Hypnosis is a state of consciousness in which the person loses their voluntary actions but is highly responsive to suggestion. It is a trance state that is characterised by relaxation and heightened imagination, however, it isn’t like being asleep - due to the subject being alert for the duration of the hypnosis.
You may associate hypnosis with the image of an evil-looking cartoon man with a moustache, swinging a pocket watch back and forth and guiding his subject into a trance, causing them to say, “yes, master”. However, this image has very little resemblance to what actually happens in hypnotism as the subjects aren’t slaves to their masters - they have free will.
The main school of thought on hypnotism is that it is a way to directly enter someone’s subconscious mind; the mind that allows you to construct sentences and even find your keys. It is your subconscious mind that looks after all of those things that you do automatically. For example, if we had to think about breathing every time we did it, we would all be out of breath! Think about driving or riding a bike, not everything that you do in those processes is a result of conscious thought, you will automatically change gears whilst concentrating on the road ahead. This is all because of the subconscious mind.
The burning question that many of us have is “does hypnosis actually work?”. The answer is yes, however, it will only work if you want to be, and believe that you can be, hypnotised. It is possible for the subject to bring themselves out of the hypnotic state if they no longer want to be hypnotised. People differ in the degree to which they respond to hypnosis and a person’s ability to be hypnotised can be inhibited by fears.
The impacts of hypnotism on the brain can now be measured scientifically, which allows us to conclude that it does actually work. Professor David Spiegel, a researcher from Stanford University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that he scanned the brains of volunteers who were told they were looking at coloured objects when in fact, they were black and white. In those subjects hypnotised and told they were looking at coloured objects, the areas of the brain associated with colour lit up even when they looked at the grayscale images, whereas they did not in the control subjects who had not been hypnotised.
Hypnosis is becoming increasingly important in medicine and mental health, although it has been used in some form for years - with 19th century doctors in India using hypnosis as an anaesthetic! Hypnotherapy is now a widely promoted treatment for various long-term conditions and for breaking certain habits, the most common being smoking. It is a well known treatment for anxiety and depression and it is now becoming increasingly popular for those wanting to lose weight.
To help people stop smoking, hypnotherapy gets people to use their imagination to create a non-smoking future for themselves which is often very uplifting and empowering. This is done because, usually, smoking is an emotional decision taken at a subconscious level rather than being a logical decision. The purpose of hypnotherapy is to reverse this decision at the same level as the decision was made.
A recent study was performed on chronic insomniac, Suzie, who turned to a self-hypnosis course at University College London after acupuncture, yoga, herbal teas and a regimented bedtime ritual failed to get her to sleep. Her consultant stated, “it was clear that anxiety was a problem, high levels of adrenaline make it difficult to sleep”. For Suzie, self-hypnosis techniques proved very helpful as they have shown to improve her concentration. This is due to visual imagery and sense of touch being important in creating a comfort zone. Consultant Dr. Walters says that it is important to suggests details, such as touch. Suzie said, “hypnosis provided me with answers.”
Hypnosis doesn’t have to be so calculated, though. Have you ever gotten so engrossed in a good book that you missed your bus stop or ignored someone trying to talk to you? Some scientific studies have reported that brain activity during simple activities such as driving, reading a book or watching TV can resemble a hypnotic state. Sometimes we can simply become so engrossed in something that we can effectively hypnotise ourselves!
So, hypnosis is not just a myth or something that you see in films, and it certainly isn’t something that makes the subject be a slave to their “master”. It is a technique that can actually work, with varying levels of efficiency, and it is becoming increasingly common and vital to the practises of many medical professionals.