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At last, it's official. Hypnotism really does work

Why is Hypnosis now considered ‘real’, because it has an impact on the brain which can be measured scientifically, according to one of America's leading psychiatrists.

David Spiegel, from Stanford University, told the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science that he had scanned the brains of volunteers who were told they were looking at coloured objects when, in fact, they were black and white.

A scan showing areas of the brain used to register colour highlighted increased blood flow, indicating that the volunteers genuinely 'saw' colours, as they had been told they would.

This is scientific evidence that something happens in the brain when people are hypnotised that doesn't happen ordinarily,' Mr Spiegel told delegates.

He added that there were ‘tremendous medical implications' and envisaged people being able to manage their own pain and anxiety.

How Does Hypnotism Work?

Does Hypnotism Work? Yes, but that depends what you mean by Hypnotism

In The middle of the 20th century Hypnotism was largely the domain of the stage show entertainer.

Gradually, due to the apparent success of a few die hard professionals and a growing number of alternative therapists, researchers started to look for proof that hypnotism could achieve something reliable and unique. What they discovered has changed our understanding of awareness and the brain.

One of the signs of true hypnosis is a decrease in involuntary eye movement to the point where deeply hypnotised people will have to be reminded to blink. Rather than this suggesting that the hypnotised aren't paying attention they are in fact, very attentive. Compared to a resting brain, many areas are activated when a person is hypnotised. All the areas, except one, excited during hypnosis are also active when a person is concentrating on mental imagery. This one area, the precuneus, lights up during many different tasks, all of them having to do with an awareness of self, and letting us know where we are in space.

Essentially, hypnotised people are able to concentrate intensely on suggested, or self-created imagery, but do not place themselves as part of that imagery. They do not take these personally or make their normal judgments. This explains the way adults can act out under the influence of hypnosis, or how they might remain calm and collected in situations that would otherwise terrify them.

Hypnotised people are supposed to be able to remember details of past events that they have consciously forgotten such as retracing their steps and remembering locations of lost items or valuable papers. The most ‘out there’ suggestions have been that hypnosis can enable you to remember forgotten memories of abductions by Aliens.

However, a large study at Ohio State University cast doubt on whether hypnosis can actually enhance your memory to such an extent. When two groups of students, one hypnotised and one only relaxed, were asked about the dates of certain historical events, the groups performed equally well. The only difference was, when they were informed that there were some errors in their answers, the hypnotised group changed fewer answers than the unhypnotised group. But hypnosis does have the power to tap into memory in ways that other techniques do not. Most importantly, it has the ability to induce temporary, reversible amnesia.

Although not all hypnotised patients can have their memories suppressed, and no one suppresses their memories unless they're told to, the effects can be startling. For one thing, the entire memory can be brought back with a word. This indicates that hypnosis doesn't obliterate memories, it just temporarily shuts off the retrieval system, and this suppression holds only for the content and not the context.

A group of students were hypnotised and told to forget a short film they had just watched. While unable to answer questions about the film, they had no problem remembering if the film was, for example, shot on a handheld camera. It was only the content that was suppressed.

Pain Suppression

Another feature of hypnosis is suppression of pain. Scientists studying perception think our experience is shaped far more by what we expect the stimulus to be than the stimulus itself. There are ten times as many nerve fibres carrying information down as carrying it up. Most people will remember having an itch or sting that, when they see a more serious injury than they expected, will blossom into pain. A hypnotised person undergoing surgery, for example, may be able to convince themselves that they're experiencing the discomfort of an insect bite instead of a scalpel. That, along with a state of enforced relaxation, can make all the difference.

Looking at hypnotic phenomena in terms of our model we can see that hypnotised persons physical and emotional levels react to suggestions that makes them real, whereas the mental level seems to take a back seat not criticising or imposing concepts of self. Control of the physical and emotional levels are coming from somewhere else which is not the mental. From where then is it coming?

It seems possible that procepts from the intuitive level are able to bypass the mental level and have a concentrated effect on the lower levels. This would explain why so-called hypnotic suggestions can sometimes have such a dramatic effect. We may give mental affirmations to ourselves for instance to diet or give up smoking but any effects generally wear off very quickly. Hypnotic suggestions are not coming from the mental level but from something more concentrated and powerful.

This brings us to the role of the hypnotist. It is a common misunderstanding of people who have not undergone hypnosis that the hypnotist can impose his will on the subject and make them do things they do not want to. This is not the case. It can be pictured that the hypnotist plays the role of the voice of the intuitive centre and supplies suggestions, or as we have it procepts that the body and emotions unpack to make them effective. When a hypnotist helps you to give up smoking he may say things like 'next time you are going to reach for a cigarette you will ask yourself do you really want one and realise that you have a choice’. This you can see is a procept, or a high-level instruction. It does not describe how the end comes about, but many ex-smokers can testify that such a thing happens.

It was thought for a couple of hundred years, at least since the inception of mesmerism, that the hypnotist extended a certain force or energy towards the subject which put them in the trance. In the case of doctors and psychotherapists this seems very unlikely, however it should not be instantly dismissed. In the case of actual bodily healing of real physical disease or imbalance (often referred to as spiritual or psychic healing), mere suggestion although playing its part does not answer all the questions.

We shall look at spiritual healing next.