It’s a common question asked by those who are yet to experience its healing power: Is hypnosis real?
There’s no denying that historically, hypnosis had a stigma.
And although it’s eroded for the better considerably over recent years, it’s an art that’s been massively misunderstood.
That’s partly due to the way it’s been presented in the media, particularly in films.
Hypnotists are seen as evil madmen with the ability to take over people’s minds and convince them to carry out all kinds of vile activities.
And although most people know they’re just being entertained, they nevertheless think that perhaps there’s a grain of truth in what they’re seeing.
The result? A bunch of myths and misconceptions spring up, making it difficult to distinguish the facts from the fiction.
You can’t get stuck in a trance, because one of three things will happen. Either you’ll snap out of it naturally, or the hypnotist will bring you out of it, or you’ll fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
Following on from the last point in the image above, got an interesting fact for you. No matter who you are or your mental capacity might be, you probably go into a trance state several times a day.
It happens when your mind drifts off briefly, such as when you’re engrossed in your favorite hobby. Or when you’re driving your car and you realize you can’t remember part of the journey, even though you’ve driven it a thousand times.
You can even experience it when you’re doing mundane things like washing the dishes or during passive activities like listening to music.
So the trance state is totally natural, and hypnosis simply lets you enter that state on demand, rather than waiting for it to happen.
But rather than being anything evil or sinister, this natural trance state is the key to some pretty amazing stuff.
In fact, there are very few therapies or techniques that can be used to treat such a wide variety of issues and problems.
Hypnosis has been proven to be effective at helping people to:
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight
- Cope with IBS
- Manage pain
- Deal with depression
- Fight fears and phobias
- Manage stress
- Overcome addictions
- Alleviate allergies
- Cope with emotional trauma
- Aid recovery from surgery
- Ease the process of childbirth
- Manage OCD
- Relieve nausea
- Repair skin conditions
And those are just a few of its broader applications. And it’s not just hypnotists who make these claims.
If you look up hypnosis on the Mayo Clinic website, you’ll see that they recommend its use for all of the following:
Controlling pain, including pain associated with cancer, IBS, fibromyalgia, dental work and even:
- Hot flashes linked to menopause
- Changing unwanted behaviors such as smoking, insomnia and overeating
- Coping with and easing the side-effects of cancer treatment
- Treating mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD
As more and more research is being done, it seems that the uses for hypnosis continue to grow.
The old stigma that poses the question, “is hypnosis real?” is being wiped away as the process gains more and more credibility and produces better and better results in an ever-expanding list of potential applications.
But where did it all begin?
Is Hypnosis Real? Historical Claims And Evidence?
Hypnotic practice dates back to ancient China, Greece and Rome where it’s been cited in sacred texts. It wasn’t called hypnosis back then, of course, and people associated its unknown effects with the occult.
Things changed when the German doctor Franz Mesmer started investigating it in the 18th century, which is when modern hypnosis really began to take shape.
Mesmer had a theory called “animal magnetism.” He thought there was a magnetic fluid running through the body that could be manipulated to help people heal.
And although Mesmer used his ideas and theories to heal people, his concepts and processes weren’t accepted by members of the medical profession.
In the end, no-one backed him. They investigated his methods and decided that any positive results came about as a result of the patients’ imaginations. In other words, they were healing themselves from within.
The concept was forgotten for a little while.
Then in the 1840s, the Scottish surgeon Dr. James Braid began exploring the phenomenon. By applying Mesmer’s techniques, he found that a hypnotic trance could be induced.
Braid called it neurypnology, believing that hypnosis put the nervous system to sleep. But later he discovered that trance occurred when his patients concentrated on a single idea or object.
He called it monoideism, but the name was eventually shortened to hypnosis. And Braid is considered the father of modern hypnosis.
Nothing much happened for several years, until in 1918 a young American boy named Milton Erickson contracted polio. He became bedridden, lame, and unable to speak, and the doctors believed he would die. But the young man defied the odds. By focusing on his body memories, he slowly regained control and was eventually able to walk with a cane.
Several years later, Erickson began extensive research into hypnosis and suggestion, with an emphasis on using the unconscious mind to find solutions to problems. He is famous for being able to use the smallest bit of information about a patient to help them change.
Erickson believed the unconscious mind was separate from the conscious mind, and that by tapping into the unconscious it was possible to access resources for problem-solving, creativity, and learning.
Without thinkers and researchers like Mesmer, Braid, and Erickson, hypnosis would still be a mystery and the question “is hypnosis real?” would remain unanswerable.Thanks to them, however, it’s become a worldwide powerful force for good.
What Is Hypnosis Used For In Modern Times?
According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is being used in the treatment of all those issues mentioned above, as well as for other psychological and medical problems. But it’s not just a one-trick pony, and you can find hypnosis being employed in all of the following situations.
This involves using hypnosis to treat conditions or make changes in someone’s life. You might visit a hypnotherapist if you wanted to break a bad habit, or get rid of a fear or phobia, or boost your confidence, and so on.
A good hypnotherapist should be registered with an organization that’s accredited with the local authorities. Ideally they should have some kind of healthcare background or have been trained to deal with your condition.
Anyone can train to do hypnotherapy, so you should make sure they have plenty of experience. Also try to find out what their success rate is and contact previous clients if necessary.
Stage hypnosis offers a less serious side. But in order to put on a convincing show, the hypnotist still has to know his craft extremely well.
Their job is first and foremost to entertain the audience who’ve paid money to see them. But in the midst of all of this, they’re able to give their subjects an enjoyable experience so that they feel good afterward.
This refers to hypnosis used in clinical settings, such as to ease the effects of surgery or dentistry. Both pain and anxiety can be minimized using hypnosis, and it can also help lessen side-effects and speed up recovery times.
Hypnosis is one of those processes that has eluded science in the past. Today, more and more research is being done to try to determine exactly what hypnosis is and how it’s able to do what it can do. You’ll find plenty of information relating to this research in the following section.
Hypnosis has been used by US law enforcement agencies since World War II. As a forensic tool, it helps victims and witnesses relive traumatic events clearly so that they’re able to provide a more detailed picture. There is some concern that this practice can create false memories, but that can also happen under normal interrogation conditions.
One of the other really cool things about hypnosis is how well it works when combined with other types of treatments. Some examples include:
- Using hypnosis with therapy when dealing with depression
- Using hypnosis with medication to manage severe pain
- Using hypnosis with exercise and diet to manage weight loss
Hypnosis has been shown to be effective when used for building confidence, boosting self-esteem, increasing creativity, setting and reaching goals, and assisting learning. It’s often used in conjunction with psychotherapy and, for some issues, hypnosis generates better results than psychotherapy.
In our article The Science Behind Hypnosis: 19 Breakthrough Medical Studies Prove The Astounding Power of Hypnosis To Heal The Body & Mind, there were scientific evidence on how effective hypnosis is at treating complex issues such as IBS, HIV, hot flashes, dental phobia, insomnia, and the side-effects resulting from a range of surgical procedures.
Hypnosis is indeed a useful and powerful tool whose range of possibilities is still not fully understood. To show how seriously it’s being taken these days, some graduate schools have developed clinical hypnosis classes.
It’s also common for psychologists to undertake hypnosis training from courses approved by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
These courses are usually only available to licensed healthcare professionals with at least a master’s degree and require hours of workshop and individualized training, as well as two years of independent practice before qualifying.
But still one question remains. Is hypnosis real, with a basis in science? What exactly is going on?
Is Hypnosis Real? What Does Science Say?
Hypnosis has been steadily gaining credibility thanks to the masses of scientific research being conducted by highly respected researchers, neuroscientists, and institutions.
One of those is Dr. David Spiegel, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. He believes that the brain operates differently whilst in a hypnotic state compared to normal states of consciousness.
So, for example, experiencing a lack of self-consciousness whilst in a deep hypnotic trance explains how stage hypnotists can get people to pretend they’re chickens, or puppets, or ballerinas, or acrobats.
His studies have shown that certain areas of the brain work differently under hypnosis than they do under normal circumstances.
Another researcher, William J. McGeown, is a senior lecturer of psychology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He studied the brain activity of people with high and low suggestibility while they were resting in the fMRI scanner, engaged in specific visual tasks, and when they were in and out of hypnosis.
Results showed that people who respond well to hypnosis are actually using their brains in a different way to the rest of the population. Understanding why this happens could help make it easier for everyone to reap more of the benefits of this incredible process.
Dr. Irving Kirsch, Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies and a lecturer in medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, believes that hypnosis taps into the brain’s expectation process.
According to Kirsch, information enters your brain from the outside through your brain stem. But you also have your internal information, which is your values, beliefs and expectations.
When these two sources of information collide, that is consciousness. And that collision point, according to Kirsch, is the point at which hypnosis is able to take place.
David R. Patterson & Mark P. Jensen are hypnosis experts at the University of Washington Seattle. They studied the brain using an EEG machine to try and measure electrical activity.
They discovered that during hypnosis, these rhythms are significantly slower. But they also knew that when someone was in pain, these rhythms were faster.
So the question was, could hypnosis slow down these rhythmic patterns enough to reduce the pain?
Yes, it could. Of the 20 patients studied, those with more naturally relaxed minds got the most pain relief from hypnosis.
Dr. Joe Dispenza is a renowned neuroscientist and author whose TED Talk on neuroplasticity holds clues for what hypnosis can achieve.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change itself. Your thoughts and actions cause neurons to communicate with each other. The more you repeat those thoughts and actions, the more those neurons communicate, eventually creating a new synaptic network.
So it follows that the more you give or listen to a hypnotic suggestion, the more a particular set of neurons will fire together.
That’s why during hypnosis you repeat certain hypnotic themes, like relaxation, focusing, comfort, and so on. This repetition means neurons are firing and communicating, creating a new synaptic network, and making it possible for the person to absorb the information you’re giving them.
The Real Deal About Hypnosis
According to Kirsch’s research published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, hypnosis is a “legitimate form of adjunct treatment” suitable for anything from anxiety and stress to pain management and obesity. His weight-loss research has shown that people undergoing cognitive behavior therapy coupled with hypnosis tend to lose more weight.
Further research shows that hypnosis can boost the immune system to make you less susceptible to viral infections. Dr. Spiegel notes that hypnosis is almost twice as effective for smoking cessation as standard behavioral counseling.
Spiegel adds that some people are worried about losing control while under hypnosis. Ironically, however, hypnosis helps people take more control of their thoughts and ideas so that pain or anxiety is no longer running the show.
How is that possible? Spiegel says that hypnosis acts on multiple regions of the brain, some of which are linked to perceiving and regulating pain. It can also quiet those areas of the brain responsible for sensory perception and emotional response.
What these various studies tell us is that hypnosis has a real and measurable impact that allows people to make actual physical and psychological changes. It works, and in the hands of an experienced professional, it can achieve wonders. It can quite literally be a force for good in the world.
So, is hypnosis real? Yes, absolutely– and so are the results it can produce. And the next time someone asks you the question, you know what to tell them.