(Fire walking, or meditation)CharacteristicsHypnosis results in the gradual assumption by the subject of a state of consciousness whollydissimilar to either wakefulness or sleep, during which attention is withdrawn from the outsideworld and is concentrated on mental, sensory, and physiological experiences. When a hypnotistinduces a trance, a close relationship or rapport develops between operator and subject. Theresponses of subjects in the trance state, and the phenomena or behavior they manifestobjectively, are the product of their motivational set; that is, behavior reflects what is beingsought from the experience. Most people can be easily hypnotized. The depth of trance, however, will vary from a light stateclose to waking, to a profound state of somnambulism. A profound trance is characterized by aforgetting of trance events and by an ability to respond automatically to posthypnotic suggestionsthat are not too anxiety-provoking.
The depth of trance achievable is a relatively fixedcharacteristic, dependent on the emotional condition of the subject and on the skill of thehypnotist. Only 20 percent of subjects are capable of entering somnambulistic states through theusual methods of induction. Medically, this percentage is not significant, since therapeutic effectsoccur even in a light trance. Hypnosis can produce a deeper contact with one’s emotional life, resulting in some lifting ofrepressions and exposure of buried fears and conflicts. This effect potentially lends itself tomedical and educational use, but it also lends itself to misinterpretation.
Thus, the revivalthrough hypnosis of early, forgotten memories may be fused with fantasies. Research intohypnotically induced memories in recent years has in fact stressed their uncertain reliability. Forthis reason a number of state court systems in the U. S. have placed increasing constraints onthe use of evidence hypnotically obtained from witnesses, although most states still permit itsintroduction in court.
Medical UsesHypnosis has been used to treat a variety of physiological and behavioral problems. It canalleviate back pain and pain resulting from burns and cancer. It has been used by someobstetricians as the sole analgesia for normal childbirth. Hypnosis is sometimes also employedto treat physical problems with a possible psychological component, such as Raynaud’ssyndrome (a circulatory disease) and fecal incontinence in children. Researchers havedemonstrated that the benefit of hypnosis is greater than the effect of a placebo and probablyresults from changing the focus of attention.
Few physicians, however, include hypnosis as partof their practice. Some behavioral difficulties, such as cigarette smoking, overeating, and insomnia, are alsoamenable to resolution through hypnosis. Nonetheless, most psychiatrists think that fundamentalpsychiatric illness is better treated with the patient in a normal state of consciousness.