Some hypnotists view suggestion as a form of communication that is directed primarily to the subject's conscious mind,[40] whereas others view it as a means of communicating with the "unconscious" or "subconscious" mind.[40][41] These concepts were introduced into hypnotism at the end of the 19th century by Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory describes conscious thoughts as being at the surface of the mind and unconscious processes as being deeper in the mind.[42] Braid, Bernheim, and other Victorian pioneers of hypnotism did not refer to the unconscious mind but saw hypnotic suggestions as being addressed to the subject's conscious mind. Indeed, Braid actually defines hypnotism as focused (conscious) attention upon a dominant idea (or suggestion). Different views regarding the nature of the mind have led to different conceptions of suggestion. Hypnotists who believe that responses are mediated primarily by an "unconscious mind", like Milton Erickson, make use of indirect suggestions such as metaphors or stories whose intended meaning may be concealed from the subject's conscious mind. The concept of subliminal suggestion depends upon this view of the mind. By contrast, hypnotists who believe that responses to suggestion are primarily mediated by the conscious mind, such as Theodore Barber and Nicholas Spanos, have tended to make more use of direct verbal suggestions and instructions.[citation needed]
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Some therapists use hypnotherapy to recover repressed memories they believe are linked to the person’s mental disorder. However, it also poses a risk of creating false memories—usually as a result of unintended suggestions by the therapist. For this reason, using hypnotherapy for certain mental disorders, such as dissociative disorders, remains controversial.
Hypnotherapy expert, Dr Peter Marshall, former Principal of the London School of Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Ltd. and author of A Handbook of Hypnotherapy, devised the Trance Theory of Mental Illness, which provides that people suffering from depression, or certain other kinds of neurosis, are already living in a trance and so the hypnotherapist does not need to induce them, but rather to make them understand this and help lead them out of it.[24]

After hypnosis, participants’ memories were tested twice while the fMRI scanner recorded their brain activity. For Test 1, they were asked 40 questions about the content of the movie (for example, the actress knocked on her neighbor’s door on the way home) and 20 questions about the context in which they saw the movie (for instance, during the movie, the door to the study room was closed). These questions required a “yes” or “no” response. For Test 2, participants were asked the same 60 recognition questions, but first they heard the cue to cancel PHA. So Test 1 measured memory performance and brain activity while the PHA suggestion was in effect and Test 2 measured memory performance and brain activity after it was cancelled.

This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their "masters" -- they have absolute free will. And they're not really in a semi-sleep state -- they're actually hyperattentive.

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But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears,[35][36] as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia[37] and addiction.[38] Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures,[39] in breast cancer care[40] and even with gastro-intestinal problems,[41] including IBS.[42][43]
The Mitchell method involves adopting body positions that are opposite to those associated with anxiety (fingers spread rather than hands clenched, for example). In autogenic training, patients concentrate on experiencing physical sensations, such as warmth and heaviness, in different parts of their bodies in a learned sequence. Other methods encourage the use of diaphragmatic breathing that involves deep and slow abdominal breathing coupled with a conscious attempt to let go of tension during exhalation.
Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears,[35][36] as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia[37] and addiction.[38] Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures,[39] in breast cancer care[40] and even with gastro-intestinal problems,[41] including IBS.[42][43]
Visualization and imagery techniques involve the induction of a relaxed state followed by the development of a visual image, such as a pleasant scene that enhances the sense of relaxation. These images may be generated by the patient or suggested by the practitioner. In the context of this relaxing setting, patients can also choose to imagine themselves coping more effectively with the stressors in their lives.
Ernest Hilgard, who developed the "neodissociation" theory of hypnotism, hypothesized that hypnosis causes the subjects to divide their consciousness voluntarily. One part responds to the hypnotist while the other retains awareness of reality. Hilgard made subjects take an ice water bath. None mentioned the water being cold or feeling pain. Hilgard then asked the subjects to lift their index finger if they felt pain and 70% of the subjects lifted their index finger. This showed that, even though the subjects were listening to the suggestive hypnotist, they still sensed the water's temperature.[180]

Therefore, Braid defined hypnotism as a state of mental concentration that often leads to a form of progressive relaxation, termed "nervous sleep". Later, in his The Physiology of Fascination (1855), Braid conceded that his original terminology was misleading, and argued that the term "hypnotism" or "nervous sleep" should be reserved for the minority (10%) of subjects who exhibit amnesia, substituting the term "monoideism", meaning concentration upon a single idea, as a description for the more alert state experienced by the others.[23]


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Since hypnotherapy is an adjunct form of therapy, used along with other forms of psychological or medical treatment, there are many applications. Hypnotherapy can be used to treat anxiety, phobias, substance abuse including tobacco, sexual dysfunction, undesirable spontaneous behaviors, and bad habits. It can be used to help improve sleep, learning disorders, communication, and relationship issues. Hypnotherapy can aid in pain management and help resolve medical conditions such as digestive disorders, skin issues, and gastrointestinal side effects of pregnancy and chemotherapy. It can also be used by dentists to help patients control their fears or to treat teeth grinding and other oral conditions.
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