UT Prof Explains Hypnotism in Scientific American

KNOXVILLE – A University of Tennessee psychology professor-s article in the July issue of Scientific American will describe recent laboratory and clinical research which is now giving scientists a clearer picture of what hypnosis is and is not.

In the cover story titled “The Truth and Hype of Hypnosis” Dr. Michael Nash explains that the tough-minded application of new research technologies such as brain scans is unlocking new secrets about hypnosis.

“Only in the past 40 years have scientists been equipped with instruments and methods for discerning the facts of hypnotic phenomena from exaggerated claims,- Nash says in the article.

“The study of hypnosis is now squarely in the domain of normal cognitive science, with papers on hypnosis published in some of the most selective scientific and medical journals.”

Nash writes that in the process scientists have thoroughly debunked many of the myths about hypnosis, such as a person’s response to hypnosis being linked to a vivid imagination or gullibility.

Hynotizability is not linked to any character trait, and its effectiveness in treating certain medical or psychological conditions is not directly related to relaxation, placebo, distraction or wishful thinking, he says.

Nash also says that for some medical conditions hypnosis has been shown to be remarkably effective, especially those involving pain.

For some patients hypnosis can be as effective as morphine in providing pain relief, he says. Studies show hypnosis can help alleviate pain from cancer, burn wound treatments, bone marrow aspiration and labor.

“Hypnosis treatment helps patients use their own natural abilities more systematically in managing pain,” Nash said in a recent interview at UT. “We don-t yet fully understand why or how hypnosis works so well with certain patients, but we are beginning to identify changes in the brain that occur when patients are successful in reducing or eliminating the pain with hypnosis. This is a start.”

Nash says hypnosis can boost effectiveness of psychotherapy treatment for conditions such as obesity, insomnia, anxiety and hypertension, but should not be the sole treatment for these disorders.

“The Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis says that hypnosis cannot and should not stand alone as the sole medical or psychological intervention for any disorder,” Nash says.

“The mechanism by which hypnosis alleviates these disorders is unknown, and claims that hypnosis increases immune function in any clinically important way are unsubstantiated.”

A sidebar to Nash’s article tells how he and Dr. Grant Benham measured hypnotizability of six Scientific American staff members. Writer Carol Ezzell reports how one staff member was highly hypnotizable, two were medium, and three had a low susceptibility.

Nash is editor of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. His research interests include hypnosis and memory, sexual abuse and psychological impairment.

He has co-authored two books, one on the research foundations of hypnosis and the other on psychoanalysis, and published more than 60 articles in scientific journals.