Hypnosis, Greek for “sleep,” is a fascinating phenomena.

While hypnotized, people can be given suggestions that effect their subconscious more directly than normal.  They can recover lost memories, or be given suggestions that help them deal with problems like smoking or overeating.

If you tell someone who’s hypnotized that their skin is itching, they may develop a real rash.

Hypnosis has very real physical effects and plays an important role in various medical interventions.  If you doubt the power of the mind over our bodies, remember that someone can develop a big stomach, nausea and all the symptoms of pregnancy – just by believing that they’re pregnant!

A government task force in health said recently that there is “strong evidence” that hypnosis is an effective treatment for chronic pain.  It can help with other conditions too.

Hypnosis and Smoking

Wouldn’t it be amazing if a few sessions and suddenly you couldn’t stand the thought of smoking anymore?

Unfortunately, the data isn’t so optimistic.  Smokers who underwent one session focused on developing mental strategies to create negative associations did show somewhat increased rates of cessation and reduction.  But limited clinical information is an important limiting factor.

That said, hypnosis tends to show a 25% cessation rate in studies, considerably better than placebo.

Hypnosis and Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS)

Hypnosis may help with IBS where traditional treatments fail.  One study of 30 patients resistant to traditional treatments had some undergo pyschotherapy and others partake in hypnosis sessions.  The hypnosis group ended up having significant reduction in symptoms that lasted for more than 18 months.

The mechanisms of how hypnosis helps IBS are not clear, but probably has to do with how stress and psychosocial factors effect acid release in the digestive system.  Hypnotizing people and asking them to visualize eating a meal signals acid production as if they really had eaten.

Hypnosis and Pain

Aging is associated with increased pain.  Up to 80% of older residents in a nursing home, for instance, report problems with pain.  Additionally, even younger people suffer from pain associated with injuries or cancer.

Hypnosis is exceptionally useful in pain treatment, helping roughly 75% of those who use it.  It is more effective than biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy and possibly even morphine!

Research has shown that hypnosis can help with pain from burns, cancer and fibromyalgia, including other conditions.


Hypnosis, unlike standard medical treatments, is not tightly regulated.  While it is a valid and important tool in treatment, beware hyperbole and claims that are unrealistic.  If you consider hypnosis, make sure your therapist is reputable.

Hypnosis for pain management in the older adult
Hypnotherapy for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

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