Millions of people have a bad idea and a negative mental image of hypnosis. They see it as a dishonest practice that is no better than deception.
Others view it as a dangerous practice that involves taking control of someone’s mind and making them do whatever someone wants.
However, recent studies have proven hypnosis to be a useful brain improvement method whose benefits go as far as helping people overcome certain health issues.
This beginner’s guide to hypnosis aims to clarify what hypnosis really is and how it actually works.
What is Hypnosis
Hypnosis is seen as a waking state of consciousness or awareness where the attention of the person being hypnotized is soaked up by inner experiences like imagery, feelings, and cognition and thereby making the person disconnected from their environment through that hypnotic period (1).
It induces a deep state of trance that involves high levels of attention and concentration, relaxation and calmness and openness to suggestions.
The person being hypnotized is guided to this state by the clinician and helped to deal with the aspects of their lives they desire to change.
Using mental imagery or verbal guidance, the clinician or hypnotist or hypnotherapist creates a hypnotic reality for the patient in a way that what is being imagined by the patient feels real.
When you are in a hypnotic state, you appear to be sleepy with complete loss of concentration and focus, but in the real sense, you get into a state of hyper-awareness.
We get into trance-like states almost every day. Some of the instances that indicate this state include when you are lost in thought or when you are daydreaming, when you get lost in an interesting story you are reading from a novel, when you are praying or sometimes when you are meditating, when you are doing something creative or when you are undertaking a task that you are used to doing.
History of Hypnosis
Hypnosis can be traced back to the 18th Century where a physician known as Franz Mesmer was believed to have used hypnosis to help people manage their health conditions.
However, Mesmer did not believe that it was the current understanding of hypnosis that helped him do that. He had other questionable beliefs and perspectives based on mysticism that made people doubt the practice.
However, as time went by, people became more interested in the science of the practice.
In the 19th Century, the practice became useful in psychology and Jean-Martin Charcot used it in treating hysteria in women.
Through the years, hypnosis has attracted many researchers and scientists and many theories of its mechanism of action have been formulated.
How Hypnosis Works
The general idea of hypnosis, according to the movies and entertainment industry, is that it is a good control strategy for another person’s mind.
Most people heard about hypnosis for the first time through the media, which paints the method as something magical, dangerous, mysterious, and deceptive, which is not really the case.
Hypnosis is one of the most effective methods used to access the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind is known to be part of the mind that holds our habits, concepts, and beliefs about different areas of our lives.
Bad habits and wrong perspectives about life are what hold us back from being the kind of people we desire to be. They make it hard for us to let go of negative thought patterns and behaviors that weigh us down.
Through hypnosis, we are able to get to this part of the mind and have the ability to change the physical, mental and emotional aspects of these areas for the better and for our own good.
Hypnosis is not a therapy itself. Instead, it is a tool used for therapy, mostly psychotherapy, in helping patients get to experience and believe what is possible for them to realize in their lives.
Everything that happens from when someone is hypnotized to when they get out of the hypnotic state has not been fully understood.
Although, there have been numerous studies that have been done through brain imaging that help us begin to understand what actually happens.
One of these studies is a study that was carried out by Stanford School of medicine with the help of 57 participants, some of whom were highly hypnotizable while the others weren’t (8).
Some of them were given prerecorded hypnosis sessions and observed through the brain imaging machine. The results showed that there are 3 main regions of the brain that were influenced.
The first region is the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, that handles the assessment of the state of affairs. This part is responsible for determining the things that are worth worrying about and those that aren’t.
There was reduced activity in this area which showed that when we are hypnotized we don’t really judge the things we should be involved and those that we shouldn’t.
The second affected area is the region of the brain associated with self-consciousness.
The study revealed that we become less self-conscious when we are hypnotized and we can easily do the things we wouldn’t normally do when we are not hypnotized which would often make us self-conscious.
The third part includes the regions of the brain that are linked to identifying and separating thoughts from feelings.
The participants who were hypnotized demonstrated better abilities in separating their feelings from their thoughts. This showed that it is possible to picture stressful and depressing thoughts while still imagining having a good balance of sensations and feelings.
The hypnotic state is likened to the meditative state, however, there are clear differences between meditation and hypnosis and the mental state each induces.
Types of Hypnosis
There are many different types of hypnosis. Some of them include:
1. Self-hypnosis – This is the type of hypnosis where someone induces the state of hypnosis within themselves with the aim of improving an aspect of their life. Hypnosis is among the most popular tools for self-improvement.
2. Guided hypnosis – This is a type of hypnosis where an expert practitioner in hypnosis guides a person into the hypnotic state when they are either physically present with the patient or through prerecorded hypnosis tapes, videos or audio files. Music is also used in this type of hypnosis. Many online hypnosis programs use this type.
3. Hypnotherapy – This is a type of hypnosis that is used in psychotherapy in treating and managing various health conditions such as pain, anxiety, eating disorders, and depression.
Benefits of Hypnosis
Hypnosis has proven to be a good intervention for controlling and treating certain medical conditions and health issues. Some of the areas that it has proven effective include:
1. Treating migraines – Research studies have shown that hypnosis is a good treatment for headaches and migraines since it has all the features of a well-established treatment, considering also that it doesn’t have side effects (9).
2. Managing sleep disorders – With the help of suggestions that are based on self-control and relaxation, hypnosis has shown its ability to control sleep disorders that mostly affect children such as insomnia, sleep terror, sleepwalking and nightmares (10)(11).
3. Controlling clinical pain – Hypnosis has also been found to have pain-relieving abilities that can help ease the pain for patients who experience it after they have undergone surgery. It is also believed that hypnosis can help relieve childbirth pain for mothers, although there is very little evidence to support that (12)(13)(14).
4. Facilitating smoking cessation – A couple of studies that have been published by the NCCIH have shown that hypnosis may be a good way to help people stop smoking, although there have been mixed results from the studies (15)(16)(17)(18).
5. Relieving symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – A study on the long term benefits of hypnotherapy concluded that it is a viable therapeutic option for treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome as the positive effects of it appear to go for as long as 5 years (19).
Self-hypnosis has become quite popular as a way to boost and improve upon certain aspects such as dropping bad habits and taking up more pleasing and beneficial ones that enhance the overall quality of our lives.
While these available self-hypnosis techniques are helping those who use them, experts on hypnosis recommend using moderate levels of suggestibility for them to be as effective as they can be.
Also, they can make a good supplement to clinical therapies when done at home.
How Hypnosis is Carried Out
Studies have shown that some people are easily hypnotizable while others are not. And the brains of those who are easily hypnotized differ from the others (20).
That is why it is always important to determine where you lie between these two categories.
When you visit a hypnotist or hypnotherapist, you will be taken through the basic and essential aspects of a hypnosis session.
You will also be given a chance to share what problem you want to handle and the kind of outcomes you look forward to.
With that, the clinician will come up with a hypnosis method that matches your needs and goals.
There are many types of hypnosis and approaches to a hypnosis session.
According to WebMD, here are 2 methods of approach (21).
* Analysis – This is a method that is made use of to discover the root psychological cause of the symptom or health issue you are having. Relaxation is used to make this possible. Once the cause has been established, it is handled in psychotherapy.
* Suggestion therapy – This is where suggestions are used. The mind, when hypnotized, becomes more open to suggestions and the clinician can use this advantage to drop different negative behaviors and take up better ones such as quitting smoking and stopping nail-biting. It is also used to manage pain by improving sensations and perception through the suggestions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Hypnosis
Question: Is hypnosis dangerous?
Answer: Hypnosis is considered generally safe when done by a well-trained and qualified clinician. There are barely any dangers, risks, or side effects associated with it.
Although, due to our different body and brain chemistry, some people might experience some side effects which include headache, a bit of anxiety, dizziness, and drowsiness.
Hypnosis that is based on retrieving memories though has not been fully approved as a medical option since there are a lot of contrasting reports on it.
And those who use it have higher chances of experiencing the distressing side effects. There is also a possibility for them to make up false memories.
Question: Does hypnosis work or is it just placebo?
Answer: Studies have shown that there are noticeable differences in the brain of a person who is hypnotized which shows that there is usually an activity that is happening in the brain when under hypnosis. This goes to show that the brain does respond to hypnosis in a much bigger way than the placebo effect.
Question: How many hypnosis sessions are needed for a complete change?
Answer: It depends. You may be required to go for a few sessions, about 4 or 5. After those sessions, the clinician will assess how you have responded and you will then have to discuss the need for more sessions or the maintenance sessions.
Question: What is the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?
Answer: There is no actual difference between the two terms. They are more related than most people think. Hypnosis is a tool that is used in therapies such as psychotherapy. Hypnotherapy is, now, where hypnosis is being used in the therapies.
Ideally, hypnosis doesn’t have to be used in therapies but when it is used, it becomes hypnotherapy.
Question: Is it advisable to use hypnosis programs on the internet?
Answer: It depends. Most of the hypnosis programs online have not been made by professionals. If you are going to use them, make sure you do your due diligence and find the ones that have been created by professionals who have been trained and certified.
Question: Is hypnosis a recommended practice by health professionals?
Answer: There are conflicting opinions about the power and effectiveness of hypnosis in health improvement. Some doctors believe that it is in fact a reliable option while others shy away from it.
Even though recent studies are giving more and more proof that it is an efficient therapeutic tool, some doctors still haven’t fully bought into it.
Question: What are some of the common myths about hypnosis?
Answer: Here are some of the popular myths about hypnosis:
* Hypnosis is like sleep – While being hypnotized, you might look like you are asleep but you are not. You have just entered a deep state of relaxation and hyper-awareness and you may show qualities of sleep such as being limp and having a slower rate of breathing, but you are not really sleeping.
* You are always truthful when you are hypnotized – This is not necessarily the case. Even when hypnotized, you still get to keep your moral judgment and free will. Yes, you will be given suggestions, but you can only say that which you want to say. That power remains with you.
* Anyone out there can be hypnotized – Not everyone can be hypnotized. There are those who are more likely to be hypnotized and those that are less likely. Only about 10% of the population is believed to be easily hypnotized. The others are less likely to enter the state of trance in hypnosis (22).
Question: What are the tips to keep in mind when working with hypnosis?
Answer: Some of the helpful tips to remember as you work with hypnosis are:
– Always make sure the hypnotist or hypnotherapist who is doing hypnosis on you is qualified and certified by the relevant authorities and is experienced in it.
– To have a smoother experience with hypnosis, it is recommended that you see it in a positive way since that will make you have a better response to it and have rewarding results.
– It is also worth noting that the experience of hypnosis differs from one person to another, which means you may not necessarily experience what your friend experienced from their previous session, even if you go to the same hypnotist and have the same method applied to your case.
In summary, hypnosis has always been painted badly by the media. Mostly, entertainers who use hypnosis to make people do things that are not pleasant have made people fear and be skeptical about its true medical abilities.
Hypnosis, however, is a practice that comes with various health benefits such as dealing with insomnia and pain among others, if properly used.
That is why you are advised to work with qualified, certified, and experienced hypnotherapists and hypnotists for better results if you want to make use of it.