In the brain, this state looks stranger still. A landmark study in the prestigious journal Science in the late 1990s, led by Pierre Rainville of the University of Montreal, described a study in which hypnotized people briefly placed their left hand in either painfully hot water, heated to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or room-temperature water. Some of them had been told that they would be experiencing pain, but that they wouldn’t be very bothered by it — if, on a scale of one to ten, the hurt would normally register at an eight, they’d feel it as if it were a four. As all the participants placed their hands in the 116-degree water, their brains were scanned. The results were clear: Those who had been told that the pain would be less intense showed less activity in their brains — specifically, in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with pain processing.
According to Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus, speaking for Psychology Today, hypnosis is a “genuine psychological phenomenon that has valid uses in clinical practice … hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention or concentration, often associated with relaxation, and heightened suggestibility. While under hypnosis (i.e., in a hypnotic trance), it seems many people are much more open to helpful suggestions than they usually are.” The suggestions made in a therapeutic setting get deep into a person’s brain, beyond their conscious thinking, leading to behavior change and the ability to overcome challenges that might otherwise seem insurmountable.
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Modern hypnotherapy is widely accepted for the treatment of certain habit disorders, to control irrational fears, as well as in the treatment of conditions such as insomnia and addiction. Hypnosis has also been used to enhance recovery from non-psychological conditions such as after surgical procedures, in breast cancer care and even with gastro-intestinal problems, including IBS.
Something I hear a lot from clients is, "I've tried everything, but I just feel hopeless." Another client I worked with suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for several years. She also struggled with her weight as she tried to find the source of what was causing the pain she had suffered daily. Her motivation and mood were at an all time low, and she was almost at the point where she had given up hope.
Look for a hypnotherapist who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. To be a member of either of these organizations, a hypnotherapist must have a doctorate level degree in medicine, dentistry, or psychology, or a master’s degree in nursing, social work, psychology, or marital/family therapy plus a specific number of hours of approved training in hypnotherapy. In some cases, accredited, doctoral-level practitioners of alternative health care, such traditional Chinese medicine, may also be approved for membership. Of course, in addition to looking at qualifications, you should also find a hypnotherapist with whom you feel confident and comfortable in a therapeutic relationship.