In a pilot study published in 1999, Harvard University psychologist Carol Ginandes, Ph.D., showed that hypnosis can help broken bones heal faster and, in a follow-up experiment published in 2000, Ginandes and her research team discovered that women who had breast reduction surgery recovered far more quickly after undergoing hypnosis.
It is thought that hypnosis alters the levels of certain chemicals found in the brain that influence the nervous system, hormone production, and the immune system. It appears that hypnosis affects how genes in cells express themselves, turning some functions on and others off. Studies using brain scans and other imaging technology are trying to provide explanations as to how and why hypnosis works in helping the body heal itself.
David Spiegel, director of the psychosocial treatment laboratory at Stanford University School of Medicine and coauthor of Trance & Treatment: Clinical Uses of Hypnosis (American Psychiatric Publishing) explains, there is "some overlap with meditation" however, "hypnosis focuses on the ability to do something for a specific purpose." He says that this is how hypnosis achieves its strength, by using positive statements and suggestions while a client is in a fully relaxed state. This relaxed state is said to enable the client to more easily focus on past problematic patterns or behaviors and it is this ability to more easily focus that results in the desired change. This enables one to release negative thoughts, perceptions and behaviors and replacing them with the positive thoughts and suggestions that the client desires.
It is this technique of focusing and strengthening willpower that is responsible for hypnotherapy's high success rate, particularly for clients who want to lose weight or quit smoking. A University of Connecticut review of six weigh-loss studies found that 70 percent of study participants rated hypnosis better than cognitive therapy alone.
Arreed Barabasz, director of the laboratory of hypnosis research at Washington State University in Pullman and coauthor of Hypnotherapeutic Techniques (Brunner-Routledge) agrees. The suggestions, however, must not emphasize what you are against, but rather stress the positive goals and imagery that you are seeking. For the client who wishes to quit smoking, positive suggestions about their body and visualizing their lungs becoming clear and free of smoke as well as instilling images of the client happy, healthy and smoke free are the types of suggestions that are most effective. When Barabasz tested this approach on 300 heavy smokers who had previously quit and relapsed, almost half stayed smoke-free 18 months after hypnotherapy - compared with 10 percent for the nicotine-replacement therapy alone.
Research has shown that cancer patients who receive hypnotherapy prior to or during chemotherapy sessions experience less nausea and vomiting than those going through chemotherapy without the aid of hypnosis.
The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, April 2000 discovered that hypnosis relieved pain in 75 percent of the people studied.