Some health care providers, clinical psychologists, and dentists use hypnosis in their work. Done properly, hypnosis can be part of a comprehensive plan to overcome pain, behavioral problems, stress, and phobias in addition to helping people control weight or quit smoking.
Although hypnosis has been endorsed by the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association, myths still surround it, says Irving Kirsch, Ph.D., professor emeritus of clinical psychology at the University of Connecticut.
Chief among the myths is that the patient loses control when hypnotized. In fact, hypnosis won't work unless you want it to, Dr. Kirsch says. The idea that a patient can't resist a hypnotic suggestion is false. Simply put, hypnosis is a normal state of relaxed, focused attention.
Another common myth is that only gullible people respond to hypnosis. The response has nothing to do with gullibility, Dr. Kirsch says. About 10 percent of the population doesn't respond at all to hypnosis, and up to another 10 percent respond well. Most people fall somewhere between.
A person guides his or her own hypnosis, and the professional provides the suggestion and helps the person along.
Giving a suggestion is like making a request. Dr. Kirsch says he might ask the patient to imagine a tranquil setting. Even people who don't respond to hypnosis can respond to suggestions for relaxation and peace.
"I also might suggest that the patient imagine an experience, such as an arm becoming lighter and lifting into the air," he says. "People who are moderately responsive to hypnosis feel their arms lightening, and their arms rise."
If a patient has arm pain, Dr. Kirsh says, he might ask the patient to imagine his arm as a piece of wood, since wood feels no pain. "Or I might ask a patient to imagine her pain has a color, then to imagine that color changing," he says. "As the old color goes away, so does the pain."
It takes just a minute or two to give suggestions, and hypnosis can be induced in as little as five minutes, he says. What makes someone a good subject? "We aren't sure -- but we know it's important that the patient be open to the idea."
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