Hypnosis

When you think of hypnosis, you probably think of the magician who puts an audience member into a trance, then convinces him to do something out of the ordinary. In reality, however, people fall into a hypnotic trance on a regular basis — when they're spellbound by a captivating movie, engrossed in a riveting mystery, or absorbed in a fantasy-filled daydream.

Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, is a treatment that has been used to help smokers quit smoking, insomniacs start sleeping, and people with anxiety overcome their fears. Studies show that hypnotherapy has strong potential for relieving pain, which makes it a likely therapy for fibromyalgia. Some people also practice self-hypnosis.

Essential

Don't worry. Hypnotherapy won't make you vulnerable to bizarre behaviors or the whims of an unscrupulous hypnotist. In fact, you have control the whole time when you're hypnotized.

Contrary to what you see in a magic show, people under hypnosis have complete control of their minds. In fact, the brain is actually more alert and active under hypnosis, even if you feel as if you're dozing off to sleep. The key to using hypnosis as a treatment is to channel that brain activity into your healing.

To find a qualified therapist, start by asking your health-care practitioners or trusted friends for a referral. Choose one who is certified. You can also learn self-hypnosis on your own with the help of books and tapes.

During a hypnotherapy session, you may be asked to sit or lie down. The therapist will make sure you are comfortable and then guide you into a hypnotic state of mind. Some may play soft music. Others may simply talk. The therapist may touch you on your neck, forehead, or wrist to see if you are in a relaxed state, but otherwise, there is no physical contact.

As you enter into a hypnotic trance, your body becomes totally relaxed, your thinking highly focused. While in a trance, the therapist will talk to you about your pain or other symptoms and behaviors you'd like to change. For instance, the therapist may suggest that your pain is subsiding, that your fatigue is diminished. In your hypnotic state, your mind is open to suggestion, and you adopt these thoughts as your own.

Hypnotherapy uses a combination of relaxation and visualization to change thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors. If you frequently respond to your pain with fear and anxiety, hypnosis can train you to modify those thoughts so that you are less reactive and calmer during a flare-up.

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