People who practice hypnotism in a clinical setting have long argued that the hypnotized patient enters an altered state of consciousness. Even if you’ve never undergone hypnotherapy, chances are you’ve experienced this state yourself. “It’s like getting so caught up in a good movie that you forget you’re watching a movie, and you enter the imagined world,” said Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist and the medical director of Stanford University’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

To investigate the effectiveness of cognitive hypnotherapy (CH), hypnosis combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), on depression, 84 depressives were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of treatment of either CH or CBT alone. At the end of treatment, patients from both groups significantly improved compared to baseline scores. However, the CH group produced significantly larger changes in Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Hopelessness Scale. Effect size calculations showed that the CH group produced 6%, 5%, and 8% greater reduction in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, respectively, over and above the CBT group. The effect size was maintained at 6-month and 12-month follow-ups. This study represents the first controlled comparison of hypnotherapy with a well-established psychotherapy for depression, meeting the APA criteria for a "probably efficacious" treatment for depression.
Hypnotherapy has been studied for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.[117][118] Hypnosis for IBS has received moderate support in the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance published for UK health services.[119] It has been used as an aid or alternative to chemical anesthesia,[120][121][122] and it has been studied as a way to soothe skin ailments.[123]
For some psychologists who uphold the altered state theory of hypnosis, pain relief in response to hypnosis is said to be the result of the brain's dual-processing functionality. This effect is obtained either through the process of selective attention or dissociation, in which both theories involve the presence of activity in pain receptive regions of the brain, and a difference in the processing of the stimuli by the hypnotised subject.[137]
In the 1980s and 1990s, a moral panic took place in the US fearing Satanic ritual abuse. As part of this, certain books such as The Devil's Disciples stated that some bands, particularly in the musical genre of heavy metal, brainwashed American teenagers with subliminal messages to lure them into the worship of the devil, sexual immorality, murder, and especially suicide.[156] The use of satanic iconography and rhetoric in this genre provokes the parents and society, and also advocate masculine power for an audience, especially on teenagers who were ambivalent of their identity. The counteraction on heavy metal in terms of satanic brainwashing is an evidence that linked to the automatic response theories of musical hypnotism.[157]
Visualization and imagery techniques involve the induction of a relaxed state followed by the development of a visual image, such as a pleasant scene that enhances the sense of relaxation. These images may be generated by the patient or suggested by the practitioner. In the context of this relaxing setting, patients can also choose to imagine themselves coping more effectively with the stressors in their lives.
Preliminary research has expressed brief hypnosis interventions as possibly being a useful tool for managing painful HIV-DSP because of its history of usefulness in pain management, its long-term effectiveness of brief interventions, the ability to teach self-hypnosis to patients, the cost-effectiveness of the intervention, and the advantage of using such an intervention as opposed to the use of pharmaceutical drugs.[91]
According to many sources including the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine and a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hypnosis is scientifically proven to help relieve both mental challenges and physical pains. Hypnosis can alleviate stress and reduce pain after surgeries, has been shown to relieve anxiety in children in the emergency room, and can be useful for managing pain associated with everything from arthritis to migraines. Hypnosis is non-invasive and gives you a way to control pain or discomfort that might otherwise seem out of your hands. Hypnosis shouldn’t be used as a substitute for medical care, but may be an excellent complementary tool that is best provided by a trained therapist or licensed medical provider. The University of Maryland Medical Center shares many conditions for which hypnosis can be useful:
Stage hypnosis is a form of entertainment, traditionally employed in a club or theatre before an audience. Due to stage hypnotists' showmanship, many people believe that hypnosis is a form of mind control. Stage hypnotists typically attempt to hypnotise the entire audience and then select individuals who are "under" to come up on stage and perform embarrassing acts, while the audience watches. However, the effects of stage hypnosis are probably due to a combination of psychological factors, participant selection, suggestibility, physical manipulation, stagecraft, and trickery.[152] The desire to be the centre of attention, having an excuse to violate their own fear suppressors, and the pressure to please are thought to convince subjects to "play along".[153] Books by stage hypnotists sometimes explicitly describe the use of deception in their acts; for example, Ormond McGill's New Encyclopedia of Stage Hypnosis describes an entire "fake hypnosis" act that depends upon the use of private whispers throughout.
Following the French committee's findings, Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the "Scottish School of Common Sense", encouraged physicians in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1818)[54] to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of "animal magnetism" with a new interpretation based upon "common sense" laws of physiology and psychology. Braid quotes the following passage from Stewart:[55]
Hypnotherapy is a therapy that spans hundreds of years and has many practitioners across the United States. Researchers have studied whether hypnosis can treat a variety of medical conditions, from irritable bowel syndrome to anxiety and depression. The goal for hypnotherapy is to help a patient learn to better control their state of awareness. In the case of depression, hypnotherapy sessions may be focused on helping a person achieve a state of relaxation. In this relaxed state, they can discuss their feelings and emotions without raising stress and anxiety levels.

I paid in the region of 2,000 pounds for hypnotherapy with a fully trained and registered professional hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapy made my problems worse. I find it incredibly frustrating that when I have typed letters to the hypnotherapy organisation that this hypnotherapist belongs to, a lot of what I am actually saying in the letters when explaining exactly why the hypnotherapist's treatment has made me worse, and how my problem works gets ignored. I can see that the Hypnotherapist has not interpreted my problems correctly enough. I do not believe that it is totally fair that this Hypnotherapist's work seems to be above being checked for flaws. I am suffering as a result.


During a hypnotherapy session, the therapist will bring you into a state of deep relaxation in which the critical, conscious part of your brain recedes and the subconscious mind becomes alert and focused. The therapist will make suggestions, based on your intended goals, that will take root in your subconscious mind. These suggestions should affect your thinking in a positive way and empower you to make change.
Therefore, Braid defined hypnotism as a state of mental concentration that often leads to a form of progressive relaxation, termed "nervous sleep". Later, in his The Physiology of Fascination (1855), Braid conceded that his original terminology was misleading, and argued that the term "hypnotism" or "nervous sleep" should be reserved for the minority (10%) of subjects who exhibit amnesia, substituting the term "monoideism", meaning concentration upon a single idea, as a description for the more alert state experienced by the others.[23]
For some psychologists who uphold the altered state theory of hypnosis, pain relief in response to hypnosis is said to be the result of the brain's dual-processing functionality. This effect is obtained either through the process of selective attention or dissociation, in which both theories involve the presence of activity in pain receptive regions of the brain, and a difference in the processing of the stimuli by the hypnotised subject.[137]

A typical hypnotherapy session has the patient seated comfortably with their feet on the floor and palms on their lap. Of course, the patient could choose to lie down if that option is available and if that will meet the patient's expectation of hypnosis. The therapist can even set the stage for a favorable outcome by asking questions like, "Would you prefer to undergo hypnosis in this chair or on the sofa?" Once patients make the choice, they are in effect agreeing to undergo hypnosis. Depending on the approach used by the therapist, the next events can vary, but generally will involve some form of relaxing the patient. Suggestions will lead the patient to an increasingly relaxed state. The therapist may wish to confirm the depth of trance by performing tests with the patient. For example, the therapist may suggest that when the eyes close that they will become locked and cannot be opened. The therapist then checks for this by having patients try to open their eyes. Following a successful trial showing the patient's inability to open the eyes, the therapist might then further relax them by using deepening techniques. Deepening techniques will vary for each patient and depend largely on whether the patient represents information through auditory, visual, or kinesthetic means. If the patient is more affected by auditory suggestions, the therapist would use comments such as "You hear the gentle patter of rain on the roof;" or, "The sound of the ocean waves allow you to relax more and more." For the visual person, the therapist might use statements such as, "You see the beautiful placid lake, with trees bending slightly with the breeze." Finally, with the kinesthetic person phrases such as, "You feel the warm sun and gentle breeze on your skin," could be used. It is important for the therapist to know if the patient has difficulty with the idea of floating or descending because these are sometimes used to enhance the experience for the patient. However, if the patient has a fear of heights or develops a feeling of oppression with the thought of traveling downward and going deeper and deeper, suggestions implying the unwanted or feared phenomenon will not be taken and can thwart the attempt.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a moral panic took place in the US fearing Satanic ritual abuse. As part of this, certain books such as The Devil's Disciples stated that some bands, particularly in the musical genre of heavy metal, brainwashed American teenagers with subliminal messages to lure them into the worship of the devil, sexual immorality, murder, and especially suicide.[156] The use of satanic iconography and rhetoric in this genre provokes the parents and society, and also advocate masculine power for an audience, especially on teenagers who were ambivalent of their identity. The counteraction on heavy metal in terms of satanic brainwashing is an evidence that linked to the automatic response theories of musical hypnotism.[157]
Braid soon assimilated Carpenter's observations into his own theory, realising that the effect of focusing attention was to enhance the ideo-motor reflex response. Braid extended Carpenter's theory to encompass the influence of the mind upon the body more generally, beyond the muscular system, and therefore referred to the "ideo-dynamic" response and coined the term "psycho-physiology" to refer to the study of general mind/body interaction.
Mendelsohn et al.’s study is important because it demonstrates that hypnotic suggestions influence brain activity, not just behavior and experience. Hypnotic effects are real! This fact has been demonstrated clearly in earlier work, for instance, by psychologist David Oakley (University College London) and colleagues, who compared brain activation of genuinely hypnotized people given suggestions for leg paralysis with brain activation of people simply asked to fake hypnosis and paralysis.
One obvious risk to patients is the insufficiently trained therapist. The inadequately trained therapist can cause harm and distort the normally pleasant experience of hypnotherapy. A second risk for patients is the unscrupulous practitioner who may be both inadequately trained and may have some hidden agenda. These rare individuals are capable of causing great harm to the patient and to the profession. As mentioned above, the patient should carefully scrutinize their chosen therapist before submitting themselves to this dynamic form of therapy.
Hypnosis has been used as a supplemental approach to cognitive behavioral therapy since as early as 1949. Hypnosis was defined in relation to classical conditioning; where the words of the therapist were the stimuli and the hypnosis would be the conditioned response. Some traditional cognitive behavioral therapy methods were based in classical conditioning. It would include inducing a relaxed state and introducing a feared stimuli. One way of inducing the relaxed state was through hypnosis.[77]

The first neuropsychological theory of hypnotic suggestion was introduced early by James Braid who adopted his friend and colleague William Carpenter's theory of the ideo-motor reflex response to account for the phenomenon of hypnotism. Carpenter had observed from close examination of everyday experience that, under certain circumstances, the mere idea of a muscular movement could be sufficient to produce a reflexive, or automatic, contraction or movement of the muscles involved, albeit in a very small degree. Braid extended Carpenter's theory to encompass the observation that a wide variety of bodily responses besides muscular movement can be thus affected, for example, the idea of sucking a lemon can automatically stimulate salivation, a secretory response. Braid, therefore, adopted the term "ideo-dynamic", meaning "by the power of an idea", to explain a broad range of "psycho-physiological" (mind–body) phenomena. Braid coined the term "mono-ideodynamic" to refer to the theory that hypnotism operates by concentrating attention on a single idea in order to amplify the ideo-dynamic reflex response. Variations of the basic ideo-motor, or ideo-dynamic, theory of suggestion have continued to exercise considerable influence over subsequent theories of hypnosis, including those of Clark L. Hull, Hans Eysenck, and Ernest Rossi.[40] It should be noted that in Victorian psychology the word "idea" encompasses any mental representation, including mental imagery, memories, etc.
This finding—that PHA temporarily disrupted some people’s ability to recall the past—echoes decades of hypnosis research. What is entirely new in Mendelsohn et al.’s study is their demonstration that PHA was associated with a specific pattern of brain activation. Consistent with what normally occurs in remembering, when people in the non-PHA group performed the recognition task and successfully remembered what happened in the movie, fMRI showed high levels of activity in areas responsible for visualizing scenes (the occipital lobes) and for analyzing verbally presented scenarios (the left temporal lobe). In stark contrast, when people in the PHA group performed the recognition task and failed to remember the content of the movie, fMRI showed little or no activity in these areas. Also, fMRI showed enhanced activity in another area (the prefrontal cortex) responsible for regulating activity in other brain areas.
People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn't clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It's unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it's a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.
There are numerous applications for hypnosis across multiple fields of interest, including medical/psychotherapeutic uses, military uses, self-improvement, and entertainment. The American Medical Association currently has no official stance on the medical use of hypnosis. However, a study published in 1958 by the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association documented the efficacy of hypnosis in clinical settings.[76]
A person with depression experiences a wide variety of emotions. According to the University of New Hampshire, hypnotherapy can help a person learn to reduce and/or better control feelings of anxiety, stress, and sadness. Hypnotherapy is also used to treat negative behaviors that could be worsening a person’s depression. These behaviors may include smoking and poor eating and sleeping habits.
More than 200 years later, research in neuroscience is confirming at least parts of Mesmer’s outlandish theory. No, there is not magnetic fluid coursing through our bodies. But the power of mere suggestion — of imagination, as Franklin phrased it — is a more effective treatment than many modern skeptics might expect, causing real, measurable changes in the body and brain. Hypnotism has been shown to be an effective treatment for psychological problems, like phobias and eating disorders, but the practice also helps people with physical problems, including pain — both acute and chronic — and some gastrointestinal diseases. Physicians and psychologists have observed this with their own eyes for decades; now, many of them say that brain-imaging studies (not to mention the deep respect people tend to have for all things prefixed by “neuro”) are helping them finally prove their point.

Hypnotherapy expert, Dr Peter Marshall, former Principal of the London School of Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy Ltd. and author of A Handbook of Hypnotherapy, devised the Trance Theory of Mental Illness, which provides that people suffering from depression, or certain other kinds of neurosis, are already living in a trance and so the hypnotherapist does not need to induce them, but rather to make them understand this and help lead them out of it.[24]

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