Mesmer developed a general theory of disease he called “animal magnetism,” which held that every living thing carries within it an internal magnetic force, in liquid form. Illness arises when this fluid becomes blocked, and can be cured if it can be coaxed to flow again, or so Mesmer’s thinking went. To get that fluid flowing, as science journalist Jo Marchant describes in her recent book, Cure, Mesmer “simply waved his hands to direct it through his patients’ bodies” — the origin of those melodramatic hand motions that stage hypnotists use today.”

Sometimes those shoulds and shouldn'ts seem to only take us so far, before we reach a seemingly insurmountable hurdle that even the strongest willpower just can't quite conquer. This is because we're trying to address these issues on a purely conscious level, which is similar to applying a bandaid over an internal wound. Sooner or later, we need to deal with the root cause.


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.
Tai chi is a gentle system of exercises originating from China. The best known example is the “solo form,” a series of slow and graceful movements that follow a set pattern. It is said to improve strength, balance, and mental calmness. Qigong (pronounced “chi kung”) is another traditional Chinese system of therapeutic exercises. Practitioners teach meditation, physical movements, and breathing exercises to improve the flow of Qi, the Chinese term for body energy.

“With hypnosis, you capture people’s attention. … You get people to turn to a more passive state of attention and to stop judging everything. To just let it happen,” Patterson said. “And when you do this, the amazing thing is that it’s as if you’re talking directly to the part of the brain that’s monitoring the reactions.” In his work, he ties suggestions of comfort to the daily practice of caring for burn wounds. “In burn care you know they’re going to pull off the bandages and then they’re going to start washing the wounds,” he explains. “The message is that when your wounds are washed, that will be the reminder of how comfortable you are.” The patient will often look like they’re asleep. “But if you ask them, ‘If you can still hear me, feel your head nod,’ almost always you’ll get that head nod,” he said. He’s seen this work for decades, but is so grateful for the recent advent of brain-imaging studies. They serve as evidence he can hold up to skeptics: See? Do you believe me now?
Since hypnotherapy is an adjunct form of therapy, used along with other forms of psychological or medical treatment, there are many applications. Hypnotherapy can be used to treat anxiety, phobias, substance abuse including tobacco, sexual dysfunction, undesirable spontaneous behaviors, and bad habits. It can be used to help improve sleep, learning disorders, communication, and relationship issues. Hypnotherapy can aid in pain management and help resolve medical conditions such as digestive disorders, skin issues, and gastrointestinal side effects of pregnancy and chemotherapy. It can also be used by dentists to help patients control their fears or to treat teeth grinding and other oral conditions.
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