Hiroko Unami Clinical Hypnosis


What is "Hypnosis"?


Hypnosis has two major components. One is 'trance', the mental state of focused attention, distention to extraneous stimuli, and absorption in some central thought, image or idea that is produced by instructions given during the hypnosis induction period. Hypnosis scripts typically include phrases such as, 'look steadily at the spot on the wall' (focusing of attention), 'let other sounds and sensation slip to the back of your mind' (distention to extraneous stimuli), and 'bring to mind a garden, just imagine yourself there, notice the flowers' (absorption in imagery). In this sense 'trance' is similar to other everyday 'entranced' states such as when we are daydreaming or become absorbed in a film, a book, or a physical activity and lose track of time. Similar time distortions also occur spontaneously in hypnosis. Trance in this account does of course correspond to a particular 'state', but it is a familiar state of mind not the uniquely altered state of consciousness proposed by traditional state theory.

It is assumed that the establishment of trance facilitates responsiveness to suggestion, which is the other component of hypnosis. 'Suggestion' refers to the, usually verbal, input from the hypnotist that is intended to produce a change in the way individuals perceive themselves or the world. A typical suggestion might be: 'your left hand is beginning to feel lighter and wanting to float upwards all by itself.' In the majority of people this will eventually result in their hand beginning to rise effortlessly upwards without any intention on their part to move it. In this way suggestion can produce specific, and sometimes very unusual, effects such as relaxation, analgesia, anesthesia, limb paralysis, involuntary movement, amnesia, and changes in blood flow, visual hallucinations, or the feeling of having changed sex. Whilst the hypnotic trance itself is neither unusual nor dangerous, suggestions given in hypnosis without due care could lead to unwanted consequences. The suggested reliving of a traumatic incident without appropriate psychological support could result in the individual being re-traumatized, for example, or suggestions in the form of leading questions might contribute to the development of false memories.

Many suggestions in hypnosis are intended to act at the time they are presented. Post-hypnotic suggestions, however, are given in hypnosis but have their effect afterwards. In the Harvard scale one item involves a tapping sound accompanied by the suggestion that when that sound is heard again the participant will touch their ankle but will forget having been given the suggestion. If this post-hypnotic suggestion is successful the participant will carry out the suggested action when the tapping sound is repeated after hypnosis without knowing why they have done so.

The examples so far have implied that another person, 'the hypnotist', delivers the induction instructions and the suggestions in hypnosis. However, individuals can take themselves through hypnosis procedures, using their own inner speech to give themselves suggestions this procedure is self-hypnosis. There are some differences in the subjective experience of self-hypnosis and hypnosis conducted with another person but it is usually assumed that the underlying processes are essentially the same.

There are at present no convincing studies to show what neurophysiologic changes, if any, uniquely accompany the hypnotic trance state. However, a number of neuroimaging studies have demonstrated changes in activity in appropriate brain areas in response to a variety of suggestions in hypnosis, supporting the view that such suggestions produce genuine changes in perceptual experience or voluntary motor function. As a result hypnosis is increasingly used as a tool in psychological and neuropsychological research to explore normal processes such as those involved in memory, pain experience, and control of movement. The changes it produces are reliable and reversible. Formal assessments of experimental hypnosis procedures have found that after-effects such as headache, drowsiness, or dizziness are no more frequent than after attending a lecture or taking part in a non-hypnotic psychological experiment.