Hypnotherapy: hypnosis as a remedy

It is considered one of the oldest healing methods in the world. But researchers are only now discovering what exactly happens to the body and mind in a trance

Our content is pharmaceutically and medically tested

Treats Dr. Agnes Kaiser Rekkas her patients, she takes them on a journey. "And as you let go more and more, your most beautiful feel-good image emerges in your mind's eye, your beach by the sea." In calm, slightly monotonous sentences, the psychologist and hypnotherapist describes what it is like where your patient can relax best. The sound of the sea, the warm sun, the chirping of birds, fine sand, salty air. Language becomes a river that appeals to all the senses.

The actual goal of the trip: "A trance state in which one is ready to recognize potentials that lie dormant in the subconscious," explains Kaiser Rekkas, Vice President of the Society for Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy.

Far away from constant stress

Many of their patients have problems relaxing and letting go. For example, those who come to her because of irritable bowel syndrome. "You suffer from abdominal pain, gas, or you are constantly looking for the nearest toilet - that's a constant source of stress."

People who want to overcome fears of exams or the dentist also hope for help from hypnotherapy. Women with menopausal symptoms, managers with the first symptoms of burnout or pain patients.

Hypnosis can work where medication and other classic forms of treatment cannot. Above all, this has to do with the fact that the patient experiences in a positive way how he can contribute to solving the problem himself, says Kaiser Rekkas. "If the patient is sitting by the sea on a summer evening, the conditions are completely different."

Trance with tradition

It has long been known that hypnosis can be used for medical purposes. Anthropologists believe that trance states have been used for healing throughout human history. With the Sumerians and Egyptians they mainly used priests. In ancient Greece the so-called temple sleep was known, a kind of hypnotic state in which patients were placed. The indigenous peoples of Australia, Asia or Africa also have a thousand-year-old trance tradition.

In Western culture and academic medicine, however, hypnosis had a difficult time. In the 1960s, the American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson helped an enlightened form of hypnotherapy achieve a certain breakthrough. In Germany, however, it was only recognized as an effective method by the Scientific Advisory Board on Psychotherapy in 2006.

There still seems to be a certain fear of contact between science and hypnosis. After all, trance states still have something magical or at least irrational about them. They also fall on an extremely difficult fringe of consciousness to explore.

The power of imagination

"Unfortunately, it still works like this: on the one hand there is a huge treasure trove of experience from applied hypnosis, but on the other hand there is still too little research that makes its effects comprehensible," says Dr. Barbara Schmidt, psychologist at the University of Jena.

In order to find out more about the changes in perception in hypnotized people, she and colleagues investigated how human vision can be influenced with suggestions. The study participants were given an actually simple task: They were asked to count blue squares that were displayed in front of them on a screen.

Without hypnosis, the subjects counted about 90 percent of the squares correctly.
During the trance, Schmidt asked the participants to imagine they had a wooden board in front of their eyes. The result: On average, they were able to correctly count around 20 percent fewer squares. The participants who had shown themselves to be particularly easy to hypnotize before the test recognized only half. The visual impairment only presented had actually severely impaired her perception.

During the tests, the scientists recorded the subjects' brain waves. "In the EEG you could clearly see that the visual stimulus arrived quite normally," reports Schmidt. What had changed, however, was how the brain handled this information.

Perception vs. Imagination

"We assume that the communication process in the brain is changed by the trance," says the psychologist. Apparently people under hypnosis perceive reality differently and also let it approach them differently. The Jena researchers were able to determine something similar in investigations into pain perception. Study participants were persuaded into a trance that their hand was in a glove full of cool gel.

If electrical stimuli were then applied to the test persons, they perceived them clearly. But they hardly found it painful. When fully conscious, they had classified the same stimuli as extremely unpleasant.

The results coincide with earlier findings, according to which certain processes apparently become decoupled from one another under hypnosis. The part of the brain that normally evaluates, controls and directs our actions is to a certain extent bypassed in a trance.

Dr. AGnes Rekas, Vice President of the German Society for Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy (DGH)

© W & B / Sonja Herpich

The idea that trance partially bypasses our control mechanisms would also explain why hypnotized people can say goodbye to deep-seated beliefs - which may be part of their health problem.

Let go and trust

"If someone evaluates their situation as hopeless and has the feeling that they are stuck in a dead end, then one can bypass this negative image in hypnosis and, over time, replace it with a positive suggestion," explains Kaiser Rekkas. Irritable bowel patients, for example, could imagine holding negative memories, fear and shame in their hands first - and then letting go of them naturally in hypnosis.

But how clear are the boundaries between communication with the unconscious and suggestion or even manipulation? In fact, many people are concerned about hypnotizing themselves or acting under other control.

The way to self-healing

The relationship between patient and hypnotherapist is therefore based on great trust, as psychologist Schmidt emphasizes. That is also a possible reason why not everyone can be hypnotized. About ten percent cannot be put into a trance. Ten to 20 percent, on the other hand, are very easy to hypnotize. "But that doesn't work against anyone's own will," says Schmidt.

Modern hypnotherapists see their approach as resource- and solution-oriented. What the patient brings with them are not only experiences with their own illness, but also positive experiences and personal sources of strength that can help mobilize self-healing.

Agnes Kaiser Rekkas therefore asks exactly where and how her patients experience a state of relaxation in everyday life. Mostly they are places in nature. The small lake in the forest, a bench under a mighty tree. "The most common is actually a beach by the sea."

Someone recently told her that he was most comfortable taking care of his rabbits. In such situations, the therapist needs empathy so that hypnotization is successful. "If I don't know my way around, then I don't go into that much detail," says Kaiser Rekkas. In most cases, a few well-chosen words are enough to guide you to your personal place of well-being.

Train your own imagination

In the end, however, the patient is also asked - and their imagination. For example, he has to practice the retrieval of some images or solutions in order to be able to use them in everyday life at some point.

Anyone expecting purely passive therapy could be disappointed. "Hypnosis is not a magic pill," emphasizes hypnotherapist Kaiser Rekkas. Everyone has to work out their own way to the inner beach by the sea.

Healing With Hypnosis: What You Should Know

  • Medical hypnosis is believed to be effective in treating various ailments. These range from psychosomatic problems to chronic pain, gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and skin conditions such as neurodermatitis and respiratory diseases. During operations, hypnosis can relieve pain, but is usually not a substitute for anesthesia.
  • A hypnotherapy session is divided into several phases. After a preliminary talk about goals and expectations, the introduction to the trance state, also known as induction, follows. Towards the end of the session, the patient is brought back out of the trance. A follow-up discussion will then take place. Sometimes the therapist guides the patient to practice self-hypnosis.
  • Hypnotherapists must have received appropriate training. Qualified and reputable therapists are listed on the websites of the Milton H. Erickson Society for Clinical Hypnosis (www.meg-hypnose.de) or the German Society for Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy (www.dgh-hypnose.de).
  • Health insurance is a hypnotherapeutic treatment only in exceptional cases. It is therefore best to find out beforehand from your health insurance company and the therapist of your choice what costs you may incur.

Also read: