What is hypnosis?

A clinical definition from Naples Hypnotherapy Academy:
Hypnosis is a natural yet altered state, where the analytical mind is bypassed but selective thinking is maintained.

Although most people know about hypnosis, it’s widely believed that it’s part of the mystical, supernatural or esoteric world. There are also some who believe hypnosis is evil, or not of God. These beliefs are incorrect but are coming from well-intended, though uninformed, sources. While hypnosis has been misunderstood since the beginning of time, it is now recognized that hypnosis is a science. Under certain conditions, the mind goes into what is referred to as the Altered State of Awareness, or, the state of hypnosis.

Continue reading to explore the different ways we sometimes experience this Altered State.

Image of spiral staircase by Benoit Beaumatin on Unsplash
Image of person holding a remote watching TV by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Have you ever been absorbed in a show or movie and found yourself crying, or feeling emotional? That means you were in an altered state of awareness. This altered state is what caused you to not hear your mother calling you to dinner until she raised her voice.

Another example is when you’re driving and your mind drifts, the next thing you know you’ve arrived at your destination. This is called highway hypnosis.

So, now you know that you can be hypnotized…

We’ve experienced this natural phenomenon literally thousands of times. You’ve done it yourself as you daydreamed and missed that turn (self-hypnosis). You’ve been hypnotized when you enjoyed a television program or each time you read a captivating novel (being hypnotized by someone else). And you have followed hypnotic and post-hypnotic suggestions when you preferred some brand name you saw repeatedly on television over another (hypnotic compounding of suggestion).

Hypnosis (or the hypnoidal state) is a naturally occurring state within the mind, which happens to us multiple times every day. Hypnotherapy is the use of this state along with therapeutic techniques executed by a Certified Hypnotherapist. It is the hypnotherapist’s goal to help you overcome issues and reprogram the subconscious mind while giving supportive guidance. For example, to assist with weight loss, smoking, alcoholism, and more.

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The main basis of the hypnotic state, for some, remains a matter of conjecture.

The term “hypnosis,” coined in the 19th century by Dr. James Braid, is derived from the Greek god of sleep “Hypnos”, but the derivation is misleading. People undergoing hypnotherapy are often physically relaxed, and they may be told to close their eyes, to enter a hypnotic state, but they remain awake and aware. Yet the way that the brain processes information during hypnosis does suggest an alteration in consciousness that researchers are still trying to understand.

A hypnotic state involves three related features: absorption or selective attention, responsiveness, and dissociation. Selective attention is a tendency to focus narrowly, noting certain aspects of experience while becoming oblivious to others.

Responsiveness to social and other environmental cues, especially the instructions of a hypnotherapist. Dissociation is an apparent loss of the unity and continuity of consciousness — a seemingly divided awareness or the capacity to shut out certain perceptions, feelings, and or memories

The American Psychiatric Association endorsed hypnotherapy as an effective form of therapy in 1961. Studies have found hypnosis to be helpful in alleviating physical pain, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and eating disorders — as well as other mental health conditions and disorders. But exactly what happens to a person’s consciousness during hypnosis remains a matter of conjecture and ongoing debate.

Hypnotherapy: A Piece of the Puzzle

Hypnotherapy is typically a complementary therapy, meaning that it’s part of a broader treatment plan. “Hypnosis is most often integrated with traditional medical, dental, and psychotherapy treatments,” says Dr. Max Shapiro, a psychologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

This is especially true for treating conditions such as anxiety, for example. Dr. Shapiro notes that psychotherapy and antianxiety drugs are still the most effective anxiety treatments, but that hypnosis is worth trying, especially if you are motivated.

“Hypnosis rarely gets rid of all anxiety symptoms,” he says. “Sometimes it can reduce the physical discomfort of anxiety disorders, such as muscle tension, unsettled stomach, and rapid breathing. By controlling physical symptoms, you prevent them from making you more anxious.”

Pain Relief: Natural and Alternative Remedies Without Drugs or Surgery

Pain relief takes many forms. This Special Health Report, Pain Relief: Natural and alternative remedies without drugs or surgery, looks beyond the standard approaches of drugs and surgery and explores alternate pain-relief strategies, from acupuncture and mind-body therapies to chiropractic medicine, physical and occupational therapies, herbal remedies, mindfulness meditation, and music therapy among others. The report also provides specific treatments for 10 common pain conditions.

Read more from Harvard Health Publishing