Many people find themselves completely absorbed into a book they are reading or a movie they are watching to the point that they become unaware of what is going on around them. Some feel a strange, warm sensation come over us them just before falling asleep. While running long distances or finishing a hard workout, our bodies begin to feel lighter and it is almost as if our minds and bodies are separate entities.
On our drive home from work, our brain shifts into auto-pilot to get us home. We often encounter trance-like states similar to hypnosis throughout the day, without even intentionally trying. Today, hypnosis techniques are being used to treat a number of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to chronic headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
In 2000, Harvard researchers sought an answer to the question: Does being hypnotized change the brain? In their study, they asked a group of men to hold a brick out in front of them as long as they could, which was five minutes for most fully conscious subjects. However, under hypnotic suggestion, they held the brick out for fifteen to twenty minutes. Next, subjects were hypnotized and placed in an MRI scanner. A computer screen showed them patterns of yellow, red, blue and green rectangles and recorded their brain activity.
Then they were shown the same rectangles in shades of gray and were asked to imagine the colors. When they were not hypnotized, both activities showed brain activity on the right side only, but when they were hypnotized both the left and the right hemispheres responded. “What we have shown for the first time,” lead researcher Stephen Kosslyn concluded, “is that hypnosis changes conscious experience in a way not possible when we are not under hypnosis.”
“I used to be a skeptic, then years ago I took part in a TV program where pregnant women were taught self-hypnosis to help them sleep. Determined to prove it didn’t work, I tried it out myself at home, and promptly dropped off. Now I use it every night,” confessed UK journalist Miriam Stoppard. She adds that a 2006 study on 84 American schoolchildren conducted by State University of New York Upstate Medical University at Syracuse reported positive findings that hypnotism could improve sleep habits. Of those who took more than thirty minutes to fall asleep each night, 90% reported improvement with their insomnia following hypnosis sessions.
Another use for clinical hypnosis is smoking cessation. In 2007, North Shore Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital ran a study regarding the effectiveness of stop smoking hypnotherapy, versus those who quit cold turkey, those who received nicotine replacement therapy or those who received nicotine replacement therapy and hypnotherapy combined. Just over six months later, researchers found that 50% of those treated with hypnotherapy alone were nonsmokers and 50% of those treated with NRT/hypnotherapy had quit fully, compared to 25% in the “cold turkey” control group and 15.78% in the nicotine replacement therapy only group.