We’ve all had those moments when we’ve been in a rush, reached for our keys and been disappointed to find we’d misplaced them again. They’re always in the last place we’d look, tucked underneath a couch cushion or waiting patiently underneath the refrigerator. When we do get around to finding them, our mood is almost always worse for the wear. It seems silly something so trivial in life can affect us so significantly. Moments like these can manifest in how we physically perform or go beneath the skin and affect how we feel. Similar feelings of frustration can surface if we’re under severe stress or emotional turmoil. What if didn’t have to be that way?[quitit]
Zoology freshman Adrianna Gonzalez found such a solution through the nontraditional technique of self-hypnosis. In her sophomore year of high school, Gonzalez was diagnosed with depression. The level of stress in her life began to affect her eating habits and her extra-curricular activities; she even stopped wanting to do what she used to love. Eventually, her original diagnosis of depression was re-categorized as yearly seasonal depression. It was at this time in therapy when she was asked to try a new technique to help her cope; enter self-hypnosis. [hyp]
In her first experience, Gonzalez was told to envision a room. The room in her mind was very, very dark. It had a fireplace on one wall. It was stone, almost like castle walls. Along the opposite wall, there were a few bookcases and dim lamps. Gonzalez said the therapist told her to imagine a “comforting mist.” And it worked. Her depression became less severe, she physically became healthier and her memory improved dramatically.
This may sound like an unorthodox method to deal with everyday issues – imagining a room to cure some kind of problem – but people have benefited from hypnosis for years. Dr. Mary Pratt Miller is one of the numerous therapists that have used hypnosis, and she has practiced it for more than 20 years. “I cannot imagine doing the work I do without clinical hypnosis as a possible means of intervention and therapeutic goal achievement,” Miller said.
According to Miller, self-hypnosis is a wonderful tool because it involves relaxation and inner change. It lowers the blood pressure and reduces tension in the mind and body. Sometimes it improves one’s ability to think clearly, which is why it could help one find things that have been misplaced. Hypnosis is often a reminder – a tactic that digs up what was already there. Miller insisted it is easy to learn, and said “I never take a test without first using self-hypnosis for 15 to 20 minutes.”
Miller claims all hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis, which refers to the method when people do the hypnosis by themselves. “The locus of control is always in the patient,” Miller said. “The therapist is the facilitator of the process. All that is necessary is that the person turns their attention inward and begins to focus on ideas and motivations.”
Although many people would think the process of hypnosis would be difficult, Miller said most of us have even experienced a natural self-hypnosis trance at some point. Things like listening to music, driving a car or riding up many flights in an elevator allow the mind to “escape.” As another example, daydreaming is one of the most common trances.
While hypnosis is based on a trance or escape of the mind, another basic tenet is the idea of repetition or habitual actions. Hypnosis is based on the idea that “repetition strengthens and confirms,” Miller said. Hypnotists give a suggestion and one reacts because the hypnotist used an action word. Then, the hypnotist repeats it to confirm the suggestion which, out of habit, you embrace willingly. Suggestions are activated by a cue, usually some sort of sound like clapping or a certain word. After hearing the cue, the person acts out what was previously told to them in their subconscious state. For instance, a person might bark like a dog every time the hypnotist says “bacon.”
[pratt]In a contemporary perspective, Donna Wilkinson’s New York Times article “Stroked, Poked and Hypnotized in the Search for Relief” addresses current hypnosis. Wilkinson wrote, “Though nontraditional medicine has many skeptics, some techniques have gained credence among pain specialists.” Wilkinson said Dr. Daniel Handel, a clinician at the Pain and Palliative Medicine Service of National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., uses biofeedback (affecting body functions by controlling certain body behaviors), hypnosis, acupuncture and other techniques to aid patients on drug protocols.
Miller shows support for the use of hypnosis in medical settings, and she said hypnosis has been used in United States emergency rooms. For example, Dr. Dabney Ewin, M.D., a physician in New Orleans, has used hypnosis with severely burned or injured patients. In addition, many American OB/GYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) physicians are starting to seek out hypnosis techniques to create painless childbirths, Miller said. However, Miller said because each therapist and patient is a unique person, there are many ways to use hypnosis. “I use a variety of inductions, some with the patient’s eyes open and some with them closed,” Miller said. “Once I even used hypnosis to help a woman find a lost object.”
Although hypnosis may be handy in painful medical scenarios or in the desperate attempt to relocate an important item, many might wonder how hypnosis can be beneficial in the academic life of students. Dr. Lawrence Casler, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York, addresses this subject in his article, “Hypnotize Students and Improve Their Ability to Learn.” Casler suggests hypnosis can spur motivation in classes during lengthy lectures, making one better able to concentrate. Casler takes this ability to focus one step further and writes about how hypnotism can result in faster reading, longer retention and lifting an academic block. The most important advantage for students, however, could be the claim hypnosis can reduce anxiety caused by exams. While Casler admits hypnosis is not magic and there would be cases where it would not help students, he believes the vast majority of students could profit from some form of hypnosis.
Nonetheless, there is room for doubt that the technique can help make life healthier or less stressful. Ladun Olagbegi, a no preference freshman, said she is a natural skeptic of hypnosis. For her, it was not effective. In her hypnosis experience, the hypnotists tried to put Olagbegi in a trance by making her shut her eyes, then open them, until she believed the hypnotist had no idea what he was doing. Eventually, the hypnotist said Olagbegi was unable to be hypnotized in such a short time, and moved on to another girl at the party who was successfully put in trance. Since then, Olagbegi has not tried hypnotism. “I tried it. I didn’t believe it. It didn’t work,” Olagbegi said.
These disbeliefs in the validity of hypnosis can affect the end results, according to Miller. If a person is consciously set against hypnosis, an outcome like Olagbegi’s can occur. Most hypnotists argue skeptics feel this way because they don’t understand the technique of hypnosis. Olagbegi remained skeptical, even with exposure to a positive hypnosis experience. Olagbegi’s aunt went through hypnotherapy to quit smoking. While Olagbegi said her aunt did quit smoking in the end, she believes it was due to successful therapy rather then hypnosis. [olagbegi]
Despite the existence of skeptics, hypnosis has been used as a medical technique for hundreds of years. According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, by Nathan Mark Kravis, priests in ancient Egypt, Greece and China used hypnosis during rituals, in medical treatments and as an anesthetic for surgery. In Kravis’ work, he describes how physicians James Braid of Britain and James Esdaile of Scotland performed thousands of successful surgeries using hypnotic practices for anesthesia and relaxation in the 1800s. Through hypnosis, they reduced bleeding, relieved pain and sped healing.
While we’ll all still have problems remembering where our wallets are, hypnosis might help. Those with problems like Gonzalez’s are not the only people who benefit. Many clinicians believe the success of a hypnotic trance depends on how well it seems to work for current problems. For some people, the idea of an easy, noninvasive solution is enough to make them into believers. “If I can do it, anyone can,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a mind thing. Our mind is more powerful then we know.”