Hypnosis Studies

Hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention (absorption) with a reduction in peripheral awareness (dissociation) and a heightened sensitivity to social cues. Studies have shown it to be highly effective as a tool for pain and anxiety reduction, and well as certain kinds of habit control. We are examining the effect of hypnosis on perception in the brain, based on event-related potential studies we and others have done showing that hypnotic alteration in vision, hearing, or physical sensation alters the response of the relevant sensory association cortex to stimuli. This means that hypnotic analgesia actually reduces pain, not just the response to it. We are conducting clinical and basic neurophysiology trials.

  1. Alternative Treatments for Long-Term Depressed Mood: Meditation and Hypnosis
  2. Evaluation of Two Psychological Interventions for Children Undergoing A Voiding Cystourethrogram (VCUG)

For a list of completed studies, please refer to the Recent Studies page.

Alternative Treatments for Long-Term Depressed Mood: Meditation and Hypnosis

Principal Investigator: David Spiegel, MD
Co-Investigator and Project Director: Lisa D. Butler, Ph.D. Project Coordinator: Xin-Hua Chen
Project Consultants: Mark Abramson, DDS, Lynn Waelde, Ph.D.

Funding: Mental Insight Foundation

The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness to two alternative treatments for long-term depressed mood: mindfulness meditation and hypnosis. The need to find effective treatments for those suffering from long-term low-to-moderate level depression has been known for over a century. Although, there have been some recent advances in the types of drug and psychotherapy treatments available for this condition, some people do not respond to such interventions, have considerable side effects (from the drugs), or are not satisfied for other reasons with these treatment options.

The present study represents an innovative investigation into two alternatives to traditional treatments for long-term depressed mood: mindfulness meditation (plus gentle hatha yoga) and hypnosis in a group therapy format. Although both meditation and hypnosis have shown success in treating stress, anxiety, and pain in studies of nonclinical populations, neither has been systematically investigated as a possible treatment for long-term depressed mood.

Evaluation of Two Psychological Interventions for Children Undergoing A Voiding Cystourethrogram (VCUG)

Principal Investigators: Linda Shortliffe, M.D. & David Spiegel, M.D.
Project Director: Lisa Butler, Ph.D.

This imaging procedure of bladder and kidney function requires conscious cooperation and catheterization of the bladder, which is frightening, uncomfortable, and humiliating for children. Often completion of the procedure has required considerable distress and physical restraint. Our pilot data indicate that training children in hypnosis can substantially reduce their pain and anxiety and allow the procedure to proceed more rapidly and smoothly.

In collaboration with the Pediatric Urology, we are conducting a study to compare two psychological interventions (recreational therapy and hypnosis) for children undergoing a medical procedure (a voiding cystourethrogram; VCUG) that some patients find to be distressing and painful. Subjects are English-speaking children and adolescents (ages 5-18) who have had a difficult VCUG experience in the previous two years and who are currently scheduled for another VCUG procedure at Packard Children's Hospital. Children and their parents are assessed regarding their previous experiences and are then randomized to receive either recreational therapy or hypnosis training. Further assessments are made prior to, during, and following the procedure.


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