Randomised Controlled Trials in Hypnosis
The gold standard for testing a clinical intervention, drug or some kind of psychological effect is the randomised controlled study, ideally double blind.
What these terms mean:
Randomised: candidates are randomly allocated to test groups so that the testers cannot unconsciously affect the results by selecting candidates that match their preconceived ideas about how the experiment will go.
Controlled: there is at least one group of candidates who are not given any meaningful intervention, so that we can be reasonably sure that if a significant effect is observed among those tested, it isn’t something that would have happened anyway.
Double Blind: both the candidates and the people administering the test don’t know the true purpose of the test or whether they are in the control group or a group that is receiving the actual test.
These ideas work well for testing something like a pill, because the researchers can be set up to supply a pill not knowing if it is the real medicine or an empty capsule for example.
But for hypnotism double blind testing is next to impossible. How can you try a test on a random group while hypnotising some and not others? Those being hypnotised will surely know it.
Also hypnosis is not an exact science, nor especially well understood. Most practitioners use a mixture of skill, experience and art to work with an individual to induce them into a trance state. The exact same approach does not seem to work for all people, and a good practitioner will tailor their approach to get a good result with most candidates. It is hard to create an experiment where every candidate receives the same hypnotic experience to allow an intervention to be compared.
Even so it is possible to set up meaningful experiments of certain kinds. For example one could take 200 smokers, and ask 100 to give up smoking using only will power, and provide the other 100 with hypnosis and see if the outcomes are better or worse over time. Not perfect, but not entirely invalid.
Another option is to hypnotise all 200, but only offer relevant suggestions to 100, and talk about the weather with the rest.
When conducted this way it has been found that hypnosis is a useful support for those wanting to give up smoking. But it is not magic, nor is it better for many people than other alternatives such as nicotine patches or counselling. It is simply another option to consider.
The results for hypnosis in the treatment of warts however are astonishing and to my mind a little freaky. Because it has been shown to have positive effects on curing warts in children. I was very skeptical but the experiments seem legit. More on this later.