In 1543, shortly before his death, Copernicus published a work that challenged settled scientific conclusions. Until that time, it was a “fact” that the earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus postulated, rather, that the sun is the solar system’s center, and that the earth orbited the sun. This new theory led to a war between the Church and scientists. It took six decades before the Roman Catholic Church took an official position against Copernicus’ theory, which had started to gain traction, declaring it heretical. Over the centuries, other Christian communities also denied Copernicus’ theory, widening the gulf between faith and science.
What history is slow to tell, however, it that science and the teachers of science who, up until then, were strictly geocentric (earth-centered) in their positions, caustically berated Copernicus and his views. Science, in lock step with the Church, also fought advances of the new idea. Science, like any other school of thought, is slow to accept challenges to its positions, fearing erosion of authority and position, and possibly profits, for holding the wrong ideas.
We have seen this same resistance throughout history. Joseph Lister pushed for more sanitary conditions and sterilizations in surgical and medical practices. The medical profession pooh-poohed his ideas, claiming such procedures were ridiculously time consuming and unnecessary. Untold millions world-wide died as medical providers dragged their collective feet in recognizing the truth of Lister’s claims.
Although science is often hailed for innovations, true innovations that challenge entrenched and controlling ideas will always meet with resistance. The fact that hypnosis and its applications for treatment through hypnotherapy face such resistance should be expected. The resistance, to some degree, came from the Christian community. However, the challenges from the scientific and medical professions were no less pronounced.
Some of the debate is understandable. As we have mentioned, in the development of hypnosis as therapy, it was difficult to identify the causal elements that led to success. No one wanted to debate the legitimate successful outcomes, and despite the fact that some of these outcomes were fraudulent and contrived, practitioners applied the scientific method to the results. They tested and reviewed the results. They analyzed data from the results, and they debated the data. If all of this work had taken place within the confines of a laboratory, it is doubtful that much would have been made of it all. However, hypnosis was a most public practice, made notable and irritating to the “establishment” in that the proponents of this new thing were a cavalcade of doctors, wisecrackers, preachers, charlatans, and profiteers. What a good show it must have been! No wonder the media have enjoyed reporting and caricaturizing it over the centuries. As convoluted as the progress has been, all healing professions have now accepted and even encouraged hypnosis for therapeutic applications.
Beginning in the late 19th century, hypnosis in general and hypnotherapy more specifically gained more acceptance and endorsements by professional associations and government agencies. In 1892, a special committee within the British Medical Association (BMA) investigated hypnosis. The report published in the British Medical Journal supported “the genuineness of the hypnotic state” and conclusively found effective use of hypnotherapy in “relieving pain, procuring sleep, and alleviating many ailments.” Later that year at its annual meeting, the BMA unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis. That same report also marked as useless such ideas as magnetism, fluids, and other such historical speculations connected to hypnotherapy.
Again in 1955, the BMA made bold statements concerning the use of hypnosis in therapy. First, the British Medical Journal reported that hypnosis was effective in treating psychosomatic disorders, revealing previously unrecognized conflicts and motives, removing symptoms, changing morbid thoughts and behaviors, and relieving pain.
Then, in April of that year, the BMA approved the use of hypnosis in treating psychoneuroses and in hypnothesia for childbirth pain management and for surgery.
In 1956, Pope Pius XII approved the use of hypnosis for Roman Catholics, with these stipulations:
- Hypnotism is a serious matter, not something in which to dabble
- Precautions provided by both service and morality must be followed
- When used as an anesthetic, the uses governed by the same rules used for other forms of anesthesia.
In 1958, the American Medical Association joined its colleagues across the ocean. Its Council on Medical Health not only approved hypnotherapy as orthodox medical treatment, but it recommended that training be included in medical school and encouraged additional research into the field.
In 1960, the American Psychological Association endorsed the field of hypnosis as a branch of psychology. It can actually be argued that the entire field of psychology finds its roots in the early developments and adventures of hypnotists.
1961 brought about more definitive guidelines from the AMA. Its Council of Mental Health specified 144 hours of training for medical students.
In 1995, The National Institute of Health reported that hypnosis is effective in alleviating chronic pain associated with cancer and other conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome and tension headaches.
In 2001, the British Psychological Society produced a report endorsing hypnosis as a proven therapeutic medium, beneficial in the treatment of a broad range of conditions and problems.
In 2003, the government of India through its Ministry of Health and Family Welfare endorsed hypnotherapy as a recommended form of therapy in India.
Today, according to the U. S. Department of Labor, a hypnotherapist is one who “induces hypnotic states in clients to increase motivation or alter behavior patterns; consults with clients to determine the nature of problems; prepares clients to enter hypnotic states by explaining how hypnosis works and what clients will experience; tests subjects to determine degree of physical and emotional suggestibility; induces hypnotic states in clients using individualized methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of clients’ problems; may train clients in self-hypnosis.”
Despite the early resistance, hypnotherapy is now uniformly accepted, endorsed, and encouraged by professionals in the medical and psychological field, as well as by official governmental agencies tasked with protecting the public welfare. Society as a whole continues to bring hypnotherapy into the mainstream of public acceptance and practice.