What is hypnosis?
According to the American Psychological Association, hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests while treating someone, that he or she experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts or behaviour.
Although some hypnosis is used to make people more alert, most hypnosis includes suggestions for relaxation, calmness and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included during hypnosis.
People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe hypnosis as a state of focused attention, in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Most people describe the experience as pleasant.
Is there evidence that hypnosis works?
Yes. While there are plenty of examples in the scientific literature attesting to the usefulness of clinical hypnosis, a study published in the journal Gut is noteworthy. The study involved 204 people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Treatment consisted of 12 weekly sessions of hypnosis (lasting about one hour each). Fifty-eight percent of the men and 75 percent of the women reported significant symptom relief immediately after finishing treatment.
More than 80 percent of those who reported initial relief were still improved up to six years later. Fewer than 10 percent of the participants tried other treatments after hypnotherapy. (Gut, November 2003).
Can everyone be hypnotised?
People differ in the degree to which they respond to hypnosis. A person's ability to experience hypnosis can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions.
Contrary to some depictions of hypnosis in books, movies or television, people who have been hypnotized do not lose control over their behavior. Unless amnesia has specifically been suggested, people remain aware of who they are, where they are and remember what transpired during hypnosis.
Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences.
Is hypnosis therapy?
Hypnosis is not a type of psychotherapy. It also is not a treatment in and of itself; rather, it is a procedure that can be used to facilitate other types of therapies and treatments.
Clinical hypnosis should be conducted only by properly trained and credentialed health care professionals who also have been trained in the use of hypnosis and who are working within the limits of their professional expertise.
Practical uses for hypnosis
Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain; depression; anxiety and phobias; stress; habit disorders; gastro-intestinal disorders; skin conditions; post-surgical recovery; relief from nausea and vomiting; childbirth; treatment of haemophilia and many other conditions. However, it may not be useful for all psychological and/or medical problems or for all patients or clients.
The decision to use hypnosis as an adjunct to treatment should only be made in consultation with a qualified health care provider who has been trained in the use and limitations of clinical hypnosis. In addition to its use in clinical settings, hypnosis is used in research and forensic settings.
Researchers study the value of hypnosis in the treatment of physical and psychological problems and examine the impact of hypnosis on sensation, perception, learning and memory.
Adapted from The American Psychological Association, ‘Hypnosis today: looking beyond the media portrayal,’ www.apa.org/topics/hypnosis/media.aspx