Posted At : July 1, 2008 9:23 AM | Posted By : Tim Brunson, PhD

by Tim Brunson PhD
Hypnosis is considered by most as an altered state of mind. Essentially, this is a misnomer. The brain goes through four main brain wave states multiple times per day. These are Beta (full awareness), Alpha (light relaxation), Theta (deep relaxation), and Delta (sleep). To day that there is a “altered state of mind” would assume that there is a normal state from which the mind deviates. (And, the lambda and gamma states are rarely discussed.)

Another misunderstanding is that the entire brain is at the same state (frequency) at the same time. The truth is that different sections of the brain (neural substrates) are at various frequencies simultaneously. Nevertheless, hypnosis is normally associated with the Alpha and Theta states for the purpose of suggestibility and pain management. Guided imagery and meditation also produce similar states and are often discussed as closely related to hypnosis.

Another common definition of hypnosis is that it is the state where the critical faculty of the conscious mind is suspended and selective thinking and suggestibility are enhanced. This implies that certain functions of brain’s frontal lobe are reduced, shut down, or idled, allowing new input without or with reduced interference from existing brain maps. Hypnosis supports re-wiring (neuro-plasticity) the brain through triggering neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, and neuromodulators, such as oxytocin.

Several factors are involved in a hypnosis session.

Normally, a relaxed physical and mental state is assumed to exist in a somnambulistic trance. This level of trance is achieved prior to most therapeutic interventions. Taming the overactive anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), the brain’s switchboard, and increasing serotonin flow as a result of relaxation and specifically rhythmic breathing helps promote synchronous Alpha, allows the brain to begin rebalancing allowing various parts of the brain, which were previously energy starved, to return to enhanced functioning. Such relaxation also promotes parasympathetic autonomic function, which helps the immune system. This is also a major factor in the treatment of digestive disorders.

Performance enhancing hypnosis involves initially calming the ACG and increasing synchronous Alpha. As mentioned above, this alone tends to stimulate mental functioning. However, it is necessary to stimulate dopamine and glutamate production in order to stimulate the growth of new the creation of new memories (new neural networks).

Over the past several years hypnosis researchers have used suggestion to affect somatic ailments. Since World War II, there has been irrefutable evidence supporting the using hypnosis to cure skin disorders. Recent research has focused on accelerating wound healing. While they universally agree that more research is warranted, they agree that there is a lack of understanding why this occurs. The implications of other somatic treatments are unlimited.

Another recent heuristic endeavor involves the modification of genes through the use of hypnosis. Ernest Rossi, Ph.D., a long-term authority on Ericksonian hypnotherapy, has proposed a set of protocols which use hypnosis as part of the epigenetic process. This concept directly challenges the notion that our “nature” is fixed.

Hypnosis is typically used for behavior modification. It is not uncommon for members of the public to initially think of weight loss or smoking cessation. However, with the psychological community many use their hypnotic skills as an adjunct to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, which “re-sculpts” the mind/brain by promoting new learning and reframing old memories. This is done through the activating dormant genes in the nucleus of the brain’s neurons and the promotion of new neural connections.

The relationship between hypnosis and the emerging fields of energy psychology/energy medicine and neurofeedback is intriguing. Regarding the new energy modalities, they have yet to be fully accepted by the medical and psychology establishments. There are some who believe that the understanding of pizioelectric energy manipulation and pain gate theory may give some answers, the results from these fields are still predominantly anecdotal with a smattering of case study documentation. While there is considerable confidence in their protocols being used for the treatment of PSTD in returning war veterans, still energy modalities are in their infancy of acceptability.

A small handful of writers are starting to postulate about the relationship between bioelectric energy flows and hypnosis. The hypothesis is that the mind can direct energy. However new this concept may be, this actually is an ancient assumption among the Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhists whose completion stage of their tantric practices center on such energy manipulation through mental volition. Therefore, this is clearly an area for further investigation. The implications for pain control and somatic healing are numerous.

Neurofeedback, a new stepchild of biopsychology (aka biofeedback) should also be intriguing to the hypnotherapy community. The thought that someone can consciously decide to affect energy flows in the brain is novel to hypnotists, but an assumption to neurofeedback technicians. In fact, there are numerous neurofeedback devices (albeit relatively clumsy at the moment) that claim to train a patient to manipulate energy or blood flow in the brain. Surprisingly, state management and guided imagery are the technician’s therapeutic tools. On the other hand, these are areas in which talented hypnotists thrive. Unfortunately, however, a vast majority of hypnotherpists and their talented psychologist and psychotherapist brethren are overly “brain phobic”. If only the talents of the neurofeedback technician and the hypnotherapist could merge, I’m sure that a new explosion in the healing sciences would occur.

Hypnotherapy, which is the use of hypnosis for medical or psychological healing, was partially usurped by the American Medical Association in 1958 and the American Psychological Association in 1959. The belief was that no one should practice hypnotherapy unless he or she possessed licenses in on of those two fields. Indeed, there are a multitude practitioners in the licensed professions. (Note: A majority of our Institute are licensed medical and mental health practitioners.) This belied the fact that there were a tremendous number of extremely proficient practitioners without these licenses. In fact, many of the trainers for licensees were non-licensed hypnotists. Currently such hypnotists are increasingly being recognized as staff hypnotherapists in hospitals, clinics, and prisons.

Unfortunately, in the media (especially in the entertainment realm) hypnosis has all the hype of magic and is believed to appeal only to the “cult of the weird”. Most medical practitioners who I meet are relatively clueless to the efficacy of hypnosis, despite NIH’s efforts which have documented over 11,000 recent credible research studies supporting it. Psychologists, whose premier association, relegates hypnosis to a minor “department”, leave the impression that they have some type of patent on the concept. While I have studied with and under some phenomenal licensed psychologists who are some of the best hypnotists I know, still there are many of that ilk who wrongly believe that their minimal training (or less) make them qualified to pass judgment. And then there are the unlicensed professional hypnotherapists, some of which are the most talented in the field, who belong to a multitude of competing organizations that have yet to agree on standards. Regardless, of this proliferation of ownership claims and such, it is still clear that the centuries of experience with the hypnotic arts have much to contribute to the future of integrative healing.

Tim Brunson PhD is the founder and Executive Director of The International Hypnosis Research Institute and a clinician and professional speaker. For more information visit: