What kinds of things come to mind when you think of hypnosis? For example, many people think of a clock-swinging magician or a comedy act that coerces an unwary volunteer to make humiliating public confessions on stage when they hear the term “clock-swinging.”
However, there is a surprising amount of scientific support for hypnosis. For example, clinical studies have indicated that it may be beneficial for relieving pain and anxiety and aiding in quitting smoking, losing weight, and sleeping better.
In addition, young children and teenagers may find it easier to control their emotions and actions as a result of using them. Some individuals can even employ a technique known as “self-hypnosis” to help them better manage stress, deal with the difficulties of everyday life, and enhance their physical and mental health.
How Hypnosis Works (According to Science)
According to Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University and the world’s preeminent researcher on hypnosis, the state of hypnosis produces.”an immersive experience without judgment.” However, it wasn’t until 1843 that the Scottish physician Dr. James Braid popularized the word “hypnosis.”
Braid’s core discovery—that focus may steer the brain into a more suggestible state—was and still is contentious. Hypnosis has been utilized in different ways for centuries. According to Spiegel, though, medical professionals have continued to practice and teach the method over the years with tremendous success.
A validated suggestibility scale is often used when a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other healthcare practitioner qualified in hypnotherapy is screening a new client to determine whether or not they are capable of being hypnotized. (Not everyone is sensitive to hypnosis in the same way, but studies have shown that around two-thirds of people are.)
First, the hypnotherapist will chat with them about what sensory experiences make them feel comfortable, such as a lakeside retreat or a beach vacation. The hypnotherapist may then conjure that picture to assist the individual further in the relaxing vision. For instance, the hypnotherapist may concentrate on the ocean’s salt spray, seagulls calling above, and sun-kissed skin. If everything is done correctly, the patient’s surroundings will fade away.
The end effect is a potent mix of dissociation, absorption, and receptivity to new sensations, which culminates in what was originally termed a “trance,” but what contemporary hypnotherapists simply refer to as a “hypnotic state.” Spiegel argues that this condition may be obtained in only a few minutes.
According to Steven Jay Lynn, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University, strategies like these may set the environment for a positive shift in a way most conducive to its success.
People are more receptive to the hypnotherapist’s recommendations while under the influence of hypnosis. These suggestions may advise the patient to distance themselves from a distressing event in their past or to picture a solution to their current issue. These shifts may trigger some individuals in as little as one or two hours during a session. For some people, hypnotherapy or self-hypnosis may be integral to their ongoing treatment for mental health conditions. According to Lynn, “consciousness can be altered in many different ways through hypnosis.”
Most individuals have no trouble entering or escaping this profound level of relaxation, which isn’t very difficult either. Spiegel compares it to a “flow state,” which is an altered state of consciousness in which a person gets so involved in a particular task that their attention narrows and their perception of time transforms.
In this condition, the person loses track of the passage of time. It’s also similar to what occurs during meditation, except that instead of teaching individuals to tune into the here and now, hypnosis makes people more open to suggestions so that they may be more easily influenced.
According to Spiegel, similar to the practice of meditation, many individuals can do hypnosis on their own. Reveri is a self-hypnosis software with a subscription model and layout similar to that of Calm or Headspace, which he helped build in the year 2020. A user has access to recordings that put them into a hypnotic state; once they are there, the user is provided with recommendations or words that steer them toward a goal that the individual sets before the session begins.
According to Spiegel, entering and departing these mental states is something we do all the time, but under hypnosis, you do it more often.
Imaging studies of the brain have shed some light on what goes on inside a person’s head when they are under hypnosis, but there is still a lot that is unknown. According to Spiegel, the activity in a brain region that normally helps individuals transition between activities becomes silent during hypnosis.
In addition, this same region seems to disconnect from another portion of the brain involved in self-reflection and daydreaming; this might be why hypnotized individuals do not worry about who they are or what they are doing. Researchers have also discovered that hypnosis may assist relax parts of the brain responsible for controlling autonomic activities such as the heart’s pace, blood flow, and breathing. Spiegel believes this is the most probable cause of bodily relaxation, a defining characteristic of hypnosis.
According to Lorenzo Cohen, head of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the most exciting current uses of hypnosis is in the operating room. Patients undergoing some procedures for localized breast cancer, such as lumpectomies, have the option of undergoing either general anesthesia or a localized anesthetic in conjunction with hypnotherapy at the clinic.
Cohen claims that patients who choose the second option stay completely awake during their procedure; nevertheless, a hypnotherapist assists them in entering a state of profound relaxation known as “hypnosedation” before the procedure begins. Cohen states that the local anesthetic should be “doing its thing” at this point. “Everything else is in your head,” he said.
According to Cohen, the practice of hypnosedation has been validated by more than thirty clinical experiments (who is also researching the practice). Cohen says that studies had shown that patients who received hypnosis before surgery experienced less preoperative anxiety, required less pain medication while undergoing surgery, and reported less postoperative pain intensity, nausea, fatigue, and discomfort than patients who opted for general anesthesia.
He explains that the theory is that the patients under general anesthesia, even if they are not aware, are experiencing an intensive stress reaction. “The hypothesis is that the patients under general anesthesia have an intense stress response.” This can dampen an immune system already impaired in cancer patients as a result of both the illness and the therapies for it. Cohen thinks that the body’s fight-or-flight reaction may be diminished when patients choose hypnosis as a treatment method.
Skeptics continue to exist despite the growing body of data supporting hypnosis. Even the best studies cannot meet the gold standard of a double-blind design, which Spiegel considers the most important quality in research. Randomized controlled trials have found that hypnosis can help with the pain and anxiety associated with various medical conditions. He points out that it is very hard to construct a research in which neither the patients nor the practitioners are aware that hypnosis is being provided. However, it is feasible to keep patients and practitioners in the dark about what drug they deliver or receive.
In addition, throughout history, the power of hypnosis has not always been used responsibly. It has been shown that the creative potential of hypnosis may produce false memories, sometimes with fatal results.  At least 27 states have passed legislation that makes it illegal for testimony obtained via hypnosis to be presented in court. By using this method, Lynn recommends that hypnotherapists steer clear of “recovering” memories.
But these significant effects can only be achieved when the hypnosis is performed by a qualified expert and done correctly. According to Spiegel, the capacity to be easily influenced by others is sometimes “viewed as a liability or a weakness,” but in reality, it is a strength.
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