Just joining us? Be sure to read History of Hypnosis Part 1.

Thanks in large part to the work of James Braid in the 19th century, hypnosis entered the 20th century as a mainstream and accepted medical technique that was mainly used as an academic pursuit for the early part of the century. It was also during this time that research into hypnosis moved from Europe to America.

Sigmund Freud’s Interest in Hypnosis

Sigmund FreudShortly before the turn of the century, Sigmund Freud traveled to Paris to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, who was conducting his own research on hypnosis hysteria. Freud was briefly an enthusiast of hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, and began emphasizing the use of hypnotic regression and catharsis in therapy. He even wrote a very positive encyclopedia article on hypnosis and published a number of case studies with his colleague, Breuer, called Studies on Hysteria (1895). This later became the founding text for hypno-analysis.

Eventually, Freud abandoned the use of hypnotism and turned to psychoanalysis, preferring the use of free association to interpret the patient’s unconscious. He did find that traditional psychoanalysis took too much time and began suggesting its use in combination with hypnotic suggestion.

Hypnosis Enters the 20th Century…

From the beginning of the 20th century until the 50’s, hypnosis was mainly used in classrooms and labs. For example, Joseph Jastrow conducting a course at the University of Wisconsin for many years on the numerous medical uses of hypnosis. Once he retired, he also published a number of books on psychological issues and developed hypnosis techniques for his lay audience. This was during a time when most people thought of hypnosis as some type of mind-control device made popular in Hollywood.

The Work of Clark Leonard Hull

Clark HullJastrow’s most successful student, Clark Hull, took over his course and released an important text in 1933 called Hypnosis and Suggestibility, which was the first book to compile the results of lab experiments on the subject and the first to use standards of experimental psychology. Previous scientists, on the other hand, typically used their own patients which distorted the results.

Hull is also responsible for starting the great state/non-state debate which is still being discussed today. Basically, the “state” theory argues that a hypnotic trance is a unique state of consciousness unlike the normal, everyday state of mind. The “non-state” theory argues that there is no unique state of consciousness that comes from a trance and any hypnotic phenomena come from normal psychological mechanisms.

Hull was not a hypnotherapist but rather a scientist and his priority was studying hypnosis in a laboratory setting. He opposed the clinical view of hypnosis to “cure human ills” because he felt it interfered with the scientific study of the phenomena.

The Practical Focus of Hypnosis

Starting in the 1960’s, the emphasis on hypnosis began to turn toward clinical and practical applications, although research continued. One of the most important people to develop practical uses for hypnosis was Dave Elman (1900-1967), a vaudeville artist. He adapted the induction techniques used at the time by stage hypnotists for therapeutic reasons and began teaching to doctors. He also published the classic Hypnotherapy in 1964.

Elman’s induction method is based on the eye closure method discovered in the 19th century by Braid and allowed hypnotists to achieve a trance state in minutes so they could focus on therapy. His work represents the broad movement to move hypnosis out of the lab and into the medical profession.

Milton H. Erickson, an American psychiatrist, is also credited for today’s widespread availability of practical hypnosis for mental health. Milton specialized in family therapy and he was known for his use of medical hypnosis in the 1960’s. He’s responsible for a major influence of solution-focused brief therapy and brief therapy and used clinical hypnosis has his main tool.

Émile Coué (1857-1926), a pharmacologist in Europe, found that patients responded more favorably to prescribed medication if he emphasized its treatment efficiency. He went on to develop an idea known as autosuggestion, in which unconscious responses can be purposefully modified by using imagination. He’s today credited with the popularity of self-hypnosis, which led the way for guided meditation that’s used today to reduce stress.

The Science of Perception

As technology advanced, and other therapists and psychologists like Stephen Wolinsky and Ivan Tyrrell contributed more to the field, we began to learn even more about the real science of hypnosis. Brain imaging scans were able to show that hypnotic suggestion does indeed change perception. An important study performed at Stanford University (“Hypnotic Visual Illusion Alters Color Processing In The Brain”) found that the brain’s color processing regions were activated under hypnotic suggestion and subjects believed a black-and-white picture they were viewing was actually in color.

Psychologists Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin also showed a clear link between the REM sleep state and hypnotic trance in their 1999 study “Hypnosis and Trance States; A New Psychobiological Explanation.” Meanwhile, therapist Stephen Wolinksky proved the deep trance phenomena can effectively be detected during the normal waking consciousness, meaning our normal consciousness is comprised of layers of hypnotic trance that we enter and exit throughout the day.

The 20th century saw the popularization of hypnosis and its transformation into a real clinical tool for therapy and healing. Thanks to the work of researchers, psychiatrists and other professionals in the 1900’s, self-hypnotism and therapeutic hypnosis is now an accepted form of treatment for millions of people.

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