It sounds like the work of sorcerers and scam artists, but hypnosis can play a very real role in protecting and promoting health. Once disregarded as a parlor trick, hypnosis is increasingly believed to improve many of those outcomes. The American Medical Association approved hypnosis as a therapy in 1958.
Hypnosis is a state of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention. It is like using a magnifying glass to focus the rays of the sun and make them more powerful. Similarly, when our minds are concentrated and focused, we are able to use our minds more powerfully. Because hypnosis allows people to use more of their potential, learning self-hypnosis is the ultimate act of self-control.
While there is general agreement that certain effects of hypnosis exist, there are differences of opinion within the research and clinical communities about how hypnosis works. Some researchers believe that hypnosis can be used by individuals to the degree they possess a hypnotic trait, much as they have traits associated with height, body size, hair color, etc. Other professionals who study and use hypnosis believe there are strong cognitive and interpersonal components that affect an individual's response to hypnotic environments and suggestions.
Recent research supports the view that hypnotic communication and suggestions effectively changes aspects of the persons physiological and neurological functions.
Practitioners use clinical hypnosis in three main ways. First, they encourage the use of imagination. Mental imagery is very powerful, especially in a focused state of attention. The mind seems capable of using imagery, even if it is only symbolic, to assist us in bringing about the things we are imagining. For example, a patient with ulcerative colitis may be asked to imagine what his/her distressed colon looks like. If she imagines it as being like a tunnel, with very red, inflamed walls that are rough in texture, the patient may be encouraged in hypnosis (and in self-hypnosis) to imagine this image changing to a healthy one.
A second basic hypnotic method is to present ideas or suggestions to the patient. In a state of concentrated attention, ideas and suggestions that are compatible with what the patient wants seem to have a more powerful impact on the mind.
Finally, hypnosis may be used for unconscious exploration, to better understand underlying motivations or identify whether past events or experiences are associated with causing a problem. Hypnosis avoids the critical censor of the conscious mind, which often defeats what we know to be in our best interests. The effectiveness of hypnosis appears to lie in the way in which it bypasses the critical observation and interference of the conscious mind, allowing the client's intentions for change to take effect.
Some individuals seem to have higher native hypnotic talent and capacity that may allow them to benefit more readily from hypnosis. It is important to keep in mind that hypnosis is like any other therapeutic modality: it is of major benefit to some patients with some problems, and it is helpful with many other patients, but individual responses vary.