By Dr. S. K. Sharma

From ages people have been saying that it’s all in mind. Be it creation of problems or secrets of success. Mind creates all. Einstein told us that we use about 10 % of our brain and a large part of it remains unexplored. It has the potential to perform wonders and achieve bigger things. It is true that we all are using our mind and applies it in different situations of life. Is there a way to explore that ‘unexplored’ potential of mind which can help us to grow by leaps and bounds? The answer is yes and it is hypnotherapy.

The word hypnotherapy or hypnosis reminds us of advertisements like ‘quit smoking in 20 minutes’ or ‘eliminate phobia in one day’. These look unbelievable to many but are true. They are nothing else but hypnosis at work and is not magic. It is based on working of mind. That means it uses mind mechanism to do what otherwise was proving difficult or even impossible.

What is hypnosis?
According to American Psychological Association Hypnosis is a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or subject experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior. The hypnotic context is generally established by an induction procedure. Although there are many different hypnotic inductions, most include suggestions for relaxation, calmness, and well-being. Instructions to imagine or think about pleasant experiences are also commonly included in hypnotic inductions. People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe hypnosis as a normal state of focused attention, in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Regardless of how and to what degree they respond, most people describe the experience as very pleasant.

Some people are very responsive to hypnotic suggestions and others are less responsive. A person’s ability to experience hypnotic suggestions can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Contrary to some depictions of hypnosis in books, movies or television, people who have been hypnotized do not lose control over their behavior. They typically remain aware of who they are and where they are, and unless amnesia has been specifically suggested, they usually remember what transpired during hypnosis. Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences.

Hypnosis has been used in the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety, stress, habit disorders, and many other psychological and medical problems. In addition to its use in clinical settings, hypnosis is used in research, with the goal of learning more about the nature of hypnosis itself, as well as its impact on sensation, perception, learning, memory, and physiology. Researchers also study the value of hypnosis in the treatment of physical and psychological problems.

There are different types of hypnotherapies.

Traditional hypnotherapy – This mainly employ direct suggestion of symptom removal, with some use of therapeutic relaxation.

Hypnoanalysis – Freud and Breuer used hypnosis to regress clients to an earlier age in order to help them remember and correct supposedly repressed traumatic memories.

Ericksonian hypnotherapy – Erickson used a more informal conversational approach with many clients and complex language patterns, and therapeutic strategies.

Cognitive/behavioral hypnotherapy – Some workers combined hypnotherapy with elements of cognitive and behaviour therapy.

New Age hypnotherapy – There are many New Age or pseudoscientific approaches to hypnotherapy which actually resemble Mesmerism.

In 1995, the National Institute for Health (NIH), in the US, established a Technology Assessment Conference that compiled an official statement entitled “Integration of Behavioral & Relaxation Approaches into the Treatment of Chronic Pain & Insomnia”. This is an extensive report that includes a statement on the existing research in relation to hypnotherapy for chronic pain. It concludes that:

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of hypnosis in alleviating chronic pain associated with cancer seems strong. In addition, the panel was presented with other data suggesting the effectiveness of hypnosis in other chronic pain conditions, which include irritable bowel syndrome, oral mucositis [pain and swelling of the mucus membrane], temporomandibular disorders [jaw pain], and tension headaches. (NIH, 1995)

In 1999, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a Clinical Review of current medical research on hypnotherapy and relaxation therapies, it concludes,

  • “There is strong evidence from randomised trials of the effectiveness of hypnosis and relaxation for cancer related anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting, [side effects of chemotherapy] particularly in children.”
  • “They are also effective for panic disorders and insomnia, particularly when integrated into a package of cognitive therapy (including, for example, sleep hygiene).”
  • “A systematic review has found that hypnosis enhances the effects of cognitive behavioural therapy for conditions such as phobia, obesity, and anxiety.”
  • “Randomized controlled trials support the use of various relaxation techniques for treating both acute and chronic pain, […]”
  • “Randomized trials have shown hypnosis to be of value in asthma and in irritable bowel syndrome […]”
  • “Some practitioners also claim that relaxation techniques, particularly the use of imagery, can prolong life. There is currently insufficient evidence to support this claim.”

In 2001, the Professional Affairs Board of the British Psychological Society (BPS) commissioned a working party of expert psychologists to publish a report entitled The Nature of Hypnosis. Its remit was ‘to provide a considered statement about hypnosis and important issues concerning its application and practice in a range of contexts, notably for clinical purposes, forensic investigation, academic research, entertainment and training.’ The working party then provided an overview of some of the most important contemporary research on the efficacy of clinical hypnotherapy, which is summarized as follows:

  • “There is convincing evidence that hypnotic procedures are effective in the management and relief of both acute and chronic pain and in assisting in the alleviation of pain, discomfort and distress due to medical and dental procedures and childbirth.”
  • “Hypnosis and the practice of self-hypnosis may significantly reduce general anxiety, tension and stress in a manner similar to other relaxation and self-regulation procedures.”
  • “Likewise, hypnotic treatment may assist in insomnia in the same way as other relaxation methods.”
  • “There is encouraging evidence demonstrating the beneficial effects of hypnotherapeutic procedures in alleviating the symptoms of a range of complaints that fall under the heading ‘psychosomatic illness.” These include tension headaches and migraine; asthma; gastro-intestinal complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome; warts; and possibly other skin complaints such as eczema, psoriasis and urticaria [hives].
  • “There is evidence from several studies that its [hypnosis’] inclusion in a weight reduction program may significantly enhance outcome.”

In 2003, perhaps the most recent meta-analysis of the efficacy of hypnotherapy was published by two researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany, Flammer and Bongartz. The study examined data on the efficacy of hypnotherapy across the board, though studies included mainly related to psychosomatic illness, test anxiety, smoking cessation and pain control during orthodox medical treatment. Most of the better research studies used traditional-style hypnosis, only a minority (19%) employed Ericksonian hypnosis.

The authors considered a total of 444 studies on hypnotherapy published prior to 2002. By selecting the best quality and most suitable research designs for meta-analysis they narrowed their focus down to 57 controlled trials. These showed that on average hypnotherapy achieved at least 64% success compared to 37% improvement among untreated control groups. (Based on the figures produced by binomial effect size display or BESD.)

According to the authors this was an intentional underestimation. Their professed aim was to discover whether, even under the most skeptical weighing of the evidence, hypnotherapy was still proven effective. They showed conclusively that it was. In fact, their analysis of treatment designs concluded that expansion of the meta-analysis to include non-randomized trials for this data base would also produce reliable results. When all 133 studies deemed suitable in light of this consideration were re-analyzed, providing data for over 6,000 patients, the findings suggest an average improvement in 27% of untreated patients over the term of the studies compared with a 74% success rate among those receiving hypnotherapy. This is a high success rate given the fact that many of the studies measured included the treatment of addictions and medical conditions. The outcome rates for anxiety disorders alone, traditionally hypnotherapy’s strongest application, were higher still (though a precise figure is not cited).(Flammer & Bongartz, “On the efficacy of hypnosis: a meta-analytic study”, Contemporary Hypnosis, 2003, pp179 – 197.)

How it works:

Hypnotherapy is the focused state of attention like laser in place of ordinary light. It works in three steps.:

  1. Induction of trance
  2. Suggestion
  3. Post hypnotic suggestion

So how can hypnosis be used to enhance mental performance. There are many ways. It can be used to improve :

  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Creativity
  • Goal accomplishment

We did a study using hypnosis to see how it affects Goal Accomplishment. Having a vision of future is similar to setting a goal for self and surroundings. We all have vision but most of us do not know that vision (goal) can be created and pursued with success. This is not day dreaming or wishful thinking but a planned task using mind mechanism. For example Mahatma Gandhi had a vision of free India, he created a life around that vision, inspired millions and was instrumental in realizing it. Another example can be given of a sportsperson who visions an Olympic gold medal, sets his or her mind on to it and rest follows. One can say here that most of us have vision but also true is most of us lack perseverance and endurance. So how can that be achieved. Here hypnosis can play a crucial role. It creates vision and sets mind on to it. The particular goal becomes a future ‘reality’ and the mind starts working towards it. It automatically sends signals to mental and physical ‘departments’ to do the needful.

In the study conducted 12 students were selected with similar background and past records. Out of these 4 were kept as control group, 4 were put under counseling & study skills training and 4 were subjected to hypnosis. Groups were observed monthly for three months. Groups were compared with own past performance and relative performance including attention span, problem solving & memory. Group under counseling & study skill training showed some improvement whereas group under hypnosis showed significant improvement in both self and relative performance.

Better performance has many requisites. There is no magic for higher performance but hypnosis or hypnotherapy can play a useful role in enhancing one’s performance.

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