We’ve all seen the stage acts where the performer tries to put an audience participant into a trance. You can hear the words “You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy,” almost as if on cue. The chances are that it may be the only experience you’ve had with hypnotism. You may still wonder, is hypnosis real, or is it only a plant in the audience faking it?
The history of hypnotism and similar forms of self-hypnosis goes back to the Ancients. Think of meditation and its altered state of consciousness. Those practices go back to Persia and even the Early Greeks, who realized the power of the mind. Fast forward to the 1700s and the work of German physician Franz Mesmer and the so-called mesmerism.
Mesmer theorized that all living things possessed an animal magnetism or life force in which one could control the flow of this magnetic fluid as a cure for various complaints. Mesmer believed that the way to an ultimate treatment involved inducing a crisis in the patient. It would stimulate a response that supposedly brought relief. People flocked to the German physician with renewed hopes for a cure.
What Mesmer had discovered was the power of the mind over the body. If someone thought a treatment had possibilities, their mind could make it happen, at least for subjective matters. Nevertheless, Mesmer’s work inspired other medical practitioners who took it to the next level for both good and bad.
By this time, animal magnetism hit the show circuit with demonstrations of its power to control and manipulate the minds of others. Many viewed it skeptically, such as Dr. James Braid. After seeing a show, he dismissed the notion of magnetism but saw something else in practice. Braid decided to use self-experimentation to determine if there was a way to create this state of mind without an operator.
Using his “upwards and inwards squint” induction method, Braid could self-hypnotize himself and put others in a similar state. He referred to this practice as hypnosis. The process of a patient focusing their attention on an object induces relaxation to a profound level. Braid had opened the door to a new way to treat psychological and possibly physical conditions using hypnosis and its effects on the brain.
Using focused attention is something you may do or witness without even knowing it. Think of the athlete visualizing a victory, or you imagining reaching a significant milestone in your life. You are creating the same effects in a less structured way. You are influencing your mind to get your body to act in a specific manner.
Of course, hypnosis has a severe image problem, given its mockery on stage and TV. However, researchers continued to explore this method to find ways to harness its efficacy. It became clear that not everyone responds to hypnosis in the same way. One of the early means of trying to assess patients was the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales developed in the 1950s.
This series of 12 tests analyze whether someone is under hypnosis. It includes a script for the operator to prepare the patient, starting with suggesting acting out the feelings of being in this state. It starts by letting your head fall to your chest and imagining it happening. It ends with the subject waking and touching their left ankle after hearing a tapping sound. Scoring depends on how much the patient recalls.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recognized the validity of using hypnosis therapy in various applications. One exciting area of research involves pain management. A study looked at the effects of a pre-surgical hypnosis session on breast cancer patients. It includes imagery and suggestions for managing their discomfort. Participants reported less pain and spent less time in surgery.
However, hypnosis therapy can be efficacious with other health conditions, too. Research by the University of Gothenburg found that hypnotherapy helped relieve symptoms in 40 percent of patients with irritable bowel syndrome with weekly sessions. The results also provided compelling evidence of long-term relief for these individuals.
Understanding how hypnosis affects the brain is the key to therapeutically finding more ways to use it. Researchers from the Stanford University Medical Center used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the difference in blood flow in the brain in patients who could undergo hypnosis versus a control group who could not.
The fMRI data showed three areas affected those influenced by hypnosis. The three collectively involved creating a keen focus on brain-body connection and what some call the flow state. These changes are what a person under hypnosis would typically feel when in this relaxed state. The findings provided concrete proof that hypnosis changed brain activity.
This knowledge provides additional uses for hypnotherapy. A study by Baylor University looked at using hypnosis with another effective mental health technique, mindfulness. Participants self-identified as being highly stressed at the start of the invention. The therapy involved using mindfulness with daily self-hypnosis sessions for eight weeks. Nearly 90 percent reported improved well-being.
While the sample size was small, these findings highlight the possibility of using hypnosis therapy for other mental health issues, such as anxiety, low self-esteem, and even dementia. However, hypnotism still has hurdles to overcome.
Hypnosis has dealt with its tarnished reputation caused by its exploitation. Unfortunately, it has taken other equally worrisome paths. Charlatans have touted it as a miracle cure for various afflictions, from repressed memories to a miracle smoking cessation remedy. Best applications.
Does Hypnotism really work? Yes. Science has learned that these techniques can affect the brain positively, opening new ways to treat a host of conditions, from pain to stress to depression. While not everyone can benefit from hypnotherapy, many can, offering new hope for a better quality of life