How Does Hypnotism Work?

How Does Hypnotism Work?  Check these resources.

Psychology Today

Studies show that hypnotism can treat everything from chronic pain to poor study habits. Chances are, it can work for you..... Research over the last 40 years shows that such hypnotic techniques are safe and effective. Furthermore, a growing number of studies show that hypnotism can treat headaches, ease the pain of childbirth, aid in quitting smoking, improve concentration and study habits, relieve minor phobias, and serve as anesthesia-all without drugs or side effects. 

Scientific American

Though often denigrated as fakery or wishful thinking, hypnosis has been shown to be a real phenomenon with a variety of therapeutic uses-especially in controlling pain. Skeptics have argued that this effect results from either simple relaxation or a placebo response. But a number of experiments have ruled out these explanations. 

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology

Hypnotherapy keeps the weight off. More than 100 people completed a 9 week behavioral treatment for weight management either with or without the addition of hypnosis. At the end of the 9-week program, both interventions resulted in weight reduction-but at 8-month and 2-year follow-ups, the hypnosis subjects had continued to lose significant weight, while those in the behavioral-treatment-only group showed little change. 

New Scientist

Hypnotism is the most effective way of giving up smoking according to the largest ever scientific comparison of ways of breaking the habit. Willpower, it turns out, counts for very little," concluded New Scientist, referring to a meta-analysis by Iowa University scientists. The researchers statistically combined results of 600 studies of almost 72,000 individuals who had successfully quit smoking using a variety of methods: hypnotherapy, aversion therapy, acupuncture, nicotine substitutes and willpower. Hypnotherapy proved the most effective-three times more effective than nicotine replacement methods and 15 times more effective than trying to quit alone. 

Harvard University Gazette

Research conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that hypnotherapy helped produce faster mending of broken bones than standard treatment alone, and that hypnotherapy helped breast-surgery patients achieve faster healing as well. "That means using the mind to make structural changes in the body, to accelerate healing at the tissue level," explained head scientist Carol Ginandes. She added that, "Since clinical hypnosis is a noninvasive, non-drug treatment, finding that it can speed healing of wounds and other conditions could lead to fewer visits to doctors' offices and faster return to normal activities." 

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic reports that studies show hypnotherapy may be used to:
o Change negative behaviors, such as smoking, bed-wetting and overeating
o Reduce or eliminate fears, stress and anxiety
o Treat pain during childbirth and reduce labor time
o Control pain during dental and surgical procedures
o Relieve symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
o Lower blood pressure
o Control nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
o Reduce the intensity or frequency of headaches, including migraines
o Treat and ease the symptoms of asthma
o Hasten the healing of some skin diseases, including warts, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology

A meta-analysis of 18 studies showed hypnotherapy to be extremely effective in helping clients permanently reduce their weight. Researchers analyzed findings to compare a cognitive behavioral therapy, such as relaxation training, guided imagery, self monitoring or goal setting, with the same therapy supplemented by hypnosis. Those who used hypnotherapy lost more weight than 90% of the non-hypnosis group, and two years later they were successfully maintaining the weight loss. 

Consumer Reports

Imagine that when you eat, you feel satisfied sooner and therefore lose weight more rapidly. Imagine that the pain after heart-bypass or dental surgery feels merely like mild pressure. Imagine that your skin rash is clearing up. Recent clinical studies suggest that hypnosis-a form of deeply imagining desired results-can indeed help motivated people accomplish those health goals.

British Journal of Urology

The British Journal of Urology reports that a controlled study of 79 men with impotence from no known organic origin found only hypnosis to be more effective than a placebo, boosting sexual function by 80%. The other treatments tested were testosterone and Trazodone, but these showed poor results. The researchers concluded that "The only treatment superior to placebo seemed to be hypnosis.

National Institutes for Health

A study of 71 smokers found that after a two-year follow-up, individuals who quit using hypnotherapy were twice as likely to remain smoke-free than those who quit on their own. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, in a 2008 study funded by the National Cancer Institute, researchers concluded that hypnosis can reduce hot flashes in breast cancer survivors and offers additional benefits such as improved mood and sleep. The women who received hypnosis experienced a 68% reduction in hot flash frequency and severity. Compared with controls, they also reported significant improvements in anxiety, depression, interference with daily activities, and sleep. 

Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

A survey spanning three years of more than 1,000 case reports showed hypnotherapy to be more successful than other forms of psychological therapy. The study, conducted by Alfred A. Barrios, formerly of the University of California, found the following average success rates for treatment of psychological issues: psychoanalysis, 38% recovery after 600 sessions; behavior therapy, 72% recovery after 22 sessions; hypnotherapy, 93% recovery after 6 sessions. 

Golf Digest

Tiger Woods began mental training with a hypnotherapist on the golf course at age 13, and the self-hypnosis skills he acquired still contribute to his game. Woods acknowledges that he always uses hypnosis to produce peak performance by "willing myself into the zone." Woods describes hypnosis as "inherent in what I do now." 

Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine

The reason hypnotherapy proves more effective than talk-therapy probably stems from its ability to redirect neural pathways, profoundly affecting brain function. For example, university researchers in the United States and Germany used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor brain activity in order to gain insight into how hypnosis works to reduce pain. Volunteers were exposed to normally painful heat in both a hypnotized and non-hypnotized state. While under hypnosis, their experience of pain was greatly reduced and their brain activity was markedly different than in the non-hypnotized state. The changes in brain activity indicate that hypnosis can be used to block pain signals from reaching regions of the brain that perceive pain.

American Journal of Psychiatry

In another example, Harvard University scientists using positron emission tomography (PET) scans to monitor brain activity found that subjects under hypnosis were actually able to see bright colors where there were none, and to see gray when looking at bright color. The PET scans also revealed that a much larger portion of the subjects' brains was activated while under hypnosis than when they received the same suggestions in a non-hypnotized state. 

Harvard University Gazette

As the Harvard University Gazette later put it, "The records of cerebral activity clearly show that hypnosis can change the state of the brain," and is therefore not a matter of mere imagining, visualizing or positive thinking. The Harvard scientists speculate that it is this now-proven ability of hypnosis to impact significant areas of the brain that "may account for the success of hypnosis in reducing pain and anxiety, combating insomnia, and helping some people to quit smoking. 

American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis

A recent study presented at the annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians showed that patients were more likely to quit smoking through the use of hypnotherapy than patients using other smoking cessation methods. And in an earlier study involving 226 smokers, more than half completely abstained from smoking one week after a single hypnosis session. Cessation rates at six months climbed to 66% for those who completed a hypnosis-based treatment program. 

'Hypnosport' by Les Cunningham

Here's a fun fact: In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the Russian Olympic team took with them no less than 11 hypnotists to develop mental clarity and help the athletes with visualization. 

Men's Fitness

All in all, hypnosis may be the most fitness-friendly thing you can do while parked on a couch.... One of the primary success busters an athlete faces is nervousness. Imagine you're at the free-throw line, calm and brimming with confidence. You have at least a chance of getting the ball through the hoop, right? Now imagine the same situation, but you're full of worry that you'll miss-your odds just went down considerably. Accordingly, one study of college basketball players found that shooting accuracy improved significantly after hypnosis training. 

Consumer Reports

Hypnosis may help patients with chronic dyspepsia, or indigestion, more than heartburn medicine. A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study of 126 patients found that hypnotized patients did better overall, required less medication, and had fewer doctors' visits than patients on ranitidine (Zantac) or a placebo. In another study, researchers reported that hypnotherapy helped patients with irritable bowel syndrome.


Many cancer patients suffer nausea and vomiting not only after chemotherapy, but before treatment. In a study of 16 adult patients who normally experienced these symptoms, hypnosis completely eliminated pre-chemotherapy sickness in all of them, and greatly reduced post-chemotherapy sickness in almost all. 

Aetna Intelihealth (reviewed by the faculty of the Harvard Medical School)

Hypnotherapy has also been used to control arthritis pain, migraine headaches, allergies, heart rate, blood pressure, blood vessel diameter, cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), side effects of cancer treatments, stomach ulcers, skin conditions, addictions and many other conditions. Pregnant women may use hypnotherapy to help control morning sickness and shorten labor. People who want to quit smoking or stop overeating, two risk factors for heart disease, may benefit from hypnotherapy as well. 

Psychology Rep

A study comparing 93 men and 93 women who quit smoking through hypnotherapy found that after three months, 86% of the men and 87% of the women reported remaining smoke-free. 

American Cancer Society

Hypnosis can be used by therapists as a tool to help eliminate or decrease the strength of phobias. Research has also shown that hypnosis can help reduce anticipatory nausea and vomiting (related to chemotherapy).... According to a report from the National Institutes of Health, there is evidence that hypnosis can help reduce some kinds of cancer pain. In 2006, researchers reviewed studies of children with cancer and found that hypnosis appeared to help reduce the pain and distress from medical procedures. 

The Lancet

Patients who received hypnotherapy during surgical radiology needed less pain medication, left the operating room sooner, and had more stable vital signs during the operation, according to research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "We have a simple method that decreases pain and anxiety and makes the invasive procedure safer and faster," said first author Elvira Lang, M.D., director of cardiovascular and interventional radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess. The large randomized clinical trial included 241 people who underwent procedures to open clogged arteries and veins, relieve blockages in the kidney drainage system, and block blood vessels feeding tumors. 


Besides pain management and stress reduction, habit control is another popular clinical application of hypnosis; it's routinely used by people who want to quit smoking. It has also been used successfully as an alternative to sedation during invasive medical procedures like angiography. 

American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis

Hypnosis was found to significantly increase the activity of B-cells and T-cells-both key to immune response-in highly hypnotizable patients. 

Business Week

Studies show hypnosis can help treat a multitude of disorders.... It's not surprising, then, that hypnosis is often used to treat chronic pain and help women give birth without resorting to medication. Researchers at Harvard University have found it diminishes the need for anesthesia during invasive procedures such as angioplasty and breast reconstruction and speeds post-operative healing. Hypnosis may also be effective in treating asthma, irritable-bowel syndrome, dermatitis, warts, hives, hemophilia, nausea associated with chemotherapy or pregnancy, undesirable traits such as smoking or overeating, anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scientific American

A 1996 National Institutes of Health technology assessment panel judged hypnosis to be an effective intervention for alleviating pain from cancer and other chronic conditions. Voluminous clinical studies also indicate that hypnosis can reduce the acute pain experienced by patients undergoing burn-wound debridement, children enduring bone marrow aspirations and women in labor. A meta-analysis published in a special issue of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, for example, found that hypnotic suggestions relieved the pain of 75 percent of 933 subjects participating in 27 different experiments. The pain-relieving effect of hypnosis is often substantial, and in a few cases the degree of relief matches or exceeds that provided by morphine. 


Despite widely held misconceptions about hypnosis (in part because of its long history as a type of entertainment), a growing body of research supports the ancient practice as an effective tool in the treatment of a variety of problems, from anxiety to chronic pain. Today, as practitioners work to assess and refine the clinical applications of hypnosis, they are also exploring its underlying mechanisms, using state-of-the-art imaging technology to document changes in the brain that occur when someone is in a hypnotic state. This increased understanding of how hypnosis works and what it does makes it a legitimate option for patients whose needs have not been met by more traditional methods.

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