When you think of hypnosis, what comes to mind? Do you picture a snake-oil salesman beckoning in passersby at a carnival?  Do you imagine a parlor trick that makes a participant bark like a dog and then remember nothing of it afterwards?  Do you think of an old movie you once saw that was full of mystery and magic in which someone in a hypnotic state revealed their deepest secrets? 

            These are some of the images that may come into your mind when thinking about hypnosis, but they are not the reality.  Although some question the validity and effectiveness of hypnosis, others feel it is a true science that can offer a great deal of help and aid for many people with a wide variety of issues.

What is Hypnosis?

            Hypnosis is “a special psychological state with certain physiological attributes.”  It is similar to sleep but the hypnotized individual is differently aware than he or she would be in either a sleep or awakened state.  When under hypnosis, the participant will be more receptive than normal, and will respond to questions in a more open manner than during a full awake state.

            When someone is hypnotized, he or she appears to only listen to and respond to the hypnotist, and is unaware of his or her environment other than when that same hypnotist specifically points out things.  Oftentimes, the senses of the hypnotized individual can be fooled through suggestions of the hypnotist, and the participant can see, smell, and touch things that are not actually there. 

The History of Hypnosis

            Hypnotism has been around for many centuries, and was often viewed as magic or sorcery by onlookers long ago.  It wasn’t until the end of the 1700s that German physician Franz Mesmer began using it medically on his patients in Vienna and Paris.  Although Mesmer believed that hypnotism – then called mesmerism – connected the subject with the occult, and he was discredited as a result, later medical doctors continued his work.  In the mid 1800s, Dr. James Braid of English gave it its name, hypnotism, after Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep.

            By the 1880s, many doctors were using it with their patients including some European doctors and the famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud.  He began to use hypnosis on his patients early on in his career, but later abandoned it in favor of free-association and other psychoanalytic techniques.  However, due to his interest in the subject, hypnosis began to spread even further in the medical field, and now it has many applications to help people with numerous mental health issues.

How it Works

            Hypnosis, when used in a medical setting, is called hypnotherapy.  In order to bring the patient into a hypnotic state, the practitioner first helps him or her relax by staring at an object.   Slowly, the subject becomes tired and his or her eyelids begin to droop until the close, at which point he or she will exhibit signs of sleep such as deep breathing and limp muscles.  This works best when the subject trusts the therapist, and when the subject believes that hypnosis is possible.

            Once the participant is “under,” the therapist will ask him or her to do simple things to ensure that the hypnosis is working. Eventually, the questions and tasks will become more difficult and involved, which is where the real work can begin.  The level of trance state will vary greatly based on the individual.  However, in general, hypnotized individuals will be more willing to answer questions from the therapist openly and may remember events from their past that they have otherwise suppressed. 

Hypnosis as Therapy

            Today, medical, psychiatric, psychological, and dental associations worldwide have officially endorsed hypnosis.  Although there are few studies that prove its effectiveness, many medical professionals attribute this to the wide range of reactions and experiences felt by participants and the lack of quality studies; anecdotal and qualitative evidence seems to show that it works.  It is often used to help patients prepare for anesthesia, in childbirth, and in smoking cessation programs.  It has also been used to help manage terminal cancer, to help people overcome the fear of dental work, and to reduce the prevalence and intensity of high blood pressure and headaches. 

            In order to properly administer hypnosis, the medical professional must go through training.  Some places require certification as well.  Although hypnotism still appears in magic shows and in other public performances, most medical professionals frown upon it, and warn against the dangers of it when used by people who are not properly trained.

Hypnotherapy & Addiction

            Hypnotherapy can be helpful for people working on recovery from drugs or alcohol.  Although it is certainly not a cure for addiction, regular hypnotherapy sessions with a licensed hypnotherapist can aid in reducing some of the physical challenges of recovery.  Withdrawal often comes with anxiety and physical pain, and hypnosis can help an individual work through that.  Furthermore, when used in a psychological or psychiatric setting, hypnotherapy can encourage more open communication with the therapist, and can help him or her lead the client down a path of deeper and more open path for therapy. 

            Whether you believe in hypnosis and hypnotherapy or not, there seems to be a lot of people in support of it who have experienced results firsthand.  If hypnosis is something you would like to try, consult your doctor or therapist.  You may find that it helps you to open doors that were previously closed to you, and you may be able to move forward on your recovery in a place you were previously stalled.  Good luck!

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