Hypnosis has been used with great success for years to help people relieve pain, lose weight, quit smoking…along with all sorts of other things. Theoretically, hypnosis is an exercise in getting your mind to work with you, instead of your subconscious sabotaging your efforts to help you change. A trained hypnotherapist can potentially help you to change bad habits quickly and gain a much healthier lifestyle, without you having to put in too much effort.
How does it work?
Hypnosis can alter your thinking about things such as the intensity of pain, the tastiness of foods, your partner’s annoying habits or whether or not you enjoy that cigarette. It can alter your experience and interaction with those things in the future. Some scientists believe that hypnosis involves you focusing your attention on a competing image in your subconscious, which blocks the one you already have. There is no single accepted explanation as to how hypnosis works, but we do know that it can be used with success for pain relief or to alter unwanted habits.
Researchers are currently testing theories as to how hypnosis works and have discovered that the process activates certain parts of the brain, including the portion that focuses attention. “By concentrating elsewhere, a person inhibits the pain from coming to conscious awareness,” says Helen Crawford, an experimental psychologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. David Spiegel, MD, a psychiatrist at Stanford University says, “Changing your mental set can change what’s going on in your body.”
Why use it?
Have you ever had to cram for an exam with a throbbing migraine? It doesn’t work. While it is important to make sure there are no serious underlying medical reasons for the headache, once this has been done hypnosis can be used successfully to overcome all sorts of pain.
In the past 30 years researchers have subjected hypnosis to all kinds of clinical trials — and it has passed most of them. It’s been successful in soothing acute and chronic pain from surgery, cancer, kidney stones, back conditions and invasive medical and dental procedures. Yet, many people who might benefit from the technique still don’t use it. For some, this is due to lack of education as to what it is; all too many times we have come to associate hypnosis with the chicken-dance guy on TV. For many, the hesitation is based on fear of the unknown, and often hypnosis is only used as a last resort.
People come to see me for all sorts of reasons, from giving up cigarettes to losing weight to wanting to be better at mathematics. I have had some clients give up smoking after one session while others need a few sessions. The number of sessions you need varies from person to person and there is no measure as to how many you, personally, will need to change your negative patterns.
What happens during hypnosis?
During hypnosis, you become absorbed in yourself. You concentrate and focus while the practitioner gives you positive suggestions. The practitioner is talking to your subconscious mind, which is usually the one that sabotages you. The old, negative stuff becomes replaced with positive suggestions creating new possibilities of how you can act. It feels like you are sitting in a chair with your eyes closed listening to me talk and you should remember it all when you finish. Most people awaken refreshed and relaxed, ready to go on with the rest of the day.
What the experts say
Even way back in the April 2000 issue of the journal The Lancet in America, it was reported that hypnosis reduced pain, anxiety and blood pressure complications in patients undergoing invasive medical procedures. It was noted that the procedures took less time because the health care staff didn’t have to interrupt their activities to deal with the patients’ pain or to stabilise blood pressure. It was also recorded that patients in the hypnosis group required less than half as much painkilling medication as those in the standard group.
Alexander A. Levitan, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist in Minneapolis, has participated in numerous surgeries, including hysterectomies and tracheotomies, in which hypnosis was used as the sole agent for pain control.
Studies also show that it works well with regard to quitting smoking, although sometimes it works better for men than women. There is no theoretical reason however for why hypnosis should work better for men. Many experts say women find it harder to quit smoking because we are too concerned about gaining weight when we stop, but the weight put on is often easier to remove than the bad smoking habit.
What about me?
If giving up smoking is on your ‘to-do’ list for the coming new year, then hypnosis may be a good option. It’s the same with weight loss. Often a combined approach is needed, involving good nutrition, exercise and lots of social support, as well as learning how to defuse the stress and triggers that influence you to reach for a cigarette or a chocolate cookie. Once you give up smoking and program good eating habits, the negative health effects begin to decline almost straight away.
It’s the same with pain relief. If you are in pain and mainstream medicine can offer no relief, then perhaps hypnosis can help. This brings to mind a client of mine many years ago who lost a finger in a machine. They still felt the pain in the cold; phantom pain from a finger that was no longer there. Just a few sessions halved the pain. He followed that with some trauma release, detox, reducing physical inflammation and giving up smoking. The guy started a whole new lifestyle. Now that seems like a new year’s intention to me.
What do you intend to do for yourself in the new year?