Many people ask: What is hypnosis? Is hypnosis dangerous? Are you asleep while you are hypnotized and is there a risk that you will not wake up? In answer to all these questions: Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness.
During hypnotic treatment, the individual focuses on his or her own experiences and reaches a different level of consciousness: thinking in images, a slowing down of logical/conceptual thought, sensual experiences of sights and sounds, similar to a dream state. Yet unlike someone who is asleep and dreaming, the hypnosis patient is not asleep. Hypnosis is not a state of sleep. The hypnosis patient is conscious and can intellectually, emotionally and physically sense everything that happens during the treatment. The patient hears, listens and responds. Hypnosis is not a state of unconsciousness. The hypnosis patient is fully conscious and knows and feels what is going on. Patients direct their attention inwardly, and this inner awareness exceeds their inner awareness during everyday life.
During hypnotherapy, patients cannot be "forced" or "convinced" to do anything that contradicts their own moral or ethical standards. Hypnosis does not breach the patient's own personal integrity but rather operates according to the norms acceptable to the patient.
Hypnotherapy is not unsafe and entails nothing dangerous, provided the therapy is performed by a hypnotherapist licensed by the Ministry of Health to practice hypnotherapy in accordance with the 1984 Hypnosis Law. The certificate authorizing someone to practice hypnotherapy is similar to the license granted to doctors to practice medicine or to psychologists to practice psychology. Hypnotherapy should not be practiced by anyone not holding this license. Anyone who practices hypnosis without a license is committing a criminal act and is subject to punishment by law. Some therapists practice relaxation and guided imagery. These two techniques are used in hypnotherapy but are not hypnotic treatment themselves.
Hypnotic manifestations occur spontaneously during everyday life. Manifestations such as trance states, high degrees of suggestibility, selective attention and others emerge during religious ceremonies, family rituals, couple behavioral patterns and more. For example, when you sit next to the driver of a car you may find yourself responding as if you are the one pressing the gas pedal or the brakes.
This is an ideomotor reflex, referring to the mutual relationship between thought/imagination and motoric responses. A mother feeding her baby often opens her mouth when her baby opens his mother upon seeing each spoonful of food. This is also an example of the mutual relationship between the sight of the baby's open mouth and the body's spontaneous motoric response.
How is all this related to hypnosis?
During hypnotherapy, connections are formed between all the bodily systems. It is possible to think about or imagine someone and this will result in some sort of bodily response. In other words, when you think about or imagine someone, your body responds accordingly.
Here is an example: The patient thinks about "lemon juice" and under the guidance of the therapist attempts to imagine "lemon juice" and then is likely to taste lemon juice, smell lemon juice and so on.
Another example: The patient thinks about "a beautiful lake in nature" and under the guidance of the therapist attempts to imagine "a beautiful lake in nature." The patient is then likely to experience a reduction in muscle tone in various places in the body (muscle relaxation) as an expression of quiet, relaxation, peace and pleasure—the results of thinking about "a beautiful lake in nature." In other words, physiological change can be aroused by a verbal message when the patient is in a deep state of relaxation and is separated from disturbing and distracting background factors. People undergoing hypnosis report that they hear everything the therapist says, but at the same time they are also in an altered state of consciousness, for example, at the beach, in nature, at work, at home, during childhood or any other place relevant to hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy usually entails four stages: The first stage is the preliminary interview, in which the hypnotherapist gets to know all aspects related to the patient's medical and/or emotional problem. During this stage, the therapist also provides an explanation of hypnosis, examines the patient's beliefs about hypnosis and provides reliable and responsible information about hypnotherapy. In the second stage, the hypnotherapist helps the patient enter into a hypnotic trance state using various hypnotic methods. The hypnotherapist also deepens the patient's trance state in order to move to the third stage. This stage entails providing treatment in accordance with the patient's problem. The fourth stage in hypnotherapy is known as dehypnosis or breaking the trance. In this stage, the therapist removes the patient from the hypnotic trance and returns him to an ordinary state of consciousness.
Hypnotherapy is used to treat various conditions: chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, back and lower limbs; joint pain; skeletomuscular pain after accidents and injuries; high blood pressure, chest pains with or without cardiac illness; illnesses that attack the immune system; allergies and asthma; skin blisters and hair loss; irritable bowel syndrome; bedwetting; side effects of oncological treatments such as nausea, vomiting and hair loss; anxiety, stress, phobias; sleep disturbances; fear of public appearances and stage fright; stopping smoking; weight loss and obesity; and more.
Hypnosis does not attempt to manipulate or trick the patient or to pull the wool over the patient's eyes. Cooperative patients are capable of entering into a hypnotic trance. Some people are born with the ability to enter into a hypnotic state easily. In countries that allow hypnosis to be used for entertainment purposes, people have been known to enter into a trance state quickly during stage performances. This occurs among particular individuals in the audience who are extremely open to suggestion. Such individuals are highly susceptible to hypnotic manifestations. Hypnotherapy patients as well also bring such abilities to the therapy room. Personality characteristics such as curiosity, the desire to change, the desire to be cured and the motivation and desire to take personal responsibility for hypnotherapy are all important background factors that contribute to treatment success.
In many cases, hypnotherapy can be integrated as a defined part of a longer therapeutic process. In addition, hypnotherapy can be considered in cases where medical and emotional treatment gets "stuck" and both the patient and the therapist believe that hypnosis can help achieve better results. Indeed, hypnosis has already become a standard means of treatment in psychotherapy and in medicine and is backed up by evidence-based scientific research.
Scientific support for hypnosis
Over the past two decades, research in the field of hypnotic manifestations has expanded, with many studies conducted on the brain, the different brain centers and the electrical activity of the brain in the specific context of hypnosis.
Today brain research provides clear scientific support for the existence of hypnotic manifestations, and many researchers are engaged in investigating this field. For example, researchers and scientists are searching for findings to support the hypothesis that entry into a hypnotic state is based on functional changes in different brain regions. In the past, the scientific definition of hypnosis was a matter of controversy and was often revised. The development of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) techniques has changed all this.
fMRI methodology has existed since the early 1990s. In addition to structural mapping of the brain based on MRI scans, this method uses signals based on metabolic changes to map regions involved in language, hearing, vision, motion, feeling, memory and more. The clear advantage of fMRI over other mapping techniques is that it is not invasive, is not based on ionic radiation and does not require injecting any contrast or radioactive substances. Hence, the test is not dangerous and can be repeated as often as necessary.
For the past two decades, brain scientists have been using fMRI to examine hypnosis. Signaling this trend is the groundbreaking paper published by David Spiegel and colleagues from Stanford Medical School titled "Hypnotic Visual Illusion Alters Color Processing in the Brain." The study examined highly hypnotizable subjects (i.e., those with the ability to enter a hypnotic state). Participants were asked to perceive a shape under two conditions: In the ordinary viewing condition they viewed a shape that contained different colors while their brain responses were recorded by fMRI. In the other condition participants were asked to view the same shape while they were in a hypnotic state. This time they were shown the same shape in black and white and were asked to view it as if it contained colors. In this condition as well, their brain responses were recorded by fMRI.
The brain response results showed that when the participants were in a hypnotic state, the brain regions involved in color identification were active even when they were shown a gray shape and asked to view it as if it contained colors. The researchers concluded that the subjective experience (hypnosis) of viewing a black and white shape resembles the experience of viewing an actual colored shape.
Hypnotherapy has been found effective as a treatment for different medical and emotional problems. Hypnotherapy can also shorten the time needed to treat the problems for which patients seek clinical treatment.