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Virtual Hypnosis: The Facts and the Fiction

Some dude being hypnotized by his computer screen

When one thinks of hypnosis therapy, images of a performer dangling a timepiece on a chain often comes to mind. The reluctant volunteer may soon be prancing around like a chicken for the audience’s entertainment. But this is not what real hypnosis involves, and the stigma associated with it often undermines its potential. In fact, hypnosis, as well as virtual hypnosis, is well accepted by the medical community today. It’s used in a variety of circumstances with notable success. Thus, it’s important to appreciate what is myth and what is actual truth.

Virtual hypnosis has notably become more popular as social distancing and lockdowns have come into effect. Along with advances in telehealth, virtual hypnosis has attracted a number of followers. In addition, many startups are advancing hypnosis therapy over digital media for a variety of health conditions. While extensive research is lacking for all these uses, the evidence available looks quite promising. And as more is revealed about how hypnosis works, it’s likely more will be hopping on the bandwagon as well.

“People either think it’s ridiculous or dangerous. Because it’s hypnosis, people just don’t take it seriously.” – David Spiegel, Clinical Psychiatrist, Stanford University School of Medicine and Co-Founder, Reveri Health.

What’s Known About Hypnosis Therapy

The goal of hypnosis therapy is to create a relaxed yet focused state of mind for the individual. In this type of state, a person becomes highly suggestible to verbal cues and mental images. In essence, hypnosis moves beyond our conscious state of thinking to a subconscious one. But that doesn’t mean someone is not aware. Research shows that all forms of hypnosis, including virtual hypnosis reduces activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus of the brain. This area is important for critical judgment and analysis. Thus, it is believed that hypnosis allows effects at a deeper more emotional level of judgment.

The more relaxed a person becomes, the greater the potential that hypnosis therapy has. This is one reason that virtual hypnosis may be more effective. Because individuals are able to perform hypnosis in their home, they may be more comfortable. Experts generally suggest that a third of patients may not be able to be hypnotized. But this figure may fall if virtual hypnosis platforms become more effective. With the pandemic, it is evident hat more people are considering this type of intervention. In turn, this should provide greater insights about its effectiveness.

A dude mesmerized by whatever is on his laptop.
Telemedicine has brought medical treatment into the home, and virtual hypnosis has done the same for therapy.

Based on current research, most of what is known about hypnosis therapy relates to pain control. Several studies demonstrate benefits of hypnosis in pain situations including those related to medical procedures. Hypnosis has been found to help patients mobilize self-soothing neurochemicals that reduce both pain and anxiety. In some cases, this has allowed patients to avoid analgesics or anesthetic agents altogether. This has broad potential benefits ranging from reduced risks of addiction to the avoidance of unwanted side effects. Use of hypnosis in these settings are well accepted within healthcare today.

“It helps the person open themselves up beyond their usual conscious defenses, so that they’re able to see things differently than they normally would or adopt a new belief about something.” – Kristen Harrington, Marriage & Family Therapist, New York

The Rise of Virtual Hypnosis

This past year, the pandemic has served as a catalyst for many businesses including those involved in virtual hypnosis. Understanding that hypnosis is primarily auditory in nature, it can be readily achieved online or through digital media. As a result, some startups have taken advantage of these opportunities. For example, Reveri Health, originating out of Stanford University, now has over 2,000 users of its digital hypnosis therapy platform. Its app is interactive and enables users to self-hypnotize themselves in the comfort of their home.

Reveri Health is not alone. Mindset Health is another virtual hypnosis startup that has gained over 6,000 users. It has also received over $1.1 million in venture capital funding. Both of these hypnosis therapy apps are being promoted for a number of conditions beyond pain management. Specifically, anxiety, sleep difficulty, phobias, and compulsive disorders are being treated via virtual hypnosis. This includes individuals trying to quit smoking and those who suffer from overeating behaviors.

Notably, the pandemic has triggered increased anxiety and some compulsive trends that could benefit from hypnosis therapy. But many in the field believe that hypnosis could follow meditation and mindfulness apps in popularity. Unlike meditation, which is more open-ended, hypnosis therapy is usually more focused and goal oriented. This is attractive to many users. Likewise, like meditation apps and other digital therapeutics, virtual hypnosis can be performed in a number of places. Reveri Health’s platform works off of Amazon’s Alexa, but other similar opportunities exist.

“The patients I work with obviously have a reason to be anxious, and so we normalize that, and understand that, and we try to teach them skills like self-hypnosis to manage their anxiety.” – Alison Snow, Assistant Director of Cancer Supportive Services, Mount Sinai Health System, New York

Hypnosis Therapy Fueled by Technology

The advances of virtual hypnosis not only have the pandemic to thank but technologies as well. Improved telehealth platform and videoconferencing tools are notable in this regard. But at the same time, artificial intelligence and neuro-linguistic processing are also being used to enhance hypnosis therapy. Reveri Health specifically uses NLP in its Alexa platform to guide hypnosis instructions. And others are beginning to incorporate virtual reality glasses ad imagery into virtual hypnosis approaches. All of these advances mean that a significant amount of research data can be collected regarding these types of therapeutics. And while we already know hypnosis has great potential, we will understand this much better as this information becomes available. If favorable, virtual hypnosis may well replace meditation therapies in many areas.


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