By Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, published in The Counsellor (magazine of the Counsellors & Psychotherapists Association of New South Wales), April 2003.
Hypnosis has been used for thousands of years in many different forms. There are references from ancient China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, the Middle Ages and its uses within religion up to the French Revolution. We recognise its present-day relationship beginning with Anton Mesmer, the Austrian physician who practised in Paris in the late 18th century (Gauld 1992), (Waterfield 2002). The most inspirational hypnotic practitioner to date in modern times was undoubtedly Dr Milton Erickson MD, the American psychiatrist who is largely responsible for the conceptualisation of brief therapy (Haley 1986). Erickson experimented across a wide range of the application of hypnosis, developing and promoting indirect suggestion as a means of bypassing resistance (Erickson (Rossi, ed) 1980).
Hypnosis is used in medicine, dentistry, and psychotherapy, but most effectively by clinical hypnotherapists who are often deeply devoted to and tutored in the use of hypnotic techniques as a psychosomatic manipulatory tool (Heap & Aravind 2002). A highly skilled hypnotherapist may take many years of training to cultivate their skills, sometimes studying to doctorate level and even publishing the results of their work throughout their careers. They may also have backgrounds in psychology, psychotherapy and medicine. In fact, all students of hypnotherapy do need to study biology and psychology.
The divide between what is hypnotic and what is not hypnotic is not cut and dried as hypnotists are also doing hypnosis with people during what appears to be ordinary conversation (Spanos 1996). Often what people deem to be a controlling hypnotic relationship is considered too hostile for some clients to enter into, so we use what is called conversational somnambulism where someone may appear to be awake but they are in fact in a deep trance (Erickson et al 1980) People go to hypnotherapists to reach their goals and they do not necessarily need to know all the technical devices we use in order to help them achieve those goals.
The debate as to whether trance-like behaviour as induced by hypnosis is a biological or psychological phenomenon is one that has raged for three hundred years (Lynn & Rhue 1991). As we move into an age of psychobiology it becomes apparent that Descartes’ sub-division of mind and body can no longer be a valid way to scientifically study the human condition (Descartes 1637). Evidence now shows that the mind-body connection is crucial in all kinds of healing, so what can be suggested to the mind under hypnosis not only alters the person’s psychology, but profoundly also alters their physiology (Rossi 1993).
Within the hypnotherapy discipline there are also sub-divisions, such as traditional direct approach hypnotism, Ericksonianism brief therapy, hypno-analysis, neuro-linguistic-programming (NLP), hypnosis applied cognitive behavioural therapy, goal oriented hypnosis and various forms of transpersonal hypno-transfomational healing schools, applied hypnosis in dentistry, nursing, general surgery, pain management and immunology, (Heap et al 2002). A well trained clinical hypnotherapist needs to be able to use many of these modalities in accordance with what may suit their clients’ needs but they should not step out of their field of training and supervision without the assistance of additional qualified personnel. One of the greatest dangers to the public is the use of hypnosis for entertainment, which can cause profound trauma to the volunteers who are persuaded to take part (O’Keefe 1998).
The range of things hypnotherapy is used for stems from simple ego strengthening, resolving emotional disturbance, rectifying sexual dysfunction, habit and addiction cessation, assisting people with eating disorders, reversing autoimmune collapse, pain control and much more (Hammond 1990). Like any healing discipline hypnotherapy is an art as well as a science and it needs to be learned as much from people as from books. Whilst there are therapists and medical doctors who learn some hypnotic skills to assist them in the work they do, only experienced and properly trained hypnotherapists should tackle complicated hypnotic work.
The applied use of hypnosis as hypnotherapy or as an applied adjunct to other disciplines can produce incredibly quick accelerated change in people’s behaviour and physiology, far beyond what may be achievable within simple counselling, psychotherapy, psychology or applied medicine (Erickson et al 1980), (Weitzenhoffer 2000), (Kroger 1977), (James 2000). Within the learning environment hypnosis can produce incredible increases in intelligence and speed of learning (Scheele 1993).
There is currently no body in Australia that monitors the overall training of hypnotherapists and hypnosis as an adjunct skill. Private associations and societies may monitor the training and practice of their members and because of these circumstances, I can only comment on the training we provide at OSHAP. The work I teach is traditional clinical hypnosis, along with brief modern hypnotherapeutic goal focused techniques.
In my work I have taken many skills from many disciplines and reconstituted those in the evolution of what I call Brief Integrative Clinical Hypnotherapy, Psychotherapy and Counselling. I believe that therapists can evolve to develop what I call the healing personality that can be trained and honed to be highly effective and skilled in hypnotic persuasion. No one starts with a healing personality – it is like a plant in that it needs to be nurtured, watered, given light and treated with great care. I try to impress on my students my love of and enthusiasm about hypnosis and what a wonderful tool it can be in helping people.
The training we offer at OSHAP is an all encompassing course over a four year period with the opportunity to go on to study to doctorate level over several years. We focus both on practical application and academic understanding progression and achievement equally. It is important that if you, as a professional, choose to study hypnosis that you do it very well so you are able to practise to a level that would be acceptable within any caring profession, and other professionals will feel comfortable in referring clients to you.
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Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.