Forget those movie images of Svengali-like hypnotists waving
Today's hypnotherapy is practiced by qualified physicians
and has long been recognized by leading medical organizations
-- including the American Medical Association, the American
Psychological Association and the U.S.
National Institutes of Health -- as an adjunct therapy
useful in easing a range of ailments.
"It's a tool we use in our clinical work -- regardless of
whether you're a dentist or psychologist or physician," said
Marc Oster, a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist based
in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Dr. David Spiegel, an expert on hypnotherapy and a professor
of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University
in California, agreed.
"Hypnotherapy is just a form of highly focused attention,
and there are therapeutic strategies that you employ using
that highly focused attention," he explained.
For that reason, both experts stressed that patients who
want to try hypnosis as a treatment tool should consult a
practitioner licensed in some other form of medicine -- an
M.D., a psychologist or a dentist, for example.
Their reasoning: "If you don't have clinical training, how
can you work with clinical problems?" Oster said. While hypnosis
can help people stop smoking, for example, a mere hypnotist
may not be able to spot and treat underlying problems.
"Maybe the person is using smoking to help manage their anxiety,"
Oster said. "So then you're not treating the problem, just
a symptom." In the case of psychiatric woes, especially, poorly
guided hypnotherapy may even worsen the situation, experts
What is hypnotherapy? According to Oster, patients are usually
"talked" into a state of highly focused, suggestible attentiveness
where they are able to clear away mental "clutter" and focus
on whatever problem it is that concerns them. In most cases,
practitioners teach patients self-hypnosis techniques they
can use at home.
Patients do not relinquish self-control, Oster said.
"Actually, from a clinical perspective, that's the opposite
of what we do with people," he explained. "People come to
see us to develop greater willpower and have more self-control,
more confidence in themselves. You don't help that by taking
Using electroencephalogram [EEG] and other methods, science
is beginning to determine what happens to the hypnotized brain.
"We're getting to the point where we can see that the hypnotic
brain looks different from the resting or sleeping brain,"
Oster said. Hypnotized individuals are usually physically
at ease, with lowered blood pressure and heart rates, while
feeling fully awake and mentally attentive.
Studies have shown hypnosis can be a useful adjunct therapy
against many ills, including:
- Gastrointestinal problems. "For irritable bowel
syndrome, especially, hypnosis has been demonstrated to
be about 80 percent effective in reducing or eliminating
symptoms. Medicine cannot do that," Oster said.
- Pain. "It's been clearly helpful there for hundreds
of years," Spiegel said. In many cases, patients with chronic
pain use self-hypnosis techniques to "turn down" pain, like
lowering the volume on a radio. Spiegel said patients can
also use the technique to help get through invasive or painful
medical procedures, such as dentistry or even cardiac catheterization.
- Smoking and other addictions. "Half of people will
typically stop smoking after a single [hypnosis] session,
and half of those won't have a cigarette for two years,"
Spiegel said. In the world of smoking-cessation, a 25 percent
long-term success rate is considered impressive, he said.
- Weight loss. "There's some pretty good research
that says hypnosis is helpful," Oster said. "It seems to
help people stay focused on their goals."
Finding an effective, qualified hypnotherapist is easy if
one consults one of two recognized associations: the practice-oriented
American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and a more research-oriented
group, the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
Both groups mandate that hypnotherapists also be licensed
in some form of clinical training.
Oster said consumers should be wary of claims that seem exaggerated
or too good to be true. "If someone says their success rate
with smoking is 90 to 95 percent, for example, I'd stay away,"
Both experts stressed that hypnotherapy is really directed
by the patient, anyway, not the practitioner.
"It's a collaborative relationship between two people," Oster
said, "you and I. It's something I do with you, not
to you." A good hypnotherapist simply teaches techniques
that allows a patient to fulfill his or her goals, he said.
"Patients look at it as, 'I'm doing this -- I'm learning
to help myself,' " he said.