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June 7, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

The idea of Hypnosis and Pain Management has been around a bit.
Now British surgeons are being advised to hypnotise patients for some operations.
The Mayo Clinic: Another Way to manage Pain; and as explained by the American Pain Foundation; also Hypnotic Approaches in the Cancer Patient. If this were a drug, everyone would be using it. (previously 1, 2 (links dead, discusssion only) ).
posted by adamvasco (83 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think a great many people disregard hypnosis out of hand, mainly because they don't understand it, and because of the vague occult associations it's taken on in the public's imagination.

It's also one of those things that's very difficult to conceptualize the usefulness of unless you've actually been hypnotized. I allowed myself to be hypnotized as part of my treatment for trichotillomania, and I was really impressed at both the experience and the result. In the right hands and under the right circumstances, this is an incredibly useful tool. Same with hypnosis' half-sibling, biofeedback.

For some people, a treatment this intangible simply doesn't count as medicine, but I think trying to contort logic to see the results as some sort of placebo effect requires a lot more effort than actually entertaining it as an under-explored avenue of science that still has much to teach us about ourselves.
posted by hermitosis at 1:55 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Penn & Teller on Hypnosis
posted by jeblis at 1:56 PM on June 7, 2009


Hmm...microwave or stove cooked? Butter, toffee or salt?
posted by i_cola at 2:03 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


No offense jeblis, but that video doesn't add anything to this discussion beyond smug bloviating and trotting out the same tired "experts" for lulz. Do I need Penn and Teller to tell me that stage hypnotists and self-styled penis-enlarging self-helpers are fake?

Penn's words: "To this day, hypnotherapists still claim that this parlor game is a fuckin' science..."

The Mayo Clinic: "Although its medical uses aren't entirely understood, hypnosis appears to help with a variety of health conditions, when provided by a certified hypnotherapist or other qualified clinician."
posted by hermitosis at 2:13 PM on June 7, 2009


I offer it only as an opposing viewpoint.
posted by jeblis at 2:19 PM on June 7, 2009


Fun and interesting commentary about hypnosis from the old Dilbert Blog:

http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/hypnosis.html

posted by zeek321 at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2009


And again, breast enlargement using hypnosis:

http://briandavidphillips.typepad.com/brian/2005/12/hypnosis_and_br.html

Apparently, there are multiple peer-reviewed studies that show that it works.

And, anecdotally, can't you raise welts on someone's skin by making them think they were touched by a cigarette?

Of course, I couldn't dig up any real science on either of these things, but I didn't look very hard.
posted by zeek321 at 2:35 PM on June 7, 2009


Does anyone have a link to a double blind study that shows this is any better than a placebo?
posted by jeblis at 2:52 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jeblis, ponder for a second trying to do a double-blind study for hypnosis. In a blind study, the subject does not know what they're being exposed to ... are they getting the medicine or not? In a double-blind study, neither the researchers nor the subjects know.

So, you're asking for a study in which 1) the subjects do not know they are being hypnotized (how?) and the researchers do not know they are hypnotizing someone (double-up unh-unh how?)

You might as well ask for double-blind studies on rhinoplasty.
posted by adipocere at 3:04 PM on June 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


To be brief, and to avoid repeating things some of you may remember having seen or heard or even having thought many times before, hypnosis is just a state of extreme open-mindedness... and hypnotic communication is just communication meant to make it easy and comfortable for someone to enjoy being in this state of growing open-mindedness.

One of the interesting things you might find yourself discovering, as you begin to explore the process of sharing hypnosis with people, is that the degree to which, in some sense, you have already hypnotized yourself-- hypnotized yourself to believe that you can create and share hypnotic states-- has a significant and meaningful impact on the kinds of enjoyable hypnotic states you can share with other people.

To hypnotize other people well, you first have to believe that you can hypnotize other people well, and realize that it feels really good to be hypnotized, so that you know you are sharing enjoyable, fun, creative states of exploration, and that it feels good to deeper into the deep well of possibility that the fun thoughts are already waiting down deep inside.

Bottom-line:

If you don't believe hypnosis works, this belief will consciously and subconsciously prevent you from learning to be effective with it, until you decide for reasons of your own to be open-minded about it; what you believe about the results of hypnosis will tend to hypnotize and influence you in such a way that you will produce hypnotic results that match your present beliefs, whether they were the ones you had before, or the new ones some might be considering now.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:07 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have a link to a double blind study that shows this is any better than a placebo?

From the article above:

"Last year, the Daily Telegraph reported how a pensioner had knee surgery using just hypnosis to control the pain.

Trained hypnotist Bernadine Coady, 67, was wide awake for the one-hour operation, which is usually performed under a general anaesthetic."

I think we're pretty far past the point of the kind of study you're looking for, anyway. It's actively used in medical programs around the world. I don't have a link to one, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty out there, going back decades. What kind of placebo do you think is going to keep someone chilled out during knee surgery? This isn't a matter of someone just saying, "Take a few deep breaths and try not to think about what's happening down there." Hypnosis as a medical technique has been studied since the early 20th century (see those "quacks" in the Penn and Teller video), and its effects have been studied and published many times over. It's already taught in some medical and dentistry programs.

Obviously attention in the medical community flows toward the options that can help the widest variety of people with the most concretely measurable results, so hypnotism has never been (and may never be) a mainstream option, at least in the US. Also, pharmaceutical companies don't make any money off of it, which is probably no small factor.
posted by hermitosis at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2009


Well it would be easy to have blind researchers. They just need to access the improvement of the groups with out knowing which group they are looking at. Subject A - Boobs are bigger, Subject B no significant change in boob size, therefore treatment a effective. Then just go check whether treatment A used hypnosis or not.

Having blind subjects would be harder, but I'd imagine you could develop a sham hypnosis, OR actually hypnotize the subjects but then don't continue doing what a hynoptherapist would normally do , for example instead give a suggestion that they don't make their boobs grow bigger.

And yes, I am really simplifying this, but I don't think it's conceptually impossible, I mean they are able to do double blind acupuncture trial for god's sake.

That all said, I'm pretty sure hypnotherapy has been shown to be effective for a number of conditions, check out the book Trick or Treatment. It reviews a number of 'alternative" medicines based on the actual scientific research and while it rips in to most of them (homeopathy, I'm looking at you), it does give a fair shake to treatments in which the science does seem to support it.

I really don't know enough about health research to dissect the papers myself, but here's an article supportive of hypnotherapy from what seems like a reputable journal.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:23 PM on June 7, 2009


Also, I have been hypnotized and I did bounce around on my chair thinking it was a rocket ship in front of hundreds of people.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:24 PM on June 7, 2009


So that's a "no" then, that just leaves us with anecdotal stories. Rather unreliable as far a evidence goes.
posted by jeblis at 3:24 PM on June 7, 2009


I don't know if Midnight Rambler's links will satisfy your standards, jeblis. After all, nobody's juggling in them...
posted by hermitosis at 3:32 PM on June 7, 2009


I'm not screaming for a double-blind study necessarily, but most of these links contain case studies or results from studies with very small sample sizes. I'd like to see data from a large controlled study before we start telling doctors that they should perform surgery without anesthesia.
posted by lexicakes at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2009


Penn & Teller on Hypnosis

Bullshit! is a show built around their opinions. They claim this in the opening credits. If you are looking for facts in Penn & Teller's show, you seriously have to filter out a lot of Bullshit! Pun intended to underline the truth about that show and all the people who present it as freakin' gospel.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:49 PM on June 7, 2009


The science direct study shows promise, but yeah there's no juggling (or clowns).

The wiki link to Trick or Treatment doesn't mention what they say about hypnosis.
posted by jeblis at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2009


And again, breast enlargement using hypnosis:

http://briandavidphillips.typepad.com/brian/2005/12/hypnosis_and_br.html

Apparently, there are multiple peer-reviewed studies that show that it works.


The problem with peer reviews of bullshit is that the "experts" are standing in just as much manure.
posted by Benjy at 3:56 PM on June 7, 2009


Also the sample size is pretty small on the FD study to support their broad conclusion: HT is highly effective in the long-term management of FD. More like could be effective and worth more study.
posted by jeblis at 4:02 PM on June 7, 2009


Great, as long as this doesn't become one more reason to deny chronic pain sufferers their meds.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:02 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


To derail further into something that this post isn't about, does anybody here actually believe hypnosis will actually make breasts or peni grow?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:04 PM on June 7, 2009


all the people who present it as freakin' gospel. Does that happen a lot? I've never seen it happen. They do bring up some interesting points and challenge conventional wisdom on a lot of things. But yeah everyone should be skeptical of what any other person says.
posted by jeblis at 4:06 PM on June 7, 2009


The immediate problem with arguing "if you're open to hypnosis, it works, if you're not it doesn't, thus invalidating all possible study" is that this is exactly the argument used to defend so much utterly false positions, like faith healing (including those crazy fake surgeries), dowsing, telepathy claims, spoon bending, and so on.

If the claim that hypnosis works is inherently not provable, it's a worthless claim. We can't start discussing this rationally until we crack that nut, and until we can, it's interesting but not worth spending all that much time or effort on.
posted by dmz at 4:15 PM on June 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's interesting that metafilter has a unusually vociferous contingent that decry all placebo. The science-ey contextualization of this particular placebo relieves the stalwart "defenders of science" from their usual ranting and ravings about the nature of this tincture versus that pill.

Step for a moment outside the formalizable and into the domain of the Real. Psychotherapy is just as "real" as hypnosis, and both resist any ultimate formal description. In this context, Science is a pauper in that it yields results but does not encapsulate the rational whole of the mechanism.
posted by kuatto at 4:18 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


kuatto - I see that same argument used to justify religion too. If your saying something is outside the realm of science, then don't claim it is science.
posted by jeblis at 4:24 PM on June 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Trick or Treatment link was jsut meant to point you to the book which is is general critical of most alternative treatments, but looks pretty positively on hypnotherapy. I can't remember what specific treatments they claimed it was effective for, though.

Here's another interesting article that addresses the difficulties and possible solutions to making a double blind-test.

p.s. My mom is not a hypnotherapist.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 4:37 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Acupuncture works. Science can't explain it. It even works as a placebo.
Why wouldn't hypnosis?
posted by Balisong at 4:37 PM on June 7, 2009


I have telekenetic powers that are capable of curing both cancer and AIDS. It only works if you really believe and truly believe in it, however.

Contact me for pricing information.
posted by Avenger at 4:44 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Acupuncture works. Why can't energy healing, or crystal therapy? We can carry that line of thought all kinds of fun places.
posted by dmz at 4:48 PM on June 7, 2009


> The immediate problem with arguing "if you're open to hypnosis, it works, if you're not it doesn't, thus invalidating all possible study" is that this is exactly the argument used to defend so much utterly false positions

Hypnotic communication is a variably applied pattern of behavior meant to produce subjective results-- it's not a factory-produced, physical object you can hold in your hand, like a hammer. Different people will apply it in different ways, with people who have a range of expectations and prior experiences-- so... your mileage? It will vary.

What it's designed to do is affect perception-- perception of past and future events, so as to change subjective things like emotions, and perception of present events, so as to change fight-flight responses, and therefore subjective things like bodily pain. And as our mental responses trigger a whole vast range of chemical releases [If you see a hungry tiger about to attack you, does your body not behave differently? If you see someone attractive and naked, does your body not behave differently?], the alteration of mental responses can to some degree affect measurable, physical, objective results.

The "placebo effect" is what modern medicine is designed to avoid-- but, if doing *nothing* physically measurable nonetheless leads to healing... then there's a property of the human body-mind organism that can heal people remarkably well, quite often... without any obviously measurable points of intervention. And hypnosis seems to use whatever that property is... and then amplify it.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:52 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


In terms of pain management, I can't find a better example than Shaolin monks (warning: graphic). Here's a couple videos of monks setting themselves on fire with gasoline. As far as I understand, they use a form of meditation. How inter-related are meditation and self-hypnosis?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 4:54 PM on June 7, 2009


Or, to put this another way: Have you ever taken an aspirin, and had a headache *not* go away? Have you ever had to take two aspirin... after the first aspirin didn't work?

Have you ever read about someone receiving chemotherapy... who then later died of cancer?

Is it possible that even with "proven" treatments, results can vary?

The important points about hypnosis, from a health perspective, are these:

a) it's easy to learn and teach;
b) it works... sometimes (and sometimes, works *really* well);
c) when it doesn't work, you can just do it again, in a slightly different way, and it just might work;
d) whether it has the exact result intended or not, it tends not to produce physically damaging side-effects.
e) since it's cheap, easy, and doesn't have side-effects, you can always do something else afterward.

It's not a cure-all; but it does seem to be a cure-sometimes-and-no-big-deal-if-it-doesn't-work.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:07 PM on June 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Or, to put this another way: Have you ever taken an aspirin, and had a headache *not* go away? Have you ever had to take two aspirin... after the first aspirin didn't work?

Have you ever read about someone receiving chemotherapy... who then later died of cancer?

Is it possible that even with "proven" treatments, results can vary?


Aspirin doesn't cure headaches, it thins blood.

Chemotherapy doesn't cure cancer, it kills cancer cells.

Try again.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 5:15 PM on June 7, 2009


> Aspirin doesn't cure headaches, it thins blood.

Chemotherapy doesn't cure cancer, it kills cancer cells.

Try again.


Exactly. These are steps in a process, not the result. Hypnosis is even more a matter of process-- of training, of conditioning. Take someone into three trances, and he or she will be able to do things he or she could not during that first trance.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:20 PM on June 7, 2009


Exactly. These are steps in a process, not the result. Hypnosis is even more a matter of process-- of training, of conditioning. Take someone into three trances, and he or she will be able to do things he or she could not during that first trance.

Such as? (I'm genuinely curious.)

(Feel free to ignore this one, but again curiosity:) How much does your mom charge per hour? Or at least, what's the going rate for hypnotherapy these days?
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 5:25 PM on June 7, 2009


It's interesting that metafilter has a unusually vociferous contingent that decry all placebo.

Educated, progressive types demand accurate and scrutinized evidence to come to a hopefully well reasoned conclusion to enhance their knowledge and be aware of stuff that may help or hinder the quality of life for themselves and their loved ones. Film at 11.

You make it sound like critical thinking* is a bad thing.

* MeFites don't display perfect critical thinking all of the time but here is about as good as I've ever seen it on the Internet
posted by Talez at 5:33 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


How long before the US adds hypnosis to their list of Schedule 1 narcotics?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:55 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


> How much does your mom charge per hour? Or at least, what's the going rate for hypnotherapy these days?

If my mom were doing hypnotherapy, I imagine she'd charge $100-250/hr., which is what most hypnotherapists charge. She'd probably charge much more for the book, the CDs, the DVDs, the Happy Thoughts Calendar, and the special supplement powder. Still, she'd probably remind you that you didn't actually need that stuff, and even say, "No matter what I or anyone tells you or shows you, you won't really know the power of this process until you actually use it and experience it yourself, and what might surprise you is how easily you can learn to do it."

No telling how much Oprah would charge, but I suspect it would be higher. Of course, if you asked Oprah, she'd probably say something like, "Just go to YouTube, watch a few clips, get a book from the library, and experiment with a friend." But then her lawyer might come in, and say, "Don't you DARE go to YouTube... a lot of that is copyrighted material. Stick to what you know already!"

Me, I'll just go with the supplement powder and the calendar-- I know that calendar is accurate-- I personally checked out the days and weeks and months--, and nothing can change my mind.

Until I personally check something out.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:00 PM on June 7, 2009


Other than Midnight Rambler, has anyone else been hypnotized? Also, is there anyone here (myself excluded) who works in an OR?
posted by TedW at 6:01 PM on June 7, 2009


Talez: The issue is not whether people are being critical, rather the issue is to distinguish between two modes of rationality. If Science becomes a limiting factor in the interrogation of Reality, then you do harm to those whose work falls outside that same limiting factor. This is the similar to asserting that Scientific Rationalism is the only appropriate means of understanding.

Of course, I can provide you with a possible response to this assertion of mine: The argument of strict Materialism. It goes like this: Secretly, the motion of the atoms in your brain are induced into a particular configuration by the words of the hypnotist. It is this secret configuration that yields the desired physiological effect. There is no placebo.

This argument has a number if interesting 'side-effects' (if I can be that bold). The first is that the distinction between disease and symptom is obliterated.

The second concerns the issue of Free Will. You have essentially become an automaton.

Another, because there is only cause and effect, then there are only physical configurations of the brain, so there can be no such thing as a `thought` anymore.

So a more appropriate argument, with regards to questions of hypnosis and placebo, is: Are thoughts real? This question is to the spirit of the debate!
posted by kuatto at 6:22 PM on June 7, 2009


Hey, if someone could have hypnotized me out of the absolute TERROR I lived in for 3 months waiting for my official cancer diagnosis, I wouldn't have cared less if it was quackery or placebo. As long as it let me function normally again and avoid losing my bloody mind. It would have been better than all the Ativan I ended up popping during that last month before surgery/diagnosis.

At present, the symptom "terror" isn't normally treated as part of a cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately. If they made hypnosis the standard treatment along with biopsies and cancer testing, that would be a hell of an improvement on the current status quo.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:27 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have had the very bizarre experience of being a participant in a hypnosis stage show at a summer event in high school which left me convinced that hypnosis, as a mechanism for causing people to utterly believe whatever suggestions were put to them, is real.

I can't quite recall the context, but it was a show for an auditorium full of high school students, and if I recall correctly (admittedly a dubious proposition), a bunch (maybe 30 or so) of students were chosen to come on stage, including me.

The thirty of us were put through some of what I assume are standard methods of inducing hypnosis. As he went through this, the hypnotist would tap people that he found insufficiently hypnotized and send them back to their seats. For whatever reason, he did not choose me, and after a few minutes, it was obvious to me, him, and my friends in the audience I was not hypnotized. Since I wasn't entirely a jerk, I politely sat there and did not ruin what stage presence he had going, and in return he did not ask me to do any of the tricks he had people go through, which included inducing people to forget the existence of certain numbers when counting, doing incredibly embarrassing dance moves, thinking they were chickens, etc.

Now, I was already sort of convinced that this wasn't purely staged, since I was up there, and I knew I wasn't a plant. But what really convinced me that the people next to me were totally hypnotized was the following.

One of the tricks (or whatever you call them) was that he told everyone that a little rubber toy was actually an incredibly powerful god with super powers. He used this toy to make people do some stuff (I can't recall what), and then placed the toy on an empty chair at the end of the row. We were arranged in a semi circle so everyone could see this empty chair without craning their necks.

While the hypnotist moved on to another trick with a different participant on the stage, the remaining 10 or so people in stage were COMPLETELY ENTHRALLED BY THE TOY. They could not tear their eyes away from it, and every time that a participant wasn't involved in another trick, they would return to staring at the toy. The girl next to me even leaned over and said, in a hushed trembling whisper: "That's [name of god]. He's so powerful." She looked at me as she said this with the widest eyes I had ever seen.

Needless to say, I was suitably freaked out by her total conviction and have ever since been convinced that hypnosis is real enough to wack people out.
posted by shen1138 at 6:28 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


To answer TedW: I worked with a hypnotherapist to help overcome truly debilitating public speaking fears and met with considerable success -- I am in front of various audiences regularly as part of my work and now manage to take such exposure in stride. Self-hypnosis techniques also helped me go without any numbing agent during a root canal, and to deliver my daughter without any drugs whatsoever. The nurses told me that they have never seen anyone calmer during delivery.

The tools I have used for self-hypnosis are somewhat similar to those used in meditation practice: guided imagery, breath work, and intensity of focus. I do wonder if what I practice is true hypnosis as I have always maintained an acute awareness of self and being while hypnotized.
posted by tidecat at 6:36 PM on June 7, 2009


If Science becomes a limiting factor in the interrogation of Reality, then you do harm to those whose work falls outside that same limiting factor.

So what method do you suggest we use to determine which medical treatments are safe and effective versus those that aren't? I'm trying to figure out how you would go about determining the truth or falsity of something (Nuclear physics versus, say, dowsing) if you're going to postulate areas of reality that can't be scientifically examined.

Another, because there is only cause and effect, then there are only physical configurations of the brain, so there can be no such thing as a `thought` anymore. So a more appropriate argument, with regards to questions of hypnosis and placebo, is: Are thoughts real? This question is to the spirit of the debate!

I'm fully in favor of marijuana legalization as the next person but, please, dude, put the bong down before you post.
posted by Avenger at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of surprised at the dismissive tone with which the placebo effect is being discussed here, as if it's the most normal thing in the world. The placebo effect is a pretty fucking amazing phenomenon, with some well-documented cases of serious diseases being alleviated or cured. There have been tons of studies into it, and there's a whole field of study devoted to trying to understand exactly how it works, because when it works, it's pretty goddamned awesome.

There's a fantastic Radiolab episode here that explores the issues of the placebo effect and medical hypnosis and suggests that the latter is possibly just a way of intentionally causing the former.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:44 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, if something shows up in fMRI and PET scans, that's certainly not nothing. That's where I start putting the line as something being scientifically interesting, with regards to the brain: can I see something interesting happening in there?

No word on if the researchers who performed the study felt the need to tell everyone else, often, that a drop of alcohol has never passed their lips.

Disclaimer: I used to do hypnosis, though I stopped in my teens. A friend of mine, whom I would characterize as highly suggestible, was influenced to stop his chronic, nearly nightly bedwetting, though it did take some weekly maintenance for the first two months. He was also the only one who could be put far enough under to do that creepy two chair trick. There's a guy I would love to get into one of these studies.
posted by adipocere at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2009


I'm kind of surprised at the dismissive tone with which the placebo effect is being discussed here.

I don't think anyone is dismissing the placebo effect, just questioning whether hypnosis is any better than a placebo.
posted by jeblis at 6:51 PM on June 7, 2009


Placebo is pretty effective; maybe we should just do more things to trigger the effect!
posted by Hildegarde at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate "true believer" threads.
posted by Talez at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a kid I decided hypnosis was cool when I found a book on it in the library. Excited to have complete control over both of my younger siblings, I read through the book. I ended up nonplussed and I was way too shy to actually try and hypnotize another person, kin or not. But I was impressed with the concept of self hypnosis and made audio tapes of an induction technique that the author included in the back of the book. I listened to that a few times and got to a point where I could affect my state of mind by going through a fairly simple routine. (warning: the following is long and boring)

I'd start by counting down from 5, then pretending I was diving into the ocean or falling through the sky—'going deeper and deeper'—and finally walking down a staircase into 'my room.' These visualizations were all keyed up with relaxation in the routines I'd recorded and listened to a few times to set myself up.

It was pretty fun. I usually did it laying in bed before actually going to sleep, and often would just 'go to sleep' in my 'hypnotized' state without 'waking myself' from the hypnosis. I could relax myself to a point where my arms/legs/eyelids/whatever were 'too heavy to lift.' I never went back to visit past lives or anything (although there was a chapter on that in my book, I think I skipped it).

My self-hypnosis seemed about the equivalent of what people do when they meditate, not that I have any idea what people do when they meditate. The coolest hypnosis experiences I've ever had were at a summer camp where one of the instructors—a deep-voiced old man—would have a group of 10-15 kids relax somewhere outside and proceed to use 'hypnosis-inducing'/relaxation techniques to prime us all into an awesome, receptive, listening state. The stories probably weren't that special, but the campers seemed to love the experience. It may alternatively have been that everyone got a 15 minute catnap.

I've been talking about all this in the past tense because I've fallen out of the habit and haven't done much of it lately. I think you need to 'practice' somewhat to keep whatever mental wiring gets wound by the hypnotist (in my case the tapes of my pre-pubescent self reading for ten or so minutes out of the back of a paperback) from deteriorating. I've been meaning to find that book and give myself a refresher course because I miss it a bit.
posted by kjell at 7:29 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I learned and applied self-hypnosis for childbirth and was able to go through 8 hours of unmedicated childbirth until my blood pressure dropped so dangerously low that they had to medicate me, baby arrived 20 minutes later.
I find hypnosis during childbirth very useful and able to manage the pain, while staying totally alert to what's going on around you. When the pain got worse my family said I went into some sort of trance, and I don't remember most of the time after that until they said "She's almost here!" I snapped awake.
posted by czechmate at 8:22 PM on June 7, 2009


50 comments and nobody's mentioned Scrubs and Turk's Hypnosis Surgery yet?

"This is great... I'm being assisted by a magician..."
posted by roystgnr at 9:31 PM on June 7, 2009


I've been hypnotised by my psychologist when we decided to try hypnosis (she had recently been certified for it) after a couple of years of CBT that were going OK but could use a booster since I had a relapse. It was basically like guided meditation, with prompts about feeling more confident in myself, having more self-esteem, being able to handle depression, etc. It's certainly helped me be more relaxed, if nothing else.

I'd certainly welcome hypnosis as a way to manage my intense fear of needles - I always seem to be poked by them! I wonder if it helps to be hypnotised before getting a tattoo?

People have mentioned the "go into trance" feeling - I get that when I'm performing. I'm vaguely aware of what I did on stage but it seems like a dream. I just had my burlesque debut last week and one thing I remember was that the audience seemed like a blur - I'd concentrate intensely on my performance as though it was the only thing in the world, but when I tried to make eye contact with someone in the audience all I saw was fuzz.
posted by divabat at 11:11 PM on June 7, 2009


Jeblis, ponder for a second trying to do a double-blind study for hypnosis. In a blind study, the subject does not know what they're being exposed to ... are they getting the medicine or not? In a double-blind study, neither the researchers nor the subjects know.

So, you're asking for a study in which 1) the subjects do not know they are being hypnotized (how?) and the researchers do not know they are hypnotizing someone (double-up unh-unh how?)

adipocere, that's not at all how a double-blind study would be conducted. A subject would be hypnotized by a licensed hypnotist, or not*, and a trained observer would record whether or not the desired results were achieved (such as by surveying whether or not pain was reduced, and to what extent).

* The "not-hypnotized" control subjects could either be given "fake hypnotism" by actors trained to mimic general hypnosis techniques, or else by trained hypnotists who intentionally don't take them into hypnotic states. The latter might cause some ethical concerns, but would likely be more convincing.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:42 PM on June 7, 2009


* The "not-hypnotized" control subjects could either be given "fake hypnotism" by actors trained to mimic general hypnosis techniques, or else by trained hypnotists who intentionally don't take them into hypnotic states. The latter might cause some ethical concerns, but would likely be more convincing.

This is a single blind study, but I think that is is as good we're likely to be able to do in this case.
posted by atrazine at 12:28 AM on June 8, 2009


I think this issue is easily tested.

Mefites! You are feeling very, very relaxed. Starting at your toes and then going slowly up your body, molecule by molecule, you will gradually give up all of your tension and immediately enter a deep hypnotic state. On the count of three, you will be completely under my power and will obey all of my suggestions perfectly and without question.

When I snap my fingers, you'll wake up and won't remember any of this post. Until then, you will do exactly as I instruct.

Now, at the bottom of this post, there is a small cross inside two brackets. They look like this.
[+]

Now, click on the cross below.

Have you done it? Good!

*snap!*
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:44 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here are a couple more links: 1 & 2 from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and Hypnosis Surgery. The naysayers upthread confuse me. Hypnosis is shown to work for pain relief. The only problem seems to be that they - the naysayers can't rationally explain the process to themselves and thus reject it. I think middleclasstool is the nearest to hitting the spot. If people can be easily trained in self hypnosis I certainly think it should be more widely used to help sufferers help themselves. Big Pharma won't like it but who cares about that if you are getting pain relief.
posted by adamvasco at 12:54 AM on June 8, 2009


This subject came up the other day on a mailing list I'm on, and Mike Heap (who has a wealth of excellent information on this at his website). To quote him on it:
There are various ways of using hypnosis to alleviate or manage pain but I am not altogether sure that hypnosis is the medium through which these dramatic cases of anaesthesia are effected. There have similar reports of the use of other methods (e.g. ‘noesitherapy’ due to the Spanish surgeon Dr. Angel Escudero) that do not seem to involve hypnosis or direct suggestion. It appears that certain people in certain situations are able to ‘decide’ that they are not going to feel any pain and they don’t. It is unclear if this involves suggestion in the way it is understood here.
Generally speaking I avoid these discussions as I invariably have to try to get people to spend half an hour telling me what they think hypnosis is before I can tell them if I think it's for real or not.
posted by edd at 3:59 AM on June 8, 2009


How inter-related are meditation and self-hypnosis?

I think that's a great question. I'm fascinated by the power of the human brain and its ability to have control over the body. After all, that's what we're talking about here, isn't it?

Taking that a step further, how does this all connect to the "power of prayer"? This is totally anecdotal, but I know plenty of religious folks who claim to have had success for themselves by praying through a physical problem. Does this mean that some higher power has cured them? In my opinion no, but it also doesn't mean that that haven't hit on something from within themselves that worked for their pain.

And comparing hypnosis to a placebo is a bit off the mark, since they're not actually giving the patient something tangible that's supposed to cure them or ease their discomfort.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:00 AM on June 8, 2009


"The "not-hypnotized" control subjects could either be given "fake hypnotism" by actors trained to mimic general hypnosis techniques, or else by trained hypnotists who intentionally don't take them into hypnotic states."
This incidentally is one case where you absolutely have to be 100% clear on what hypnosis is in order to get this to work, as otherwise your fake hypnosis may end up just being a (perhaps weaker) version of the real thing. And then having the fake designed so that it convinces the subject, and having indicators to confirm that someone is hypnotised without biasing the study is so incredibly difficult I'd not even start to try to do it.
posted by edd at 4:05 AM on June 8, 2009


I've both been hypnotized, and hypnotized people before. In my experience, it's an altered mental state that lets you do some interesting things. I'm deeply skeptical of a lot of the more out-there claims like breast enlargement, and I think stage hypnosis is more about giving people a social excuse to act out, but it's not complete nonsense.

We used it quite a bit during my wife's pregnancy to prepare for the birth--she had to have a c-section, and was pretty terrified about it because of a bad experience with her last child. So we worked with some suggestions to help with relaxation, and I gave her a trigger word that would let her mentally set her own relaxation level. Maybe it was a placebo effect, maybe not, but it worked for her.
posted by EarBucket at 5:15 AM on June 8, 2009


Here are some articles from PubMed if anybody want to take a peak:
Pain and non-pain processing during hypnosis: A thulium-YAG event-related fMRI study. (2009)

Effects of self-hypnosis training and EMG biofeedback relaxation training on chronic pain in persons with spinal-cord injury. (2009)

The effectiveness of hypnosis for reducing procedure-related pain in children and adolescents: a comprehensive methodological review. (2009)

I'm of the personal opinion that hypnosis can be great and should be offered to people who are open to the idea. Even after reading the comments above I just don't get why there's controversy about this.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:27 AM on June 8, 2009


Oh, my. Such a fun topic. I generally have tremendous respect for Mefites and their intellects. But not on this subject.

It's real. I've seen it done, and I've done it myself. To be sure, there are rather far-out claims about what can be done. But there are plenty of more things that shouldn't cause folks to shout 'fraud'. One of the tricks I did once, was regressing someone back one year at a time, and having them sign their name on a piece of paper. It was fun seeing the penmanship regress, then go from cursive to printing.

I did know someone who had haemorrhoid surgery done under hypnosis. In this situation, hypnosis provided far superior results to anaesthesia. Hypnosis can result in control of blood flow itself, which resulted in less time convalescing (apart from the pain that was absent).

Another trick I tried (deliberately with a friend know for being a tight wad) was to instruct the subject that he would, upon hearing a certain cue word, give me a dollar (LOL, a dollar was actualy worth something back then, kids! Can you imagine that?). It didn't work, nor did I expect it to work. The subject reported a sense of anger, for no apparent reason, whenever the cue word was used. He was, in general, a fairly good subject.

It has been widely considered the case that "You can't get a hypnotized subject to do something under hypnosis they wouldn't otherwise do." I do not subscribe to this view. I subscribe to the Andrew Salter (a researcher in the subject) view: A subject can be gotten to do things by simply giving them a false view of what is happening. Like, shoot this squirt gun at a person! When the squirt gun has acid in, not water. Or maybe it's really a real gun. As you can well imagine, this is not an area very open for research, due to serious ethic issues!
posted by Goofyy at 6:21 AM on June 8, 2009


From what I've been able to glean from hypnotherapists of my acquaintance (mostly Ericksonian,* which explains this particular version) and some reading:

When we are awake, we move between different kinds of consciousness. We might like to think that we are always fully conscious, but it is possible to observe that we spend much of the time in varying degrees of trance state - daydreaming is one such, other examples are the states we go into in the cinema or when driving or other times that we are mentally abstracted from our surroundings. Similarly, many phenomena that might be seen as hypnotic phenomena actually occur spontaneously. One example of this would be negative hallucination (where one cannot see something that it actually there). A stage hypnotist might use the phenomenon to cause someone to be unable to see their hand; however it does commonly occur spontaneously - when one is looking for one's keys, and find them on the table where they have been all along, but we have failed to see them despite staring right at them.

Trance states occur all the time, but also tend to occur under particular conditions, and if these conditions are reproduced, such stats can be induced. Hypnotic practice seems to be partly to reproduce these conditions (the induction), and partly learning to recognise the physical symptoms of trance and using suggestion techniques convince the patient to go deeper into trance, and make themselves available to the further suggestions of the hypnotist.

The techniques used can be highly formalised and ritualistic (which is what we think of as hypnotic induction), or very informal (Erickson, who has been very influential, tended to use verbal and conversational techniques).

Something else that is observable is that much of our life is governed by non-conscious mechanisms. A primary example of this is habit. Thus the proposition of hypnosis is that when the hypnotist has gained the confidence of the patient, while the patient is in a trance state, the hypnotist has some influence over these non-conscious mechanisms, at least to counter-act them long enough for more desirable habits to be developed. Influence is not the same thing as control, however, and the success of the therapy can vary. For example, if a patient is seeking treatment to stop smoking, they actually need to have the conscious intention to stop, otherwise the treatment will have little or no effect. However given that intention, achieving it can be made considerably easier with hypnotherapeutic techniques.

Saying that hypnosis "is just" meditation somehow misses the point - they are both techniques for building a relationship between conscious intention and the non-conscious parts of the mind. Thus they are the same thing in the same way that oil painting and watercolour are the same thing: different representatives of the same activity. Hypnotism or meditation aren't fixed things, but rather forms of practice, which vary greatly depending on practitioner, patient and what is intended to be achieved.

However, the idea of finding a placebo for trance is kind of ridiculous. It's like trying to find a placebo for sleep.

*I find Erickson fascinating, actually. Yes, one of his pupils was Richard Bandler, and so he was inadvertantly responsible for NLP, but it would be unfair to hold that against him.
posted by Grangousier at 6:38 AM on June 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oops, that reads a bit pompous to me. Sorry. I was just trying to be careful.
posted by Grangousier at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2009


I don't get the "no better than placebo = worthless" thinking either. After all the placebo effect is just an effect induced by someone who thinks they're getting treatment X when they really aren't - which sounds exactly like what's going on in hypnosis to me.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 7:07 AM on June 8, 2009


I don't get the "no better than placebo = worthless" thinking either. After all the placebo effect is just an effect induced by someone who thinks they're getting treatment X when they really aren't - which sounds exactly like what's going on in hypnosis to me.

I know what you're saying and that may be the only way for some people to logically approach the matter, but I still think placebo is the wrong word. Because in this case it's an effect induced by someone who thinks they're getting treatment X when they really are -- they're getting the intended effects of a treatment that they've undertaken consciously.
posted by hermitosis at 7:26 AM on June 8, 2009


Hypnosis is shown to work for pain relief. The only problem seems to be that they - the naysayers can't rationally explain the process to themselves and thus reject it.

To be fair, I'm not saying that I don't think it could ever work in any situation. It's just a big stretch to go from showing that a very small set of people are helped to recommending that all doctors be trained to do hypnosis. I would need evidence from a large controlled study before I would be willing to believe that this is a good idea.

From the first link: "It is a useful tool used by some GPs and patients for relaxation, but I don't think it is something that we should support being rolled out to all medical students and all doctors," [Professor Steve Field] said.

This is what the "naysayers" are trying to get across.
posted by lexicakes at 8:06 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a deep mistrust of hypnotism since I saw it being used at some University event I went to. The hypnotist told the subjects they could not get up from their chairs and then began randomly "giving" them "electric shocks". One girl was crying for her mother.
posted by ODiV at 11:16 AM on June 8, 2009


I've been hypnotized. My father and I both used it to quit smoking, with varying success -- he stayed quit; I started again a few months later. I've done self-hypnosis for relaxation successfully and tried to use it with my older daughter (hardcore skeptic) and failed. I do think that degree of resistance is critical to success with hypnosis, just as it is with psychotherapy.

If it accesses the placebo effect, does that make it any less valuable as a tool? I don't think so. I think if you get the results you're looking for without adding unnecessary chemicals to your body (that can cause undesirable side effects), putting yourself in a position where you have to have something that may be a problem to get (ever lose important meds on vacation?), and that can be done inexpensively anywhere (once you've either gotten adept at self-hypnosis or found audio recordings that work for you), then it's a good tool to have in your toolbox.

Also, I have a friend who is currently suffering from what is being evaluated as potentially a conversion disorder. Conversion disorders are notoriously difficult to treat. The symptoms are very real, but the origin is psychosomatic. It seems to me (as a layperson) that hypnosis and complementary therapies (EMDR, EFT, biofeedback, CBT, etc.) are more logical approaches to treatment for such conditions than conventional medicine's approach of treating the symptoms or seeking to remove the root cause with pills or surgery.
posted by notashroom at 12:43 PM on June 8, 2009


The hypnotist told the subjects they could not get up from their chairs and then began randomly "giving" them "electric shocks".

The Penn and Teller link explains this phenomena quite well. Hypnotist and subject agree to collude with each other for the sake of the performance. People who have no desire to make fools of themselves on stage just don't put themselves forward.

Also: as my experiment only resulted in a single favourite, I have to rule that on the basis of this experiment, long-distance on-line hypnotism is fail.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:08 PM on June 8, 2009


PeterMcDermott: If hypnotism is as powerful as some people in the thread are stating and if we really don't understand all that much about it, I don't know if I'm ready to buy that explanation.
posted by ODiV at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2009


"no better than placebo = worthless" No not at all, placebos have their place. A lot of doctors prescribe pills as a placebo. Yeah you're getting some medication, but it won't work for what you have. (e.g. prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection) Placebos are used as a baseline for studies, if the patients fair better than those who had just the placebo, you can tell if there is a real impact above and beyond just the psychological impact of thinking you took some medication. With hypnosis what constitutes a placebo and what is hypnosis is fuzzy. For pills, comparing to a placebo tells you if that type of medicine is worth the risk of its side effects or further investment. We have plenty of pill placebos, another pill placebo won't help medicine.

Of course, one type of placebo may work better on a given patient, so hypnosis may at least have a place as another possible placebo. But what is more interesting is whether there is something more going on with it. Anecdotal evidence just won't suffice to meet scientific rigor.
posted by jeblis at 1:24 PM on June 8, 2009


ODiV - Isn't that backwards, shouldn't you not accept something until there is proof (or very strong evidence) that it is real?
posted by jeblis at 1:27 PM on June 8, 2009


Our bodies are already perfectly capable of making their own opiates. It isn't implausible that the trigger that makes my brain release oxytocin can't be set off by replicating those thought patterns. I would like to see more endocrine studies done on hypnotherapy patients.
posted by domo at 1:39 PM on June 8, 2009


"can", not "can't".
posted by domo at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2009


Other than Midnight Rambler, has anyone else been hypnotized?

I have, kinda. I was a freshman in college, and we had a stage hypnotist visit campus. He asked for volunteers, and, being extremely curious, volunteered. We went up, and he started his bit to relax us. He went down the line and hand-selected-out the people on whom it "wasn't working", sending them back to their seats. Then he told us that when he hit us with his microphone, we'd fall asleep.

Turns out, falling asleep is rather easy to fake. So he walked down the line, hit me on the head with his mic, and I dropped my head.

"This is interesting," I thought. "I'll get to watch this from the inside. And he didn't detect that I'm faking."

He played the normal parlor games. He told us the person sitting next to us smelled wonderful, and we couldn't get enough of the scent. I was sitting next to a very pretty woman, and rather enjoyed having her plunge her nose into me and become enraptured, but I just sat back, doing the absolute minimum I thought would get me not sent back to my seat.

More on the woman, though: both she and her sister were onstage, and they were by far the most "suggestible" people there. When the hypnotist told us that the temperature in the room had just shot up to 120F (or whatever) they each had their shirts off and were most of the way to having their bras off before, in a panic, the hypnotist shouted that the temperature had gone back to normal.

So, I'm sitting up there, thinking what many of you are probably thinking, that, like Feynman's observation, being hypnotized and "pretending to be hypnotized and going with the flow" are not distinguishable. And while I simply refrained from several of the more humiliating actions, I thought even that could be justified by the "wouldn't do something we normally would do" logic. I really wanted a concrete test case.

At the end of the act, the hypnotist "implanted" a "suggestion" that (again, like the Feynman story) when we were dismissed back to our seats, we would suddenly walk around the whole basketball court before returning. "Yes!" I thought. "Great!" So we were dismissed, and I walked back to my seat.

Later on, I tried to describe the experience, and how it was trivial to not obey the instructions. "Ah," I was told. "But he told us that. You had to be willing to be hypnotized." It was not immediately apparent to me how this differed from being willing to perform the acts without being hypnotized, but I knew the sisters I mentioned, and they would normally have been mortified to strip bare in front of an audience.

So, there are lots of options. The hypnotist sucked, or I was unable to let down my "mental blocks", or I am natively not a possible subject, etc. But through all the experience, the phenomena I expected to observe -- such as a feeling of tranquility when we were instructed to have a feeling of tranquility -- did not manifest. I contrast this with a drama professor who was a devotee of the Alexander Technique who, in thirty seconds, was able to impart a calm and the feeling of a loss of fifty pounds that persisted for several hours.

You have no reason to trust my anecdotes about this, but isn't that the fucking point? What evidence do we have that is not someone's anecdote? Anyone have EEG traces? Otherwise, I'm going to keep on sticking this in the same closet as psychic surgery.
posted by quarantine at 1:55 PM on June 8, 2009


Isn't that backwards, shouldn't you not accept something until there is proof (or very strong evidence) that it is real?

I just said I'm not ready to buy that explanation. I didn't say I believed in hypnotism, necessarily. I have no idea if the girl was faking it or not. Either way, I told the hypnotist I'd prefer he use another act not involving pain, simulated or otherwise.
posted by ODiV at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2009


One of the tricks (or whatever you call them) was that he told everyone that a little rubber toy was actually an incredibly powerful god with super powers...

The girl next to me even leaned over and said, in a hushed trembling whisper: "That's [name of god]. He's so powerful." She looked at me as she said this with the widest eyes I had ever seen.


That's hilarious. Religion in a nutshell.

[name of god] would be an excellent user name.
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on June 8, 2009


If it accesses the placebo effect, does that make it any less valuable as a tool? I don't think so.

...placebos have their place. A lot of doctors prescribe pills as a placebo.

Prescribing placebos means outright lying to patient and to maintain this as a standard practice in medicine would require what amounts to a conspiracy of medical proffesionals.

Aside from that moral greyness though, the most important thing is that any treatment that has a real effect will also generate a pacebo effect. In any situation where there is a real treatment that has demonstated efficacy in clinical trials, there is no reason that pure placebos should be used.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:21 AM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"what amounts to a conspiracy of medical proffesionals." Sort of an implicit conspiracy, they don't like to let you go home empty handed.
posted by jeblis at 8:48 PM on June 9, 2009


BTW for those that don't know an antibiotic is completely useless for a viral infection. Antibiotics attack the cell wall of bacteria, viruses have no such structure.
posted by jeblis at 8:51 PM on June 9, 2009


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