Hypnosis - Chapter 5
Medical uses for Hypnosis
The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is often referred to as "hypnotherapy", it continues to be the same general trance and suggestion and deepening methodology, but oriented for the practice of healing, especially psychological problems. This type of therapeutic practices extremely are older than the concept of hypnosis and the subsequent evolution of hypnotherapy as a distinctive practice of hypnosis.
Some hypnotists refer to hypnotherapy as doing trancework even hypnotherapists themselves. An alternative variation is the term clinical hypnosis, this is a non sequitur (Latin for "it does not follow"). Since hypnosis techniques in the context of therapy is no different from when it is utilized in other contexts. The only distinction is the purpose (goal). Since it also has a stronger connotation to a medical practice, it is not only inaccurate but can perceived as an infringement on the interests from other stakeholders in the medical profession.
Any use of Hypnosis will only work on the mind, but the mind has some power over the body, it can promote the production of dopamine and endorphin and other neurotransmitters as well as hormones, it can shape mental states that are detrimental to healing as well as to promote muscular relaxation or contraction, even serve to reduce movements. It can also substitute or increase the placebo effect and help to determine if the origin of the disease is only mental as well as control the heart rate, improve behavioral habits, like eating disorders and other similar issues.
Hypnosis in the field of therapeutics is probably the most common direct, and properly contextualized experience someone has with the hypnotic phenomena. Most people will have had trance states, even practiced meditation or Yoga but outside of the context of a guided session, being clear in educating about definitions, how and why it works and expectations in a consistent way will only potentiate the effects.
Hypnotherapy vs. Psychology and Psychiatry
In most regards the use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes seems to go hand in hand with the concepts and understanding of the somewhat recent notions acquired from the science of human/animal psychology. Psychology is itself populated by some controversy and divergent approaches in the pursuit of understanding the human psyche, because of this and due to the necessity of having to rely on what seems to work as a framework to how a person establishes the sense of self and sees and relates to reality, hypnotism for therapeutic purposes inherits some of the fuzzy notions, nomenclature, vocabulary and understanding provided by psychology and psychiatry. This leads to an increased difficulty in creating a generalist approach to deal with therapeutic issues, making every subject require a specific approach for optimal results, with the necessity that the hypnotist (if not the subject itself), spends some effort not only deciding the best approach for the issue at hand, but in comprehending the motivations and particulars of that case. Therefore each session of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes needs to be as personal as possible and structured for that particular person as to achieve lasting results.
The use of hypnosis in surgery is not new, it could have been used in ancient times but in modern day it has found many application, from personal easing of pain, even chronic pain to other painful situations. It can be used for analgesia (pain relief), anesthesia (loss of response to surgical stimulation) and amnesia (not remembering things, but not anterograde amnesia, we have covered this in depth in Chapter 4).
Anesthesia from Greek αν-, an-, "without"; and αἴσθησις, aisthēsis, "sensation" traditionally meant the condition of having sensation (including the feeling of pain) blocked or temporarily taken away. The definition of anesthesia es very broad it may simply refer to a localized loss of sensation, especially to pain but can also be amongst other things to heat or cold. It also extends to an induced and reversible "lack of awareness", including a state of amnesia, analgesia, loss of responsiveness, loss of skeletal muscle reflexes or decreased stress response, or all simultaneously. All these effects are reproducible with hypnosis.
In India, James Estele used it as the only anaesthetic for many operations that he carried out.
In fact, medical and dental surgery before the discovery of chemical anesthetics had to do without. Alcohol or Laudanum were tentatively utilized but were not practical or safe. So, after the revival of hypnosis initiated by Mesmer, the phenomena became quickly and reasonably common and was adopted and explored by medical doctors in the 1830s. The Scottish doctor, James Estele, that presumably knew of James Braid, used it extensively while in India, even if at first in complete contravention of the prevailing medical (and general) opinion of the time, that was contrary this French influence. This practice was slow to gain momentum in the UK and soon after 1847 was replaced by Chloroform and Ether (1849). Even so, Braid's improvements and conclusions were introduced back into France around 1850 and more widely adopted.
Compared to general anesthetics hypnosis has several benefits, as it is simply a mental process it is easily controlled and exerts no stress in the patient nervous-system, this makes it more comfortable to the patient and the process of regaining normal functions will be immediate. The down side is that it requires a significant knowledge of hypnosis (since it goes beyond simply introducing a trance state) and the results and utilizations of hypnosis will have to be adapted to each individual.
- Easing labor
- In surgery it began to be used as an alternative to drug anesthetics in the UK, but after new safer drugs appear it lost momentum, since it requires special training and results may be erratic. It then surfaced in the USA in dental medicine and to some degree is still commonly employed.
- In the operating theater in hospital surgery, some tests have been made from time to time, mostly in university hospitals, all over the world. In Spain, France, Switzerland or the US but Belgium seems to be at the forefront. (See )
Behavior, Mental health and pathologies
Beyond being a direct treatment, hypnosis can also be a prophylactic, a behavior shaping tool. In todays active world is not uncommon for in the corporate or institutional world to place workers ("collaborators") is a mood that fosters productivity and general well being. Learning how to control stress stress, anxiety and lack of confidence and self-esteem can be indispensable to not only detect causes but to resolve issues before they become critical.
(a) Hypnotic suggestion of praying. (b) Hypnotic suggestion of suicide. (c) Hypnotic suggestion of swearing an oath. (d) Hypnosis produced by the tuning-fork.
Common hypnosis sessions using induction, especially if using the progressive relaxation technique are in themselves extremely relaxing, in most aspects they are very similar to entering a state of meditation. That by itself is already a stress releaser, but the increased suggestibility of hypnosis opens the mind to be trained to react and deal with stressful situations in more controlled ways. Special triggers or anchors can even be used to shift emotional states, inducing calmness and optimism when necessary. It can also be used to provide a new outlook on specific issues that are seen by the individual as stressful or permit a better way to prioritized problems.
Hypnosis can also help in archiving higher levels of concentration and focus, most hypnosis session will require you to practice those skills and as you learn to be more focused and concentrated, entering that state becomes easier. This is also enhanced by training your subconscious with visualizations that help to set goals (Goal setting), end procrastination and increase self discipline, this will help to improve study habits and to focus on positive thinking. Hypnosis by itself will not create a new you, but will reinforce and empower your decisions and motivations, providing your subconscious a new mindset that can for instance make you look forward toward physical exercises or even boost the pleasure you feel in archiving goals and completing tasks.
Performing tasks (well defined ones), seems to have cognitive cost, the willpower, also defined as the executive function, to spend the mental/physical effort on it is often the hardest step. By making the tasks pleasurable or rewarding can reduce the natural resistance to make the effort, this and establishing a plan (a path or a set of goals) will also permit to not only reduce the mental energy necessary at each decision stage but will increase expectation and permit to visualize the task's completion and future rewards.
Decisions can also be see as a new task, by optimizing decisions paths and increasing the flow it becomes easier to successful get to the objective. This implies deciding not only what problem to solve but the best and simplest way to solve it, that will require fewer mental steps and conscious effort.
When the executive function energy is low, mental activity that requires self-control is impaired. In other words, using one's self-control impairs the ability to control one's self later on. In this sense, the idea of limited willpower is correct. In an illustrative experimen participants who controlled themselves by trying not to laugh while watching a comedian did worse on a later task that required self-control compared to participants who did not have to control their laughter while watching the video.
Much of the early research on ego depletion was performed by Roy Baumeister, Mark Muraven, and their colleagues. In a recent series of studies, they suggest that a positive mood stimulus could help restore the depleted energy. They report on four studies where the positive mood stimulus was a surprise gift from watching short clips of stand-up comedy by Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy. They do not claim a general benefit in positive affect, i.e, benefit to people who had not previously engaged in self-regulatory tasks, rather the positive stimulus restores the capacity to self-regulate. The work is experimental and does not consider in depth the mechanisms by which performance is restored. Whether it is because of an actual restoration of self-regulatory resources or provides an additional motivation to press on with a depleted self remains an open question.
Another factor that seems to impact in capacity of the executive function is the cognitive load, it is well understood that complexity not only on the number of steps but the load of information that must be used is a barrier not only to the understanding, but to execution of a task (see Willpower And The 'Slacker' Brain). It is often indicated that a complex task should be subdivided to facilitate execution.
Age progression is a type of visualization that will permit the subject to be suggested to establish and consider life choices with a possible impact in the future. It permits an introspection on how decisions will affect the subjects life. This is a methodology not only used on hypnosis but under hypnosis it will have stronger and lasting effects, hence improving motivation to act, decide or respond in certain ways.
Memory and models
Memories as we analyzed in Chapter 4 are not exactly based on the precise recall of past reality but on how the subject has internalized events that define the reality model each one creates inside himself, sometimes there is a huge divergence to what happened in factual reality and what is internalized. As we covered before memory is extremely malleable and volatile, it does not operate as a recording that can be rerun at will. Memory does not only consist of events but also in perceptions/interpretations and emotions.
The way memories are stored are extremely personal, it depends on what an individual considers relevant and useful and how it relates to the reality model already in place. This has an effect on how memories are prioritized and how accessible they become. Some defend that nothing is really forgotten, at least completely.
Memory recall and the externalization of recalled memories are very distinct processes, the hypnotist should keep this in mind, expressing verbally a memory is a barrier and depends on personal capabilities.
Considering that memories depends on perception, attention and state of mind, it can be safely stated that two persons will always have a divergent view about the same event, only the essential substance will have a high probability of matching.
Hypnosis by default puts a subject in a highly suggestible state as such the hypnotist has to be extremely careful not to guide the recollections, or impart his own interpretations and expectations to the subject, since that will adulterate recollections. But activating the subjects imagination, recovering valid data becomes impossible since the new creations will be impossible to distinguish from "valid" past events, this can become permanent depending on how strongly the subject incorporates the suggestions.
Most people have already experienced a situation where a past event memory is fluid enough that the simple addition of doubt will alter what happened. Take for instance the locking of a door, how many times has one experienced the situation of locking a door in automatic (unconsciously), to later on enter a spiral of doubt that challenges the fact that the door is indeed locked. Now taking this simple example into a high susceptibility state (under hypnosis) and one starts to understand the possibilities and dangers that can arise. Since memory is what defines one's life experience and outlook into the future, this capacity of hypnosis to repress (not erase), alter or create new memories, is a powerful tool that can be used to reshape oneself.
Notions about self
The principal reason we react to events or situations in a specific way is because we had similar past experiences and so create expectations and model our behavior to fit what we expect to happen. A good mental framework to be targeted by hypnosis, in an attempt to decrease the importance of past bad experiences, and provide a way to optimize expectations and create security to face similar situations, this can help bypass shyness, stop nail biting, reduce blushing or create the needed confidence to ease public speech as well as to remove stage fright.
One of the common reasons for stuttering is nervousness, it can also be aggravated by the anticipation of the problem, that often increases the chance of it occurring. Hypnosis will not cure stuttering (unless it has a pure psychological basis) but will easily help reduce the occurrence and remove the mental loop created by the expectation of the problem. It can also provide an unconscious boost to the mental tricks that can reduce stuttering, removing the need to make a conscious effort to control the problem.
Hypnosis can be a method to address and resolve several psychological disorders of the sexual nature. From impotence and frigidity to abnormal or unwanted behaviors, all can easily be addressed. This is even one area that hypnosis can excel, like in trauma, since it is interconnected to not only the individual emotional makeup but memories and imaginary. See wikibook Abnormal Sexual Psychology, it covers some aspects that relates to this subject.
Triggers to physical problems
In today's society of excess, aggressive marketing and ever decreasing time and opportunities to exercise make reaching the optimal weight and making the best choices in regards to what we eat increasingly difficult. Hypnosis can help, but not force, people to make corrections in regards to food cravings and choices, to help in weight loss/gain and in, without conscious thought, make healthier food choices. Of course the ultimate outcome will be in your hands, but it can be an extremely useful tool to put you in the right path to healthier eating habits, especially in removing unconscious bad behaviors and cravings (sugar, chocolate, soda, etc) or addressing emotional eating disorders.
Smoking is an addiction that can easily turn into a habit, the use of hypnosis as an avenue to treatment can have success but it requires that the subject conscientiously makes an effort and will require periodical sessions of reinforcement. Hypnosis can decrease this type of craving for pleasure induced by addicting substances, by itself it can generate pleasurable mental sensations, even replicating physical sensations and in its deepest levels visual and auditory hallucinations, it is not uncommon to jokingly call someone that enjoys and seeks the state of trance (and suggestions of pleasure) an hypno-junkey. The issue that hypnosis may itself be addictive (so far there are no studies investigating this topic) but as with all pleasures there is no doubt that some people will seek hypnosis only for that type of sensation, but there will be no physiological dependency, at worst it may create a psychological dependency. Some caution should be exerted in using hypnosis in this way, but as a substitution to worse habits the choice is clear. The fact the hypnosis can solicit the mind to induce feeling of pleasure (and of course pain) shows that it can be an extremely useful tool to reshape habits, as the mind is extremely sensitive to those inductions to create new behavioral patters.
Creativity and visualization
In Chapter 4 on the context of memory, we made an introduction to the close relation between creativity, memory and imagination (mental visualization). Hypnosis, not unlike meditation, allows the mind to become free from pressures and externalities that may impair not only creativity but all mental logic processes. Problem solving is well understood to be easier when the mind is able to wander, and so be able to have flashes of inspiration while not thinking toward a specific solution.
With hypnosis it is also possible to direct the subconscious thought processes toward a desired goal. To re-orient ideas and concepts, even to leap-frog stages in a project, letting the subject visualize the end result (even multiple outcomes), or simply stimulate the desire to reach it.
Age regression is especially useful for dealing with traumatic life events, it permits the "recollection" and a positive analysis of events that had high personal impact on ones life. This is very similar to abreaction therapy, a form of psychotherapy in which abreaction is used to assist a patient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by re-living the experience in a controlled environment. Only experienced hypnotists should use this methodology, recollecting (reactivating) a memory will also make it stronger, it should only be done if part of a broader treatment that does not only force a simple reliving of the experience but that adds to the capability of the subject dealing with those painful past events.
As we have already seen, memory can not be deleted by hypnosis, it can only be strengthened or weakened. It can be altered, to some degree by providing new details or by putting the memory of them in evidence, help to resolve pending issues. Because of this age regression can be used to provide closure, reduce the importance of the event memory or even to some degree be used to create false memories.
- Road rage
Sports or any other high performance task includes several aspects of the mind, focus and concentration, endurance and quick reflexes. As is well established practice is needed to archive and sustain the desirable physical requirements, if possible, depending on the resources available, but it also not until recently it was discovered by the use of the TAC that mental visualization of the execution of the task was extremely similar to the real execution of it. Therefore mentally thinking on the execution will enhance the mental pathways to perform it. In this aspect hypnosis can be used in a variety of ways to improve performance.
Reaching the zone
In high performance tasks, reaching the zone is the perception one gets when he can abstract everything else except the task at end, it is a state of hyper-sensibility and directed perception. In most sports this can include the ability to relax and focus the concentration to a very high degree.
Enhancing muscular memory
Muscular memory a subset of procedural memory (or implicit memory) like declarative memory is theorized to have two stages; a short term memory encoding stage that is fragile and susceptible to damage, as well as a long term memory consolidation stage which is more stable.
When first learning a motor task, movement is often slow due to a real effort to consciously focus on what is being learned, it is stiff and easily disrupted without attention. With practice, execution of motor task becomes smoother, there is a decrease in limb stiffness, and muscle activity necessary to the task is performed without conscious effort.
The saying "practice makes perfect" can describe how procedural memory can be improved the more one does something. The brain will not only remember but optimize the paths the muscles use to carry out an action quicker and more efficiently. But there is a snag, memory alone can not judge if the process is being done toward the optimal outcome. One can easily train to produce quantity over quality without intention, or even learn mistakes that result in observed negative outcomes, like lesions. Leading even to situations that fixing problems will be extremely difficult that will result in realizing that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks".
Hypnosis can help expedite the learning ability of the brain and ease unlearning of bad practices by permitting a deeper level of concentration while at the same time forcing semi-vivid repetition of events or visualization of future executions, even using suggestions to improve or correct the execution of the task.
Studies have shown that visualization can be extremely important, and that there is even benefit in watching others perform the activity, because the neural pathways are activated as we see or imagine the action their connections are reinforced and optimized.
Expanding the pain threshold
Hypnosis as we have seen can provide some level of analgesia, in relation to sports hypnosis can be used not only as a promoter of endurance but even as a reenforcement to perception of a certain level of effort (and pain) as a pleasurable and wanted state. Removing the need to deal with a conscious struggle to reach the objectives, of course some restrain and consideration must be given so that the seeking that state and enduring pain does not cause lasting physical problems.
Hypnosis for memory recall is similar to age regression, the limits to ones memory is still a very debatable issue, even how we recall and store memories is not a very understood. Memory recall under hypnosis has proven useful not only for the purposes already explored when we covered age regression but also to extract all details that have been archived but that one was not consciously aware. This is a practice used in many police forces around the world.
Security and military applications
In regards to the military and law enforcement there are very few available information on how they make use of hypnosis, but as we saw when we covered body language, the lie detector there is a parallelism and the same level of inconsistency in results and a high propensity to abuse of subjects.
In their relation to the general public they benefit from a sense of authority and internally have a rigid command structure that promotes deference even expects it. We already covered the lie detector and examined that it relies mostly on the belief of the subject being audited for obtaining "results" more than its technical capability to differentiate lies from truth (this was observed even by its initial creator, that the environment, expectation and setup was the most important aspects to its function, this is common to hypnosis).
One area that is commonly portrayed in movies is the capacity for memory recall in witnesses, in this regard we have examined how memory is fluid and if effective used to help recall it must be done with the most care not to alter the memories, the simple relaxation and distillation from an emotional state can by itself indeed help increase the recall capability but using hypnosis to recall facts with legal implication should not be the norm and should be carefully monitored. One aspect that can have greater use if for memorization and even automation of responses and the same benefits that can obtained when using hypnosis to improve athletic capability.
To entertain is to devise an activity that is directed to giving pleasure, mind occupation and relaxation to an audience (even of one), it does not matter whether the audience participates passively or actively the objective is to create the sense of enjoyment or amusement in oneself or others...
There is an increasing field that is often amateurish, that deals with hypnotic entertainment, some of which have nothing to do with hypnosis at all, and others fall into the real of self-help (confidence booster), visualization and other types of light convincers.
It is well known that the oldest examples of this type of products is of course music, it is not hard find well known examples of this, in the west commercial music especially in bands from the late 60's to the early 90's, and recently with trance music, there are even commercial distributions of clearly marked hypnotic tracks. But music has long before been used to induce trance states in Africa, Asia and all shamanistic cultures, even Native Americans also had chanting ceremonies that induced trance.
A special consideration must be given since this material can be dangerous, for instance under mind-altering substances or if used by those that require high concentration on tasks and motor skills, like driving. There is still also a great deal that is unknown about subliminal messages, never the less repetitive exposure to them has proven that they get reinforced, remembered and can easily shape moods and empower already latent fixations.
Happiness and pleasure
One of the latest advances, that reflects the present society, has been in sexual arousal and fantasies, deriving in large part from other forms of audio entertainment of this type, especially in regards to phone charging services and leveraging the predisposition for role playing and mental arousal have increasingly moved to take advantage of hypnotic phenomena.
- Sexual arousal
- Orgasm triggers
- Drug simulation
Past life regression
The concept of past lives is still very contested, more so than near death experience, because so many cases with non-obvious scientific explanation or even social justification abound, especially the cases involving children. Of course that can all be explained away by attributing the stories to chance or peer pressure, but the fact remains that through hypnosis a similar recollection can be if not achieved, simulated, and here lies the danger.
Since hypnosis can be used to alter, suppress or add memories it becomes extremely complex to fully justify the intentional creation of a setup that would empower on the subject this type of belief (even to self under autosuggestion). Unless there is already a belief, or delusion, depending on how one approaches the issue, that such thing is real and recalled and is having a negative impact on normal life, for instance a sense of unfinished business or a traumatic event that must be addressed involving that "memory". Until science ascertains the validity of these beliefs, reinforcement of these concepts should not be pursued, because so far nothing positive has been achieved by these "recollections" that have the possibility of being very traumatic and prone to create phobias, like remembering or imagining oneself dying in a fire or drowning should not be seen as recreation and appealing.
If one decides to pursue this type of exploration of one's consciousness, keep these previous warning in mind, if not by yourself, select a hypnotist that can handle any traumatic situation that may arises. Since no other benefit seems to arise from exploring this type of practice it is classified as entertainment.
The James Braid Society, created in honor of James Braid is a social club for hypnotherapists interested in the ethical use of hypnosis – therapeutic or experimental, actively bans anyone employing hypnosis for the purposes of entertainment. This position seems to be somewhat paradoxical since hypnosis is in debt to performance artists for the preservation of the hypnotic techniques across the ages. Nevertheless there are good grounds to consider the ethical implications of such events, especially today when personal responsibility is decreasing.
The only rational objection to the use of hypnosis in shows, seems to be the attempt of elevation of the practice to a professional standard, that is a for profit and regulated function. But even so it is in its merely therapeutic function that makes sense to differentiate practitioners, and even then differentiation has been an extremely hard endeavor. Separating hypnosis in its varied uses, entertainment or therapeutic, in reality seems detrimental, since it restricts the evolution and spreading of the practice, a better approach would be to create a stronger code of conduct and incorporate it in the teaching of hypnosis, something that in some cases already exists. The foremost concern is the professional work (for profit) as an hypnotic entertainer is that it can be detrimental to establish the necessary safeguards and relation of respect and empathy between the operator and the subject, leading to shows focused in taking advantage of what is mostly as self imposed situation but where the subject reaps no gain, having the potential of being negatively affected and even put the practice of hypnosis in a negative light.
Controlling a crowd can be extremely difficult and there are dangers of physical and emotional damages. For instance when requesting volunteers, those that step forward may already be in trance, rejection of a subject can cause damage to the psychic and long lasting depression. The hypnotist also will have difficulty in controlling unexpected events or even risk being misunderstood by those that know nothing about hypnosis.
The audience expects a greater personal responsibility from the operator towards the subject than from instance from an illusionist, even in the long term. If something happens to an hypnotic subject after the show most people will associate the two, but the same is not valid to other types of entertainers. Audience member under the influence of drugs or perception altering substances can also be unknowingly be negatively affected and subjects suffering from epilepsy or any mental disease must be avoided, something that in the context of a show without any deep scrutiny is highly improbable to be detected.
There is a correlation of between the expectation, preconceptions and perceived prestige on the suggestibility of the participants and the receptive audience. Pre-hypnotic suggestions are extremely important especially in a group setup as the response will percolate from and to each member of the audience building upon itself creating the desired group mentality the process of establish an end to the hypnotic experience in a crowd consistently is also difficult, the beliefs that were created during the show must be dismissed and subjects returned to their original mind-frame the best as possible.