Hypnosis in one form or another has been used for thousands of years. The big question about hypnosis is “does it actually exist or do we imagine it exists?”
Of course hypnosis is well-known in the world of entertainment when it is used in a humorous way and one of the most popular forms of entertainment is with audience participation.
During the hypnotic stage act, the power of hypnosis may seem more evident. Clearly the fact that members of the audience are looking foolish in front of their peers under the command of the hypnotist, suggests that hypnosis is a powerful tool. Others would dismiss the stage hypnosis phenomena as audience members who have a level of expectancy which the stage hypnotist taps into. The audience volunteers know what they will be asked to do and by volunteering they are much more likely to comply with the hypnotist’s wishes.
So as compelling as the stage hypnotist’s act appears, it may not by itself provide proof that hypnosis exists.
Yet there is a growing body of studies that provide scientific proof that being in a hypnotic state is possible and observable as a phenomenon. There have now been a number of studies of the brain and how it changes when a person is in hypnosis. Using positron emission tomography (PET) one person who was in hypnosis had their hands placed in extremely hot water. The temperature of which would normally be beyond a comfortable level. However whilst in hypnosis they were told that the temperature of the water was warm only. Their reaction to the water was consistent with the suggestion of warm water and not to the reality of hot water.
In more recent times television programmes have provided more anecdotal evidence. Some have shown a number of people using hypnosis to help with various ailments and problems as well as routine life maintenance such as dental work. A Scottish dentist who taught his patient self hypnosis, had her undergo the removal and replacement of two front teeth without any anesthetic. During the dental procedure she was able to communicate with dentist about her level of discomfort at any time and if it did increase she was able to use self hypnosis to reduce it again.
This seems to be consistent with evidence that most hypnotherapists have accepted since a Scottish doctor James Esdaile used hypnosis for anesthesia. James Esdaile performed many operations on patients in India before the advent of ether. His patients experienced no pain and he noted that they seemed to recover more quickly from the surgical procedure too.
Hypnosis is here to stay. The British and American Medical Associations have both recognised it as a useful induced state of mind for stress and anxiety.
It may have taken the science a while to provide evidence that hypnosis is not just in the mind but better late than never. The other important aspect of hypnosis is that it doesn’t bring with it the side-effects of medical drugs.