Hypnosis can be a highly effective form of treatment for many mental, psychosomatic, and physical disorders. Hypnosis is a trance state in which the hypnotized person is in a heightened, more receptive state of mind. During hypnosis, the patient is not unconscious, does not lose control of his or her faculties, and does not do things under hypnosis that he or she would be unwilling to do otherwise.
In 1784, at the request of King Louis XVI, a Board of Inquiry started to investigate whether animal magnetism existed. Among the board members were founding father of modern chemistry Antoine Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin, and an expert in pain control, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. They investigated the practices of a disaffected student of Mesmer, one Charles d'Eslon (1750–1786), and though they concluded that Mesmer's results were valid, their placebo-controlled experiments using d'Eslon's methods convinced them that mesmerism was most likely due to belief and imagination rather than to an invisible energy ("animal magnetism") transmitted from the body of the mesmerist.
Hypnosis is a wellness technique that works by promoting positive behavioral or cognitive changes. During successful hypnosis, the client should be eased into a state of deep relaxation in which the conscious mind takes a back seat and the subconscious mind becomes more active. The client is often able to let go of critical thoughts and become receptive to the therapist’s suggestions. In this state of hypnosis, motivating suggestions can bypass your usual mental resistance and internal defense mechanisms. For example, even if you want to quit overeating cupcakes, you may have some level of resistance that your rational mind can’t overcome. During hypnosis, the positive suggestions made by the hypnotherapist can bypass your usual blocks, helping you to achieve the formerly unachievable: stopping overeating, quitting smoking, mastering public speaking, or losing your fear of heights. The goal of hypnosis is to strengthen and empower the client’s motivation, commitment and focus. Consider working with someone who is not just trained in hypnosis but also is a licensed therapist or psychotherapist who can bring their academic background into your session.
Do this all in a smooth and quick transition, this quick action is what creates the break in the thought process of the person being hypnotized. There is a disrupt in the mental filter that separates our inner voice and thoughts from our sensory reality. This is the door to our suggested command to sleep. Thus bypassing the person's ability to filter the command out. This is a split second window of opportunity to get your command in.
The British Psychological Society commissioned a working group to survey the evidence and write a formal report on hypnotherapy in 2001. They found, “Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
“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?
Depending on the purpose of the hypnotherapy (i.e., smoking cessation, weight loss, improvement in public speaking, or addressing some deep emotional turmoil), follow-up may be advisable. When trying to eradicate unwanted habits, it is good practice to revisit the therapist, based upon a date prearranged between the therapist and the patient, to report progress and, if necessary, to obtain secondary hypnotherapy to reinforce progress made.
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."
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So far, so good. For people in the PHA group, brain activation measured by fMRI correlated with the failure to remember. But what if reduced activation is always found in such people regardless of whether they are remembering or forgetting? We can rule this possibility out because people in the PHA group showed reduced activation only when they (unsuccessfully) answered questions about the content of the movie, not when they (successfully) answered questions about the context of the movie. Indeed, for the context questions, they showed the same activation as people in the non-PHA group. Perhaps then, the reduced activation reflects complete forgetting of the information, not just temporary suppression? We can rule this possibility out also because, in a neat reversal, people in the PHA group showed normal activation—just as those in the non-PHA group did—as soon as the suggestion was cancelled.
But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of "losing yourself" in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
State theorists interpret the effects of hypnotism as due primarily to a specific, abnormal, and uniform psychological or physiological state of some description, often referred to as "hypnotic trance" or an "altered state of consciousness". Nonstate theorists rejected the idea of hypnotic trance and interpret the effects of hypnotism as due to a combination of multiple task-specific factors derived from normal cognitive, behavioural, and social psychology, such as social role-perception and favorable motivation (Sarbin), active imagination and positive cognitive set (Barber), response expectancy (Kirsch), and the active use of task-specific subjective strategies (Spanos). The personality psychologist Robert White is often cited as providing one of the first nonstate definitions of hypnosis in a 1941 article:
The central theoretical disagreement regarding hypnosis is known as the "state versus nonstate" debate. When Braid introduced the concept of hypnotism, he equivocated over the nature of the "state", sometimes describing it as a specific sleep-like neurological state comparable to animal hibernation or yogic meditation, while at other times he emphasised that hypnotism encompasses a number of different stages or states that are an extension of ordinary psychological and physiological processes. Overall, Braid appears to have moved from a more "special state" understanding of hypnotism toward a more complex "nonstate" orientation.
“That study changed the whole landscape,” said Dave Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been using hypnosis since the 1980s to help burn victims withstand the intense pain that comes with the necessary but excruciating bandage removal and wound cleaning. Since the ’90s, other well-designed, controlled studies have been published showing similar changes in brain activity. In another slightly trippy example, researchers suggested to people in a hypnotic state that the vibrant primary colors found in paintings by Piet Mondrian were actually shades of gray. “Brain-scan results of these participants showed altered activity in fusiform regions involved in color processing,” notes psychologist Christian Jarrett.
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