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What is hypnosis? Is it real?

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a state of mind that occurs naturally or is established by compliance with instructions and is characterized by:

o Focused attention
o Heightened receptivity for suggestions
o A bypass of the normal critical nature of the mind
o Delivery of acceptable suggestions
o A hypnosis session consists of
o An explanation of the process and consent
o Induction of the trance state
o Deepening of the trance
o Assessment for adequacy of the trance
o Hypnoanalysis—an investigative step (if necessary)
o Delivery of acceptable suggestions
o Emergence from the trance state


Is is real?

Various methods have been used to determine whether hypnosis is a separate state, distinct from sleep, or if the patient is simply complying with the practitioner's instructions.3 Volunteers in whom hypnosis was induced were evaluated by positron emission tomography (PET). When subjects were given the suggestion to see color, the color perception areas of their cerebral hemispheres were activated whether they were looking at color or black-and-white patterns. When subjects were given the suggestion to see black and white, the color perception areas of the brain showed decreased activity regardless of what the subjects were viewing. This implies that hypnosis is not a process of simply following instructions but actually involves a change in the brain's perception.5

Studies have used other methods, such as electrodermal skin conductance, to evaluate whether patients in whom hypnosis was induced were “lying” or simply complying with instructions.6, 7 Unpleasant sensations were noted on PET to cause activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. Hypnosis induced before painful stimuli caused a decrease in the subjective and objective perception of the pain as noted on the scans.8 Another study using PET in hypnotized persons showed activation of a region in the right anterior cingulate cortex (Brodmann area 32), an area activated when sound is heard or when sound is suggested in hypnosis but not when sound is simply imagined. This implies that the mind registered the hypnotic hallucination as if it were real.9 Other studies using PET support the occurrence of distinct changes in the brain with hypnosis.10 By using electroencephalography, changes were seen during hypnosis that could not be evoked by waking imagination.11

Hypnosis does not act as a placebo (administering a pharmacologically inert substance).12 Studies using hypnosis for anesthesia indicate that pain relief from hypnosis is different from a placebo effect with evidence that the pain is not perceived rather than simply experienced with greater tolerance.13, 14, 15
Hypnosis is not a state of sleep.16 Relaxation generally is believed to be a part of hypnosis, but it need not be. Volunteers underwent hypnotic induction with use of either the traditional method involving eye closure, relaxation, and drowsiness encouraged by suggestion or an active, alert method involving riding a stationary bicycle while receiving suggestions for alertness and activity. Equally receptive trance states were achieved by the relaxation and alert methods, and examples were presented of other active, alert trance states.17 Of note, hypnotized patients may experience considerable anxiety and other emotions while reliving an event with age regression without coming out of the trance state.18

Age regression, inducing a person through hypnosis to relive events that occurred earlier in life, is believed to differ from enhancement of memory, but scientific evidence for this assertion is limited. Age regression may be helpful to treat conditions in which an adverse behavior is believed to be based on a past event; however, its validity is controversial. The process of regression may generate strong emotions and can possibly alter a memory or create a false memory. Studies about the use of age regression have reported the development of infantile neurologic reflexes on regression to infancy, age-specific handwriting and vocabularies on regression to childhood, and knowledge of the appropriate day of the week of events in the period to which the person was regressed.19, 20

View full findings of the effects and validity of hypnotherapy, read here

5 - Kosslyn, SM, Thompson, WL, Costantini-Ferrando, MF, Alpert, NM, Spiegel, D. Hypnotic visual illusion alters color processing in the brain. Am J Psychiatry. 2000;157:1279–1284.
6 - Kinnunen, T, Zamansky, HS, Block, ML. Is the hypnotized subject lying?. J Abnorm Psychol. 1994;103:184–191.CrossRef | Scopus (11)
7 - Kinnunen, T, Zamansky, HS, Nordstrom, BL. Is the hypnotized subject complying?. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2001;49:83–94.CrossRef
8 - Faymonville, ME, Laureys, S, Degueldre, C et al, Neural mechanisms of antinociceptive effects of hypnosis. Anesthesiology. 2000;92:1257–1267.CrossRef | PubMed
9 - Szechtman, H, Woody, E, Bowers, KS, Nahmias, C. Where the imaginal appears real: a positron emission tomography study of auditory hallucinations. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998;95:1956–1960.CrossRef | Scopus (129)
Rainville, P, Hofbauer, RK, Bushnell, MC, Duncan, GH, Price, DD. Hypnosis modulates activity in brain structures involved in the regulation of consciousness. J Cogn Neurosci.
10 - 2002;14:887–901.CrossRef | Scopus (127)
11 - Jensen, SM, Barabasz, A, Barabasz, M, Warner, D. EEG P300 event-related markers of hypnosis. Am J Clin Hypn. 2001;44:127–139.CrossRef
12 - McGlashan, TH, Evans, FJ, Orne, MT. The nature of hypnotic analgesia and placebo response to experimental pain. Psychosom Med. 1969;31:227–246.PubMed
13 - Zachariae, R, Bjerring, P. The effect of hypnotically induced analgesia on flare reaction of the cutaneous histamine prick test. Arch Dermatol Res. 1990;282:539–543.CrossRef | PubMed | Scopus (23)
14 - Spiegel, D, Bierre, P, Rootenberg, J. Hypnotic alteration of somatosensory perception. Am J Psychiatry. 1989;146:749–754.PubMed
15 - Patterson, DR, Jensen, MP. Hypnosis and clinical pain. Psychol Bull. 2003;129:495–521.CrossRef | PubMed | Scopus (139)
16 - Tasman, A, Kay, J, Lieberman, JA. in: Psychiatry. Vol 2. WB Saunders Co, Philadelphia, Pa; 1997:1478–1499.
17 - Banyai, EI, Hilgard, ER. A comparison of active-alert hypnotic induction with traditional relaxation induction. J Abnorm Psychol. 1976;85:218–224.CrossRef
18 - MacHovec, F. Hypnosis complications, risk factors, and prevention. Am J Clin Hypn. 1988;31:40–49.CrossRef
19 - Gidro-Frank, L, Bowersbuch, MK. A study of the plantar response in hypnotic age regression. J Nerv Ment Dis. 1948;107:443–458.CrossRef
20 - LeCron, LM. A study of age regression under hypnosis. in: LM LeCron (Ed.) Experimental Hypnosis: A Symposium of Articles on Research by Many of the World's Leading Authorities. Macmillan, New York, NY; 1952:155–174.