Hypnotherapy. Theories and their contribution to the practice of therapeutic hypnosis

Essay, 2018

6 Pages, Grade: Pass


Discuss the various personalities involved in the history of behavioural psychology, along with their proposed theories and their contributions to the practice of therapeutic hypnosis. Please support your discussion with external sources of evidence.

An essay by Timothy Whittard.


The following essay aims to discuss and explore the different personalities and the key figures relating to hypnotherapy and the seminal works attached to this subject matter and the content and implications of these eminent and ground-breaking works. This essay will explore a number of characters identified within the course material and will be referenced by a range of academic sources. With regard to the key figures involved and their seminal works I shall be focusing on six of the known and identified individuals who have contributed heavily to the subjects of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.


As far back as 400BC Aristotle was one of the first to contemplate the human memory and the impact that this can play in affecting the behaviour and feelings of a person (Changing States, 2018); his view was said to have been more akin to that of a “modern psychologist than that of a modern philosopher” (Nussbaum and Rorty, 1995) and such notions were clearly ahead of his time. It is reported by Edge NLP (2018) that Aristotle was one of the “first to mention” the concept of “linear memory storage” and as such lay the cornerstone for what would develop into modern therapeutic hypnosis; in 1890 an American psychologist named William James went on to further develop these theorems and later in the 1970s this model gained further acknowledgement with its applications to neuro-linguistic programming.


Known perhaps more famously for his experiments with dogs, conditioning and animal behaviour, some of Pavlov’s works and experiments have come to lend themselves well to the theoretical development of the subject of therapeutic hypnosis (Das, 1958; Robertson, 2008). As Das (1958) highlights, Pavlov first developed a theory of hypnosis, perhaps the first that was “derived from physiological experiments”, which was hoped to shed light on the “hypnotic phenomena in human beings”. For his ground-breaking work and discoveries in this field (specifically with his work with canines) he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904 (Robertson, 2008); he proposed that the state of “relaxation induced in human hypnosis resembles the physiological phenomenon” he observed during his experiments with animals and in contrast to much of the subsequent literature concerning his theories”, he initiated his own discussions of conditioning and hypnotherapy in terms and language “which appeal to common sense observations from daily life”.


Developed from the seminal works of Pavlov an American psychologist named John Watson further developed the experiments of Pavlov, but instead focused more generally on the subject of such behaviours among human children, as well as animals and rodents (McLeod, 2014); he was a proponent of the ‘behavourist movement’ and supported the notion that the process of classical conditioning “was able to explain all aspects of human psychology”. Nowadays many, if not all of his experiments would have heavy ethical implications and could be considered as acts of cruelty, in particular with the case of the famous ‘Little Albert’ experiments (Cherry, 2017). He disagreed with other eminent psychologists within his field, and believed that human behaviour was driven by innate reactions, the result of conditioning rather than genetics (Watson and Rayner, 1920).


American born, Thorndike was a contemporary of Watson’s, who also studied the behaviour of animals and based many of his experiments on such subjects, including cats and felines (McLeod, 2007); he put forward the theory known as the “Law of Effect” which states that any behaviours which are followed by pleasant consequences are more likely to be repeated, whereas behaviours resulting in unpleasant consequences are likely to cease. In other words his approach was one of “trial and error”; however, it later became a useful model in the treatment and management of addiction and drug dependence (Changing States, 2018).


According to a web-based publication by Skews.Me (2018), Skinner, a graduate of Harvard in Psychology “fine tuned the art of human control” and referred to this model as “operant conditioning”; similar to the Thorndike’s “Law of Effect” (McLeod, 2007). Skinner recognised the importance of accuracy and constancy of conditions in his experiments and developed an instrumental tool in conditioning; the ‘Skinner Box’ was a device into which animals (particularly pigeons) could be contained and studied behaviourally through the use of different levers which provoked different senses and responses. He referred to such responses as either ‘reinforcers’, such as rewards of food or ‘punishments’, such as electric shocks (Changing States, 2018); he believed that all behaviour is purposeful; however some of his proponents viewed his models of behaviour as “too simplistic” when applied to humans.


Wolpe was born in South Africa and is most renowned for his work on ‘desensitisation’. He developed methods for treating those with extreme anxiety with use of an assessment tool to identify the anxieties of the patient using a “sliding gradient” to grade the levels of the patient (Changing States, 2018); Wolpe used his approach to treat casualties from World Ward 2 suffering with PTSD, where medical interventions had failed. After the war, he began experiments on cats. His objectives or main goals were to establish alternative and more effective responses to adverse stimuli through the use assertive relaxation, which was shown to reduce expectations of pain and discomfort (Hypnotherapy Directory, 2010). McLeod (2008) adds that ‘systematic desensitisation’ can be a slow and lengthy process, with evidence supporting the view that increased sessions over a longer-term tend to be more effective.

Conclusion and Summary

In conclusion, this course has provided the opportunity to explore the historical key figures and seminal works in relation to therapeutic hypnosis with a structured, detailed and academic approach to learning (Changing States, 2018). This has been thoroughly enjoyable and it has been interesting to familiarise myself with various considerations and factors relating to this subject and of learning more about the leading historical experts who lay the foundations for modern hypnotherapy and from which the related theories have been influenced and derived.

Word Count – 983.

Reference List

Changing States (2018) Behavioural Psychology Primer. [online] -http://www.changingstates.co.uk/behavioural_approaches.html Accessed on 31st March 2018.

Cherry, K. (2017) A Closer Look at the Famous Case of Little Albert. [online] - https://www.verywellmind.com/the-little-albert-experiment-2794994 Accessed 31st March 2018.

Das, J. (1958) The Pavlovian Theory of Hypnosis: An Evaluation. Journal of Mental Science. 104(434) p.82-90.

Edge NLP (2018) Time Line Therapy and Hypnosis Training. [online] - https://www.edgenlp.co.uk/training-courses/time-line-therapy/ Accessed 31st March 2018.

Hypnotherapy Directory (2010) Therapeutic intervention for Dental Phobia. [online] -https://www.hypnotherapy-directory.org.uk/hypnotherapist-articles/therapeutic-intervention-for-dental-phobia Accessed 1st April 2018.

McLeod, S. (2007) Edward Thorndike. [online] - https://simplypsychology.org/edward-thorndike.html Accessed 31st March 2018.

McLeod (2008) Systematic Desensitization. [online] - https://simplypsychology.org/Systematic-Desensitisation.html Accessed on 1st April 2018.

McLeod, S. (2014) Classical Conditioning. [online] - https://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html Accessed 31st March 2018.

Nussbaum, M. and Rorty, A. (1995) Essays on Aristotle's De Anima. Oxford Scholarship Online.

Register for Evidence-Based Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy (2008) Brief Introduction to Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy (CBH). [online] - http://rebhp.org/articles/Introduction.pdf Accessed on 1st April 2018.

Robertson, D. (2008) Pavlov & Hypnotic Sleep Therapy. [online] - https://www.ukhypnosis.com/2009/11/20/pavlov-and-soviet-hypnotherapy/ Accessed 31st March 2018.

Skews.Me (2018) Behavioral Conditioning. [online] - http://www.skewsme.com/behavior.html Accessed 1st April 2018.

Watson, J. and Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology (3) p.1-14.


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Hypnotherapy. Theories and their contribution to the practice of therapeutic hypnosis
Diploma in the Theory & Principles of Integrative Evidence-based Clinical Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy
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hypnotherapy, theories
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Timothy John Whittard (Author), 2018, Hypnotherapy. Theories and their contribution to the practice of therapeutic hypnosis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/476687


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