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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

Silicon Valley Discovers Hypnosis

An article in today's (December 29, 2020) issue of The Wall Street Journal told of Silicon Valley's recent financing of startups marketing hypnosis apps aroused by stress caused by the pandemic. Yet hypnosis is a long accepted psychological technique for alleviating the distress of many conditions including cancer, burns, high blood pressure, headaches, and childbirth. It is taught to asthmatic children since the less stress they experience the less likely they are to have an asthma attack.


Basically, hypnosis is "selective attention" with researchers having varied between considering it a learned reaction to those believing it a entirely different physiological state. I have long believed the latter based on personal experience, that of feeling a "drop" at some point and being reluctant to "wake-up."

About ninety-percent of the population can use hypnosis to reduce stress, with ten-percent of these being such good subjects that major surgery can be performed while in the hypnotic state. Ten-percent of the population can't be hypnotized. A quick test of hypnotic suggestibility is asking whether the subject lost themselves in reading as a child, they usually being good hypnotic subjects. Using hypnosis to lose weight or stop smoking depends on motivation and rapid change should not be expected. Those who accomplished this were extraordinarily well-motivated.

Several warnngs: (1) do not become a subject for a hypnosis event in a club or while on a cruise ship. While often skillful practitioners, there have been cases in which not all of their suggestions were eliminated with the subject winding up in an Emergency Room weeks later complaining of weird symptoms that no one can figure out; (2) do not use hypnosis while wearing contact lenses; (3) do not use listen to a hypnosis audio while driving (this may seem obvious, but...).


With these cautions, hypnosis is eminently safe though best learned with professional guidance (the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis can be contacted for a local practitioner).

On a personal note, decades ago a nurse who took the blood pressure of clinic workers advised that mine was high. A physician who I had known since my teenage years agreed, saying that if it stayed that way I could take medication, which I was adamant against. Taking my blood pressure frequently would more likely yield accurate readings, he added (having abnormally readings during a stressful doctor's visit is well known).

I followed his advice, also frequently using using a self-hypnotic relaxation audio that I made from the research protocol in a journal article relating the use of hypnosis to stress reduction and the development of cancer. After two months, my blood pressure readings became optimal and have remained so.


By graphing these readings I found that my systolic reading (higher number, the force of blood against the artery walls) correlated with my pulse rate while my diastolic reading (lower number, the heart's resting rate or blood pressure between heartbeats) was independent of both. With digital blood pressure monitors being cheap, it would be well for all to monitor their blood pressure at home.

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Treating PTSD With Hypnosis

I was a member of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis for many years and, while a hospital administrator, got pains in my neck at the end of the day. A year later I interpreted this as reflecting some of my employees being a pain in the neck which they were. An ASCH entire journal issue was on cancer and hypnosis and I used one of the article's research protocols (the article related stress to the immune system and the tendency to develop cancer) to make a ten-minute tape which I then used twice and, low and behold, my neck pain disappeared.


Years later, when a nurse at my (stressful) job found that my blood pressure was high, an internist I had known since adolescence recommended that I take it as often as possible, there being no way that I would take medication. I did, used the self-hypnotic relaxation CD repeatedly daily and graphed my readings. My blood pressure readings gradually went down over several months to superb readings (low 120s over low 70s or better) and have remained so. I'm a great believer in the efficacy of hypnosis, considering it not a learned reaction but fostering the entrance into a different physiological state, this "drop" being experienced by many. Napping using self-hypnosis is far more restful too, a 1/2 hour nap, upon awakening, feeling like a several hour ordinary period of sleep.


I've since used the tape (now a CD and on my Android phone) daily and given it to all of my adult patients without charge for relaxation, though hypnosis is useful for far more. I regard hypnosis as mostly best for physical conditions such as alleviating the pain of childbirth, burns, and back ache; to lower high blood pressure along with the use of a digital blood pressure measuring device as a biofeedback mechanism; for sleep difficulty; to reduce the stress of asthmatic children so they're less likely to have an asthma attack, and with similar issues.


On the whole, apart from relieving stress and anxiety, I believe that hypnosis, and mostly the teaching of self-hypnotic technique which is quick, isn't particularly useful when coping with specific trauma. Here, psychological education about its nature and psychodynamic interpretation of the trauma residue would be most beneficial. It is also far safer than the use of medication.


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