Hypnosis has been studied scientifically longer than the field of psychology itself has – for over 150 years.
It all began in 1784 when Benjamin Franklin was part of the first scientific committee appointed to investigate Mesmerism, when Monsieur Mesmer used “animal magnetism” to put ladies into trance at court; the French Royal Academy of Sciences used some of the first placebo-controlled experiments to prove the falseness of Mesmer’s work, but also set the stage for study of genuine hypnosis. However, it was Clark Hull, former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) who prepared the first detailed review of laboratory research on hypnosis, published in 1933.
Hypnosis has certain advantages in research as compared with other psychotherapies:
- hypnosis can produce immediately observable results, such as changed performance on tasks, motor movement or autonomic changes that can be measured and studied under controlled laboratory conditions;
- technology can measure the immediate effects of hypnosis, such as heart rate or neurological alterations, making detailed, objective analysis possible to a degree not as easily reached with other psychotherapies;
- hypnotherapy was originally considered an orthodox treatment within general medicine; it has therefore been tested and proven helpful for a wide range of general medication conditions not normally considered treatable by other types of psychotherapy (dental anesthesia, treating warts);
- hypnotherapy is essentially a cluster of techniques, not a theory, whereas other therapies tend to be developed around a school of thought; this means hypnotherapy can be more easily defined for designing research and offers a wide range of testable actions.
Scientific investigation of hypnosis has meant that more and more, hypnotherapy has been grounded in mainstream psychology and neuroscience. There is now a true body of academic literature on the evidence of hypnotic procedure’s effectiveness in treating a wide range of psychological and medical problems and conditions.
In 1955 the British Medical Association’s enquiry reported favorably on hypnosis as a therapeutic tool, and even recommended that it be taught at medical schools and especially as required course work for psychiatrists, anesthesiologists and obstetricians. Since that time, hypnosis has become increasingly part of clinical practice, owing to its proven effectiveness.*