As the famous psychologist Professor Hans Eysenck stated, “Very few topics in the whole history of mankind have given rise to so many absurdities, misunderstandings, and misconceptions.”
There are many myths about hypnosis, mostly coming from stage and media presentations, however, setting aside pop culture clichés, hypnosis is a well-studied and legitimate form of treatment for conditions ranging from obesity and pain to anxiety and stress. The word “hypnosis” has many connotations: for some people, it conjures up visions of a stage entertainer who uses hypnosis to make volunteers behave foolishly for the audience’s amusement. At the other extreme are those who, in our self-help era, see hypnosis as a quick and easy cure-all for their problems, from smoking to chronic back pain. Hypnosis is neither a tool to control others’ minds nor a panacea. It is, rather, a natural phenomenon that helps people harness their inner resources to improve their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
The ability to hypnotize or to be hypnotized is latent in everyone. Hypnosis can be naturally induced without a formal induction procedure and is part of everyday human existence. When we become so absorbed in a book or a film that we are oblivious to external stimuli, we have put ourselves in a light hypnotic trance. When a mother kisses a child’s hurt to “make it better,” she is using the principle of hypnotic suggestion. In a clinical setting, these principles are applied in such a way that their effects are heightened and directed to specific problems.
Clinical hypnosis is entering a modern renaissance. In 1955, the British Medical Association formally approved hypnosis as a valid and supported therapeutic technique. In 1958, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association sanctioned its use in treatment. Research continues to explore the brain functioning in hypnosis and to support its efficacy and ways for it to be used more widely and effectively in clinical settings. We now know that hypnosis works by modulating activity in brain regions associated with focused attention, and several studies offer compelling new details regarding neural capacity for hypnosis.
When hypnotized, a patient is not asleep (recurrent misunderstanding) but in a state of relaxed attentive alert, able to hear, speak, move around, and think. The electroencephalogram (EEG) of a hypnotized person is that of someone who is awake rather than asleep. Reflexes, such as the knee jerk, which are absent during sleep, are present under hypnosis. It is common for persons who have achieved a light trance to argue that they haven’t been hypnotized at all.
“While most people fear losing control in hypnosis, it is in fact a means of enhancing mind-body control,” Prof. D. Spiegel (Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine) says. Instead of allowing pain, anxiety or other unhelpful states to run the show, hypnosis helps people to exert more control over their thoughts and perceptions. How does hypnosis do this? Spiegel’s research has shown it can act on multiple brain regions, including some linked to pain perception and regulation. Hypnosis has also been found to quiet parts of the brain involved in sensory processing and emotional response.
Hypnosis is not an otherworldly phenomenon, but a natural, fascinating, and valuable resource available to each of us.
Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Transactional Analyst &