Probing Question: Does hypnosis work?

Interesting article I thought I’d share by Melissa Beattie-Moss
March 18, 2014
You’re growing tired. Your eyelids are getting heavy. You’re feeling very sleepy…

Most of us recognize these words as the Hollywood script of a hypnosis session. Typically portrayed as the tool of comics and hucksters (“At my command, you will crow like a rooster…”) or nefarious, mind-controlling villains, hypnosis has a serious type-casting problem to overcome.

Beyond the stereotypes, is there any validity to hypnosis as a therapeutic technique?

Hypnotherapy—or medical hypnosis—has a long history as a controversial treatment for physical and psychiatric ailments. Many leading medical figures since the 18th century (including Austrian physician Franz Mesmer, for whom the verb “mesmerize” was coined) experimented with putting patients into trance states for healing purposes. Determined to know whether this new medical treatment was genuine or a hoax, King Louis XVI of France commissioned a panel of experts, including Ambassador Benjamin Franklin, to investigate Mesmer’s claims. In 1784, the “Franklin commission” released its report, which found “mesmerism” to be “utterly fallacious” and without merit.

“It has taken centuries for medical hypnosis to regain credibility,” says Penn State psychology professor William Ray. “In the 1950s, reliable measures of hypnotizability were developed, which allowed this research field to gain validity.

We’ve seen more than 12,000 articles on hypnosis published since then in medical and psychological journals. Today, there’s general agreement that hypnosis can be an important part of treatment for some conditions, including phobias, addictions and chronic pain.”

Ray’s own research uses hypnosis as a tool to better understand the brain, including its response to pain. “We have done a variety of EEG studies,” says Ray, “one of which suggests that hypnosis removes the emotional experience of pain while allowing the sensory sensation to remain. Thus, you notice you were touched but not that it hurt.”

More recent research using modern brain imaging techniques show that the connections in the brain are different during hypnosis. In particular, those areas of the brain involved in making decisions and monitoring the environment show strong connections. What this means is that under hypnosis the person is able to focus on what they are doing without asking why they are doing it or checking the environment for changes.

Despite increasing recognition by the medical establishment, popular myths about hypnosis persist, such as the belief that it is a truth serum, that it causes subjects to lose all free will, and that hypnotists can erase their clients’ memories of their sessions.

In truth, hypnosis is something most of us have experienced in our everyday lives. If you’ve ever been totally engrossed in a book or movie and lost all track of time or didn’t hear someone calling your name, you were experiencing a state similar to a hypnotic one.

The hypnotized person is not sleeping or unconscious—quite the contrary. Hypnosis (most often induced by a hypnotherapist’s verbal guidance, not a swinging pocket watch) creates a hyper-attentive and hyper-responsive mental state, in which the subject’s subconscious mind is highly open to suggestion. “This doesn’t mean you become a submissive robot when hypnotized,” Ray asserts. “Studies have shown us that good hypnotic subjects are active problem solvers. While it’s true that the subconscious mind is more open to suggestion during hypnosis, that doesn’t mean that the subject’s free will or moral judgment is turned off.”

Are some people more easily hypnotized than others? “Yes, although the reason is not clearly understood,” explains Ray. “Hypnotic responsiveness doesn’t seem to correlate in expected ways with personality traits, such as gullibility, imagery ability or submissiveness. One link we’ve found is that people who become very engrossed in day-to-day activities—reading or music, for example—may be more easily hypnotized.”
In the late 1950s, Stanford University was the first to establish a reliable “yardstick” of susceptibility (aptly called the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales). Through subsequent studies, researchers learned that 95 percent of people can be hypnotized to some extent (with most scoring in the midrange on the Stanford Scale) and that “an individual’s score—reflecting the ability to respond to hypnosis—remains remarkably stable over time. Even twenty-five years after their initial Stanford Scale tests, retested subjects were getting almost the same scores, the same level of hypnotic responsiveness.”

Understanding the exact mechanism behind hypnosis may require decoding the workings of the unconscious mind. While it may be near-impossible to arrive at that knowledge, hypnosis has come a long way since it was debunked by The Sun King’s commission. Who knows? If he could review the case today, Benjamin Franklin might even be persuaded—(“You’re getting sleepy… Your eyelids are getting heavy…”)—to change his mind.

William Ray, Ph.D., professor of psychology, can be reached at

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since its original publication in 2005.

Melissa Beattie-Moss
Work Phone:
Last Updated March 18, 2014

Interesting……..Can Hypnotherapy help cancer sufferers?

Over the years there have been a number of studies regarding the use of Hypnotherapy to help Patients with Cancer & indeed it has now secured it’s place along with many other complimentary therapies in many hospitals throughout the UK Christies hospital in Manchester is one of them!

Many Hospices also employ Hypnotherapists

Why people with cancer use hypnotherapy

As with many types of complementary therapy, one of the main reasons people with cancer use hypnotherapy is to help them relax and cope better with symptoms and treatment. Hypnotherapy can help people to feel more comfortable and in control of their situation.

People with cancer most often use hypnotherapy for sickness or pain. There is some evidence that hypnotherapy helps with these symptoms. It can also help with depression, anxiety and stress.

Some doctors and dentists have training in hypnotherapy. They may use this alongside conventional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Research Into people with cancer

Some reports show that hypnosis can help people to reduce their blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and pain. Hypnosis can create relaxing brain wave patterns. Some clinical trials have looked at how well hypnotherapy works for people with cancer.

Research has looked at the following areas

Hypnosis and cancer pain

A report from the American National Institute for Health in 1996 stated that hypnosis can help to reduce some kinds of cancer pain. A large review in 2006 looked at using hypnotherapy to control distress and pain from medical procedures in children with cancer. The review found that hypnotherapy did seem to help to reduce the children’s pain and distress, but it recommended more research. You can loook at this research on the Research Council for Complementary medicine website.

In 2012, researchers in Spain again reviewed studies of children with cancer and found that hypnosis appeared to help reduce pain and distress from cancer or from medical procedures.

Hypnosis and sickness

A large review in 2006 looked at research into hypnotherapy for feeling or being sick from chemotherapy. Most of the studies in this area have been in children. Overall, the studies did show that hypnotherapy might be able to help with chemotherapy sickness in children. There has only been 1 study looking at hypnotherapy for sickness after chemotherapy in adults, so we need more research into this. You can look at this review on the Research Council for Complementary medicine website.

One study found that hypnosis can help to reduce anticipatory nausea and vomiting. Anticipatory nausea or vomiting happens when people have had nausea or vomiting due to cancer drugs and they then have nausea or vomiting just before their next dose.

Hypnosis and hot flushes

A clinical trial in America in 2008 found that women having breast cancer treatment who had hypnosis had fewer hot flushes and the flushes were less severe. The women also had less anxiety, depression, and interference with daily activities, and better sleep.

Hypnosis and cancer surgery breast

A study in 2007 in America gave hypnotherapy to a group of women before breast surgery. The researchers found that hypnotherapy lowered the amount of pain, sickness, tiredness and upset that the women had after surgery. Another American study in 2006 found that hypnotherapy helped to lower anxiety and pain during a biopsy for suspected breast cancer.

Hypnotherapy for symptom control in advanced cancer

In 2005 researchers carried out a review of studies into hypnotherapy for treating symptoms in people with advanced cancer. There were 27 studies but all were small or of poor quality. So it is not possible to tell whether hypnotherapy can help people with advanced cancer. We need research to find this out.

Hypnotherapy for stopping smoking

People commonly use hypnotherapy to help them give up smoking. In 1992 a review showed that hypnotherapy was the most effective way of giving up smoking. But in 1998 another review by the Cochrane Collaboration looked again at this. There were several trials of hypnotherapy but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that it helps people to give up.

Is hypnotherapy safe?

Hypnotherapy is generally very safe. Most people say that they have a positive experience with it. But some people report negative side effects, such as increased anxiety. The important thing is to make sure your therapist is qualified. And you can read our information below on who shouldn’t use hypnotherapy. Ask your hypnotherapist about any possible side effects.

Who shouldn’t use hypnotherapy

You shouldn’t use hypnotherapy with some medical conditions, as it could make them worse. These are Psychosis (a type of mental illness where people have a distorted view of what’s real and may see or hear things)

A personality disorder Epilepsy

If you have other types of mental health problems, or a serious illness such as cancer, you should always see a hypnotherapist who has experience of treating your condition.

Children under the age of 7 should only be hypnotised by a therapist who is trained in working with this age group.

Full list of conditions