Hypnosis, also known as hypnotherapy, has gained increasing attention as a potential medical treatment for various conditions such as chronic pain, hot flashes, anxiety, and weight loss. According to Steven Jay Lynn, PhD, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University, hypnosis uses suggestions to modify a person's thoughts, feelings, and behavior. However, the effectiveness of hypnotherapy varies from person to person. Researchers at Stanford University have developed a device that can analyze DNA for a hypnosis-related gene, called catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT), which may help predict a person's likelihood to respond to hypnotherapy for pain. People with variations of this gene were found to be more responsive to hypnosis. The test is not yet commercially available.
To determine if hypnosis would work for an individual, formal screenings are available but trained testers can be hard to find. An alternative is a DIY test, such as visualization exercises. Gary Elkins, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University, suggests that hypnotherapy apps, like those offered by Mindset Health and Reveri, can be an easy and inexpensive way to practice hypnosis.
Hypnosis is a state of being very focused and relaxed at the same time. During hypnosis, the activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which controls attention, goes down, and circuits between the insula and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, areas linked to body control and executive function, respectively, light up. This helps bolster the connection between the body and brain. Additionally, activity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the default mode network, involved in self-referential processing, decreases, leading to less self-consciousness.
According to research, hypnosis can be effective in treating chronic pain, acute pain from medical procedures, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes, weight loss, and smoking cessation. However, hypnosis is rarely used as a standalone treatment and is typically combined with other interventions. Interested individuals should talk to their primary care doctor and look for a qualified professional, preferably one who is also a therapist, social worker, or licensed health care provider. A session lasts about 45 minutes, and results can be seen after two or three weekly sessions, but up to eight sessions may be needed. To boost results, practitioners may provide audio recordings for at-home practice.