Hypnosis: playing games with your head

Interesting piece in the Canadian National Post about the uses of clinical hypnosis to address issues of performance and as an alternative to anaesthetic. Unfortunately (and inexplicably), it also conflates hypnosis with the use of magnetic brain helmets.

I've used clinical hypnosis since I was 12. Most recently, I saw a hypnotherapist to address a five-year bout of writer's block that ended when I was 26, and then, a month ago, to help me quit smoking. In both instances, I've had unqualified success. I started really selling fiction in earnest in my mid-twenties, and I have gone a month without a cigarette and without any serious cravings (I've been using the patch to cope with the physical component, but I've tried that before, unsuccessfully -- the hypnosis addresses the habit, not the addiction).

Hypnosis is really fascinating to me. It comes down to playing games with your own mind. In the case of smoking, for instance, the point is to come to seeing yourself not as an ex-smoker (someone who resists the urge to smoke every moment of every day), but as a non-smoker -- someone who doesn't have the urge. I'm a non-drinker. I'll have some Irish whisky at Christmas and chamagne at New Year's and a martini at my brother's wedding, but I won't drink a drop otherwise, and I don't miss it. Getting to that place with cigs, and as quickly as I have, after 18 years of pack-a-day smoking, was pretty cool. Made me feel like I'd attained root on my own brain.

(My hypnotherapist isn't taking on new clients, so please don't ask for a referral)

Last year, Stanford University psychiatric researcher David Spiegel used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to watch changes in brain function in volunteers who were highly hypnotizable.

The hypnotized volunteers were told to see colour. Then, regardless of whether or not the researchers showed them colour, the areas of the visual cortex that registers colour would fire. When the researchers told them to see "grey" objects, the volunteers had less activity in the colour zones of the brain.

"When they believed they were looking at colour, the part of their brain that processes colour vision showed increased blood flow," said Spiegel, who is presenting hypnosis research at the Toronto conference today.

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