What is Hypnosis?
The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek work hypnos, meaning “sleep”.
Hypnotist use exercises that bring about deep relaxation and an altered state of
consciousness, also known as a trance. A person in a deeply focused state is
unusually responsive to an idea or image. But, this does not mean that a
hypnotist can control the person’s mind and free will. On the contrary, hypnosis
can actually teach people how to master their own states of awareness. By doing
so they can affect their own bodily functions and psychological responses.
What is the History of Hypnosis?
Throughout history, trance states have been used by shamans and ancient
peoples in rituals and religious ceremonies. But hypnosis as we know it today
was first associated with the work of an Austrian physician named Franz Anton
Mesmer. In the 1700s, Mesmer believed that illnesses were caused by magnetic
fluids in the body getting out of balance. He used magnets and other hypnotic
techniques (the word “mesmerized” comes from his name) to treat people. But the
medical community was not convinced. Mesmer was accused of fraud, and his
techniques were called unscientific.
Hypnosis regained popularity in the mid-1900s due to Milton H. Erickson (1901
- 1980), a successful psychiatrist who used hypnosis in his practice. In 1958,
both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association
recognized hypnosis as a valid medical procedure. Since 1995, the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) has recommended hypnosis as a treatment for chronic
pain. Other conditions for which hypnosis is frequently used include anxiety and
How does Hypnosis Work?
When something happens to us, we remember it and learn a particular behavior
in response to what happened. Each time something similar happens, our physical
and emotional reactions attached to the memory are repeated. Sometimes these
reactions are unhealthy. In some forms of hypnosis, a trained hypnotist guides
you to remember the event that led to the first reaction, separate the memory
from the learned behavior, and replace unhealthy behaviors with new, healthier
ones. During hypnosis, your body relaxes and your thoughts become more focused.
Like other relaxation techniques, hypnosis lowers blood pressure and heart rate,
and changes certain types of brain wave activity. In this relaxed state, you
will feel at ease physically yet fully awake mentally, and you may be highly
responsive to suggestion. Your conscious mind becomes less alert and your
subconscious mind becomes more focused. Some people respond better to hypnotic
suggestion than others.
There are several stages of hypnosis:
- Reframing the problem
- Becoming relaxed, then absorbed (deeply engaged in the words or images
presented by a hypnotist
- Dissociating (letting go of critical thoughts)
- Responding (complying with a hypnotist’s suggestions)
- Returning to usual awareness
- Reflecting on the experience
What Illnesses or Conditions Respond Well to Hypnosis?
Hypnosis is used in a variety of settings, from emergency rooms to dental
offices to outpatient clinics. Clinical studies suggest that hypnosis may
improve immune function, increase relaxation, decrease stress, and ease pain and
feelings of anxiety.
Hypnosis can reduce the fear and anxiety that some people feel before medical
or dental procedures. For example, studies show that dental patients who
underwent hypnosis had a significantly higher threshold for pain than those who
were not hypnotized. Hypnosis may also improve recovery time and reduce anxiety
and pain following surgery. Clinical trials on burn patients suggest that
hypnosis decreases pain (enough to replace pain medication) and speeds healing.
Other studies show hypnosis results in decreased use of pain medication, higher
pain thresholds, shorter hospital stays, less surgical intervention, fewer
complications, and a more satisfying birth experience among women in labor.
Generally, clinical studies show that hypnosis may reduce the need for
medication, improve mental and physical health before an operation, and reduce
the time it takes to recover. Dentists also use hypnosis to control gagging and
A hypnotist can teach you self-regulation skills. For instance, someone with
arthritis may learn to turn down pain like the volume on a radio. Hypnosis can
also be used to help manage chronic illness. Self-hypnosis can enhance a sense
of control, which is often lacking when someone has a chronic illness.
Clinical studies on children in emergency treatment centers show that
hypnosis reduces fear, anxiety, and discomfort