Overview of the Field of Clinical Hypnosis

There are compelling reasons why I think training in clinical hypnosis should be a mandatory part of any advanced academic program that produces health care professionals. After all, every therapeutic intervention one can name, whether medical or psychological in nature, will necessarily involve some degree of skilled – and suggestive – communication with an individual within the context of a therapeutic alliance. The psychotherapy context in particular invites a more careful consideration of therapeutic communication:

  • How does a psychotherapist define the therapeutic relationship and establish the all-important therapeutic alliance?
  • How does he or she build a positive expectancy for the benefits of the therapeutic interventions?
  • How does he or she package and present valuable ideas and experiences in such a manner that the client can relate to them meaningfully and use them to improve?

These basic issues of clinical practice open the door to much deeper questions that have been the focus of the field of hypnosis for decades. These include such penetrating questions as:

  • How does a clinician’s influence catalyze shifts in patterns of thinking, feeling or behaving?
  • How can a clinician suggest a profound shift in sensory experience such that someone can detach from normal sensory processing and, as an example, experience a natural anesthesia sufficient to have major surgery painlessly?
  • How does a clinician’s use of carefully worded suggestion transform someone’s experience in therapeutic ways?

These are difficult questions to answer, of course. Yet, the field of clinical hypnosis has undergone a quiet revolution from seemingly being little more than a party gimmick to an established and vital component of behavioral medicine programs in the finest academic and clinical institutions you can name, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford. There are sophisticated scientific journals dedicated solely to advancing clinical practice on the basis of research into hypnotic phenomena. There are national and international meetings devoted entirely to the subject of how hypnosis informs clinical practice and illuminates complex mind-body relationships. There is an International Society of Hypnosis (ISH) whose membership spans the globe and is comprised of top-notch researchers and clinicians in a wide range of disciplines. Someone unfamiliar with hypnosis might be more than a little surprised to discover that hypnosis has been subjected to a wide variety of empirical investigations, attempting to better understand how a clinician’s words can become the basis for seemingly remarkable experiences.

Hypnosis allows for therapeutic possibilities simply not likely through other means. That alone warrants serious consideration. In these web pages, I will introduce readers to hypnosis and some of potential applications in psychotherapy.