Hypnotherapy – Mumbo Jumbo or an Effective Psychological Treatment?*
Lila asked me to enlighten her blog audience on Hypnotherapy which in itself is a vast undertaking but I hope this overview will highlight the pros and cons and provide a degree of understanding of the subject.
Hypnotherapy is not magic nor is it a way of controlling others, but it is useful in dealing with certain psychological conditions.
I won’t go into the history of its development, but its discovery has been attributed to Franz Mesmer, an 18th century physician who believed that illness was caused by imbalances in the body’s magnetic field. It later gained popularity with Freud who in conjunction with Breuer used it in psychotherapy to access repressed memories. In China in 2600 BC incantations were also used to induce trance like states and Avicenna a Persian physician, in 1027, distinguished that there was a difference between a hypnotic trance state and sleep. So in one form or another hypnosis has been around for a while.
So what then is Hypnosis? It is a state of relaxation where the subject focuses more on thoughts, feelings, memories and perceptions without employing conscious analysis and detaching themselves from their immediate surroundings while being more susceptible to the suggestions given by the therapist.
It is a state that can occur naturally and an example would be a school boy looking out of a class window at a game of football and hardly being aware of the drone of his teacher’s voice. This would be a form of self hypnosis and we often perform familiar tasks without recalling doing them.
Can everyone be hypnotised? There are several variables such as the subject being completely comfortable with the therapist and their surroundings. Sometimes the subjects want to be hypnotised so badly they prevent it happening and others might be beset with doubts or worry that is linked to the occult.
Also a recent study by the Stanford medical school shows that with subjects who are hypnotisable, there is a cooperation between the executive -control network or the decision making part of the brain and the salient side of the brain which focuses on what is important. This connectivity is lacking in those who cannot be hypnotised. This indicates that there is an actual neurological basis that determines the susceptibility of hypnosis in an individual.
So why is hypnosis useful in dealing with psychological issues presented by patients? Since the decision making analytical part of the brain is suspended during hypnosis, the subject is likely to take on the suggestions being made and this is useful in changing certain behaviour patterns such as quitting smoking, getting rid of phobias, dealing with pain or reframing traumas. You cannot change the experience that a patient has undergone or is experiencing, but by changing the way they think about it, it reframes the emotional content and makes the event or events no longer disturbing. It is also useful in modifying behaviour by using suggestions such as smoking is no longer pleasurable or that it is possible to reduce pain by turning a dial in your mind. Under hypnosis, creative, visual suggestions are readily accepted.
Is hypnotherapy dangerous? Not if it conducted by an ethical fully trained professional with a background in psychology. The language used in suggestions needs to be clean or else in some cases it can lead to false memories or confabulation which leads to further distress for the subject. This is also the reason why any confession obtained under hypnosis is inadmissible in a court of law under the Criminal Evidence Act of 1984.
Hypnosis should also not be used with patients suffering with psychosis as it may trigger an acute episode or in cases of alcoholism and drug addiction where hallucinations are present.
Is Stage hypnosis safe? Generally, stage hypnosis is used for entertainment and the stage hypnotist runs a series of susceptibility tests in order to choose the subjects who will respond best to hypnosis. It is an amusing experience watching ordinary people behaving outrageously as a result of the hypnosis lowering their inhibitions.
However, no medical evaluation is conducted before a performance and therefore hypnosis can open up traumas that the mind has chosen not to address or a person suffering from psychosis or another contraindication might be inadvertently chosen.
Several audio tapes, CDs and mass hypnosis seminars are used in habit control hypnosis but the effects may be short lived as they are not specifically tailored to the individual and hence the relapse rate is high. Generally, one to one sessions with a detailed consultation beforehand will lead to the best results.
Another question that people have is whether a hypnotherapist can make you do something against your will. The answer is no, as critical judgement is not completely suspended and if a suggestion is made that is against the subject’s value system, or makes them uncomfortable, they will often come out of the hypnotic state spontaneously.
People also often wonder if hypnosis is the same as sleep. It can often seem as if the subject is asleep and sometimes they can slip into a sleep state if they are tired, but the optimal brain waves in hypnosis are Theta waves. The EEG’s of hypnotised subjects showed reduced activity in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex which is the logical reasoning component, while activity in the right hemisphere used in creativity, imagination and dreaming is increased.
Finally, we come to past life regression which is a source of fascination for a lot of people. This requires a belief in reincarnation and is subject to confabulation. Often past life regression show that these memories have historical inaccuracies and can originate from books, experiences and the imagination of both the subject and the therapist who will often ask leading questions or suggestions. I personally do not believe that it is a valid treatment.
In my work I have found hypnosis to be an effective tool in addressing psychological traumas and modifying behaviour patterns, but it is not a panacea and is often best used in conjunction with counselling and psychotherapy.
*This article was written by ‘The Common Sense Therapist’, a retired psychologist who lives overseas and wishes to remain anonymous. She has many decades of experience in dealing with various people and aspects of psychology, and is a great source of enlightenment on many things in life.