Despite briefly toying with the name "rational Mesmerism", Braid ultimately chose to emphasise the unique aspects of his approach, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career in order to refute practices that invoked supernatural forces and demonstrating instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the observed effects.
Self-hypnosis happens when a person hypnotises oneself, commonly involving the use of autosuggestion. The technique is often used to increase motivation for a diet, to quit smoking, or to reduce stress. People who practise self-hypnosis sometimes require assistance; some people use devices known as mind machines to assist in the process, whereas others use hypnotic recordings.
But the reason why this ever works, for anyone, is still not clear. Some researchers argue that hypnosis may help us tap into “the autonomic nervous system to influence physical systems that aren’t usually under voluntary control,” Marchant writes in her book. She points to Karen Olness, a retired pediatrician and former member of the NIH Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, who has worked with children who could, through hypnosis, increase the temperature of their fingertips “way beyond what would be achieved merely from relaxation.”

Visualization and imagery techniques involve the induction of a relaxed state followed by the development of a visual image, such as a pleasant scene that enhances the sense of relaxation. These images may be generated by the patient or suggested by the practitioner. In the context of this relaxing setting, patients can also choose to imagine themselves coping more effectively with the stressors in their lives.
Gruzelier and his colleagues studied brain activity using an fMRI while subjects completed a standard cognitive exercise, called the Stroop task. The team screened subjects before the study and chose 12 that were highly susceptible to hypnosis and 12 with low susceptibility. They all completed the task in the fMRI under normal conditions and then again under hypnosis. Throughout the study, both groups were consistent in their task results, achieving similar scores regardless of their mental state. During their first task session, before hypnosis, there were no significant differences in brain activity between the groups. But under hypnosis, Gruzelier found that the highly susceptible subjects showed significantly more brain activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus than the weakly susceptible subjects. This area of the brain has been shown to respond to errors and evaluate emotional outcomes. The highly susceptible group also showed much greater brain activity on the left side of the prefrontal cortex than the weakly susceptible group. This is an area involved with higher level cognitive processing and behaviour.[178][179]
Pierre Janet originally developed the idea of dissociation of consciousness from his work with hysterical patients. He believed that hypnosis was an example of dissociation, whereby areas of an individual's behavioural control separate from ordinary awareness. Hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind, and the individual would respond with autonomic, reflexive behaviour. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."[38]
In 2011, a Russian "evil hypnotist" was suspected of tricking customers in banks around Stavropol into giving away thousands of pounds worth of money. According to the local police, he would approach them and make them withdraw all of the money from their bank accounts, which they would then freely give to the man.[158] A similar incident was reported in London in 2014, where a video seemingly showed a robber hypnotizing a shopkeeper before robbing him. The victim did nothing to stop the robber from looting his pockets and taking his cash, only calling out the thief when he was already getting away.[159][160]

In 2011, a Russian "evil hypnotist" was suspected of tricking customers in banks around Stavropol into giving away thousands of pounds worth of money. According to the local police, he would approach them and make them withdraw all of the money from their bank accounts, which they would then freely give to the man.[158] A similar incident was reported in London in 2014, where a video seemingly showed a robber hypnotizing a shopkeeper before robbing him. The victim did nothing to stop the robber from looting his pockets and taking his cash, only calling out the thief when he was already getting away.[159][160]
Adverse events resulting from relaxation techniques are uncommon. Rare reports describe basilar or vertebral artery occlusion after yoga postures that put particular strain on the neck. People with poorly controlled cardiovascular disease should avoid progressive muscle relaxation because abdominal tensing can cause the Valsalva response. Patients with a history of psychosis or epilepsy have reportedly had further acute episodes after deep and prolonged meditation.
The British Psychological Society commissioned a working group to survey the evidence and write a formal report on hypnotherapy in 2001. They found, “Enough studies have now accumulated to suggest that the inclusion of hypnotic procedures may be beneficial in the management and treatment of a wide range of conditions and problems encountered in the practice of medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy.”
“With hypnosis, you capture people’s attention. … You get people to turn to a more passive state of attention and to stop judging everything. To just let it happen,” Patterson said. “And when you do this, the amazing thing is that it’s as if you’re talking directly to the part of the brain that’s monitoring the reactions.” In his work, he ties suggestions of comfort to the daily practice of caring for burn wounds. “In burn care you know they’re going to pull off the bandages and then they’re going to start washing the wounds,” he explains. “The message is that when your wounds are washed, that will be the reminder of how comfortable you are.” The patient will often look like they’re asleep. “But if you ask them, ‘If you can still hear me, feel your head nod,’ almost always you’ll get that head nod,” he said. He’s seen this work for decades, but is so grateful for the recent advent of brain-imaging studies. They serve as evidence he can hold up to skeptics: See? Do you believe me now?

Relaxation techniques are often integrated into other health care practices; they may be included in programs of cognitive behavioral therapy in pain clinics or occupational therapy in psychiatric units. Complementary therapists, including osteopaths and massage therapists, may include some relaxation techniques in their work. Some nurses use relaxation techniques in the acute care setting, such as to prepare patients for surgery, and in a few general practices, classes in relaxation, yoga, or tai chi are regularly available.
Most relaxation techniques require daily practice to be effective. A variety of formats for teaching relaxation and meditation exist, including classes as well as individual sessions. Relaxation can be taught in 1 session by conducting and audio taping a relaxation session. Using the audio tape, patients can then practice the techniques daily at home. Methods such as progressive muscle relaxation are easy to learn; yoga, tai chi, and meditation can take years to master completely.
We have, however, come a long way from the days of Mesmer’s animal magnetism. The increasing interest in mindfulness meditation suggests that mainstream acceptance of the mind-body connection is growing. This year, two well-received books by serious science journalists, Marchant’s Cure, out in January, and Erik Vance’s Suggestible You, out this month, explore this territory — the demonstrable results of hypnosis, faith, and even magic — long dismissed as pseudoscience or explained away as the placebo effect. Just last month, NPR reported that placebo pills work even when people know they’re taking a placebo. “Those are real, biological changes underlying those differences in your symptoms,” Marchant told Science of Us earlier this year. It’s all in your mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. 

The practice of many relaxation techniques is poorly regulated, and standards of practice and training are variable. This situation is unsatisfactory, but given that many relaxation techniques are relatively benign, the problem with this variation in standards is more in ensuring effective treatment and good professional conduct than in avoiding adverse effects. By selecting a license mental health professional (psychologist or social worker), patients are more likely to receive treatment from individuals who are well trained in the appropriate use of behavioral techniques.
“That study changed the whole landscape,” said Dave Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been using hypnosis since the 1980s to help burn victims withstand the intense pain that comes with the necessary but excruciating bandage removal and wound cleaning. Since the ’90s, other well-designed, controlled studies have been published showing similar changes in brain activity. In another slightly trippy example, researchers suggested to people in a hypnotic state that the vibrant primary colors found in paintings by Piet Mondrian were actually shades of gray. “Brain-scan results of these participants showed altered activity in fusiform regions involved in color processing,” notes psychologist Christian Jarrett.
During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration. The person can concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory, while blocking out sources of distraction.[7] Hypnotised subjects are said to show an increased response to suggestions.[8] Hypnosis is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction involving a series of preliminary instructions and suggestion. The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as "hypnotherapy", while its use as a form of entertainment for an audience is known as "stage hypnosis". Stage hypnosis is often performed by mentalists practicing the art form of mentalism.
In 2007, a meta-analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration found that the therapeutic effect of hypnotherapy was "superior to that of a waiting list control or usual medical management, for abdominal pain and composite primary IBS symptoms, in the short term in patients who fail standard medical therapy", with no harmful side-effects. However the authors noted that the quality of data available was inadequate to draw any firm conclusions.[2]
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