Please Explain: Hypnosis

On this week's Please Explain. Dr. Philip Muskin, MD is the Chief of Consultation-Liaison for Psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry, described how hypnosis works and whether it can be used it to change or control behavior.

We may think of being hypnotized as zoning out, but in fact, Dr. Muskin says, we’re “in a very focused state of concentration.” That’s because “in hypnosis, you focus yourself to do one thing.”

“Hypnosis is not an abnormal state. It is a completely normal state. We are in trances – every single one of us – every single day.” If you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming in a boring lecture or a long meeting, you’ve put yourself in a kind of trance.

Soldiers in the middle of a firefight can naturally go into a trance to protect themselves and feel less pain.

People vary in their ability to be hypnotized. It’s a bell curve with most of us be in the middle. And, Dr. Muskin notes, “many athletes are much more hypnotizable than they realize.”

Dr. Muskin said that transcendental meditation and other similar kinds of meditation and activities are trance states. “You’re pulling your awareness in, you’re disconnecting…you’re doing this one thing with all of your mental ability.” And there are all sorts of physiologic changes that come along with those states that make us feel pretty good.