Updated: Mar 15
The latest discoveries in behavioral medicine and epigenetics can help us understand the profound benefits of hypnosis.
The (Non-Deceptive) Placebo Effect and Its Use in Hypnotherapy
The placebo effect is all about being able to employ internal resources and using the power of belief. Furthermore, it does not imply there is any deception involved at all.
A study at Harvard University gathered 80 patients suffering from IBS and divided them into two groups. One group received no treatment at all while the other group was explicitly told that they would be taking sugar pills. They were reminded of the fact every day by the label on the pill bottles which read "placebo".
These "placebo" subjects took the pill twice a day for three weeks. By the end of the study, they reported to have had twice the reduction of IBS symptoms than the other patients! Which came as a surprise because it proved that deception was not necessary in the application of placebo.
Social cognitive psychologists have attributed this to the carrying out of rituals. A ritual is the practiced procedure of traditions that a society holds value in as a collective. It doesn't matter if the subject knows the medicine is ineffective. The collective understanding that the procedure of taking a pill can be helpful, is enough to make them feel better. This is because the ritual has a place within the subject's subconscious belief system. Which dates back to the societal conditioning in childhood. Jungian psychologists may even argue that this is the collective unconscious at play.
A hypnotherapy session is also a ritual in which many expectations are played out. There is a sensationalized idea of what hypnosis is within mainstream society. As a result, many of us have certain expectations of what hypnosis can do for us such an instant cure or mind control. Hypnotherapist, conscious or unconscious of the fact, employ these beliefs in their sessions.
The research on placebo and nocebo helps us evaluate the "various psychological mechanisms that are in place during hypnosis such as conditioning, expectation, anxiety modulation, and reward and how they can be modulated by factors such as desire, motivation, and memory" (Frisaldi et al. 2015 as cited in Yapko, 2018)
This study helps us understand that hypnosis is an open and direct approach. It uses the placebo effect and the socio-cognitive phenomenon of rituals to give wondrous results, without the need for deception.
Epigenetics and Transforming DNA using Hypnosis
Epigenetics is the study of the chemical reactions within our DNA and the environmental factors that affect them. It can inform us on how hypnosis (as a form of environmental factor) affects gene expression.
The Human Genome Project since its conception in 1990 has proven that "genes aren't destiny". This means, to a certain degree, both the mind and body have the ability to develop beyond their current state if given the right resources.
The Relaxation Response experiment at Harvard medical school gathered 2 groups of subjects. One group was well trained in relaxation techniques and the other group was not. The inexperienced group was put through a six-week relaxation regiment. When retested, their gene expression resembled that of the experience group. The study resulted in the change of 1,561 genes expressions in each untrained individual who participated! (Benson & Proctor, 2010 as cited in Yapko, 2018)
These individuals were able to make profound changes to the gene expressions in their DNA with relaxation alone. So imagine the positive effects of a hypnotherapy session that employs relaxation as well as many other powerful techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, visualization, breathwork, and radical beliefs transformation.
Growing Trend in using Alternative Approaches such as Hypnosis for Holistic Medicine
As of 2018, more than 30% of adults sought after alternative medicine to complement or even replace standard Western medicine, the National Institutes of Health estimates (NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, website, accessed February 2018 as cited in Yapko, 2018).
This is the response to the re-discovery about the mind-body connection. Modern western medicine has been the practice of treating the physical body only ( "Cartesian Gap"). But as research in medicine continues to generate more consideration for the holistic functioning of the body, trends show that public opinions are showing more interest in alternative medicine.
A survey showed deep breathing (10.9%), meditation (8%), progressive relaxation (2.1%), and guided imagery (1.7%) were amongst the most popular alternative approaches. (Clarke, Black, Strussman, Barnes, & Nahin, 2018 as cited in Yapko, 2018). All of which can be found within a typical hypnotherapy session!
Hypnotherapy is a complex form of therapy that takes into account the holistic functioning of the individual which is why it has been proven effective in aiding smoking cessation, weight loss, reducing chronic pains and even as medical anesthesia.
Hypnotherapy also respects that for every symptom or surface issue, there is a deeper-rooted subconscious cause. And because of the mind-body connection, if one works with healing the mind, they can also heal the body.
Changing Perceptions of Hypnosis
Hopefully, these studies have piqued your curiosity and fascinations about hypnotherapy. It is my hope that it convinces you to consider the incredible resource that is hypnosis and what it can do for you. Hypnotherapy is indeed the leading edge.
If you are interested in finding out what hypnosis can do for you, learn more about my offering here.