The term, “Hypnosis” originates from Greek god of sleep, Hypnos (Bause, 2013). Today, we use the term hypnosis to refer to the process by which an individual is placed under a sleep-like trance, where they experience altered memory, perception, and voluntary control (Kihlstrom, 2012). For many years, anecdotal evidence has led to mass fascination in the topic! With the advents of modern neuroscientific research, we know much more about the effects of hypnosis on the brain. Let’s break it down!
Neuroimaging studies have found several differences in brain activity among individuals known to be “susceptible to hypnosis,” while in a hypnotic state. Specifically, they found altered activity in several regions of the brain, known as the Default Mode Network (an area of the brain that becomes active when you are not focussing on external stimuli) (Dumont, Martin, & Broer, 2012).
In terms of therapeutic effects, there is not a general consensus among the research community. This is due in part, to the variability in “susceptibility to hypnosis” skewing data dramatically. That said, the current literature on hypnotherapy, has highlighted its ability to provide pain relief and anxiety reduction (Fox et al., 2016; Thompson et al., 2019; Kihlstrom, 2013).
Realistically, we need more research and better research design to truly parse out the therapeutic effects of hypnosis. The brain is a powerful thing and our current methods of research are not able to fully separate the effects of hypnosis from the effects of placebo. While we may not understand hypnosis in its entirety, that does not diminish the therapeutic effect individuals have experienced from it. The brain is a powerful thing and healing is healing!