Does Hypnosis Work?

Does Hypnosis Work ? – British Medical Association 1890s

In 1892, the British Medical Association (BMA) commissioned a team of doctors to undertake an extensive evaluation of hypnotherapy. The doctors reported as follows:

The Committee, having completed such investigation of hypnotism as time permitted, have to report that they have satisfied themselves of the genuineness of the hypnotic state. (British Medical Journal, 1892)

They further stated,

The Committee are of the opinion that as a therapeutic agent hypnotism is frequently effective in relieving pain, procuring sleep, and alleviating many functional ailments [i.e., psycho-somatic complaints and anxiety disorders]. (Ibid.)

The report was formally approved by the general council of the British Medical Association, thereby forming BMA policy.

Does hypnosis work ?
The British Medical Association concluded that hypnosis does work.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  Psychological Medicine Group of BMA  1950s

In 1955, the Psychological Medicine Group of the BMA commissioned a Subcommittee, led by Prof. T. Ferguson Rodger, to deliver a second, and more comprehensive, report on hypnosis. The Subcommittee consulted several experts on hypnosis from various fields. After two years of study and research, the final report was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), under the title ‘Medical use of Hypnotism’. The terms of reference were:

To consider the uses of hypnotism, its relation to medical practice in the present day, the advisability of giving encouragement to research into its nature and application, and the lines upon which such research might be organized. (British
Medical Journal
, 1955)

This is a much more thorough and extensive report, and constitutes one of the most significant documents in the history of hypnotherapy research. In regard to effectiveness, it concludes from a systematic review of available research that,

The Subcommittee is satisfied after consideration of the available evidence that hypnotism is of value and may be the treatment of choice in some cases of so-called psycho-somatic disorder and Psychoneurosis. It may also be of value for revealing unrecognized motives and conflicts in such conditions. As a treatment, in the opinion of the Subcommittee it has proved its ability to remove symptoms and to alter morbid habits of thought and behavior[…]

In addition to the treatment of psychiatric disabilities, there is a place for hypnotism in the production of anesthesia or analgesia for surgical and dental operations, and in suitable subjects it is an effective method of relieving pain
in childbirth without altering the normal course of labor. ("Medical use of hypnosis", British Medical Journal, April, 1955)

According to a statement of proceedings published elsewhere in the same edition of the British Medical Journal, the report was officially ‘approved at last week’s Council meeting of the British Medical Association.’ (BMA Council Proceedings, BMJ, April 23, 1955:1019). In other words, it was approved as official BMA policy. This statement goes on to say that,

For the past hundred years there has been an abundance of evidence that psychological and physiological changes could be produced by hypnotism which were worth study on their own account, and also that such changes might be of great service in the treatment of patients.(British Medical Journal, cited)

Does hypnosis work ?
The Psychological Medicine Group of BMA concluded that hypnosis does work.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  American Medical Association 1958

In 1958, the American Medical Association (AMA) commissioned their own report which endorsed the 1955 British Medical Association report and concluded,

That the use of hypnosis has a recognized place in the medical armamentarium and is a useful technique in the treatment of certain illnesses when employed by qualified medical and dental personnel. ("Medical use of hypnosis", JAMA, 1958)

The AMA council approved this report rendering hypnotherapy an orthodox treatment,

The Reference Committee on Hygiene, Public Health, and Industrial Health approved the report and commended the Council on Mental Health for its work. The House of Delegates adopted the Reference Committee report […](AMA Proceedings, JAMA,
September 1958: 57)

Does hypnosis work ?
The American Medical Association concluded that hypnosis does work.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  US National Institute for Health 1995

In 1995, the US National Institute for Health (NIH), established a Technology Assessment Conference that compiled an official statement entitled "Integration of Behavioral & Relaxation Approaches into the Treatment of Chronic Pain &
Insomnia". This is an extensive report that includes a statement on the existing research in relation to hypnotherapy for chronic pain. It concludes that:

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of hypnosis in alleviating chronic pain associated with cancer seems strong. In addition, the panel was presented with other data suggesting the effectiveness of hypnosis in other chronic pain conditions, which include irritable bowel syndrome, oral mucositis [pain and swelling of the mucus membrane], temporomandibular disorders [jaw pain], and tension headaches. (NIH, 1995).

Does hypnosis work ?
The US National Institute for Health concluded that hypnosis does work.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  British Medical Journal  1999

In 1999, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a Clinical Review of current medical research on hypnotherapy and relaxation therapies, it concluded,

  • "There is strong evidence from randomised trials of the effectiveness of hypnosis and relaxation for cancer related anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting, (side effects of  chemotherapy) particularly in children."
  • "They are also effective for panic disorders and insomnia, particularly when integrated into a package of cognitive therapy (including, for example, sleep hygiene)."
  • "A systematic review has found that hypnosis enhances the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy for conditions such as phobias, obesity, and anxiety."
  • "Randomized controlled trials support the use of various relaxation techniques for treating both acute and chronic pain, […]"
  • "Randomized trials have shown hypnosis to be of value in asthma and in irritable bowel syndrome […]"
  • "Some practitioners also claim that relaxation techniques, particularly the use of imagery, can prolong life. There is currently insufficient evidence to support this claim."

Does hypnosis work ?
The British Medical Journal reaffirmed that hypnosis does work well.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  British Psychological Society 2001

In 2001, the Professional Affairs Board of the British Psychological Society commissioned a working party of expert psychologists to publish a report entitled The Nature of Hypnosis. The terms of reference were ‘to provide a considered
statement about hypnosis and important issues concerning its application and practice in a range of contexts, notably for clinical purposes, forensic investigation, academic research, entertainment and training.’ The report provides a concise summary of around twenty pages of current scientific research on hypnosis. The introductory remark reads as follows:

"Hypnosis is a valid subject for scientific study and research and a proven therapeutic medium."

Regarding the therapeutic uses of hypnosis, the report states:

"Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy."

The report then provided an overview of some of the most important contemporary research on the efficacy of clinical hypnotherapy, which is summarized as follows:

  • "There is convincing evidence that hypnotic procedures are effective in the management and relief of both acute and chronic pain and in assisting in the alleviation of pain, discomfort and distress due to medical and dental
    procedures and childbirth."
  • "Hypnosis and the practice of self-hypnosis may significantly reduce general anxiety, tension and stress in a manner similar to other relaxation and self-regulation procedures."
  • "Likewise, hypnotic treatment may assist in insomnia in the same way as other relaxation methods."
  • "There is encouraging evidence demonstrating the beneficial effects of hypnotherapeutic procedures in alleviating the symptoms of a range of complaints that fall under the heading ‘psychosomatic illness." These include tension headaches and migraine; asthma; gastro-intestinal complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome; warts; and possibly other skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis and urticaria [hives].”
  • "There is evidence from several studies that its [hypnosis’] inclusion in a weight reduction program may significantly enhance outcome."

Does hypnosis work ?
The British Psychological Society confirmed that hypnosis has many beneficial uses.

Does Hypnosis Work ? –  University of Konstanz  2003

In 2003, a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of hypnotherapy was published by two researchers from the university of Konstanz in Germany, Flammer and Bongartz.

The study reviewed 444 studies on hypnotherapy published prior to 2002 and then chose the highest quality studies for further analysis. Analysis of 57 controlled trials showed that on average hypnotherapy achieved at least 64% success compared to 37% improvement among untreated control groups.

The authors state that this was an intentional underestimation. Their aim was to discover whether hypnotherapy was still proven effective even using the most sceptical analysis. They showed conclusively that it was. As a matter of fact,
their analysis of treatment designs concluded that expansion of the meta-analysis to include non-randomized trials would also produce reliable results. Re-analysing one hundred thirty three studies deemed suitable in light of this consideration, providing data for over 6,000 patients, the findings suggest an average improvement in 27% of untreated patients over the term of the
studies compared with a 74% success rate among those receiving hypnotherapy. Given the fact that many of the studies measured included the treatment of addictions and medical conditions this is a high success rate. Improvement rates for anxiety disorders alone, traditionally hypnotherapy’s strongest application, were higher still. .(Flammer & Bongartz, "On the efficacy of hypnosis: a
meta-analytic study", Contemporary Hypnosis, 2003, pp179 – 197)]

Does hypnosis work ?
The study by Flammer and Bongartz from the University of Konstanz concluded that hypnosis has beneficial effects across a wide range of conditions.