Thanks to pop culture, hypnosis has earned a bit of a bad rap. In the past, hypnotherapy has been known to conjure up images of dangling watches, purple capes, and quacking like a duck on stage in front of hundreds of strangers. However, it is a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception, pain, stress and how we view our body.

In 1955, hypnotherapy was officially recognized as a legitimate therapeutic technique by the British Medical Association. Since then, hypnotherapy has become an accepted and celebrated component of traditional health treatment proven to reduce and manage chronic pain, soothe anxiety, and help individuals quit bad habits (such as smoking and overeating).


Hypnosis – A Serious Science

Scientists have long discussed whether the hypnotic ‘trance’ is a separate neurophysiological state or simply a product of a hypnotized person’s expectations. However, new research suggests hypnotherapy does indeed create a separate neurophysiological state.

A recent Stanford University study, led by senior author David Spiegel, MD, identified a handful of differences between the hypnotized brain and a fully conscious brain. Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, wanted to determine exactly what happens in the brain when it is hypnotized. 

During the course of the study, Spiegel and his colleagues used MRI machines to examine the brains of 57 people as they engaged in their hypnotherapy sessions. As a control, they used 36 participants who had scored high on tests measuring susceptibility to hypnosis, and 21 who had scored low.


The Hypnotized Brain

 According to a press release for the study, the scans revealed several areas of the brain where the two control groups looked different, to include sections of the brain associated with impulse control, attention, and awareness of the body. Additionally, the brains of the hypnosis-prone volunteers showed fewer connections between a region deep in the brain associated with self-reflection and daydreaming. The study also found changes in the areas of the prefrontal cortex, which are involved in planning and executing tasks.

Notable findings of the study included:

A decrease in activity in part of the salience network of the brain, called the dorsal anterior cingulate. This area of the brain is associated with decision making and emotional regulation.

An increase in connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the insula. This area of the brain is associated with the brain-body connection. It helps the brain process and control what is going on in the body.

A decrease in connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network, which includes the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is closely associated with decision making. 

 According to Spiegel, “When you’re really engaged in something, you don’t really think about doing it — you just do it.” During hypnosis, this disassociation between reflection and actions permits the hypnotized individual to engage in suggested activities.


Treating Anxiety and Pain with Hypnotherapy

In patients more susceptible to hypnotherapy, sessions have proven effective in treating chronic pain, post-surgery pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, smoking addiction, and many other phobias. The findings of Spiegel’s study on how hypnosis impacts the brain may help pave a path toward developing treatments for the rest of the medical communities, particularly for those individuals who are not naturally susceptible to hypnosis. 

Moving forward, Spiegel and his team are interested in using the findings of their study to determine how to change an individual’s ability to be hypnotized by stimulating specific areas of the brain. “A treatment plan which combines hypnosis and brain stimulation could improve the recognized analgesic effects of hypnosis and potentially replace the addictive and side-effect-laden painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs,” he said. However, more research is needed before such a therapy could be implemented.


AB Mindworks

Designed to change how you perceive and think, hypnotherapy helps identify the memories held in your mind causing you to experience feelings of panic, anxiety, and fear. Annie Browne and her team at AB Mindworks uses hypnotic and relaxation techniques to help patients understand the triggers and root causes of their habits and behaviours. If you are ready to live a healthier life, both physically and mentally, schedule your hypnotherapy session today. Contact a member of our team to learn more.