Understanding Hypnosis and How It Works
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Many people's perceptions of hypnosis are based solely on what they've seen in movies and TV shows. Considering fictional plots with hypnotism often involve ridiculous comic scenarios or terrifying themes straight from nightmares — based on mind control for either funny or horrifying purposes — it's understandable that anyone would question the legitimacy of hypnotism as a safe real-life practice.
Start by tossing all those misconceptions out the window. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnosis "is a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration." During the natural progression of selective, focused attention, you enter a state of consciousness in which you may be more suggestible. With the right guidance, this gives you the opportunity to open your mind and welcome thoughts and perceptions that you might not otherwise accept.
Trained hypnotherapists perform exercises with patients under hypnosis with the goal of helping them alter destructive and unhealthy behaviors, addictions and emotions by associating negative feelings with them. This includes using verbal repetition and mental images while the patient is in a calm, relaxing, safe environment. Although you may be more open to suggestions while hypnotized, it's a misconception to say you are no longer in control.
Main Purposes of Hypnosis
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Hypnosis is used as a treatment for a wide variety of issues, ranging from something as simple as trying to put a stop to frequent hiccups to easing the side effects of cancer treatments. In most cases, hypnotherapy focuses on helping patients eliminate undesired behaviors and dependencies. For example, people who want to quit smoking but struggle with mental attachment to the habit often turn to hypnotherapy for treatment.
It's also used to treat various mental health conditions and emotional disorders, such as overcoming fears and coping with stress and anxiety. In some cases, those who suffer from chronic pain can successfully use hypnosis to alleviate their physical symptoms and manage their pain. Hypnosis has also been successfully used to help people lose weight. In general, if your mind could help you do something (like kick a bad habit), then hypnosis could potentially help you establish the right mindset to do it.
Science-Backed Evidence of Hypnosis’ Health Benefits
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The practice of hypnosis in the medical field dates back as far as the 1800s. Dr. James Esdaile is often touted as the pioneer of hypnotic surgeries for using what was then referred to as "mesmerism" as a form of anesthesia for painful surgeries between 1845 and 1850.
From a modern clinical perspective, a convincing amount of research and evidence substantiates and validates the claims that hypnosis offers some health benefits. Some of the specific benefits backed by scientific research include alleviating anxiety for those suffering from dental phobias, reducing hot flashes in postmenopausal women and breast cancer survivors, and reducing fear levels in laboring women to improve the childbirth experience and actual pain during labor.
In fact, several studies have shown the positive impact of hypnosis on pain management. It can help older patients manage chronic pain; alleviate pain, nausea, fatigue and other side effects among breast cancer surgery patients; and provide relief to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For younger patients, hypnosis has been shown to help with insomnia in school-age children.
To better understand the reasons hypnosis can be such a powerful, effective tool for treating so many different types of ailments, you have to understand how hypnotic suggestion influences our brain function. According to research studies collected and published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), hypnosis can cause changes in the brain’s prefrontal cortex activity, and "high hypnotic suggestibility is associated with atypical brain connectivity profiles."
More recently, a large body of scientific findings have indicated hypnosis has health benefits for patients with brain injuries. For example, one research study published in A Journal of Brain Neurology showed hypnotic suggestions can improve the working memory performance of brain injury patients. According to the Association for Psychology Science (APS), researchers in 2019 found that hypnotic suggestions can help rapidly improve the implicit attitudes of patients. This finding supports the belief that hypnosis can be effective for treating depression, phobias and addictions.
Preparing for Successful Hypnosis
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If you want to give hypnotherapy a try, start by researching experienced and certified hypnotherapists or psychologists. As you do so, be sure to focus your search on finding someone who specializes in treatments for the habit, condition or emotion you're attempting to change. Keep in mind that the degree to which people respond to hypnosis varies. It may take some time and patience to become completely comfortable with the process so you can experience results.
Some people find it difficult to relax and meditate, which makes hypnosis a challenge. If that is the case, you might consider starting with short sessions and gradually working your way up to longer sessions. For example, a 21-day meditation challenge could help you with relaxation techniques and ultimately lead to more effective hypnosis experiences. The ability to relax is one of the most important elements in successful hypnosis, so the sooner you learn to master self-relaxation techniques, the sooner you can attempt to achieve healthy changes through hypnosis.