BY MICHAEL WALDHOLZ
Wall Street Journal
Hypnosis, often misunderstood and almost always controversial, is increasingly being employed in mainstream medicine. Numerous scientific studies have emerged in recent years showing that the hypnotized mind can exert a real and powerful effect on the body. The new findings are leading major hospitals to try hypnosis to help relieve pain and speed recovery in a variety of illnesses. At the University of North Carolina, hypnosis is transforming the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, an often-intractable gastro-intestinal disorder, by helping patients to use their mind to quiet an unruly gut. Doctors at the University of Washington’s regional burn center in Seattle regularly use it to help patients alleviate excruciating pain. Several hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School are employing hypnosis to speed up postsurgical recovery time. In one of the most persuasive studies yet, a Harvard researcher reports that hypnosis quickened the typical healing time of bone fractures by several weeks. “Hypnosis may sound like magic, but we are now producing evidence showing it can be significantly therapeutic,” says David Spiegel, a Stanford University psychologist. “We know it works, but we don’t exactly know how, though there is some science beginning to figure that out, too.” Hypnosis can’t help everyone, many practitioners say, and some physicians reject it entirely. Even those who are convinced of its effect say some people are more hypnotizable than others, perhaps based on an individual’s willingness to suspend logic or to simply be open to the potential effectiveness of the process.
These days, legitimate hypnosis is often performed by psychiatrists and psychologists though people in other medical specialties are becoming licensed in it, too. It can involve just one session, but often it takes several — or listening to a tape in which a therapist guides an individual into a trancelike state. Whatever the form, it is increasingly being used to help women give birth without drugs, for muting dental pain, treating phobias and severe anxieties, for helping people lose weight, stop smoking or even perform better in thletics or academic tests. Many health-insurance plans, even some HMOs, now will pay for hypnosis when part of an accepted medical treatment plan.