Hypnotherapy, while thought of by some as something non-scientific, is a regulated, legitimate form of therapy that can both explore and use a person’s subconscious to better help them through psychotherapy, and also act as a method of therapy that helps relieve a person of symptoms and problems they are afflicted with. Hypnotherapy has proven to be extremely effective in cases with patients suffering from pain and addiction.
Trance is commonplace. People fall into traces many times without even being aware that it happened. Examples of this are: reaching the destination of a morning commute, but not recalling the passing of familiar landmarks; daydreaming while sitting in a college classroom; or that anxiety-free state achieved just before going to sleep. The difference between these altered states and clinically used hypnotherapy is that a professionally trained person is involved in helping the patient achieve the trance, which can be done in many ways.
In the brain, this state looks stranger still. A landmark study in the prestigious journal Science in the late 1990s, led by Pierre Rainville of the University of Montreal, described a study in which hypnotized people briefly placed their left hand in either painfully hot water, heated to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or room-temperature water. Some of them had been told that they would be experiencing pain, but that they wouldn’t be very bothered by it — if, on a scale of one to ten, the hurt would normally register at an eight, they’d feel it as if it were a four. As all the participants placed their hands in the 116-degree water, their brains were scanned. The results were clear: Those who had been told that the pain would be less intense showed less activity in their brains — specifically, in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain processing.
It is used for a wide variety of applications, and studies into its efficacy are often of poor quality which makes it difficult to determine efficacy. Several recent meta-analyses and systematic reviews of the literature on various conditions have concluded that the efficacy of hypnotherapy is "not verified", that there is no evidence or insufficient evidence for efficacy.
But for the comparison between PHA and functional amnesia to be most meaningful, we need to know that they share underlying processes. One way to test this is to identify the brain activity patterns associated with PHA. In a groundbreaking study published in Neuron, neuroscientist Avi Mendelsohn and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute in Israel did just that using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They carefully selected 25 people to participate in their experiment. Although all were susceptible to hypnosis, earlier testing had shown that half could respond to a PHA suggestion (labelled “the PHA group”) and half could not (the “non-PHA group”). In the Study session of their experiment, participants watched a 45-minute movie. One week later, in the Test session, participants returned to the laboratory and were hypnotized while they lay within the fMRI scanner. During hypnosis, people in both the PHA and non-PHA groups received a suggestion to forget the movie until they heard a specific cancellation cue.
In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you'll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you'll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it's all imaginary. Essentially, you're "playing pretend" on an intense level, as kids do.
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The therapy is commonly used as an aid to psychotherapy due to the relaxed nature brought on by the hypnotic state that allows people to explore painful and suppressed feelings and emotions or memories that are often hidden from their conscious minds. This change in consciousness can often lead patients to experience things differently outside of hypnosis, such as criticism at work or home, stage fright, or even pain.
Hypnotherapy can have negative outcomes. When used as entertainment, people have been hypnotized to say or do things that would normally embarrass them. There have been instances where people already dangerously close to psychological breakdown have been pushed into an emotional crisis during what was supposed to be a harmless demonstration of hypnosis. A statement from the World Hypnosis Organization (WHO) warns against performing hypnosis on patients suffering from psychosis, organic psychiatric conditions, or antisocial personality disorders. Because there are no standard licensing requirements, in the wrong hands, there is a risk that the hypnotist will have difficulty in controlling or ending a hypnotic state that has been induced in the patient.
The experience of hypnosis can vary dramatically from one person to another. Some hypnotized individuals report feeling a sense of detachment or extreme relaxation during the hypnotic state while others even feel that their actions seem to occur outside of their conscious volition. Other individuals may remain fully aware and able to carry out conversations while under hypnosis.
The Mitchell method involves adopting body positions that are opposite to those associated with anxiety (fingers spread rather than hands clenched, for example). In autogenic training, patients concentrate on experiencing physical sensations, such as warmth and heaviness, in different parts of their bodies in a learned sequence. Other methods encourage the use of diaphragmatic breathing that involves deep and slow abdominal breathing coupled with a conscious attempt to let go of tension during exhalation.
The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep the eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of that one object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted: They will shortly begin to dilate, and, after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object toward the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion. If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried towards the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed, in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above the eyes. In general, it will be found, that the eyelids close with a vibratory motion, or become spasmodically closed.
He also believed that hypnosis was a "partial sleep", meaning that a generalised inhibition of cortical functioning could be encouraged to spread throughout regions of the brain. He observed that the various degrees of hypnosis did not significantly differ physiologically from the waking state and hypnosis depended on insignificant changes of environmental stimuli. Pavlov also suggested that lower-brain-stem mechanisms were involved in hypnotic conditioning.
Jump up ^ Does a genetic programming of the brain occur during paradoxical sleep (1978) by M Jouvet in editors; Buser, Pierre A.; Rougeul-Buser, Arlette (1978). Cerebral correlates of conscious experience : proceedings of an international symposium on cerebral correlates of conscious experience, held in Senanque Abbey, France, on 2-8 august 1977. New York: North-Holland. ISBN 978-0-7204-0659-7.
Although there are different techniques, clinical hypnotherapy is generally performed in a calm, therapeutic environment. The therapist will guide you into a relaxed, focused state and ask you to think about experiences and situations in positive ways that can help you change the way you think and behave. Unlike some dramatic portrayals of hypnosis in movies, books, or on stage, you will not be unconscious, asleep, or in any way out of control of yourself. You will hear the therapist’s suggestions, but it is up to you to decide whether or not to act on them.