A brain-imaging study, conducted at the University of Iowa, US, evidenced that hypnosis actually blocks pain signals from getting to the part of the brain responsible for conscious perception of such distress. This elucidates why hypnosis helps one to go through the ordeal of tooth extraction, or third-degree burns, or for cancer patients to construe that chemotherapy isn't nauseating at all
The word, hypnosis, therapeutic hypnosis, or, better still, hypnotherapy, connotes awe and perplexity in most people. It isn't either. It is essentially a condition, where the mind accepts suggestions 'articulated' by the therapist. Most clinical hypnotherapists prefer to call hypnosis 'a state of heightened suggestibility' that can be generated by a permutation of elements – viz., the fixation of a point, a timepiece, rhythmic repetitive instructions and/or the use of a categorised series of suggestions–for example, "You will now feel heavy in the eye."
When the subject relaxes during hypnosis, they yield control of themselves in several ways. When one progressively enters a trance-like state, where they feel, or act, in the exact manner as defined by the therapist, they will 'live through' what they are being told–that alcohol is disgustingly perilous, that smoking is 'killing,' or that you will be able to do well in academics, sports or career.
On the scientific 'upside', brain effect studies explain why hypnosis has become increasingly useful as a therapeutic tool in conventional medicine as also complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) protocols. A brainimaging study, conducted at the University of Iowa, US, evidenced that hypnosis actually blocks pain signals from getting to the part of the brain responsible for conscious perception of such distress. This elucidates why hypnosis often helps one to go through the ordeal of tooth extraction, or third-degree burns, as not 'overly' agonising, or for cancer patients to construe that chemotherapy isn't nauseating at all.
A typical hypnosis session encompasses of the following stages: 1) age regression, where the subject returns to a world of an earlier period, and acts accordingly; 2) amnesia, where one is not able to recollect what happened during the trance; 3) time distortion, where a short period feels like a long time; and, 4) analgesia, where one is insensitive to normal painful stimuli.
Subjects, in deep hypnotic states, go through a host of patterns–change of breathing, skin complexion, from bright to pale, postural slump, rapid eye movement (REM)-type of fluttering of eyelids, amplified watery, red 'appearance' around the eyes, frequent swallowing of saliva, and so on.
Hypnosis is primarily a subjective experience.
From the psychological point-of-view hypnosis enables one to suspend 'normal' cynicism, or scepticism – this allows the individual to focus attention on a solitary, or distinct, element and be open to suggestions 'created' by the therapist.
My mentor, the late Prof B V Krishna Murthy–engineer, academician, educationist, philosopher and hypnotherapist–would often refer to hypnosis, for easy comprehension, as 'daydreaming', but with a purpose, something that you experience while reading a book, watching a comedy, or suspense movie, or listening to lilting music while driving, without even realising how you reached home almost on 'auto-pilot'. Brain studies of people who are susceptible to hypnotic suggestions indicate that when they 'act' on the therapist's suggestions, their brains display profound changes in how they process information.
Hypnotic suggestions literally transform what people see, hear, feel, think and believe to be true, including memory issues. One classical technique that exemplifies the idea is called post-hypnotic amnesia (PHA). It 'models' memory disorders, such as functional amnesia, often dramatised in movies, which typifies sudden memory loss, primarily due to psychological trauma, rather than actual brain damage, or disease.
Hypnotherapists 'trigger' PHA by suggesting to the hypnotised individual that after hypnosis they will forget specific things until they receive a 'cancellation note', such as, "Now, you can remember everything."
Hypnosis is evidenced to leave the individual with more control over their actions in health and illness.
However this may be, the therapy, on its own, cannot treat all psychosomatic and/orfunctional disorders.
It has its advantages and limitations-like any other system of healing.
This is also because most organic disorders require medication, clinically-focused treatments and lifestyle changes. Hypnosis would be useful, in such cases, as an adjuvant, because the anxiety factor, the most likely bugbear, can be reduced and the rate of recovery speeded up.
Hypnosis has also proved to be a successful supplementary therapeutic tool in the treatment of asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, warts, vaginismus, and so on–not to speak of obesity. Hypnotherapy, especially self-hypnosis is a feasible adjuvant for cancer patients to coping with a plethora of symptoms,viz., pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, hot flushes and sleep-related disorders– preferably under professional guidance. Self-hypnosis may also be more than just a useful tool, afocused relaxation practice, to beating the numerous anxieties and fears vis-à-vis the on-going, awfully dreadful COVID-19 pandemic.
Hypnotic suggestions, from sittings or after repeated hearings, from a recorded clip, may be of enormous help, too. They can ease, for instance, the pain complex for the expectant mother during labour.
They can also help one get over a bad habit– smoking, alcohol, or drug addiction–or, make an extremely nervous individual relax. They could help one overcome stammering, too.
In addition, hypnosis can be used to improve learning skills and 'propel' sportspersons to overcoming a mental block.
The reason is simple. Relaxation, as hypnosis achieves, is everything. It brings out the best in us just as nature has endowed us with–to augment and expand our self-assurance, or take us to the next level.
Nidamboor is a wellness physician
A version of this article appears in the print on July 14 2021, of The Himalayan Times.