Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review ABC of complementary medicine

Hypnosis and relaxation therapies

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 20 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1346
  1. Andrew Vickers,
  2. Catherine Zollman

    A wide variety of complementary therapies claim to improve health by producing relaxation. Some use the relaxed state as a means of promoting psychological change. Others incorporate movement, stretches, and breathing exercises. Relaxation and “stress management” are found to a certain extent within conventional medicine. They are included here because they are generally not well taught in conventional medical curriculums and because of the overlap with other, more clearly complementary, therapies.

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    Franz Mesmer, 1734-1815, was responsible for the rise in popularity, and notoriety, of hypnosis (“mesmerism”) in the 18th century



    Hypnosis is the induction of a deeply relaxed state, with increased suggestibility and suspension of critical faculties. Once in this state, sometimes called a hypnotic trance, patients are given therapeutic suggestions to encourage changes in behaviour or relief ofsymptoms. For example, in a treatment to stop smoking a hypnosis practitioner might suggest that the patient will no longer find smoking pleasurable or necessary. Hypnosis for a patient with arthritis might include a suggestion that the pain can be turned down like the volume of a radio.

    Definitions of terms relating to hypnosis

    Hypnotic trance—A deeply relaxed state with increased suggestibility and suspension of critical faculties

    Direct hypnotic suggestion—uggestion made to a person in a hypnotic trance that alters behaviour or perception while the trance persists (for example, the suggestion that pain is not a problem for a woman under hypnosis during labour)

    Post-hypnotic suggestion—Suggestion made to a person in a hypnotic trance that alters behaviour or perception after the trance ends (for example, the suggestion that in the future a patient will be able to relax at will and will no longer be troubled by panic attacks)

    Some practitioners use hypnosis as an aid to psychotherapy. The rationale is that in the hypnotised state the conscious mind presents fewer barriers to effective psychotherapeutic …

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