If you've ever been to a state fair or magic show, you might have seen a hypnotist in action. The theatrical performer invites a volunteer to the stage and places them in a stupor. The things that hypnotized people do seem outlandish and unbelievable, but hypnosis is more than a stage trick. Psychoanalysts, physicians, and neurologists have long used this practice to delve into the human mind, and today, experts are exploring its healing potential in the world of medicine.

What Is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis refers both to a trance-like state of altered consciousness and the method used to achieve that state. A person who undergoes hypnosis and enters a trance is "hypnotized," which reduces their ability to control their mental and physical faculties and makes them more prone to suggestion.

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The History of Hypnosis

Hypnosis has been part of society for thousands of years. It was employed by ancient religious and tribal rituals and physicians. Modern hypnosis originated with a German doctor named Franz Mesmer, who believed a supernatural or magical force flowed between the patient and the hypnotizer. The term itself was first presented by Scottish surgeon James Braid, who believed that hypnosis was a sleep-like state. Neurologist Sigmund Freud eventually used hypnosis to tap into the repressed memories of his clients and as a form of therapy. This aroused public interest in the topic, although Freud later abandoned the practice. Interest reignited in the late 20th century; hypnosis has become a feature of both medicine and entertainment.

History Hypnosis Mesmer Freud Braid Manfred Schmid / Getty Images


Types of Hypnosis

Some of the types of hypnosis include

  • Self-hypnosis. An individual who self-hypnotizes induces a trance on their own by methods such as autosuggestion.
  • Hypnotherapy can help psychologists and physicians change a patient's behaviors, physical afflictions, or aid in the treatment of mental illnesses.
  • Music hypnosis. This area of hypnosis is less explored than other aspects of the therapy. Franz Mesmer studied it initially, but there is little research concerning music’s ability to induce a trance.

Other forms include hypnotic analgesia and neurolinguistic programming.

Types of Hypnosis Hypnotherapy Self-Hypnosis martin-dm / Getty Images


Hypnosis and Chronic Pain

Various research cites hypnosis as a significant factor in the reduction of chronic pain. One compilation of studies found a significant difference in outcomes for patients who received hypnotherapy versus patients who underwent other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy. Many of the studies exploring the use of hypnosis in pain management are small, however, and the topic requires more research.

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Hypnosis and Smoking

Hypnosis, along with other forms of treatment like nicotine patches, has helped produce positive outcomes in some people who smoke. Research shows most results become evident six to twelve months after beginning therapy. Some studies, however, show no difference between people who are hypnotized and people who didn't receive any treatment. Many of these research projects do not chemically test participants at the end of the study, so determining whether or not they quit smoking can only be determined by their own claims.

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Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Some physicians recommend hypnosis for soothing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms and improving quality of life. It can help alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort and ease psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety. It remains to be seen whether hypnosis could be a standalone treatment or is most effective in conjunction with traditional medicine.

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Does Hypnosis Help Sleepwalking?

Studies that research the effects of hypnosis on parasomnias primarily look into sleep phenomena that do not have roots in trauma. In these cases, hypnosis is somewhat successful in improving sleep quality and decreasing the frequency of parasomnias such as sleepwalking and night terrors. Overall, studies show that hypnosis is moderately effective in improving sleepwalking.

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How Effective and Safe is Hypnosis?

The efficacy of hypnosis remains dependent and flexible. A client's susceptibility varies, and what works on some is ineffective for others. Hypnosis seems to work more effectively on some disorders and illnesses — such as IBS — than others, but these results also vary from person to person. Hypnosis is generally safe and does not pose any dangers to the person being hypnotized, as long as a trusted professional carries out the treatment.

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Hypnosis in the Military

Declassified military documents and research done by the CIA shows that the government has explored hypnosis as a method for training POWs as assassins and interrogating individuals suspected of criminal involvement. When training assassins, the problem arises with how to conduct post-hypnotic reinforcement after the patient's release; interrogations while the subject is hypnotized still must overcome any subconscious barriers. For these reasons and others, the government has yet to effectively use hypnosis as a military strategy.

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Hypnosis and Eyewitness Testimony

The concept of testimony received through hypnosis is a dilemma for judicial courts. Some research shows the distortion of memories during hypnosis, but the practice has also been shown to jog the memory of eyewitnesses in crucial cases. When legal teams do use testimony from a hypnotized subject, they must corroborate all information because of the unreliability of the memories.

Hypnosis Eyewitness Testimony utah778 / Getty Images


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