Before people subject themselves to hypnotherapy they are advised to learn as much about the process and about the chosen therapist as is necessary to feel comfortable. Rapport and trust are two key ingredients in making a potential hypnotherapy patient comfortable. Therapists should be open and willing to answer all questions regarding qualifications, expertise, and methods used. A well-qualified professional will not undertake the use of hypnosis without interviewing the patient to ascertain their level of understanding of the process. This is very important for two reasons. First, it allows the patient the opportunity to have questions answered and to develop some rapport with the therapist. Second, it is important for the therapist to know the patient's expectations since meeting these expectations will enhance the likelihood of success.
We have, however, come a long way from the days of Mesmer’s animal magnetism. The increasing interest in mindfulness meditation suggests that mainstream acceptance of the mind-body connection is growing. This year, two well-received books by serious science journalists, Marchant’s Cure, out in January, and Erik Vance’s Suggestible You, out this month, explore this territory — the demonstrable results of hypnosis, faith, and even magic — long dismissed as pseudoscience or explained away as the placebo effect. Just last month, NPR reported that placebo pills work even when people know they’re taking a placebo. “Those are real, biological changes underlying those differences in your symptoms,” Marchant told Science of Us earlier this year. It’s all in your mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Evidence from randomized controlled trials indicates that hypnosis, relaxation, and meditation techniques can reduce anxiety, particularly that related to stressful situations, such as receiving chemotherapy (see box). They are also effective for insomnia, particularly when the techniques are integrated into a package of cognitive therapy (including, for example, sleep hygiene). A systematic review showed that hypnosis enhances the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy for conditions such as phobia, obesity, and anxiety.
A trancelike state resembling sleep, usually induced by a therapist by focusing a subject's attention, that heightens the subject's receptivity to suggestion. The uses of hypnosis in medicine and psychology include recovering repressed memories, modifying or eliminating undesirable behavior (such as smoking), and treating certain chronic disorders, such as anxiety.
People who practice hypnotism in a clinical setting have long argued that the hypnotized patient enters an altered state of consciousness. Even if you’ve never undergone hypnotherapy, chances are you’ve experienced this state yourself. “It’s like getting so caught up in a good movie that you forget you’re watching a movie, and you enter the imagined world,” said Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist and the medical director of Stanford University’s Center for Integrative Medicine.
In person, this looks strange enough. “There are a lot of ways to go into this state, but one way is to count to three,” Spiegel explains. “On one, you do one thing — look up. Two, two things — slowly close your eyes and take a deep breath. And three, three things — let the breath out, keep your eyes relaxed, and keep them closed. Let your body float. And then let one hand or the other float up in the air like a balloon.” When in this state, the hypnotized person’s hand will rise up into the air, as if on its own accord; Spiegel can reach over and gently pull the hand down, but it will float right back up again, as if it’s filled with helium.
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.
Pierre Janet originally developed the idea of dissociation of consciousness from his work with hysterical patients. He believed that hypnosis was an example of dissociation, whereby areas of an individual's behavioural control separate from ordinary awareness. Hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind, and the individual would respond with autonomic, reflexive behaviour. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."
Jump up ^ Mauera, Magaly H.; Burnett, Kent F.; Ouellette, Elizabeth Anne; Ironson, Gail H.; Dandes, Herbert M. (1999). "Medical hypnosis and orthopedic hand surgery: Pain perception, postoperative recovery, and therapeutic comfort". International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 47 (2): 144–161. doi:10.1080/00207149908410027. PMID 10208075.
In 1974, Theodore X. Barber and his colleagues published a review of the research which argued, following the earlier social psychology of Theodore R. Sarbin, that hypnotism was better understood not as a "special state" but as the result of normal psychological variables, such as active imagination, expectation, appropriate attitudes, and motivation. Barber introduced the term "cognitive-behavioral" to describe the nonstate theory of hypnotism, and discussed its application to behavior therapy.