Published February 06, 2014
Thanks to on-stage brainwashing sessions and movies featuring disgruntled workers taking a baseball bat to the printer (Office Space, anyone?), hypnosis has a rep for being little more than pure entertainment.
Not true. Hypnosis was birthed from the brains of psychologists and researchers, and while its story was sullied by decades of disrepute, it's now making its way back into the mainstream.
The British Psychological Society has now officially declared hypnosis a proven therapeutic medium to curb stress, anxiety, pain, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraines. "Improvements from hypnosis can be as specific as eliminating erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, remaining committed to a workout plan, delivering a dynamic sales presentation—or as broad as improving motivation and increasing confidence," said psychologist and certified hypnotherapist Marty Lerman, Ph.D., author of Mindshift.
And while it's strongly linked to the psycho-sciences, hypnosis is gaining popularity in broader mind-body arenas as well. In fact, one Harvard study found that patients who underwent hypnosis during surgery had fewer complications and required shorter procedures and less post-op medication .
Meanwhile, celebrities including Matt Damon, Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, and Fergie have all been cited as using hypnotherapy for one reason or another: to stop smoking, improve focus, and lose weight.
The Science of Suggestibility
While most people equate hypnosis with swinging pocket watches and the old "you are getting very sleepy" line, it's actually very similar to guided meditation and helps coax the patient into a hyper-attentive mental state in which he or she is most open to positive suggestions from the hypnotherapist. Think of it as plugging affirmations straight into your brain, sans self-doubt.
"By accessing this subconscious part of the brain, we can bypass all the negative critical thinking and open inward to an awareness of potential and knowledge. Your imagination and creativity are free to explore all kinds of solutions and game plans to situations," Lerman said, who equates a hypnotic trance to something we've all encountered at one point or another. Ever been so absorbed in an activity that you didn't hear our name when it was called?
Only about three-fourths of people can be hypnotized, though. And not just the most gullible or submissive, said David Spiegel, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine. Quite the contrary: A 2012 study from Spiegel's team found that in people who are easily hypnotized, the brain's executive-control network (responsible for making decisions) is activated in tandem with the salience network, which helps you focus.
In people that can't be hypnotized, the two brain regions don't work together the same way. That might explain why people who become engrossed in day-to-day activities—such as reading, working, or just brainstorming—tend to be most easily hypnotized.
Hypnotize Me, Baby
There's no universal licensing process for hypnotists—and since you don't want just anybody having their way with your brain—you need to do your homework before going under.
Try looking for a licensed health professional—say, a psychologist, social worker, or physician—who's been trained in hypnosis. Lerman suggested searching the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists directory or submitting a referral request form through the National Guild of Hypnotists.
Once you find qualified professionals near you, call a few and talk with them about what you want to gain from hypnosis and if they can help you achieve your mind-bending goals.