Understanding Hypnosis – Part Two-July 9, 2003

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

Dear Readers:


”’Continuing with Part Two of the three-day series in this column adapted from my article “Understanding Hypnosis and Its Clinical Efficacy,” today’s segment addresses the relationship between hypnosis and behavior change, whether hypnosis can work for everyone, and research data on the effectiveness of hypnosis.”’

“Behavior change. Many people have difficulty substituting new behaviors for existing habits. This is because the new behavior often conflicts with a person’s frame of reference, which is embedded in the subconscious. The subconscious sends a message to the conscious mind: ‘That’s wrong, that’s not what we do.’ Because the conscious mind uses this subconscious reference as its guide, it heeds the message and overrides attempts at change.

“Change is facilitated by subduing the conscious mind and reaching the subconscious to instill a new suggestion (an idea that is presented to the mind to be carried out either immediately or at a future date). The hypnotherapist appeals to the conscious mind to rest and take no immediate responsibility. This tends to inactivate the conscious mind, preventing it from disputing the suggestion (this is similar to a spell-check feature of a software program — if it is turned off, it does not function). The subconscious records the new information and acts upon it.

“Assessment. ‘Can hypnosis work for everyone?’ is a question asked by many. Those who choose to be receptive usually are, if appropriate conditions are arranged, such as a safe, comfortable setting, where an appeal can be made to the personality that it is worthy of change. Because people respond to hypnosis differently, application of a susceptibility test is useful. This allows the clinician to unobtrusively assess susceptibility, and derive feedback that can be used to individualize treatment.

“In addition, when clients experience positive results from these tests, the conscious mind tends to be more cooperative. Based on his research published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (Vol. 37, No. 4, 284-293, 1995) Ronald Pekala, Ph.D., concludes that the application of a hypnotic assessment procedure can be helpful in the private practice setting. He also notes that ‘… it seems that most therapists do not complete an assessment of hypnotizability level’ (p. 284). Because of the importance of tailoring treatment to individual needs, it is recommended that susceptibility tests be used in clinical settings.

“Research. Studies show that hypnosis has been used to effectively treat a variety of disorders including phobias, anxieties, addictions, and pain. ‘It’s an excellent way to mobilize a patient’s resources to alter physical sensations, moderate stress reactions and other psychiatric symptoms, and enhance emotional sensitivity’ says David Spiegel, M.D., Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine (The Harvard Mental Health Letter, September 1998, p. 5). According to Edward Frischholz, Ph.D., President of the APA’s Division 30 (Psychological Hypnosis) ‘research shows … that smoking-cessation treatments using hypnosis are twice as effective as treatment without hypnosis, and patients require much less pain medication during invasive medical procedures when using self-hypnosis’ (APA Monitor, May 1998, p. 22).”