Holy cow, the human mind is fascinating. Don'tcha think? We've been studying that sucker for years, and it remains mostly unexplored and little understood territory.
Some folks like to think that somewhere in all that mysterious grey matter is the source of our illnesses. I've never been a fan of the idea that all bodily afflictions are in the mind. It just seems like a crafty and self-important way of blaming the sick. The idea that there might be something to it is, however, quite intriguing.
And that brings us to hypnotherapy, the attempt to heal by way of the unconscious. Many of this modality's claims can neither be proved nor disproved. And the experts don't always agree on how it works. Still, they seem to be of one mind about the fact that some folks are better hypnotic subjects than others.
There's pretty conclusive evidence that hypnosis is effective in pain management, but very little research, if any, supports the idea that you can access past lives with the aid of a hypnotherapist. Incidentally, if you ever find yourself faced with someone who claims to know for certain what happens after we die, be it reincarnation or burning in hell, run ! You're talking to the walking dead. Otherwise, how could they know for sure? "Hypnosis is just a form of highly focused attention. It can help with pain control, dieting, treatment of phobias.
What the experts say
It's good for habit problems, especially smoking. It's used to control certain psychosomatic problems like seizures and irritable bowel syndrome. Some [people] are more hypnotizable than others. Children who suffered physical punishment and abuse tend to be more hypnotizable. The past life stuff is just hokum. How does hypnosis work? Are you sitting down? You have sensations from your bottom touching the chair that you weren't aware of until I brought them to your attention. We focus on certain things and put others out of consciousness. Being in hypnosis is a more intense way of doing that."
DAVID SPIEGEL , associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford University, co-author Trance And Treatment
"It's been shown that the post-hypnotic suggestion to find one's own language incomprehensible causes regions of the brain specialized for processing language to react to meaningful words as if they were gibberish. The suggestion that one's sensation of intense heat or electric shock will be decreased results in the reduction of neural responses in brain regions that support the experience of touch and pain. It's as if the volume knobs on the experience of pain have been turned down. We're equipped with immense power to regulate [our] thoughts and emotions. The kicker is, this power can be used for better or worse: turning up the pain of a recent breakup, for instance, by focusing on thoughts of loss, or turning it down by focusing on a newfound freedom. The trick is to harness this power for well-being. Nature has clearly equipped our brains with the means to regulate the perception and meaning of worldly events. Luckily, this power is not only revealed through hypnosis but can be cultivated consciously by all of us."
ADAM ANDERSON , Canada Research Chair, department of psychology, U of T
"A person has to want to change, because hypnosis doesn't take over anybody's mind. I do believe in past life regression as a tool for change and healing. Whether you believe in it or not, past life regression can work as a metaphor to help you get to what you need to know. How you take your journey and where you take it to - whether it be to age two in your current life or to your mother's womb or to another country and another time - doesn't matter. You can only be hypnotized if you allow it."
GEORGINA CANNON , Ontario Hypnosis Centre, Toronto
"We want to slow down the conscious mind; the subconscious is much more sensitive to suggestion. There is regression therapy: age regression, past life therapy, life between lives, which is not your past life, not your current life but what happens when you're not in a physical body. For regression, we want to get even deeper into the unconscious mind and locate the source of the past trauma. We want to bring the core issues up and release and clear the energy. It doesn't matter whether you believe in past lives, because the mind is still going to bring up information that will help you heal."
HELEN ZADOR , hypnotherapist, Toronto
"There is really nothing that hypnosis cannot undo. Every state of human subjective reality has a structure. If you can undo the structure, you can bring about profound change. A doctor may tell you you're depressed or schizoid, but that's just labelling. They have never sought to examine the structure of that subjective reality. We also use Neuro Linguistic Programming. For example, it is intuitive to our language that we speak of cancer as a state. If you talk like this, at an intuitive level you are indexing that the cancer is a form of subjective reality that has a structure. If you can change the structure, you will be able to change the cancer."
DENNIS CHONG , hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, Toronto
"Hypnosis is efficacious for pain and anxiety. There is no conclusive evidence that that it works in habit control; there's evidence on both sides. Eating disorders, smoking and alcoholism are very complex and require complex interventions, and even those don't always work. They require a comprehensive solution that addresses psychological, medical and interpersonal areas. [Hypnosis] may be helpful as part of a comprehensive treatment. Some people respond and some don't, so it may be a complete waste of time. There hasn't been enough research to know why some do and do not respond."
MICHAEL NASH , professor of psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
"There is no broad consensus about how hypnosis works neurally. The most consistent neural finding is that hypnosis affects the functioning of the anterior cingulate, a frontal/limbic area. With people who have high hypnotic ability, it is possible to alter the functioning of the anterior cingulate such that the unpleasantness of pain disappears. There's evidence that hypnosis may affect functioning in other parts of the brain as well. If a hypnotized person looks at a picture in shades of grey but is told it's in colour, the colour perception areas of the brain become active. This does not happen if the person has low hypnotic ability."
ERIK WOODY , professor, clinical psychology, University of Waterloo