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Hypnosis has been used by many physicians and therapists as a method of reducing the painful sensations of their patients. There are many reports and case studies demonstrating the efficiency of hypnotic analgesia in controlling chronic and acute pain. Still, it is necessary to provide clinical and experimental evidence that supports the use of hypnotic for such purposes. Moreover, it is important to explain the hypothetical limitations of this approach. In such a way, one can better assess the advantages and disadvantages of hypnotic analgesia.
Overall, psychologists offer different explanations for hypnotic analgesia. For instance, the advocates of the socio-cognitive theory argue that hypnosis helps the patient to distract his or her attention from the pain (De Benedittis, 59). In their opinion, such analgesia requires a conscious effort from a person because he or she has to disregard painful stimuli and focus attention on more pleasant experiences.
Yet, other authors argue that such a form of pain management requires submersion into a hypnotic state in which pain stimuli are blocked (Mayer and Saper, 255). Despite varying explanations, there is significant evidence supporting such a form of intervention. For instance, the meta-analysis done by Mark Jensen and David Patterson indicates that hypnotic analgesia proved to be effective for reducing migraine headache, osteoarthritis, or low back pain (101). Moreover, for some patients suffering from migraine headache, hypnotic analgesia was more helpful than medication treatment (Jensen and Patterson, 101). In part, these findings suggest that hypnotic analgesia has a wide range of applications.
Additionally, there are other clinical trials which indicate that such intervention helps the patients manage pain. For example, Askay et al studied the effects of hypnotic analgesia on patients with burn injuries, and they concluded that it was more effective than placebo (Askay et al., 250). According to the results of this study, those patients, who received hypnotic analgesia, tended to use less medication within the first twenty-four hours after hypnosis (Askay et al., 248).
Furthermore, according to this study, the use of hypnotic analgesia allows medical workers to decrease the cost of medication by approximately 50 percent (Askay et al, 247). Certainly, cost-reduction should not be the only reason for using hypnotic analgesia. Nonetheless, it is also an important argument that supports the use of this intervention in a clinical setting, at least in those cases when hypnosis is proved to be an effective supplement of medication.
There are other interesting effects of hypnotic analgesia. A group of researchers under the guidance of Guy Montgomery found that women were less likely to experience painful sensations after breast cancer surgery if they had received hypnotic intervention before (Montgomery et al., 80). Admittedly, this effect still needs more examination, but these findings have significant implications for medical professionals.
In this way, they can facilitate patients’ recovery or at least make this process more comfortable. Hypnotic analgesia was also helpful for patients who had to undergo biopsy (Milling, 171). Hence, one can say that hypnosis can be used to modify a patient’s future perceptions of pain. These are the cases when hypnotic analgesia was successfully applied for the needs of patients.
Patients’ satisfaction is another factor that should not be overlooked. A survey of patients conducted by Mark Jensen et al. indicated that only 3 percent of the respondents reported no benefit from hypnotic analgesia, while others pointed out that this intervention enabled them to better manage painful sensations (Jensen et al., 439). Many of these people were trained in self-hypnosis analgesia, and this training gave them “a better sense of control over pain” (Jensen et al., 440).
Hence, hypnotic analgesia is not only a clinical intervention but also a skill that patients can acquire. This skill can be particularly helpful to people who experience chronic pain caused by migraine or osteoarthritis. Overall, it is possible to say that clinical studies support the idea that hypnosis analgesia may be used by medical professionals for various purposes.
There is also experimental evidence which indicates that hypnotic analgesia can be effective. For instance, the research done by Williams et al. demonstrates that in the state of hypnotic analgesia, subjects become less susceptible to pain stimuli (Williams et al., 81). In fact, in many cases, they simply missed such stimuli and did not respond to them (Williams et al., 81). Yet, the researchers also point out that electrophysiological responses to pain did not change (Williams et al., 81).
The findings of other researchers suggest that hypnotic analgesia is accompanied by increased activity of the frontal lobe (Plotnik and Kouyoumdjan 173). Overall, there are several physiological markers of hypnotic analgesia, for example, the release of endorphin, a polypeptide that prevents nerve cells from transmitting pain signals (Patterson, 43). Additionally, researchers reported decreases in blood pressure and heart rate (Patterson,44). Still, physiological effects of hypnotic analgesia still need to be further examined because it is necessary to establish a correlation between perceived pain reduction and various physiological processes.
Overall, there are many results that such method of pain control can produce both psychological and physiological impacts on a person. Nevertheless, practitioners of hypnotic analgesia should remember that the outcomes of such intervention significantly depend on a person’s susceptibility to hypnosis. Experimental studies show that people, who are not very susceptible to hypnosis, are less likely to benefit from such an intervention (Williams et al, 81).
This is one of the reasons why studies of hypnotic analgesia usually involved children or adolescents because people of these age groups were more susceptible to hypnosis (Milling, 166). Thus, it is possible to assume that there is dependence between age and efficiency of hypnotic analgesia. Certainly, this assumption needs verification, but it should be taken into account by practitioners of hypnotic analgesia.
Moreover, one cannot disregard hypothetical limitations of those studies which examine the effects of such intervention. For instance, there are so-called expectancy effects, which imply that a person may be convinced that the intervention will reduce his or her painful experiences. As a result, he or she may just report the results that experimenter intends to produce (Jensen and Patterson b, 191).
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Thus, one can argue that the mechanism of hypnotic analgesia may be very similar to placebo effect. These effects are not always well-controlled in experimental or clinical studies. Furthermore, it is vital to determine how many interventions are needed to alleviate a specific type of pain. Finally, one should take into account that in clinical setting, hypnotic analgesia is not used as a sole method of pain control; it is normally accompanied by some sort of medication. Therefore, it is often very difficult to measure its effects on a patient’s perception of pain and physiological processes.
On the whole, hypnotic analgesia can be regarded as a valuable tool that can help patients suffering from chronic or acute pain. Both clinical and experimental studies suggest that patients respond to such intervention. As it has been shown, self-hypnosis analgesia is a skill that can benefit many patients. However, practitioners should remember about such limitations as low susceptibility to hypnosis and expectance effects. Additionally, physiological aspects of hypnotic analgesia have to be more closely studied because it is necessary to examine the relations between patients’ self-reports and functioning of the brain. Nonetheless, hypnotic analgesia can definitely assist both patients and medical professionals.
Hypnosis and Coercion
In popular belief, hypnosis is frequently associated with coercive power; many people think that in this way, a person can be forced to do something that he or she would not do in normal circumstances (Perry, 221). Thus, it is necessary to examine this claim and determine it is based on empirical findings or anecdotes and stereotypes that cannot be tested and proven. Overall, this question may have significant implications for psychologists and legal professionals because these people interpret voluntary and involuntary actions of people. However, this question poses significant difficulties for the researchers because such studies are often inconsistent with existing ethical standards.
First, it should be mentioned that hypnosis has often attracted attention of forensic psychologists because many suspects in criminal cases claimed that their actions were driven by someone else’s hypnotic influence (Nardi, 1000). Nonetheless, these claims were dismissed for lack of credibility and those people who made such claims, were often declared to have mental disorders. Besides, hypnosis was even used to interrogate suspects; however, the evidence obtained in such a way was not admitted to the court (Nardi, 1002). These examples indicate that coercive aspects of hypnosis can be of great importance for criminal investigators and attorneys.
There are several reasons why it is difficult to examine hypnotic coercion. The problem is that a study of coercive hypnosis may not be approved by modern ethics committees because they can endanger a person’s mental health. Scholars usually refer to much older studies that were carried out more than three decades ago. For example, Curt and Anne Bartol refer to the experiments when hypnotized subjects attempted to pick a snake or even throw acid at the researcher (Bartol and Bartol, 143).
There were other studies aimed at demonstrating that a hypnotized person could commit antisocial acts. For instance, Graham Wagstaff describes experiments during which subjects were asked to write slanderous comments about their superiors or even to burn the national flag (Wagstaff, 1281). At first glance, such examples can be very convincing. Nonetheless, the results of these studies can be disputed. First of all, these subjects could believe that they would not have to assume responsibility for their actions, and that their anonymity would be ensured (Wagstaff, 1281). These people were quire sure that their relatives or friends would not know about their behavior during these experiments.
Thus, such studies show that a person is likely to obey an authority figure, especially, if this person guarantees safety and anonymity. Nonetheless, these experiments do not convincingly demonstrate coercive powers of hypnosis. In addition to that, the subjects, who picked up a snake, could believe that the researcher had maintained complete control over the study and that there had been no threat to their life or health.
To better illustrate this argument, one can mention Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience when people agreed to use toruture being forced or hypnotized (Milrgam, 371). Thus, the obedience to authority is the main challenge that can invalidate the findings of the studies that examine hypnosis and coercion and it is rather difficult to control or eliminate this challenge in a controlled experiment.
Yet, coercive aspects of hypnosis cannot be dismissed entirely. The dissociated control theory of hypnosis postulates that in such a state the supervisory attention system does not function properly, and a person is not able to evaluate his or her actions critically (Wagstaff, 1282). Therefore, there is a possibility that hypnotized people can be coerced. However, at this point, there is little evidence in support of this hypothesis.
The main limitation of dissociated theory is that researchers often construct a situation when a person cannot critically assess his or her actions. Furthermore, in many cases, the behavior of a person is dependent on his or her upbringing, age, values, and so forth. In other words, they are not necessarily related to the influence of hypnotists who are often believed to almost unnatural powers. Yet, such belief originates from a popular stereotype, rather than science.
Coercive aspects of hypnosis can also be discussed from physiological point of view. Psychologists believe that willed and conscious acts are accompanied by increased activity in the frontal cortex of the brain (Wagstaff, 1282). However, the study by Helen Crawford indicated that hypnosis did not reduce the intensity of frontal cortex activities (Crawford, 280). In part, these results prove a hypnotized person is able to control his or her actions. Physiological markers of hypnotic trance certainly require further investigation but even they suggest that hypnosis does not eliminate volition.
Additionally, the idea of coercive hypnosis is criticized because there were several experiments during which hypnotized subjects were able to lie to the experimenter (Wagstaff, 1284). These people could make statements that they knew to be wrong. Again, one has to remember that lying requires conscious and controlled effort because a person has to choose what kind of things should be told. To a great extent, this example demonstrates that hypnosis does not prevent a person from taking independent decisions. This is by far the most important example showing that it is hardly possible to coerce a person through hypnosis.
Certainly, there are many claims about the alleged use of hypnosis as a means of coercion. For instance, Campbell Perry refers to anecdotic evidence, according to which hypnotized people were forced into sexual intercourse (Perry, 221). However, in such cases, the victims could be merely convinced the hypnotist had full control over them, but it does not mean that the commands of such a person could not be resisted (Perry, 221).
Overall, the so-called coercive power of hypnosis is largely premised on a stereotype according to which hypnosis is “the exercise of power” (Perry, 221). People, who think so, forget that hypnosis is based on agreement which becomes crucial especially, when a person is not very susceptible to hypnosis.
The researchers contend that coercive aspects of hypnosis will continue to be of great interest of psychologists because this issue can have significant practical applications. Yet, ethical considerations make it very difficult to develop an experimental task that a non-hypnotized person will not do willingly (Fromm and Shor, 212). According to existing regulations, experimenters, who want to conduct such studies, are obliged to inform subjects about the goals of their research.
Thus, the very validity of the experiment can be undermined because the participants can become less susceptible to hypnosis (Fromm and Shor, 212). As it been noted before, subjects may believe that they will not have to take any responsibility for their actions, thus they may follow the instructions of the experimenter. This possibility cannot be overlooked, and it creates great difficulties for researchers who may be interested in the coercive force of hypnosis.
On the whole, there is no definitive evidence which demonstrates that a person can be forced to commit an immoral act in the state of hypnotic trance. Empirical evidence suggests that hypnotized people are able to control their actions and evaluate them. Coercive aspects of hypnosis have not been properly examined because many studies disregarded several important variables such as subjects’ attitude toward the experimenter, their susceptibility to hypnosis, or their age. Other cases of alleged hypnotic compulsion lack credibility. Overall, this question still remains open to debate, but it is not clear how it can be properly answered given ethical standards that are set for experimental studies.
Dissociative Amnesia, Age Regression and False Memories
Hypnosis has often been used for the needs of patients who suffer from various mental disorders. This method has been very beneficial for people with partial or complete memory loss (Degun-Mather, 34). Moreover, it has been of great assistance to people with various phobias (Mackey, 47). There are several concepts that are closely related to this issue, in particular, dissociative amnesia, age regression, and false memories.
These concepts are important because they illustrate that hypnosis can be effective even when other forms of treatment are of very little avail. For instance, hypnosis can help a person overcome many disorders related to suppressed memories and feelings. Yet, they also show that hypnosis can be a very dangerous tool that has to be used carefully without exposing a patient’s mental health to any extra risks.
Hypnosis has often been applied to treat patients with dissociative amnesia (Degun-Mather, 34). This is a complete or almost complete memory loss that cannot be explained by physiological injuries or disorders (Degun-Mather, 34). Such form of amnesia is characterized by the patient’s inability to retrieve any details about the past. Very often, this memory loss may be attributed to intense stress or some very painful experiences that a person subconsciously wishes to forget.
Frequently, these experiences are associated with suppressed guilt or shame (Degun-Mather, 40). At this point, there is no universal explanation for dissociative amnesia, but its effects can be alleviated through hypnotic intervention. In particular, therapists can use such strategies as hypnotically suggested dreams and theatre technique that enable a client to reconstruct the events of his or her past (Degun-Mather, 37).
The main advantage of these techniques is that they prevent a hypnotist from implanting false memories. These methods are client-led and they enable the patient to be the main constructor of past experiences. Furthermore, these methods allow people to understand the emotions and feelings that could have led to the suppression of memories. A therapist using such techniques acts as a facilitator but not as a guide who forces a patient into certain beliefs about the past (Degun-Mather, 37). Overall, creation of false memories is one of the main pitfalls that a hypnotist should avoid.
It is often hypothesized that dissociative amnesia represents “an attempt to escape pain and confusion from the unresolved traumas of the past” (Degun-Mather, 37). Hence, one can argue that hypnosis can help a person to understand reconcile his or her emotions that might have caused amnesia. As a rule, hypnosis can result only in gradual recovery of memory, but such recollections can help a person have a more fulfilling life.
Researchers believe that shame and guilt can be the origins of dissociative amnesia (Degun-Mather, 40). In such cases, the main task of a hypnotist is to identify events and feelings that could have contributed to memory loss. By identifying and framing the emotions of a patient, a therapist can ensure that this person is not afraid of looking into the past.
It should be noted that suppressed memories often manifest themselves in the form of various phobias that cannot be rationally explained. This is one of the reasons why such technique as age regression is often used. This term describes a process through which a hypnotist helps a person go back to an earlier stage of his or her life. Such intervention is necessary to understand the traumatic experiences that a person could have during childhood (Mackey, 46). Very often these childhood experiences are the underlying causes of many phobias.
A therapist does not need to convince a person that a specific event did not took place. More likely, the main purpose of age regression is to change a person’s attitude toward this event. In his article, Edward Mackey describes the use of age regression for treating a patient’s phobia, namely intense fear of snakes (Mackey, 47). The regression technique enabled the hypnotist to identify a specific event that caused the patient’s traumatic experience. On the basis of this information, a therapist was able to develop a series of exercises that helped the patient overcome this fear.
The thing is that by moving back to a particular moment, a patient gradually becomes more comfortable while confronting the object of his or her phobia (Mackey, 47). By understanding the cause of phobia, a person can see that his or her fears are largely unfounded or at least irrational. The therapist enables a patient to look at the same event from a different point view. Later, it will be possible for the client to face the source of his or her fear, for examples, snakes, spiders or mice. Certainly, it should be done under the guidance of the therapists, but such steps are crucial for dispelling fears.
Again, such form of therapy has to be client-led; otherwise a hypnotist may implant false memories in a person. This is the third important concept that has to be discussed. In the state of hypnotic trance, people become more vulnerable erroneous recollections, and these recollections can be very traumatic (Brann, Owen, and Williamson, 100). The issue of false memories has significant psychological and even legal implications, because very often therapists can be sued for propagating the recollections that were hardly based on facts (Brann, Owen, and Williamson, 100). This issue is particularly significant when we speak about the false memories of domestic violence or sexual abuse.
Therefore, therapists should remember that age regression technique can involve various risks to the patient’s mental health. As a rule, such malpractices occur when a hypnotist attempts to lead a client and forces his or her into conclusions about the past. Thus, therapists should take various precautions, for example, they must not refer to the events or issues that were not explicitly mentioned by the client (Brann, Owen, and Williamson, 101).
There is no need to make conjectures about the past events of a client’s life. Admittedly, the task of a therapist is to uncover the truth, but one should be careful not to confuse truth with conjectures. Certainly, the possibility of false memories is largely determined by a person’s susceptibility to hypnosis (Brann, Owen, and Williamson, 101). However, in such circumstances, even a non-susceptible client is likely to receive new recollections. Overall, this discussion shows memory disorders and phobias can be addressed if a person can take a different look at the same events. Experts in hypnosis can resolve many of these problems, but they have to adhere to the principle of non-maleficence or avoidance of possible harm.
The phenomena that have been described are linked in several ways. On the one hand, each of them of them is related to the functioning of human memory and its disorders. The underlying causes of these problems have yet to be identified, but hypnotic interventions proved to be useful for patients who have such problems. As it has been argued, a hypnotist may help patients restore their memory and reframe their attitude toward their past experiences. However, it has also been shown that human memory can be very susceptible to outside influence, especially suggestions of a hypnotist. Therefore, therapists have to be very careful while treating their clients. They should pay special attention to the danger of false memories. Their main task is to be unobtrusive.
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