Hypnosis -- or hypnotherapy -- uses guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person's attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. In this naturally occurring state, a person may focus his or her attention -- with the help of a trained therapist -- on specific thoughts or tasks.
Hypnotherapy is used in a number of fields including psychotherapy, surgery, dentistry, research, and medicine. Hypnotherapy is commonly used as an alternative treatment for a wide range of health conditions, including weight control, pain management, and smoking cessation. It is also used to control pain in a variety of conditions such as headache, facial neuralgia, arthritis, burns, musculoskeletal disorders, childbirth, and many more. Hypnotherapy is being used in place of anesthesia, particularly in patients who prove to be allergic to anesthetic drugs, for surgeries such as hysterectomies, cesarean sections, certain cardiovascular procedures, thyroidectomy, and others. Dentistry is using hypnotherapy with success on patients who are allergic to all types of novocaine drugs. Hypnotherapy is also useful in helping patients overcome phobias.
Hypnosis is not a unitary state and therefore should show different patterns of EEG activity depending upon the task being experienced. In our evaluation of the literature, enhanced theta is observed during hypnosis when there is task performance or concentrative hypnosis, but not when the highly hypnotizable individuals are passively relaxed, somewhat sleepy and/or more diffuse in their attention.
Hypnosis has long been considered a valuable technique for recreating and then studying puzzling psychological phenomena. A classic example of this approach uses a technique known as posthypnotic amnesia (PHA) to model memory disorders such as functional amnesia, which involves a sudden memory loss typically due to some sort of psychological trauma (rather than to brain damage or disease). Hypnotists produce PHA by suggesting to a hypnotized person that after hypnosis he will forget particular things until he receives a “cancellation,” such as “Now you can remember everything.” PHA typically only happens when it is specifically suggested and it is much more likely to occur in those with high levels of hypnotic ability, or “high hypnotizable” people. Now a new study shows that this hypnotic state actually influences brain activity associated with memory.
Hypnotherapy involves achieving a psychological state of awareness that is different from the ordinary state of consciousness. While in a hypnotic state, a variety of phenomena can occur. These phenomena include alterations in memory, heightened susceptibility to suggestion, paralysis, sweating, and blushing. All of these changes can be produced or removed in the hypnotic state. Many studies have shown that roughly 90% of the population is capable of being hypnotized.
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.
This finding—that PHA temporarily disrupted some people’s ability to recall the past—echoes decades of hypnosis research. What is entirely new in Mendelsohn et al.’s study is their demonstration that PHA was associated with a specific pattern of brain activation. Consistent with what normally occurs in remembering, when people in the non-PHA group performed the recognition task and successfully remembered what happened in the movie, fMRI showed high levels of activity in areas responsible for visualizing scenes (the occipital lobes) and for analyzing verbally presented scenarios (the left temporal lobe). In stark contrast, when people in the PHA group performed the recognition task and failed to remember the content of the movie, fMRI showed little or no activity in these areas. Also, fMRI showed enhanced activity in another area (the prefrontal cortex) responsible for regulating activity in other brain areas.
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the induction of a specific altered state (trance) for memory retrieval, relaxation, or suggestion. Hypnotherapy is often used to alter habits (e.g., smoking, obesity), treat biological mechanisms such as hypertension or cardiac arrhythmias, deal with the symptoms of a disease, alter an individual's reaction to disease, and affect an illness and its course through the body.
Research on the effectiveness of hypnotherapy on a variety of medical conditions is extensive. In one study, the use of hypnotherapy did not seem to alter the core symptoms in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); however, it did seem to be useful in managing the associated symptoms including sleep disturbances and tics.
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Contemporary hypnotism uses a variety of suggestion forms including direct verbal suggestions, "indirect" verbal suggestions such as requests or insinuations, metaphors and other rhetorical figures of speech, and non-verbal suggestion in the form of mental imagery, voice tonality, and physical manipulation. A distinction is commonly made between suggestions delivered "permissively" and those delivered in a more "authoritarian" manner. Harvard hypnotherapist Deirdre Barrett writes that most modern research suggestions are designed to bring about immediate responses, whereas hypnotherapeutic suggestions are usually post-hypnotic ones that are intended to trigger responses affecting behaviour for periods ranging from days to a lifetime in duration. The hypnotherapeutic ones are often repeated in multiple sessions before they achieve peak effectiveness.
“That study changed the whole landscape,” said Dave Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been using hypnosis since the 1980s to help burn victims withstand the intense pain that comes with the necessary but excruciating bandage removal and wound cleaning. Since the ’90s, other well-designed, controlled studies have been published showing similar changes in brain activity. In another slightly trippy example, researchers suggested to people in a hypnotic state that the vibrant primary colors found in paintings by Piet Mondrian were actually shades of gray. “Brain-scan results of these participants showed altered activity in fusiform regions involved in color processing,” notes psychologist Christian Jarrett.
Before long, hypnotism started finding its way into the world of modern medicine. The use of hypnotism in the medical field was made popular by surgeons and physicians like Elliotson and James Esdaille and researchers like James Braid who helped to reveal the biological and physical benefits of hypnotism. According to his writings, Braid began to hear reports concerning various Oriental meditative practices soon after the release of his first publication on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). He first discussed some of these oriental practices in a series of articles entitled Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered. He drew analogies between his own practice of hypnotism and various forms of Hindu yoga meditation and other ancient spiritual practices, especially those involving voluntary burial and apparent human hibernation. Braid's interest in these practices stems from his studies of the Dabistān-i Mazāhib, the "School of Religions", an ancient Persian text describing a wide variety of Oriental religious rituals, beliefs, and practices.
In 2007, a meta-analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the therapeutic effect of hypnotherapy was "superior to that of a waiting list control or usual medical management, for abdominal pain and composite primary IBS symptoms, in the short term in patients who fail standard medical therapy", with no harmful side-effects. However the authors noted that the quality of data available was inadequate to draw any firm conclusions.