Look into my eyes … You’re getting very sleepy.

You can’t affect the cards that are dealt, but you can determine how you play them.

Milton Erickson, MD
The father of modern hypnotherapy

When we think of hypnosis, we typically think of a stage performance in which the subject is crowing like a rooster or engaged in some outlandish behavior designed to entertain. Many view hypnosis as a “party trick” or an “act” for amusement. However, the practice of medical hypnosis can be traced back thousands of years in cultures around the world. It was once used for pain management during surgery until doctors started using ether. Today, physicians, licensed psychotherapists and psychologists commonly use it as a tool for change. Hypnosis or hypnotherapy, has been known to help patients with everything from depression, anxiety and phobias to smoking cessation, weight loss, stress management and irritable bowel syndrome. Some hospitals even use it as a tool to reduce pain in individuals before, during and after surgery, as well as in patients with chronic conditions or diseases. Hypnosis is a human condition involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion.

One major myth regarding hypnosis is that the individual is unconscious – and powerless. Most people have a clear memory of what happens during hypnosis, while another’s recollection might be not as clear. Some might be able to move their head or lift a finger if they’re prompted, whereas others will remain impassive. Everyone’s experience with hypnosis can differ. While “under” hypnosis, you are not rendered unconscious; you are simply in a deeply relaxed state. In fact, we enter “trance” states all the time. Most of us are familiar with highway hypnosis, the phenomenon in which the person can drive a vehicle great distances, responding to external events in the expected, safe and correct manner with no recollection of having consciously done so. Another example of a common trance state is watching a movie. When we watch a movie, we know actors are up on the screen. We know that this story is not happening in real life. But for those few hours, we can experience emotions and a connection to the story. A movie can create an experience of happiness, sadness, suspense, fear or joy.

Hypnosis is a deeply relaxed state in which suggestions can be given to assist the individual in changing a maladaptive behavior. Do you remember when you were playing as a child and fell down, and your parent kissed your “boo boo,” and you instantly went back to play? Suggestion can change our behaviors.

One of the major problems within the field of research is when clinical trials are conducted and a medication or placebo is given to a subject, the placebo (a sugar pill) turns out to work too well. Researchers don’t like this. Unaware subjects who receive the placebo should not report a difference from the sugar pill, but sometimes they do. The subject’s belief or the “suggestion” that the “pill” is going to improve how one feels, in fact, improves how he or she feels. Recent studies have also found that even a physician’s own presentation of the effectiveness of a new medication to the patient, can result in a patient’s higher perception that the medication is going to be effective, resulting in a more positive result for the patient.

Even though hypnosis has faced many misconceptions through the years, it remains an effective technique in making behavioral changes and improving the lives of many individuals. Not everyone may respond to hypnotherapy in the same way, but this can also be said about other treatment approaches. In searching for a hypnotherapist, find a licensed professional within the mental health or medical fields, and who has been certified to conduct this clinical hypnosis. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is a resource, which can assist in locating a certified hypnotherapist in your area. Like meditation, guided imagery, acupuncture, and music therapy, Hypnotherapy can be a valuable tool in providing a healing science to facilitate the body’s innate healing response.