We’ll admit it: Hypnosis can sound intimidating, or at very least like something from a Hollywood movie. Yet, the traditional technique — often classified as an alternative health option — has been used across the globe for thousands of years. In light of claims that hypnosis can help people overcome habits like smoking and conditions like depression, scientists have begun studying this technique as a valid form of treatment.
What is hypnosis?
Unlike what we’ve seen in the movies or on stage in Las Vegas, hypnosis is “a natural state of selective, focused attention,” according to the North Carolina Society of Clinical Hypnosis (NCSCH). When we enter a hypnotic state, we can access parts of our mind that are normally inaccessible.
According the NCSCH, which is a component section of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, “The focused state of hypnosis allows changes to intentionally be made ‘automatically.’” These are changes that we don’t typically make when conscious. Doctors and scientists have studied whether hypnosis can help a number of conditions.
Skin conditions and skin problems
Hypnosis may help patients with skin conditions which have a strong psychophysiological aspect. According to a study conducted by the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of South Florida, patients who suffer from skin conditions may benefit from stress reduction techniques such as hypnosis.
As the largest sensory organ of the body, our skin is intimately linked to our nervous system, which responds to stress very quickly. When reducing stress through hypnosis, many patients’ skin conditions improved. It’s clear that treating a primary psychological aspect of a skin condition — through hypnosis and other methods — helps improve patients’ overall health.
Upper digestive function
After many claims that hypnosis helps mitigate the effects of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a group of researchers decided to study the effects of hypnosis on upper digestive tract function. In a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, a research team investigated the ability of a single session of hypnosis to modulate gastric function.
The results were impressive. It appears that hypnosis may help small bowel function and may help treat relapsing peptic ulcers. Esophageal problems that result in chest pain from digestion problems may also be relieved by hypnosis. The study is good news for those who suffer from digestive issues.
Chronic pain management
Patients who have sought relief from chronic pain through hypnosis now have some scientific evidence to reinforce their claims. A team of researchers from the Texas A&M University College of Medicine and the White Clinic and Hospital located in Temple, Texas, compared 13 studies on the treatment of chronic pain through hypnosis. Researchers found that hypnosis significantly reduced chronic pain in a number of conditions. These included pain from cancer, back conditions, arthritis, sickle cell disease, temporomandibular conditions, fibromyalgia, and disability-related pain.
Many of us become nervous when it comes time for a medical procedure, so researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine decided to look at the role of hypnosis in helping to mitigate emotional distress associated with minor surgeries. After 26 randomized trials between the years 1984 and 2008, it was found that hypnosis, “had a significant, large and beneficial effect on emotional distress related to medical procedures.”
The researchers went on to suggest that patients should engage in hypnosis exercises to relieve the emotional distress experienced before and after procedures. The implication is that hypnosis can help us to overcome emotional distress from other traumatic events in our lives.
There’s also significant evidence that hypnosis can help relieve some of the emotional and physical stress during childbirth. A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology revealed that women who had engaged in hypnosis before going into labor experienced shorter labor times and less stress during childbirth.
Hot flashes are an effect of hormonal changes in the body, and they tend to occur regularly in breast cancer survivors. Bouts of hot flashes can interrupt daily activities, contribute to disrupted sleep patterns and overall decreased quality of life, but there’s good news. According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, hypnosis may significantly reduce the severity of hot flashes. Fifty-one randomly selected female breast cancer survivors in the study reported a 68 percent decrease in hot flash scores, which were calculated by multiplying frequency by average severity. Researchers also found that hypnosis may help improve sleep and reduce anxiety in cancer survivors — an unexpected benefit.
As one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States, asthma affects an estimated 39.5 million people in their lifetime. It is usually treated with prescription medications, but recently there has been a move to mitigate the effects of asthma through hypnosis. According to UC Davis, more studies are needed, but it appears that children specifically respond well to hypnosis for asthma symptom relief.
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an immune-mediated process according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS causes the central nervous system and the body’s immune system to work against one another. The exact cause of the condition is still being studied; however, it appears that hypnosis may play a role in improving multiple sclerosis pain. Twenty-two MS patients were either taught self-hypnosis techniques or progressive muscle relaxation techniques for pain management. Subjects in the study from the University of Washington School of Medicine, who engaged in self-hypnosis, found greater decreases in pain from MS both before and after hypnosis sessions than the subjects who engaged in progressive muscle relaxation. The evidence suggests that hypnosis may be a valuable option for those who suffer from this condition.
A variety of factors contribute to depression, not the least of which is stress. For years, recommendations in favor of hypnosis for depression have circulated through the fields of psychiatry and alternative healthcare. It is only recently that researchers have begun to look into these claims by studying hypnosis in a more controlled setting.
A study from the University of Calgary yielded results that show a significant decrease in depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness in subjects who engaged in cognitive hypnotherapy sessions compared to those who practiced cognitive-behavioral therapy. Studies are ongoing, but early scientific evidence presents the likelihood of hypnosis’ role in overcoming depression.
The scientific and medical communities are beginning to take notice of alternative options to healing. With some significant evidence to back up claims, it’s possible we’ll begin to see hypnosis used to help even more conditions in the future.
Have you ever been hypnotized for a condition? What was your experience?
— Megan Winkler
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.