The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recognizes the healing power of hypnosis and its proven effectiveness for anxiety, pain control, smoking cessation, headaches and more. Hypnosis may be safe and complementary way to augment medical attention you are receiving for a chronic illness or pain, or a way to resolve an addiction or phobia that you are otherwise unable to control. Hypnosis does not work on every person. When scientists began studying hypnosis in earnest, a report published by Stanford University titled “The Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale” demonstrated that different brains respond to hypnosis in varying degrees, and a very few do not respond at all. Working with a trained psychologist, you’ll soon determine whether you are a good candidate for the healing benefits of hypnotherapy.
To investigate the effectiveness of cognitive hypnotherapy (CH), hypnosis combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), on depression, 84 depressives were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of treatment of either CH or CBT alone. At the end of treatment, patients from both groups significantly improved compared to baseline scores. However, the CH group produced significantly larger changes in Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Hopelessness Scale. Effect size calculations showed that the CH group produced 6%, 5%, and 8% greater reduction in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, respectively, over and above the CBT group. The effect size was maintained at 6-month and 12-month follow-ups. This study represents the first controlled comparison of hypnotherapy with a well-established psychotherapy for depression, meeting the APA criteria for a "probably efficacious" treatment for depression.
Hypnosis for weight loss or to quit addictive behaviors like smoking or drinking, is how most people think of hypnosis. While people do often seek hypnosis therapy for these reasons, there are other reasons too. People may see a hypnotherapist before and during childbirth or to increase self-esteem. It can also be used to deal with chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, or treat irritable bowel syndrome.
Meditation practice focuses on stilling or emptying the mind. Typically, meditators concentrate on their breath or a sound (mantra) they repeat to themselves. They may, alternatively, attempt to reach a state of “detached observation,” in which they are aware of their environment but do not become involved in thinking about it. In meditation, the body remains alert and in an upright position. In addition to formal sitting meditation, patients can be taught mindfulness meditation, which involves bringing a sense of awareness and focus to their involvement in everyday activities.
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.
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.
Cally Stewart, OTD, OTR/L, CH joined the Center for Healthy Living in January 2017. She was certified in hypnotherapy in 2009 and has practiced in a variety of health care settings including cancer care, family medicine, rehabilitation from injury or surgery, and chronic disease self-management. Cally has a B.A. in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her master's and doctorate in occupational therapy at Tufts University and is a licensed occupational therapist in Massachusetts. She also holds a certification in hypnotherapy through the International Association of Counselors and Therapists.
We experience trance states every day of our lives. When you are day-dreaming, in deep thought, or even watching television, you are in a trance. When you are going to sleep at night, you are in a trance. Trance states are observed in science by brainwave activity. These waves change when a person's brain becomes relaxed. A trance can be light, or very deep like deep sleep.
Some therapists use hypnosis to recover possibly repressed memories they believe are linked to the person's mental disorder. However, the quality and reliability of information recalled by the patient under hypnosis is not always reliable. Additionally, hypnosis can pose a risk of creating false memories -- usually as a result of unintended suggestions or the asking of leading questions by the therapist. For these reasons, hypnosis is no longer considered a common or mainstream part of most forms of psychotherapy. Also, the use of hypnosis for certain mental disorders in which patients may be highly susceptible to suggestion, such as dissociative disorders, remains especially controversial.
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.