However, due to the great advances in technological innovation, scientific research into the effects of hypnosis can now make use of a completely objective method of investigation into this fascinating phenomenon, by using brain scans to study how hypnosis affects brain activity (this is also known as neuroimaging).
The great importance of these studies is difficult to over-state. Essentially, they have been able to provide evidence that the subjective effects of hypnosis reported by the hypnotized person are objectively verifiable, strongly suggesting that the answer to the question ‘is hypnosis real?’ is a resounding ‘yes’.
Brain scanning, or neuroimaging, has been used to study the effects of hypnosis in three main broad categories of experiments. I briefly detail these below ;
1) Scans of the brain at rest versus scans of the brain in the hypnotic state
2) Scans of activity in the brain caused by hypnotic suggestion compared to scans of brain activity in response to non-hypnotic suggestions
3) Scans of the brain when a person carries out a task under hypnosis compared to scans of the brain when the person carries out the same task in a non-hypnotic state
All 3 types of experiment show marked differences in brain activity between the hypnotized and non-hypnotized states.
Hypnosis And Childhood Trauma :
Although hypnosis has been used for a very long time to treat the effects of trauma (for example, it was used effectively to treat soldiers who were traumatized by their experiences in both World War One and World War Two), in the 1990s its use became controversial and misunderstood. This was due to the fact that there had been some cases in which hypnosis was used to try to recover painful memories which traumatized individuals were thought to have buried in their unconscious.
Recovered Memories :
However, it was later found out that these ‘recovered memories’ were false. Despite this setback and because far more care is now taken in considerations of whether hypnosis should be used in an attempt to recover memories, hypnosis is enjoying something of a renaissance. It is increasingly being argued that hypnotherapy can be very effective in the treatment of trauma, especially in relation to facilitating the individual’s processing of (genuine) traumatic memories. Many believe that it is necessary for traumatized individuals to process their traumatic memories properly in order to gain relief from the anxiety they cause. Indeed, hypnotherapy is being increasingly used by adult survivors of childhood trauma.
One particular benefit of the use of hypnosis in the treatment of trauma is that it can give rise to feelings of DISSOCIATION which can help an individual protect him/herself from the full impact of the shock which would otherwise have been caused by the particular traumatic event which has occurred. It is a flexible therapy and is being used in innovative ways.
There is some debate about whether hypnosis should be seen as a treatment in its own right, or whether it should more accurately be seen as a procedure which, used in combination with other therapies, can augment the positive effects of those therapies.
The debate has not been fully resolved, but hypnosis is increasingly being used as an ADJUNCT to other therapies, enhancing their effectiveness. For example, hypnotherapy is now used effectively in combination with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to give a therapy called cognitive hypnotherapy. It has also been used in combination with psychodynamic therapy (known as psychodynamic hypnotherapy). Initial results are encouraging and research is ongoing.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).