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Hypnosis, Altered States of Conscious and Pain

by Laura Rathbone

You might be asking, why did you choose a clip from the telly (TV) for this month's Pain Geeks?

Pain is not only something to be studied in the high echelons of art, but thought-provoking and challenging experiences are all around us, and this clip will get you thinking!

Hypnosis: a uniform definition of hypnosis still not exists, hypnosis can be considered to be an altered state of consciousness (i.e. a trance-like state) resembling sleep induced by another person. It allows to recall memories or to be guided to change a specific behaviour (Csasz´ar 2021)

Therapeutic Hypnosis (hypnotherapy): using hypnosis and suggestion to support/facilitate cognitive and behavioural change.

Altered State of Consciousness (ASC): There is no formal definition that is accepted globally, traditional definitions describe ASC: as a changed overall pattern of conscious experience, or as the subjective feeling and explicit recognition that one's own subjective experience has changed. The discussion around ASC continues. (Revonsuo 2009)

Hypnotic Suggestion: Specifically explores a suggestion delivered under the hypnotic state (a form of ASC). Suggestion is defined by the Oxford dictionary as an idea or a plan that you mention for somebody else to think about. Suggestion in the un-altered state is part of altering a cogntive state and can be part of the reflective process, therefore having an influence ton how a person navigates the world. Under the hypnotic state it can be part of the prereflexive (without reflection) experience, altering perceptual phenomena in the moment.

Why is this important in pain?

Seeing an analgesic affect be facilitated in another person through hypnosis and suggestion requires us to ask questions about how a pain experience is brought forward in humans (as it we are discussing experiences dependant on language it is ok for us to centre human-pain in this discussion).

Hypnotherapy (hypnosis) is reliant upon motivation and perception of the person being hypnotised, the person is in control and is responsible for making the change.

Derren Brown in his various interviews (clips are all over You tube) discusses that hypnosis is dependent on the person. They are the ones that make the suggestions real and bring them into actuation. This is really important when working within hypnotic states. So what is a hypnotic state? It has been compared to mindfulness, and often a person is guided into a the hypnotic state using mindful practices.

Once the person is in this state, the pre-agreed upon suggestions are delivered.

Mindfulness requires ritual, context, interpersonal relationship (if relevant) and motivation to all align, which is why our understanding of placebo effect and contextual factors is essential in facilitating the optimal environment.

The Derren Brown experiment on pain brings us to the question:

Is pain dependent upon the transduction and transmission of sensory impulses or is it being constructed differently?

This is why we Pain Geek. So we can better understand what pain is by asking hard questions about our assumptions and asking - does this stand up?

If a person can use ritual, mindfulness, motivation and suggestion to drastically alter how a person experiences pain - then how IS pain being brought about in people?


Császár, N., Scholkmann, F. and Bókkon, I., 2021. Implications on hypnotherapy: Neuroplasticity, epigenetics and pain. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 131, pp.755-764.

Revonsuo, A., Kallio, S. and Sikka, P., 2009. What is an altered state of consciousness?. Philosophical Psychology, 22(2), pp.187-204.

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