About Hypnosis and How It Works

Though many people associate hypnotism with second-rate magicians, the practice is, in fact, supported by a large number of clinicians and neuroscientists who see it as a powerful tool to access the minds of patients suffering from psychological and psychosomatic disorders. Yet, in order to get the best results out of this strange and apparently effective therapy, it’s vital to know exactly how it affects the brain, which is why a team of researches from Stanford University has conducted a new study looking at which brain regions are most altered by hypnosis, publishing their findings in the journal “Cerebral Cortex”.

To conduct their research, the team screened 545 people in order to determine their susceptibility to being hypnotized, using the Harvard Group Scale for Hypnotic Susceptibility. This enabled them to identify 36 people with particularly high hypnotizability scores, who were all selected to take part int the study along with 21 controls who returned extremely low scores.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers scanned the brain of each participant while at rest, while, at the same time, recalling a memory and being hypnotized by listening to a voice recording specially designed to place listeners into a hypnotic trance state.

Explaining the need for this type of research, study co-author David Spiegel claimed in a statement that “hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling, swinging watches and purple capes… In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” Therefore, it’s the choice of methods or therapies to change behavior for self-improvement such as tobacco smoking cessation, eating healthy to promote weight loss and better health, increase self-esteem, etc.

Because the default mode network (DMN) is largely responsible for a sense of self-awareness and episodic memory, the executive control networks would appear to explain how hypnosis enables people to remain conscious and able to act yet with no ability to reflect on their involvement in these actions.

The second major finding was an increase in connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and a brain region called the insula which is associated with somatic function, pain processing, emotion, empathy and a sense of time. This, the researchers say, could explain how hypnosis enables people to overcome or manage pain. Women are being hypnotized to birth their baby free from any pain. Burn victims who cannot be given pain relief drugs are hypnotized to feel no pain during burn wound cleaning, applying sterile dressing, and during recovery from their burns. See photo of a burn victim in hypnosis being debrided (burnt flesh removed from her body) by a surgeon and feels no pain! Also see the photo of a patient undergoing brain surgery without use of anesthesia, is awake, aware and talking to the surgeon completely free from pain! 

 

Finally, the research team noted a decrease in activity in a brain region called the dorsal interior cingulate cortex (DACC), which forms part of the salience network and is involved in “context evaluation”, helping us decide what to focus on and what to ignore. This finding is highly consistent with the strange behavior of people in hypnotic trances who often appear totally unaware of certain elements of their environment.

Summing up, the study authors claim that no brain areas are actually shut down during hypnosis. Instead, the patient’s connectivity is safely altered while the patient is in a state of hypnosis with some connectivity becoming separated and some becoming integrated. As such, they claim that their research “reinforces the idea of hypnosis as a different state of consciousness, rather than a reduced level of arousal.” This is why hypnosis, when used as a therapy, hence “hypnotherapy”, works and is safe when the patient is induced into a proper level of hypnosis by an experienced, Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist or Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy.

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