Hypnosis On The Brain | Neurological Evidence of Hypnosis

Since the only exposure many people have with the hypnotic state is watching nightclub entertainers put audience volunteers into a trance and then having the person act like an animal or intimate object, it stands to reason that the public is skeptical about the use of hypnosis in clinical settings. Even though hypnotherapists have used hypnotic state as an integral part of clinical treatment for a variety of psychiatric conditions, many in the medical profession question whether placing people in a hypnotic state offers a legitimate form of treatment or the clinical benefits are just a placebo effect. With the advances in brain imaging and devices to monitor changes in brain activity during the past twenty years, there is mounting Neurological Evidence of Hypnosis, documenting the changes in brain activity the occur when a person is in a hypnotic state. This clinical evidence not only supports the use of hypnosis in treatment, but also provides an opportunity to explore new uses for hypnosis in clinical settings.

The Neurological Changes that Occur During Hypnosis

The hypnotherapists who were pioneers in the clinical applications of hypnosis first used it is to treat people suffering from conversion disorders or hysteria. When a person experiences a high degree of anxiety and cannot find a means to release the stress, one of the possible consequences is that the individual’s body “converts” the psychological distress into physical condition, such as paralysis. Once these patients are put into a hypnotic state by a trained hypnotherapist, their physical symptoms disappear. Modern neurological evidence can now explain the reason that hypnosis is so highly effective in the treatment of conversion disorders. When people are in a hypnotic state, there are changes in the activity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which only occur during hypnosis.


The Function of the Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe of the brain serves as the hub for higher thinking and the control center for emotions. When there is a chemical imbalance or injury to this area of the brain, an individual might have difficulty making decision, controlling impulsive behavior, problems with managing anger and anxiety, changes in perception, or memory impairments. Since people experience changes in brain activity in frontal lobe area of the brain when they are in a hypnotic state, it is easy to see how hypnosis can be used to treat addictions, emotional disorders, and to improve concentration and focus.

Neurological Evidence of Changes in Frontal Lobe Activity Associated with Hypnosis

A study conducted by a Swiss and Finnish research team published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Hypnosis used electroencephalogram (EEG) readings to investigate the changes in brain that occur during a hypnotic state. The results of this controlled study provided neurological evidence of significant and distinct changes in brain wave activity in the frontal lobe area, which were unique to people who are in a hypnotic state. As a result of these changes, the subject who underwent hypnosis had significant improvements in alertness and concentration. Another important finding of this research is that the team discovered that the changes in frontal lobe activity continued after the person was no longer in a hypnotic state, which provide neurological evidence of the long-term benefits of treatments involving hypnosis (Fingelkurts, Fingelkurts, , Kallio, & Revonsuo, 2007).

Neurological Evidence Supporting the Use of Hypnosis with PSTD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating psychiatric condition in which a person experiences vivid and intrusive memories of an event where the person perceived a significant threat to their life. These memories often seem so real that the person will have behavioral and emotional responses to them, such as fighting with an attacker or cowering with fear. Most people associate PSTD as a disorder affecting combat veterans, but this disorder is also common in children who have experienced abuse, rape survivors, and people who have lived through natural disasters.

One of the treatment interventions for PTSD patients that have been used by psychotherapists for more than a century is hypnosis. Modern research demonstrates the effectiveness of hypnosis in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy or as a standalone treatment modality. Recent research provides neurological evidence of changes in brain activity that supports the use of hypnosis in the treatment of PTSD.

People diagnosed with PTSD have distinct difference in patterns of Theta waves, which a type of electrical brain activity, when their EEG reading are compared to people who do not suffer this disorder. Clinical neurological evidence demonstrates that hypnosis elevates the level of Theta wave activity in the brain, thus correcting the abnormalities in brain activity associated with PTSD symptoms. Since most people who have PTSD are able to enter into a hypnotic state easily, the treatment process is effective for most patients in reducing the occurrence of flashbacks and the severity of anxiety related symptoms (Gruzelier, 2006).

Neurological Evidence of the Hypnotic State Leads to Medical Uses for Hypnosis

With the mounting neurological evidence demonstrating the changes in brain activity that occur the hypnotic state, medical specialties outside the practice of psychiatry have started to explore the benefits of hypnosis in different areas of medicine. For example, research has discovered that hypnosis can help women reduce the wish of premature labor, as well as to reduce the pain experienced during labor (Reinhard, Huesken-Janßen, Hatzmann & Schiermeier, 2009; Wilson & Dillard, 2012). Hypnosis had also been shown to be effective with children in the treatment of migraine headaches (Kohen, 2010).

While people enjoy the antics of nightclub performers who use hypnosis as part of their acts, there is a growing body of neurological evidence that the hypnotic state provides real benefits for a broad range of psychological and medical ailments.


Fingelkurts, A. A., Fingelkurts, A. A., Kallio, S., & Revonsuo, A. (2007). Hypnosis Induces A Changed Composition of Brain Oscillations in EEG: A Case Study. Contemporary Hypnosis , 24(1), 3-18. doi:10.1002/ch.327

Gruzelier, J. (2006). Theta Synchronisation of Hippocampal and Long Distance Circuitry in the Brain: Implications for EEG-Neurofeedback and Hypnosis in the Treatment of PTSD. Novel Approaches to the Diagnosis & Treatment ff Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, 6(1), 13.

Kohen, D. P. (2010). Long-Term Follow-Up of Self-Hypnosis Training for Recurrent Headaches: What the Children Say. International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 58(4), 417. doi:10.1080/00207144.2010.499342

Reinhard, J., Huesken-Janßen, H., Hatzmann, H., & Schiermeier, S. (2009). Preterm Labour and Clinical Hypnosis. Contemporary Hypnosis 26(4), 187-193. doi:10.1002/ch.387

Wilson, D.R. & Dillard, D.M. (2012). Use of Hypnosis in the Childbearing Year. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 27(3), 31-36.

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