Hypnotherapy – the evidence
“So, how does this hypnotherapy stuff work, anyway?” is a question I am often asked by sceptical friends and acquaintances. And I am happy to tell them. I am happy to talk about hypnotherapy, how it works, and how it can help them to make profound changes in their lives. I love telling them that hypnotherapy will help them to control their anxiety and stress, that it can help with skin conditions, IBS, help them to manage their weight, help them to have a calm and controlled birth, that it can help them to manage chronic ongoing pain. I can talk about it all day without stopping for breath!
During my initial consultation, I explain how the brain works, how we have an intellectual brain, and a primitive brain that is trying to keep us alive, and how that primitive brain sometimes thinks it is doing the right thing but is in fact working against the intellectual brain. I explain that the primitive brain is negative, obsessive and not very innovative and so we can very easily find ourselves in a cycle of repeated inappropriate behavioural patterns. I explain that the anxiety which causes us to fall into this negative spiral is caused by negative thinking, and to turn this around we need to actively focus on the positive things in our lives, and turn away from negative rumination of the past and negative forecasting of the future. I talk about sleep, and how important it is, I talk about the physiology of stress and anxiety, about how we can over produce stress hormones, and how we can ensure we produce a nice, steady flow of great chemicals which keep us brave, happy, calm and coping with life. And I talk about the hypnosis – the use of trance, which a very ordinary state of mind, during which the primitive and the intellectual brains can focus together on the same thing, and find solutions.
“Yeah, but what about actual scientific evidence?” Well – I have plenty of evidence amongst my clients – the people that have successfully quit a 25 year smoking habit; the client blighted by daily migraines who took up horse riding again – a hobby they had not been able to take part in for 7 years; the client who was so tied up with anxieties that they could barely function, who booked a solo trip abroad; the teenager having panic attacks about exams, who is now at the end of their first year at university. I see the amazing changes that my clients make through hypnotherapy every day in my clinic room, but actual scientific evidence?
Well, it appears that neuroscientists are also interested in how hypnotherapy works too, and they are starting to study it quite intently. A group of researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine have been using brain imaging to find out exactly what is happening in our brain when we undergo hypnosis. The test subjects were placed into the brain imaging machine and played either instructions intended to guide them into a hypnotic trance, or to keep their brains out of trance. They found some consistent changes in the brain activity of those subjects that were guided into a trance.
They saw decreased activity in a region known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a region known to be critical for evaluating context, which aids in deciding what to worry about and what to ignore in a particular situation. Reducing that activity shows hypnotized people are able to suspend judgement and immerse themselves in something, without thinking of what else they could or should be attending. This also means that during hypnosis, we are able to imagine a wonderful version of how our lives could be, allowing our brains to start working out the steps we need to take to achieve that wonderful version of ourselves.
The second change appeared in some of the parts of the brain that give people the ability to separate the thoughts in their heads from the feelings in their bodies. During hypnosis, people can picture something that makes them stressed, but they can imagine that their bodies are floating and comfortable. This allows people to think about something they may be terrified of, spiders, perhaps, or flying, but to better control how their body responds to that thought, so that when they return to full wakefulness, their behavioural pattern has changed, allowing them to no longer be afraid of whatever it was. It is this that allows hypnotherapy to deal with specific fears and phobias so effectively.
The third region affected is located very deep in the brain and involves self-consciousness. People who are hypnotized tend not to be self-conscious, and so they will do things they wouldn’t normally do – it is this very fact that allows stage hypnotists to make people cluck like a chicken! However is also has enormous therapeutic potential in that you can help people to shake up the way they react to problems and approach them from a different point of view, thus allo
wing them to come up with new and positive solutions to problems.
The primary researcher in this study, Professor of Psychiatry David Speilgal said “This is showing that hypnosis is not a parlour trick or a magic show. It is a neurobiological phenomenon.” He added that hypnosis is underutilized in health care, and that hypnosis can be a viable alternative to the use of painkillers, which have proven to be addictive to millions of people. “I think this illustrates the reality of hypnosis as a phenomenon,” he said, “and the fact that this is not a way of losing control, as a lot of people fear. It is a way of teaching people to enhance control over their brains and bodies.”
So, there, sceptical friends and acquaintances, is the scientific proof that hypnotherapy has a real basis in neuroscience, and the power of our minds can be harnessed to effect real and positive change on our lives. Whether you need help managing the anxiety or stress in your daily life, need help managing your weight, have IBS, specific fears and phobias, or want to quit smoking or other dangerous habits, solution focused hypnotherapy could be the best first step you could take.
If you want to find out more, or would like to book a free initial consultation, please use the Contact Me page to send me an email, or feel free to call and have a chat on 07769 940894 and start becoming the best version of you possible!