How does hypnosis work? Here’s What Science Says

WWhen you think about hypnosis, what do you envision? For many, it’s a magician swinging a clock or a comedy that forces a volunteer to unintentionally embarrass the public to admit on stage.

But hypnosis has a surprisingly solid scientific framework. Clinical studies have shown that it can help reduce pain and worry and aid give up smoking, weight lossand sleep. It can help children and adolescents better regulate their emotions and behaviors. Some people may even use “self hypnosis“To manage stress, cope with life’s challenges, and improve their physical and emotional health.

Dr David Spiegel, a leading Stanford University psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, says hypnosis creates “a non-judgmental immersive experience”. It had been used in various forms over the centuries, but it was not until 1843 that Scottish surgeon Dr James Braid common the term “hypnosis.” Braid’s central discovery – that concentration can guide the brain to a more intelligible state – was and remains controversial. But doctors have continued to experiment and teach the technique over the centuries with great success, Spiegel said.

Today, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other health care professional certified in hypnotherapy will first screen a potential client for their likelihood of being hypnotized by using hypnotherapy. use suggestibility scale. (Not everyone is equally susceptible to hypnosis, but research has found that about 2/3 adults ) The hypnotherapist will talk to them about what kind of sensory experience makes them feel safe, such as a lakeside vacation or a beach vacation. The hypnotist will then conjure up that image — focusing, for example, on salt spray, seagulls chirping overhead, and sun-kissed skin — to help the person delve deeper into the soothing visualization. . If done correctly, the patient’s surroundings will disappear.

The result is a powerful combination about dissociation, immersion, and openness to new experiences, culminating in what was once called a “hypnotic trance,” but which modern hypnotists simply call “the trance state.” hypnosis”. Spiegel says you can get there in just a few minutes.

Such staging techniques can create the ideal stage for positive transformation, says psychology professor Steven Jay Lynn of Binghamton University. During hypnosis, people are more open to hypnotist’s suggestion, whether such people ask the patient to separate themselves from past painful experiences or to envision a solution to their problem. For some people, these changes can be catalyzed in a session lasting an hour or two. For others, hypnotherapy or self-hypnosis may be a regular part of their mental health care. “Hypnosis can change consciousness in many ways,” says Lynn.

This state of deep relaxation is not particularly difficult for most people. It is similar to a “Flow state”,” says Spiegel, or an altered state of consciousness in which a person is so immersed in a certain activity, their focus narrows and their sense of time changes. It’s also reminiscent of what happens during meditation, except that instead of training people to be in the present moment, hypnosis makes them more receptive to suggestions. Like practicing meditation, many people can do hypnosis on their own, says Spiegel. In 2020, he co-founded Reveri, a subscription-based self-hypnosis app structured like Calm or Headspace. Users can access recordings that guide them into a hypnotic trance, after which they are presented with suggestions or statements that lead them to a goal of their choice prior to the session. “We do it all the time,” says Spiegel of entering and exiting these mental states, “but in hypnosis you do so much more.”

Brain imaging studies have helped shed light on what goes on inside the hypnotized brain, although much remains a mystery. During hypnosis, activity in the area of ​​the brain that helps people switch between tasks silent, Spiegel said. The same area seems disconnect from another field responsible for self-reflection and daydreaming—which may be why hypnotized people don’t worry about who they are or what they’re doing. Researchers have also found that hypnosis can calm areas of the brain that help control autonomous function such as heart rate, blood flow and breathing rate. Spiegel says this may be what leads to physical relaxation, a telltale sign of hypnosis.

One of the most interesting modern applications of hypnosis is in the operating room, Lorenzo Cohen, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. For some localized breast cancer surgeries, specifically for tumors, the center allows patients to choose between general or local anesthesia and hypnotherapy. Those who choose the latter option remain fully awake during the surgery, but the hypnotherapist will first help them enter a state of deep relaxation, or “hypnosis,” said Cohen. “Local [anesthesia] Cohen said. “The rest is in your head.”

Cohen (who is also working on the method) says more than 30 clinical trials have confirmed the use of hypnosis. Studies have shown that people who are hypnotized undergo surgery less often worrynecessary analgesic during surgery, and less reported after surgery pain intensityMore nausea, fatigue, and discomfort, Cohen said, were common among those who chose general anesthesia. “The hypothesis is that patients under general anesthesia, even when they are not awake, are having a violent stress response,” he said. This can stop an immune system that, in cancer patients, is already compromised by the disease and its treatments. When patients choose hypnosis, Cohen believes the body’s fight-or-flight response can be reduced.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, hypnosis is not without skeptics. Randomized controlled trials have found that hypnosis can help reduce pain and anxiety associated with a range of medical conditions, but even the best studies fail to meet the gold standard of double-blind design, says Spiegel. Although patients and practitioners can be kept private about what medication they are taking or receiving, it is virtually impossible to design a study in which neither party is aware of the hypnotherapy being performed. he added.

And historically, the power of hypnosis has not always been used responsibly. The imaginative potential of hypnosis has been shown to create false memories – sometimes with devastating effects. At least 27 states Prohibited from appearing hypnotized testimonies in court. Lynn says hypnotists should avoid using this technique to “recover” memories.

But when conducted by a properly trained and applied professional, modern hypnotherapy can be powerfully effective. “Suggestion insensitivity is often ‘regarded as a responsibility or a weakness,'” says Spiegel, “but it’s actually a strength.”

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