All About Hypnosis


Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Call it hypnosis, therapeutic hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, the whole idea triggers a sense of wonder and puzzlement in most folks. It isn’t either. It is essentially a condition, where the mind accepts suggestions ‘sculpted’ by the therapist. Most clinical hypnotherapists prefer to call hypnosis ‘a state of heightened suggestibility,’ a state 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.” Add to this calm state of mind and decelerated respiration, through which the subject, individual, or patient, is instructed to focus on a certain thing, or thought, which the therapist deduces as suitable, and you are introduced to its relaxing, curative effects.

Hypnosis is also, in essence, a natural energy paladin, a form of energy medicine. It gives a relaxing, or relaxed, feeling to and in the body. The best part is — the subject, individual, or patient, is conscious and energetically participates in the hypnotic process. This is what, in effect, also assists the subject, individual, or patient, to experience its quintessential healing action, process, or journey.

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 told — that alcohol is repulsively dangerous, that smoking is ‘death,’ or that you will be able to do well in your school, college studies, sports, relationships, or career. You may also, for example, be persuaded, by the therapist, particularly during ‘stage’ hypnosis, which is enthralling, but is not part of this article, that asafoetida smells like an exotic perfume, or that a serpent is crawling over your shoulders.

Handy Tool

Brain studies elucidate why hypnosis has become more and more handy as a healing tool in modern medicine as also complementary and alternative medicine [CAM] practices. A brain-imaging study, conducted at the University of Iowa, US, reports that hypnosis actually blocks pain signals from getting to the part of the brain responsible for conscious perception of such a distress. This explains why hypnosis often helps one to go through the ordeal of tooth extraction, or third-degree burns, as not as agonising, or for cancer patients to construe that chemotherapy isn’t nauseating at all.

A classical hypnosis sitting incorporates of the following phases: 1] age regression, where the subject re-enters a realm of a previous period, and acts thus; 2] amnesia, where one is not able to recall what occurred during the trance; 3] time distortion, where a short time feels long; and, 4] analgesia, where one is unaffected by normal painful stimuli. This is not all. 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]-like fluttering of eyelids, augmented watery, reddish presence around the eyes, repeated gulping of saliva, and so on.

Hypnosis is not ‘sleep,’ albeit the word hypnos, in Greek, from where it originates, connotes sleep. This is because the subject is able to figure out almost everything they would do in the wakeful state. This has been confirmed, also validated, by electronic brain wave and neurological studies.

Hypnosis is primarily a subjective experience. It is to a certain extent objective — electroencephalogram [EEG] patterns, functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] findings, pulse, respiratory rate changes, as also behavioural and motor contexts. This can be observed, monitored, measured and documented.

From the viewpoint of psychology hypnosis empowers one to shelve ‘normal’ doubt, or distrust — this permits the individual to focus their mind on a sole, or distinctive, image and be amenable to ideas ‘engineered’ by the therapist. My mentor, the late Prof B V Krishna Murthy, a multifaceted persona — engineer, academician, educationist, philosopher, and hypnotherapist — would often refer to hypnosis, for easy comprehension, or understanding, as ‘daydreaming,’ but with a purpose, something that you experience while reading a book, watching an enthralling comedy, or a gripping suspense movie, or listening to lilting music while driving, without even realising how you reached home sans a clue, almost on ‘auto-pilot.’

Profound Effects

Brain studies of people who are susceptible to hypnotic suggestions indicate that when they ‘act’ on the therapist’s suggestions their brains show profound changes in how they process information. Hypnotic suggestions, research again contends, literally transform what people see, hear, feel, think, and believe to be true, including memory issues. What typifies the idea is called posthypnotic amnesia [PHA]. It ‘models’ memory disorders, such as functional amnesia, often dramatised in the movies, or on TV, which involves sudden memory loss, typically 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.” PHA typically occurs when it is specifically suggested. It is said to be a much more likely outcome in individuals with high levels of hypnotic ‘acceptability.’

Brain-imaging studies also demonstrate that hypnosis can alter the manner in which sensory messages are received in the brain and experienced in the body. Positron Emission Tomography [PET] scans have revealed certain active areas of the brain through which hypnotised subjects process ‘suggested’ sounds and images in the same part of the brain that registers real patterns. Put simply, the brain accepts hallucinations as genuine during hypnosis. On the contrary — just imagining sensations, without hypnosis, may not have the same effect.

This also explains why hypnosis is being used, with good effect, as a handy tool in deep muscle relaxation — more so, in the treatment of anxiety. When the subject has closed their eyes and is completely relaxed, the therapist instructs them to visualise various anxiety-producing situations — starting from the mildest and, thereafter, moving onto the most distressing of symptoms. This, ‘following’ of such unconventional instructions, is called hypnotic susceptibility. Therapists report that children between seven and 14 are the most susceptible, albeit 75-87 per cent of people can be hypnotised. It is also evidenced that individuals who can be easily hypnotised are the ones most likely to derive the maximum benefit. One benchmark used for such validation is the intelligence quotient [IQ]; the greater the IQ, the better the prospect of a good response. What’s more, hypnosis may be used, under professional guidance, to boost one’s emotional quotient [EQ] too.

Most people report they know that they had been hypnotised, although some tend to speak of a special, almost mystical state. This is said to occur because of a feedback loop, where subjects are often led into the early stages of a trance, aroused and questioned for their particular experience of hypnosis. The information is subsequently used to help the subject to go into a deeper trance.

There is also a certain physical dimension to ongoing states of hypnosis. One is called catalepsy, a condition typified by rigidity, most often of the eyelids. When the subject is asked, in such a state, to relax the muscles of the eyelids intensely, the eyelids will not open. This leads to complete relaxation, and a natural readiness to co-operate in the hypnotic process. 

Hypnosis is, for the most part, intended to induce relaxation and a willingness to listen. The process per se may occasionally establish a special kind of empathy between the subject and the therapist — sometimes with powerful emotional overtones. When this ensues, most susceptible subjects could be made suggestible without direct hypnotic suggestions; for instance, via telephone.

Advantages & Limitations

Hypnosis is suggested to provide the individual with more restraint over their actions in health, or illness. All the same, the therapy, on its own, cannot treat all psychosomatic and other disorders. It has its advantages and limitations — like any other system of healing. This is primarily because most organic disorders require medication, other treatments and lifestyle changes. Hypnosis would be beneficial, in such cases, as a supportive therapy, because anxiety, the most likely annoyance, can be eased and the rate of improvement speeded up. This has been clinically established, following operative procedures where significant healing of the surgical wound often emerges under hypnotic treatment.

All the same, hypnosis has proved to be a successful supplementary therapeutic tool in the treatment of medical disorders, such as asthma, arthritis, atopic dermatitis [eczema], psoriasis, warts, vaginismus, and so on — not to speak of obesity. For sceptics — hypnotic behaviours, as they argue, are no different from behaviours of subjects willing to think about and ‘picture,’ themes suggested to them. If subjects’ attitudes towards a given situation can lead them to expect certain effects, they assert, they are more likely to occur.

Hypnotherapy, especially self-hypnosis, is a workable adjuvant for cancer patients to coping with a plethora of symptoms — preferably under professional guidance — pain, nausea, fatigue, hot flashes, and sleep-related disorders.

Hypnotic suggestions, from sessions or after frequent listening, from a recording, may be of great help too. They can reduce, for example, the pain pattern for the expectant mother during childbirth. They can also assist one to get over a harmful habit — smoking, alcohol, or drug dependence — or, make an awfully anxious individual unwind. They could help one overcome stammering too. In addition, hypnosis can be used to improve learning skills and ‘propel’ sportspersons to conquer a mental block. There are a host of champion sportspersons who would testify — as to how hypnosis transformed them, from the depths of despair, or lean trots, to stupendous success. To highlight a few famous examples: Sir Vivian Richards, Michael Jordan, Mary Lou Retton, ‘Tiger’ Woods, and a host of past, contemporary, and up and coming sportspersons, among others.

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 prospects, or take us to the next level.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360. 

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