THE RESEARCH: THE STATE OF MIND TECHNIQUES
IT USED TO BE that hypnosis was considered at worst, quackery, and at best, a silly party trick. You probably know the old image of a magician swinging a big gold pocket watch, putting an unsuspecting volunteer in a trance and getting him to crawl around on all fours barking like a dog. And that's before the sangria. But that sketchy past is quickly being eclipsed by mounting evidence that hypnosis has real and powerful effects on your health and wellbeing.
Liz Ainger knows. She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 40 years. She was well aware of the toll it was taking on her health; her mother, also a heavy smoker, had been forced to limit her activities late in life because of chronic shortness of breath. Fearful that she would suffer the same fate, Liz made numerous attempts to kick her habit, using nicotine patches, anti-smoking drugs, acupuncture, nicotine chewing gum, even electric shock therapy. None of that worked.
Then, at age 65, Liz decided to give hypnosis a try. She had one session with a hypnotherapist and hasn't smoked a cigarette in the four years since. "The weird part," Liz says, "is that I don't even crave it anymore."
As fantastical as Liz's story sounds, successful outcomes are actually quite common for people who use hypnotherapy to address not only habits like smoking and overeating but also a variety of other health issues ranging from insomnia to gastrointestinal disorders. Preliminary studies suggest that hypnosis strengthens immune response, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and eases symptoms of asthma, irritable bowel syndrome and certain skin conditions.
The greatest body of research on hypnosis shows it reduces the perception of pain. In one large clinical trial, people who used hypnotic relaxation techniques during surgical procedures needed less pain medication, had more stable vital signs in surgery and left the operating room sooner. Functional MRI scans of people's brains under hypnosis confirm that there's reduced activity in the pain network.
THE STATE OF MIND
Because it's still not clear how hypnosis works--the precise neurological mechanism has yet to be fully uncovered--experts describe it differently. Some call it an altered state of consciousness; others, a trancelike state. There's general agreement that under hypnosis, you experience a different level of awareness than usual. You're more relaxed and receptive to suggestion yet at the same time, more intensely focused. This meshes with neuroimaging studies of hypnosis that show increased activation in the brain's prefrontal cortex, which regulates attention. The critical thinking faculties of the mind are bypassed, and a type of selective thinking and perception is established. When your mind is completely concentrated like this, you are better able to tap into your inner resources, allowing you to more easily make significant personal changes, according to the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists.
Just focusing on any one thing can put you into a trancelike state, says hypnotherapist Rita Sherr, director of education at the New York Milton H. Erickson Society for Psychotherapy and Hypnosis. You can focus on a spot on the wall, your hand, or even a pocket watcha swaying back and forth in front of your eyes. "Meditation, repeated affirmations or the practice of prayer can create a similar experience; even if a person is lost in a daydream or is completely absorbed in something, they are in a state of hypnosis," Sherr says. If you've ever gotten so involved in a book or a movie that you didn't notice anything else that was going on around you, you have a good idea of what the focused attention of hypnosis feels like.
In a typical hypnotherapy session, the therapist first tries to learn as much as possible about your particular issue, your reasons for wanting to change and what you hope to achieve. Next, she guides you into a hypnotic state, using a soothing tone of voice to induce deep relaxation. Once you're under, she suggests ways to help you better cope with your issue or detailed mental images for you to visualize.
While the power of suggestion is used to great effect, it's impossible to convince a hypnotized person to do something she really doesn't want to. Another option is self-hypnosis: A certified hypnotherapist teaches you techniques you can use to put yourself into a hypnotic state.
Hypnosis is a subjective process, and the amount of time or number of sessions needed to accomplish a goal varies from person to person, Sherr notes. It's most effective when you're highly motivated. Liz Ainger concurs: "I don't know if it would have worked if I really didn't want to quit." Having a certain comfort level with the process and with the therapist also increases your chances of success.
"Hypnosis is a very powerful tool," Sherr says. "It's not magic, but it works in magical ways." If you're open to the idea of tapping into the unconscious mind to help overcome obstacles, go ahead and give it a try. You're getting sleepy. Very, very sleepy…
dynamic daily living
I make time to go horseback riding. Getting in touch with nature and with my horse helps me regroup. Gets me in a great mood every time!
Positive Thinking. May/Jun2007, p14-16. 3p.
Disclaimer: The services we render are held out to the public as non-therapeutic hypnotism, defined as the use of hypnosis to inculcate positive thinking and the capacity for self-hypnosis. Results may vary from person to person. We do not represent our services as any form of medical, behavioral, or mental health care, and despite research to the contrary, by law we make no health claim to our services.