Hypnotherapy for pain: What happens to the brain in hypnosis?
Does hypnotherapy for pain relief produce measurable change in the brain?
One of the more slippery aspects of investigating hypnosis has been teasing out what’s actually going on when people are hypnotised (being ‘hypnotised’ can be understood as simply participating in a process of suggestion using focus, attention and imagination).
In recent years though this problem has become easier to resolve with the development of neuroimaging techniques that give an objective picture of what’s occurring in the brains of hypnotic subjects, and the results of these experiments are intriguing.
A Guardian article on hypnosis and neuroscience back in 2010 reported on research of a woman with synaesthesia whose condition was ‘disrupted’ while undergoing hypnotic suggestion. Not only was her subjective experience of the symptoms improved but the electro physiological correlates of her brain changed too, suggesting her brain was experiencing less of the dissonance that characterises the condition. Synaesthesia is a condition whereby stimulation of one cognitive pathway creates an involuntary stimulation in another so that sufferers may for example see sounds or hears colours, so the fact that such a condition was apparently amenable to psychological suggestion was surprising.
This excerpt from a BBC programme below looks in a similar vein at what happens to one journalist’s experience of a painful stimulus when undergoing a hypnotic suggestion for anaesthesia. What he experiences, and what his brain demonstrates surprised him, and it might surprise you too….