypnosis as a ‘non-deceptive mega placebo’. In his experiments he showed that physiological responses can be changed by what people are expecting.
Recently the Cold Control theory was put forward by Zoltan Dienes and Josef Perner. This says that there are three orders of thought. An example would be;
First order (state): Lifting the arm
Second order (thought): I am intending to lift my arm
Third order (thought): I am aware that I am intending to lift my arm
The idea is that getting responses to hypnotic suggestions can be achieved by having an intention to follow the suggestion without the person forming the second and third order thoughts.