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.
It is far easier to describe what hypnosis is not rather than to describe what it is. For example, it is not one person controlling the mind of another. The patient is not unconscious and does not lose control of his or her faculties. People will not do things under hypnosis that they would be unwilling to do otherwise. The person being hypnotized is always in control. The hypnotized person decides how deep the trance will be, what suggestions will be accepted, and when to awaken. Therefore, a hypnotyized person cannot be forever "lost" if the therapist should fall dead during an induction or while the patient is deep in trance.
After developing a substantial following — “mesmerism” became “the height of fashion” in late 1780s Paris, writes Marchant — Mesmer became the subject of what was essentially the world’s first clinical trial. King Louis XVI pulled together a team of the world’s top scientists, including Benjamin Franklin, who tested mesmerism and found its capacity to “cure” was, essentially, a placebo effect. “Not a shred of evidence exists for any fluid,” Franklin wrote. “The practice … is the art of increasing the imagination by degrees.”
The main theorist who pioneered the influential role-taking theory of hypnotism was Theodore Sarbin. Sarbin argued that hypnotic responses were motivated attempts to fulfill the socially constructed roles of hypnotic subjects. This has led to the misconception that hypnotic subjects are simply "faking". However, Sarbin emphasised the difference between faking, in which there is little subjective identification with the role in question, and role-taking, in which the subject not only acts externally in accord with the role but also subjectively identifies with it to some degree, acting, thinking, and feeling "as if" they are hypnotised. Sarbin drew analogies between role-taking in hypnosis and role-taking in other areas such as method acting, mental illness, and shamanic possession, etc. This interpretation of hypnosis is particularly relevant to understanding stage hypnosis, in which there is clearly strong peer pressure to comply with a socially constructed role by performing accordingly on a theatrical stage.
People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn't clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It's unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it's a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.
The Federal Dictionary of Occupational Titles describes the job of the hypnotherapist: "Induces hypnotic state in client to increase motivation or alter behavior patterns: Consults with client to determine nature of problem. Prepares client to enter hypnotic state by explaining how hypnosis works and what client will experience. Tests subject to determine degree of physical and emotional suggestibility. Induces hypnotic state in client, using individualized methods and techniques of hypnosis based on interpretation of test results and analysis of client's problem. May train client in self-hypnosis conditioning. GOE: 10.02.02 STRENGTH: S GED: R4 M3 L4 SVP: 7 DLU: 77"