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Trauma, stress, and addiction are problems deeply embedded in a person’s identity and cannot be eliminated on a whim. Instead of drowning yourself in medication that could be making your body even worse, hypnosis (hypnotism of yore) is one effective way to redefine and rebuild yourself. Corinna Bellizzi talks with Dr. David Spiegel, who uses hypnotherapy to help people tap into the power of the mind to overcome their most traumatic moments and lowest points in life. He explains how this technique can help develop better eating habits and a much healthier lifestyle free of vices. Dr. David also presents how they make self-hypnosis even more accessible in this digital age through Reveri’s mobile application.
For an exclusive 2 week All Access Pass to Reveri, just tap this link from your phone: reverihealth.app.link/nutrition
About Dr. David Spiegel
Dr. Spiegel is the Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Reveri. He is a psychiatrist with more than 45 years of clinical and research experience studying stress, pain, sleep and hypnosis. Educated at Harvard and Yale, he has written 13 books, 404 scientific journal articles and 170 book chapters. He started Reveri so that you can tap into his expertise and change your mind.
Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/reverihealth
Guest Website: https://reveri.com
Additional Resources Mentioned:
00:00 – Introduction
03:04 – Transition from psychiatry to hypnosis
08:14 – Skepticism around hypnosis
10:27 – Unlocking the power of the mind
15:06 – Dangers of prescriptive drugs
18:25 – Smoking kills (and how to get rid of it)
23:56 – Better eating habits
26:56 – Difference between hypnosis and meditation
32:17 – Tracking the results of hypnosis
42:31 – How hypnotizable are you?
50:47 – How hypnosis can help address trauma
57:56 – Hypnosis demonstration
01:04:09 – Downloadable app
01:08:05 – Closing Words
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Recover from STRESS, TRAUMA And ADDICTION Using Self-Hypnosis with Dr. David Spiegel
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share an incredible guest with all of you as we dig into the emerging science of hypnotism. Hypnotherapy has long been used to support the emotional wellness of people in treatment who battle things like addiction, who struggle with PTSD, or other emotional issues, but did you know that this modality is also something that can even be leveraged from your smartphone?
In this episode, we’re going to explore the potential of hypnotherapy and self-hypnotism to support both physical and mental-emotional wellness as we learn from Dr. David Spiegel. He is the Associate Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Cofounder and Chief Scientific Officer of Reveri. He is a psychiatrist with more than 45 years of clinical and research experience studying stress, pain, sleep, and hypnosis.
Educated at Harvard and Yale, he has written 13 books, 404 scientific journal articles, and 170 book chapters. He started Reveri to do what so many of us want to do which is simply put more good into the world so that people can tap into his expertise and change their minds. Dr. David Spiegel, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Corinna. I’m very glad to be here and I’m here because I want to share the health.
While you and I got the chance to meet each other and have a deep discussion on Nutrition Without Compromise, as we dove into the role of hypnotherapy and self-hypnotism as it relates to weight loss and wellness. I’m thrilled that we get to deepen this conversation as we explore mental health because as you and I have talked about offline, PTSD, stress, and emotional challenges are things that we all face.
There’s an impact on our society. There’s an impact on our families and often, as people, we feel like we don’t have the tools that we need to help cope with these problems. As we get started, I hope that you can share with our audience what made you decide to dedicate your career to this field within psychiatry to hypnosis.
Hypnosis is the oldest Western conception of Psychotherapy. It’s the first time that talking interaction between a doctor and a patient was thought to have therapeutic benefits. It’s 250 years old in the Western tradition. It’s older than that in the use of trance in healing in various ways. There is a genetic illness in my family. Both my parents were psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. I survived that. They told me I was free to be any kind of psychiatrist I wanted to be so here I am.
However, my father when he was getting ready to ship overseas at the beginning of World War II was a battalion surgeon in North Africa. He was trained by a Viennese refugee named Gustav Aschaffenburg who was a Forensics Psychiatrist in Austria. He had a smallpox scar on his forehead and he noticed that when he was interviewing these prisoners, some of them would nod off and go into some altered state.
He got interested and learned that it was hypnosis. He started using it in his treatment and teaching it. The dinner table conversations at home were pretty interesting. I got to watch my father make movies of people who were having hysterical seizures inducing them and controlling them with hypnosis. I thought, “This is pretty interesting.” When I got to medical school, I took a hypnosis.
My first patient ever is one I will never forget. I was in pediatric rotation at Children’s Hospital in Boston. The nurse starts telling me, “Spiegel, your next patient in status asthmaticus. She is in room 342.” I followed the sound of the wheezing down the hall and I walked into the room. There’s this pretty fifteen-year-old redhead, her knuckles are white, and bolts upright in bed struggling for breath. Her mother standing there crying. There is a nurse in the room.
I’m on the spot. I hadn’t gotten asthma in my hypnosis course, but I thought, “What the heck? I’ll try it anyway.” I didn’t know what else to do because she’d been unresponsive to subcutaneous epinephrine X2. The next step was going to be general anesthesia or starting her on steroids or both. I said, “Do you want to learn a breathing exercise?” She nods. I get her hypnotized. She is still wheezing and then I realized we hadn’t gotten the asthma in the course yet.
I came up with something very sophisticated and clever. I said, “Each breath you take will be a little deeper and a little easier.” Within five minutes, she’s lying back in bed. She’s not wheezing anymore. Her knuckles aren’t white. Her mother stopped crying. The nurse ran out of the room and my intern came looking for me. I figure he’s going to pat me on the back and say, “What did you do, Spiegel? Good job.”
Instead, “The said the nurse filed a complaint with the nursing supervisor that you violated Massachusetts law by hypnotizing a minor without parental consent.” Massachusetts has a lot of strange laws and that is not on the list. Her mother was standing right next to me when I did it. He said, “You’re going to have to stop doing this.” I said, “Why? I can’t imagine a more visible scene of evidence that a technique like hypnosis can help people in a hurry.”
He said, “It might be dangerous.” That’s the thing about hypnosis. People either dismiss it as being ridiculous, a stage show trick, or dangerous. Neither of which it is. I said, “I’ll tell you what. You can take me off the case if you want, but until you do that, she’s my patient and I’m not going to tell her anything I know it’s not true. This is not dangerous. I watched it help her.” He storms out of the room and there’s a counsel of war with the Chief Resident and the attending over the weekend and they came back on Monday with a radical idea.
They said, “Let’s ask the patient.” I don’t think they’d ever done that before. Now, she’s been hospitalized every month for three months in status asthmaticus. She did have one subsequent hospitalization but went on to study to be a respiratory therapist. I figured that anything that could help a patient that much that fast violate a non-existent Massachusetts law had to be worth looking into.
I’ve been doing it ever since. Her experience in the evidence of my eyes and ears said, “There’s something here that we need to take more advantage of than we have.” I’ve devoted a good bit of my career to doing exactly that and that’s why I cofounded Reveri. I wanted it to be available to as many people as possible.
The skeptics of things like this idea of hypnotism might worry that they become suddenly suggestible and that they are somehow easier to manipulate or something along those lines. What do you have to say to those individuals who have skepticism specifically around hypnotism and self-hypnosis?
We’re social creatures as humans. We rely on information provided to us by other people. If you’re worried about people responding to suggestions of things that aren’t true, think about the number of people who think that Trump won the last election. That isn’t hypnosis. Hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention. It involves also a capacity for cognitive flexibility to see things from a new and different point of view. That’s a tremendous therapeutic opportunity.
When you’re in that frame of mind, you’re open to things that otherwise you would have been open for. My redheaded patient had no idea that she could change in five minutes from a state of suffering and terror to one of relative comfort. We can learn and change very quickly when we’re in a state of mind that allows us to think that’s possible. To try it and see what it’s like. That capacity to suspend your usual beliefs is a tremendous therapeutic opportunity. It’s not a vulnerability.
The fears that people have that they will lose control or they’ll become suggested bull automatons is wrong. It’s a state of openness to new ideas and change. Could you sometimes do that in a bad direction? Sure, we all do it in our lives sometimes but it’s not losing control. It’s gaining control. It’s saying, “There’s a whole new way I could be that might be good for me or good for other people.” That’s what hypnosis is all about.
In the case where you described this asthmatic patient, essentially, that’s what you were doing for her because she was losing control and probably entering a state of panic and that was making things worse. By going through and helping her focus on some breathing exercises as well under this state of hypnotism they were able to calm the tissues in her lungs so that they could breathe again.
Now, I told this story on our last time together, but I experienced an asthmatic episode when I was in college. It had never happened to me before and for something like that to come out of the blue when you’re alone in a room and before the days of cell phones and things like that. Suddenly, having a hard time breathing and feeling almost like you might black out, I quieted my mind. I was able to get back to a calm state and that enabled me to succeed essentially.
Afterwards, I go see a doctor and what’s the first thing they do? They gave me that inhaler. They say, “You got to keep this on hand,” almost as if it’s like a life-saving thing. I must have it on my person at all times. I never had another asthma attack. What brought it on was probably pollen or something in the air. Who knows? Maybe I got suddenly very panicked. Maybe it was a panic attack. I don’t know, but the power of the mind to solve that was present. It was the thing that was available to me and it’s something we discount too often. Why is that?
Our brain is this 3-pound organ on the top of our body. It’s the major evolutionary advantage we humans carry around with this but it doesn’t come with the user’s manual. We sometimes don’t use it as well as we can. One of the things that helped you is you learned to focus on what you’re for and not what you’re against. What often happens when people are having a real somatic symptom, and I’m willing to believe that you’re bronchioles were constricting a bit? You had a bit of an asthma-like attack. That’s fine but at the same time, you got to where you recognize that struggling with it was making it worse.The brain is the major evolutionary advantage humans carry around. But it doesn’t come with a user’s manual. Sometimes, we don’t know how to use it as well as we can. Click To Tweet
It’s like a snowball rolling downhill. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. You notice your body is getting worse. You get more anxious. The more anxious you get, the more your body reacts to it and it goes on and on like that and then it gets worse. Instead, you focused on what you were for and on what you wanted to have happen and not what you were afraid of. That’s something that hypnosis can be very helpful with. It can help you take a new point of view about an old problem. Instead of fighting it, what exactly did you tell yourself when you were stuck in your dorm room there? Do you remember?
I told myself at that moment that I needed to calm down and try to breathe deeply. Also, to lay down and try to minimize my movement for a moment. The reason I did that over trying to run downstairs and find a phone was that I sensed that I was making it worse by the second because I was starting to get all pent-up. I took that option.
I was in a townhouse that typically would have 3 or 4 girls in it, but I was alone in the house. How hard would have it been for me to get somewhere where there was a phone? It was going to take, in my estimation, too long. Instead of allowing myself to continue panicking, I said, “This is what I have to do right now.” It’s my own life-saving measure.
It was your self-awareness that the way you related to your body, you could either make things better or worse was very important. You looked at your options and getting help elsewhere didn’t look like an option. You realize it had to come from within and then you found the resource to say, “If I can calm my body, I can deal with whatever it is that’s going on.” Rather than panicking about what your body was doing, you took charge and said, “I’m going to calm it down.” You did a spontaneous self-hypnosis where you focused on protecting and calming your body. Your body responded well to this positive input rather than more and more tension as you get more and more scared.
That’s a key ingredient in what we teach people to manage stress, get to sleep, and do a lot of things with hypnosis. Focus on a broader relationship with your body where you treat it the way you would treat a child who was in trouble. You wouldn’t get angry with it. You wouldn’t get more and more tense. You would try to calm and soothe the child and you did that with your body. That’s a very useful technique and hypnosis intensifies it because of the intense focus of attention and the intensibility to connect with your own body.
It’s phenomenal that we have this resource within us. It seems to me that something like this would improve the success rate of other therapies that we might use. What is the success rate, if you have one, for specifically hypnosis or self-hypnosis, and does it make other treatments more successful?
It varies depending on what the problem is, but we’re finding that within 10 minutes of using Reveri, we get a 60% to 80% reduction in pain similar to self-reported stress. People say they can reduce their stress by that much that fast. Also, the nice thing is unlike most other treatments which take time even just to fill a prescription and see what happens once you get the drug in you, you can tell right away whether you’re feeling better.
I had one woman who was seven months pregnant with a very bad lower back disease. They couldn’t give her pain meds because she was pregnant. They implanted a nerve stimulator in her back. It didn’t work. Her pain was 7 out of 10. I get her hypnotized. I said, “Where do you feel best when you’ve got the pain?” She said taking a warm bath. I said, “We’re going to do that right now. You’re in this bath. You feel a warm tingling numbness penetrating deeper and deeper into your body and into your back. Let it filter the hurt out of the pain.”
Within a few minutes, she says, “My pain is at three now. I can live with that.” She opens her eyes, and she looks angry. I said, “What are you angry about?” She said, “Why are you the last doctor I got sent to instead of the first?” She had been through all kinds of other unpleasant things that didn’t work. That’s the problem. People don’t take hypnosis seriously because it’s just talking. We tend to think that real treatment is like fixing a car. Remove the part and replace it. Incision, injection, or ingestion.
When people say hypnosis, it either doesn’t work or it’s dangerous. I said, “The CDC estimated that there were 75,000 overdose deaths from opioids in the United States.” These are not suicides. These are people who just inadvertently overdosed themselves and opioids suppressed respiration in addition to reducing pain. They’re good treatment for acute pain 1 day or 2 after surgery. They’re a terrible treatment for chronic pain. They get people addicted. They escalate.
They can go to sleep and not wake up like those poor two children in a daycare center in New York. 1 boy died and 3 others were seriously ill because somehow, somebody there was using drugs and they got into the opioids. It’s horrifying. The idea that hypnosis is either ineffective or dangerous, but drugs are the way to treat pain is dangerously wrong. Another reason I have Reveri out there is I want people to have other options for managing pain. It is a real problem. It’s very difficult, but it’s manageable with techniques like hypnosis as well as other treatments.
Some of the research that you’ve done also touched on things like addiction as it relates to smoking. For instance, the 1978 research was a long time ago. Helping people with addiction to something like cigarettes which are known to be as addictive as some of these prescription pain medicine pieces that you’re talking about.
If you’re able to help them with one it would follow by nature that you could support their journey away from the other. If they had some traumatic injury, had been on long-term painkillers that perhaps they shouldn’t have been on, and then suffered now with this addiction to opioids that are sadly still very commonplace in our society.
That paper that you referred to is to see what a single session of teaching people self-hypnosis, what effect it could have on smoking. What we did was put people into a state of self-hypnosis and told them, “We want you to think about three things.” Don’t fight smoking. There were these highway signs, “Are you dying for a cigarette?” The smokers would think, “I am. I’ll light up.” They didn’t get the joke.
However, we said, “There are three things I want you to remember. For my body, smoking is a poison. I need my body to live. I owe my body respect and protection.” You focus on what you’re for. Would you ever put tar and nicotine smoke into the lungs of your baby, your dog, or your cat? No. Your body is as dependent on you as a baby or a pet. Treat it with the same respect because it has to take into it anything you put into it, even if it’s damaged by it.
We found after a single session that half the people stopped smoking and half of them did not touch a cigarette in two years. We got 23% long-term complete abstinence from smoking. I wish it were more people but that’s not bad. As good as we get now with varenicline or bupropion, the medications that are used to help people stop smoking. It’s inexpensive. It’s available to anyone. It works. Why not use something like that? A lot of people find that Nicorette gum doesn’t help much. Nobody has ever died of nicotine withdrawal. Stop it and focus on what you’re for. People can do it, and live longer and healthier.
As a former smoker who battled that addiction, I was somebody who smoked up to 2 packs a day in my teens and early 20s. Coming to a point where I quit was tough because it was so connected to my identity. I smoked as an adult. I smoked at the bar. I smoked while I played pool. I smoked while I hung out with friends at a coffee shop. It was how I’d pick up on a guy if I was interested in them. “Do you have a light something? Can I bum a smoke?”
It was so connected to my experience as a young adult that I stopped it at 29 when I decided I was going to spend my life with this person. I’m going to get married. I don’t want to be the wheezing 40-something-year-old going to buy Canamos. I’m making this joke, but I smoked American Spirits. I had this memory from my childhood of this woman who smoked More’s cigarettes while her kids and I played in her yard all day long.
I was able to marry this negative construct idea in my mind and say, “I need to quit this.” I tried Wellbutrin. It didn’t work for me. It made me super anxious. I tried nicotine gum. It didn’t work for me. The thing that seemed to work for me was something similar to what you’re saying the research covers, which is focusing on the positive things of why I was doing this. I was doing this so I could live a long and healthy life with my husband-to-be and so that I wouldn’t be ravaged by health problems. Also, I could breathe deeply and continue to enjoy the great outdoors without difficulty so I wouldn’t be wasting all this money on cartons of cigarettes that are going up in price.
The fact that I bought them by the carton is also a tell. You also published a study, Hypnotizability and Weight Loss along with Marianne Barabasz. That same mantra is essentially in here. “For my body, overeating is a poison. I need my body to live. I owe my body this respect and protection.” Starting off in the self-hypnosis phase with a message like this, replacing the word overeating with something like, “For my body, this thing is a poison. I need to stop it. I need my body to live. I owe my body this respect and protection.” It could be the foundation of quitting any addictive behavior.
That’s absolutely right. You focus on what you’re for. You quit smoking because you found someone to be for. You were looking at it as a way of solidifying your love relationship with the man you married. That’s a wonderful thing, but it was a positive goal. You weren’t feeling sorry for yourself for depriving yourself of something. In the same way as eating, we teach people to focus on eating with respect for their bodies. Feeding your body the way you would feed your child or your pet with care and concern. Putting good nutrients in your body and not stuffing more in it than your body wants to eat.
One of the things we teach people is to be more in tune with your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues. When you’re hungry, ear. Diets don’t work. You can starve yourself anytime but it will not help regulate your eating behavior. Instead, eat when you’re hungry and pay attention. Stop when you’re full. If you’re halfway through that plate of food at dinner and you’re not hungry anymore, stop. Don’t eat it. If you get hungry later in the evening, eat some more. That’s fine.
Tune into your body’s needs. Your body’s very good at letting you know when it’s hungry when it’s not, and what it enjoys eating or it doesn’t. You can also enjoy eating more even as you eat less. Very often, you taste the first bite and then you go on you watch television. You’re on your phone. You’re talking to someone. You’re not enjoying the food you’re eating. It is quite possible to have much more pleasure out of eating but eat in a way that respects and protects your body.
We had a guy who used the Reveri app. He is a terrific guy. The reason he got started was he saw a picture of himself at a party and he said, “That’s funny. That guy was in the same unusual shirt that I was wearing. I wonder who it was. I didn’t notice him there.” He realized it was him with this huge belly and he hadn’t put the two together. He got it. He started with Reveri. He started eating with respect for his body. He also became a compulsive walker.
He said, “I used to wait for my wife to ask me to go to the store so I could drive there and park near the store. Now, I wait so I can walk to the store.” He was walking from one town to the next rather than driving because he got into exercising. The combination of exercise and eating respectfully, he lost 35 pounds and he kept it off. He went around recruiting his other friends.
After six months, he was looking very slim and trim. He was feeling so much better and using the Reveri app. He is concentrating on the state of, “I can be a different person. I can focus on respecting and protecting my body. I can learn to enjoy things I used to avoid like walking.” It’s a matter of using this state to help redefine who you are. You do it not by figuring out why you are that way. It doesn’t matter. You do it by trying out being a different person and seeing what it feels like. A lot of us can do that the way you did with your asthma attack and with your smoking.
It sounds to me a little bit like you’re taking this mindfulness approach and then, for lack of a better term, putting it on steroids. You’re essentially juicing it up with this whole idea. I’m thinking in our first conversation, I was asking you, “How is this different than meditation?” From the outside, a lot of this mindset work comes from mindfulness. It comes from envisioning the future or allowing your mind to become a blank slate. Also, ask yourself the question of this whole meditative pursuit.
However, what’s different is how you’re directing it because it feels very much like you’re saying, “Here’s the end goal. This is who I want to be and how I want to be. I’m going to take the steps to get there.” I’ve confronted addicts in my life. Everybody knows an alcoholic. That’s a groovy term for an addict. It’s like alcohol is socially acceptable. We drink and some people drink way too much and pass the point where it’s a nice social thing into something that’s very habitual and health degrading.
Take that for instance. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something like opioid addiction. It could be an addiction to something that’s considered socially acceptable that it’s unhealthy for them. For me, overeating is a poison. For me, alcohol is a poison. I need to treat my body like this temple and I’m going to honor it by ceasing this behavior, whether that’s overconsumption or an all-out quit. To me, it seems like it makes sense that these systems can work together. The power of the mind can be leveraged. I’m curious to know as we dig a little deeper, how else you might separate this idea of hypnotism from something like meditation?
Meditation is a long and respected Eastern tradition. I have great respect for it but the whole thing in meditation is to get over yourself. Also, to see that you’re part of some broader pattern of being. Some people believe in the cycle of living and dying and meditation, but the idea is, “Don’t focus on yourself. It’s an illusion.” In meditation, you practice three things. You do a body scan, checking out your body and how it feels. You try and get over yourself to let feelings have what’s called open presence. Let feelings and thoughts flow through you and don’t judge them or try to control them or contain them, which is a good exercise.
You try to practice compassion which is a wonderful thing too but the whole thing is it’s so Eastern that you’re not supposed to do it for a purpose. You’re supposed to do it to be a meditator, to be more calm and unfocused in a sense. Let things happen as they may happen. It’s Eastern. Hypnosis is Western. You do it for a purpose. We all try to be efficient.
The French say that they work to live and Americans live to work. We focus on getting something done. We do, and hypnosis is a very useful tool to solve a problem like stopping smoking, controlling addictions of other kinds, and dealing with stress. Also, we’re controlling pain, handling phobias and fears, and focusing on our work. It’s because hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention like looking through a telephoto lens. What you see is seen with great detail.
People who are highly hypnotizable tend to get so caught up in a movie that they forget they’re in a theater watching a movie. They enter the imagined world that’s been called belief in imagination. To do that, you have to put outside of conscious awareness things that were ordinarily in consciousness. Right now, you’re having sensations in your body touching that chair you’re sitting and hopefully, that was not foremost in your mind until I mentioned it to you. If it was, we could stop the interview now.
The third thing about hypnosis, absorption dissociation is cognitive flexibility, or what people used to worry about is suggestibility. It’s your ability to let go of old mental constructs, try on new ones, and see how they feel. That’s a powerful combination because you focus intently. You get out of awareness. The things you don’t want to be aware of like pain, for example, or somatic reactions to stress. You can take on new ways of adapting to things. Hypnosis is a focused toolkit for managing problems and that’s how we use it with Reveri.
You’ve said a couple of things I want to unpack here. For one, we were talking about how you could use hypnosis to essentially unmake or remake yourself. You say, “This is acknowledging a problem I have and now, envisioning what I want to be.” Having hypnosis as a tool to get that. You’ve also talked about the fact that hypnosis is a state of intense focus almost like tunnel vision. You get focused on one thing.
Before I discovered your work, I never understood that piece at all. I thought, “I’m a skeptic. I’m not going to be hypnotizable with the power of suggestion. That’s not going to work for me because that’s not how I am.” You define yourself in certain ways. That was one of my independent thinker ways of defining myself, but you have me reflecting on moments in my life where I have been intensely focused. Even the fact that some of my friends will say things like, “Don’t interrupt her at work. She is so focused. If we try to interrupt her, you derail the train.”
It’s like, “You came into my world while I’m on this track right now.” I get pretty into the thing that I’m doing and it’s the same when I read a book. I’m transported to a space and a place that I don’t live within. I won’t even hear a door open in my space when I’m in that. Understanding these two things that we can almost remake ourselves using hypnotism and it can improve or leverage our ability to focus to do these things.
Also, it makes them almost innate because you’re even saying the research has shown people start this practice and then they keep the weight off and the addiction stops. They don’t smoke and two years later, they’re still doing okay. That doesn’t mean they started smoking two years later. It means you tracked them for that long and they were still a nonsmoker, right?
That’s right. Not a single cigarette. With the weight loss, we tracked them for 3 months and the one in our hypnosis group lost 30 pounds and they kept it off. They didn’t eat it back. That’s their goal.
It’s not like you’re saying at three months, they suddenly gained it back because the study ended so you’re not continuing to track them.
We don’t know what happened afterwards but in general, they seem very comfortable. They weren’t sewing their mouth shut and not being able to eat anything. They were eating comfortably and eating with respect for their body. They enjoyed discovering themselves at this new weight. They feel better about it and they wanted to maintain it so they did.
Hypnosis is a way of changing your perspective on what you’re doing but also on who you are. Are you a person who can do this? It’s because many people with habit problems, as you mentioned, feel bad about smoking, buying all those cigarettes and things but you didn’t think you could change it. The fact is that you could and you did. You stayed that way. Once you made the change, you stuck with it.
If you do it in a way that’s positive, focuses on what you’re for, and allows you to use your ability to be absorbed in the new you, you could find reasons to enjoy it. You could find reasons that consolidate it rather than feeling that you’re depriving yourself of something. You pat yourself on the back and say, “Good for me. I’m taking better care of my body. I feel better. I look better.” All of those are things that consolidate change and help you maintain the change you’ve made.
There are people too who face incredible physical pain. They say, “I got to go in for this surgery and have this herniated disc repair in my back.” It’s one of the most painful things that people can go through in so far as a chronic issue. This is often when they might become addicted to a pain medication because they need it for a prolonged period of time and ibuprofen is not going to cut it.
Sometimes, they get a nerve block but sometimes as in the case you discussed, it doesn’t work for one reason or another. Maybe it’s not targeting the right nerve and they still experience the pain and the discomfort. How would you set someone up for success who’s in a situation like this who might be reading this or might be battling an issue? Maybe surgery will help them, but it might not repair everything.
The cool thing about hypnosis and about Reveri is it doesn’t cost very much and you can use it whenever you want. The worst thing that happens is it doesn’t work. I can tell you that my lovely wife Helen Blau, a Stem Cell Biologist at Stanford had both of our children with hypnosis as the only anesthesia. She didn’t have an epidural. She wanted to be in control of the delivery. Our son Dan, a big strapping architect was 10 pounds when he was born.
It was a ten-hour labor. I was doing hypnosis with Helen the whole time. I had no pain at all and she would say, “I teach Pharmacology. There are drugs for this.” I said, “You’re floating in Lake Tahoe. Cool, tingling, and numb. Filter the hurt out of the pain.” Dan and later our daughter, Julia were born fine. Helen found it a challenging, difficult, but triumphant experience to be able to do that. We’ve done randomized controlled trials of women with metastatic breast cancer who have considerable pain.
People with metastatic disease tend to have at least twice as much pain as people with primary cancer. Naturally, when you have a disease like that and you feel a new pain in your chest, you think, “It’s a new metastasis in my rib. The disease is progressing. You get more anxious. You pay more attention to it. You fight it. Instead, they would go into self-hypnosis and say, “Cool, tingling, numbness. Take a nice swim in the lake and filter the hurt out of the pain.”
I can tell you what happened to them in terms of pain and then what’s going on in their brain. The part with the pain was at the end of a year, they had half the pain that the women in the control group had. We had a randomized comparison group on the same in very low amounts of medication. Their pain went down and the other group’s pain went up.
They would say, “I’m no longer freaking out that the cancer is spreading. I’m just reminding myself that I can control this.” They had something to do to be in control of their response. Why were they in control? Here’s why. It’s because the strain in pain lies mainly in the brain. Signals come to the brain through special pathways, the lateral spinothalamic tract up to the somatosensory cortex in the brain.
However, the brain is what determines that it’s pain and not something else, not just touching something, moving your toe, or something. It’s interpreting it as a pain signal and it hurts for sure. What you can do with hypnosis and studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging have shown that there are two parts of the brain where you can reduce the production of pain signals.
Either in the somatosensory cortex or in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is what we call the salience network. It’s a part where we determine, “There’s a problem. You better pay attention to it.” You can turn down activity and in one study, it meant changing the words you use. If you hypnotize the subjects who were getting shocks to the wrist and say, “Cool, tingling, numbness. Filter the hurt out of the pain,” the activity goes down in the sensory cortex.
If you sense pain there, but it’s not so bad, it won’t bother you. Don’t worry about it. That was in the salience network and the anterior cingulate. You could watch their reduction in pain changes in those parts of the brain. We’ve also done studies like that with event-related potentials, EEG. You see that the signals that are associated with the shocks, the first part of the signal, the second after the signals are given, disappears.
The other parts of the brain’s response are half as big. It’s not that the brain is saying, “It hurts, but I pretend it isn’t.” It reduces the brain’s activity in reaction to the stimulus. It is a genuine change in pain not just reacting to it differently afterwards. That’s a very powerful thing. There are athletes you know who break their ankle on a football field and don’t notice it until the coach sees him on the bench saying, “Your ankle is swollen. What happened?” The brain is very good at modulating perception.
We’ve also done studies looking at visual perception and we found using PET scanning that if you hypnotize people and show them a color grid and drain the color out of it, the activity in the color processing region of the brain is reduced. If you haven’t looked at a black-and-white grid and hypnotize them and say, “It’s colorful.” They’ll say, “Yeah. It looks red, green, orange,” and all kinds of things.
The activity in those regions of the brain goes up. The brain is not only a passive recipient of information. It’s a very complex powerful processor. You can alter the processing and that capacity to surprise yourself. I love watching people in hypnosis. I tell them their hand will float up. They look at it. You pull it down and it goes back up. You think, “What’s going on here?” I love that element of surprise because people are learning something about themselves, and how much more capacity they have to control experience and behavior than they used to think.The brain is not just a passive recipient of information. It is also a complex and powerful processor. You can alter its processing and capacity to surprise yourself. Click To Tweet
You have a test within the Reveri app to learn how hypnotizable you are. I took the test and I learned that I’m represented by the triangle. I’m the poet. You have a few other archetypes within the platform. Can you tell us about what they mean and what they mean to our hypnotizability so that we can potentially have an idea of how we can integrate some of these things and how receptive we might be?
The idea of this test which I have used with every 1 of the 7,000 people I’ve used hypnosis with in my career is to get a feeling for how they are most likely to make take advantage of a hypnotic experience. For the poets like you, it’s easy. You can immediately immerse yourself. As you said, your friends do not even try to bother you when you’re dealing with a problem at work because you got so intensely focused. They can easily feel transformed as you do when you’re reading a novel or watching a good play. You enter the imagined world. The focus of your imagination is intense.
The second group are people that we call the diplomats. They have some intense hypnotic experiences like that, but they shift back and forth between that and reflecting on what the experience means. It is happening? Is it true or not? They come to a negotiation about how to incorporate the hypnotic experience. They don’t always automatically immerse themselves in it, but they do sometimes and then they think about it. You can help people to combine their evaluation of the experience with their immersion in the experience. That’s why we call it diplomat because diplomats are always negotiating between different sides of an event trying to reach a resolution.
The third group is the researcher. They’re people who can change their experience, but they do it only with great critical examination. They test hypotheses. Is this working? How does it work? For them, my treatment of them is more of a negotiation than it is to experience it and feel it. You can also change but you do it in a different way.
I had a patient not too long ago, a lovely 72-year-old woman who had smoked for 50 years and she decided it was time to stop. She had stopped but wanted help consolidating it. She told me that she was a woman who always had to judge and evaluate things. She turned out to be the researcher type. She had told me about one unfortunate marriage she had when her husband hit her one day. She did something very wise. The next morning, she’s in her lawyer’s office filing for divorce. She didn’t see this as something that could or should be negotiated.
When I talked to her, I wanted to find an image that would help her and the idea of respecting and protecting her body was helpful. I said one other thing, “You need a divorce from your cigarettes. That’s what you need.” That linked it to something she had done in her life that made a real difference and she’s not smoking. It’s a matter of these three styles, the poet, the researcher, and the diplomat are people with different ways of having them use what hypnoticability they have.
In your opinion then, is everyone hypnotizable?
There are some people on the low end where some of the researchers don’t respond very hypnotically to things but they can change. The book that I wrote with my late father about the clinical use of hypnosis is trance and treatment. It’s a combination of the hypnotic state itself and the treatment strategy you use. We combine it in different ways. With the poet, you say, “Here’s another imaginary experience. Immerse yourself in it and do it.”
Whereas, for the researcher, you have to find a cognitive way of approaching the problem that helps you resolve it. In her case, it was finding something that was affiliated with something she had done very effectively earlier in her life to get rid of something else that was damaging to her body. Everybody can benefit from the hypnotic-like experience that they have in Reveri. Some may find it a more immersive experience and some more evaluative experience, but that’s fine.
I’ve had some time to think over my self-perceptions since our last conversation as well. I’m still a skeptic from the outside but then when I start to understand how something can relate, I’m very open. The power of suggestion opens. It’s like I’ve got a filter in place. That is part of my self-perception about myself, “I’m a skeptical person. I like to do the research.” I do but that’s in place as a filter to keep the BS up.
The reason I dove into this with more openness is because having heard you now on several different shows and having looked at the Reveri app, I was able to identify those moments in my life where I had essentially used the power of hypnosis to get over something that was a challenge. I didn’t know to call it that. That was the smoking. That was the asthma attack, panic attack, or whatever that moment was. Also, when painkillers wore off in the dentist’s chair.
I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed at the same time under local anesthesia, and not general. My two at the top were under the skin. They never emerged but the bottom ones that come up past the gum line. They had cracked the last tooth which was my upper right. I’m like, “I felt that.” The dentist says to me at this moment, “We have two choices. I can pack you up with that broken tooth in your jaw and send you home. I can bring you back tomorrow and we can start this thing over again when I can give you more anesthesia or we can get through this right now.”
My options weren’t very open and I had to compartmentalize the pain. That was how I saw it at the moment. I’m like, “My jaw is going to hurt. This is what is going to happen. I’m going to have to keep this clamp in my mouth while he works to take the pieces of this tooth out and stitch me up. This is going to be a painful experience for myself and my body so I need to go somewhere else.”
I envisioned myself spending time with one of my best friends on my favorite beach in Santa Cruz, Four Mile, walking with her. I kept repeating the words to myself in my head as I envisioned these spaces even while my body experienced pain and even while tears might have been still streaming from my eyes.
The thing that this did for me which also resonates with your comments about your wife and her feelings of going through that labor over ten hours and making it through without having to have anesthetic is that at the tail end of it, I didn’t take the trauma with me. Instead, I took a badge of courage. I felt like I was able to conquer this hill and it was hard, but I’m here and it’s fine.”
Instead of being afraid of every appointment at the dentist from that moment forward, I was able to go without that residual pain, which is what also opened me to the concept that this type of treatment could be very helpful for people with PTSD. I love for you to talk about that for a moment. What success have you seen and how people are able to self-hypnotize to center themselves in traumatic or difficult moments?
First of all, congratulations to you. You made it more comfortable for yourself that you endured the pain. You transcended it. You said, “This is going to happen to my body. I’ll trust my body to deal with it and I’m going go to Santa Cruz and be on the beach.” You reduce the pain and this is not an illusion. It’s a fact. You handled it differently. Your brain reacted to it differently.
You emerge with a sense of victory and not victimhood because you did what you needed to do at that time. In a similar way, people in the midst of traumatic experiences go into self-hypnotic states. They detach themselves. They say, “I’ll get through this somehow and I’ll worry about the consequences later.” I had a patient who had been in the World Trade Center when it was attacked by an airplane. She’s trying to get down from you God knows what floor and she tells herself, “I’m going to put one foot in front of the other. I’m not going to think about what’s going on. I’ll promise myself that if I get to the ground floor, I’ll survive.”
She did and the other building collapsed. She was blown through a plate glass window and she was alive to tell me about it. She emerged feeling angry with herself, “I lied to myself.” I said, “You didn’t lie to yourself at all. You saved your life.” There’s no point getting the big picture when you’re in a situation like that and you did what you needed to do. That happens to people. Most women who are being sexually assaulted feel like or imagine that they’re floating above their body, feeling sorry for the woman being attacked beneath.
I had a social worker patient who wanted to use hypnosis after an attempted rape to figure out and get a better image of the guy’s face because it was getting dark. She was coming home from the grocery store and he attacked her outside of her apartment. She was fighting with him and I had her picture in hypnosis. I said, “I want you to picture what happened to you.” She said, “This guy doesn’t just want to rape me. He’s going to kill me. If he gets me into my apartment, he’s going to kill me.”
She hadn’t allowed herself to realize how dangerous the situation was. I said, “On the other side of the screen, your body is safe and comfortable now. I understand it’s very upsetting but your body is safe. I said, “What did you do to protect yourself?” She said, “He’s surprised. He didn’t think I’d fight that hard.” She wound up with a basilar skull fracture from the fight with him, but she realized that she had saved her life.
On the one hand, the hypnosis helped her see that it was even worse than she thought it was but on the other hand, instead of feeling bad for getting herself injured, she saw that she had saved her life. People can revisit a state that they were in in some ways in a traumatic moment and see more about it and come to a whole different point of view about what had occurred.
You have me thinking about another uncomfortable moment in my life, and I’m going to share it because I think that this is important for people to know as a problem out there. I was a young woman out at a bar. I had my second drink. I was not far into my alcohol consumption. I was out with some friends. Suddenly, I realized I was feeling very altered, a lot more than I should be. I made the choice. I felt like I had a clock ticking.
I hadn’t driven. I lived downtown. It was only a couple blocks away. I’m like, “I’m going to go home.” I started to walk home alone. That was probably not the wisest part. I should have asked for a friend to come with me. After about a block and a half, I realized I was being followed by somebody. I was getting closer and closer to my home. I made the decision to instead go to a restaurant that was open 24 hours where some of my friends worked at. It was an exercise in willpower to get there because I could feel my mental faculties completely slipping away from me.
I was able to get there by setting my mind on this one thing and focusing with as much intent as I could possibly put forward. Now, I did run into some friends and this guy made himself scarce and they were able to get me home safely. Like this individual you’re describing, I had this knowledge that if I let this person track me home, I was in real trouble. We can leverage the power of the mind and moments even when we are faced with real danger and understand that we have this power and capacity to overcome even if we are being seemingly drugged and taken advantage of. It’s the modern world we live in, unfortunately.
It was good for you. You let your sense of danger arm you to do what you need to do. Somebody apparently slips something in your drink. Two drinks shouldn’t do that to you. There was something else in there but you were able to perceive the change and act on the basis of your vulnerability. It might have been better if you’d asked someone to walk home from the bar, but you got to where you had people who would keep you safe.
I say to all women out there. You have to learn to trust yourself. You trust your body, but you also have to trust your intuition. That applies to all people. If we learn to trust our minds and the capability of the mind, we also can trust our intuition.
You need to trust it and act on it. The worst thing that happens is you feel a little silly if you are overly cautious. That’s so much better than having to deal with someone taking advantage of you. You were a good mother to your own body. You were protecting your body from harm.
Again, we need to be our own best advocates. Sometimes, those are moments when we’re alone in time.
You need a good lawyer and you have to be yours.
I also have seen you do tests for people on different podcasts for how hypnotizable they can be. I was hoping that we could give our audience a taste of what they might experience in the Reveri app just so that you can showcase your ability to do this with your voice and the power of the person that you’re in front of. Can you walk me through it?
I’ll be glad to do it. Get as comfortable as you can. On 1) Do one thing. Look up all the way up. 2) Do two things. Slowly close your eyes and take a deep breath. 3) Do three things. Let the breath out, let your eyes relax but keep them closed. Let your body float. Imagine you’re floating in a bath like a hot tub or floating in space. Each breath is deeper and easier.
Now, I’m going to ask you to take your left hand and stroke the back of your right hand starting at the tip of your middle finger and running your hand all the way along the back of your right hand and along your forearm to your elbow. Feel a sense of tingling and numbness and lightness. Let your right hand float up in the air like a balloon.
All the way up higher and higher as the rest of your body feels heavy and relaxed. The higher it goes, the lighter it’ll feel. You have to help it to get it started, but let your right hand float up in the air like a balloon. Now, with your eyes closed and remaining in a state of concentration, please describe how your hand is feeling right now.
It feels like there’s an empty space below it that is buoyant. It feels almost a little cooler.
Let it go higher and higher. Let your forearm bend and your hand float up in the air like a balloon. You can let go with your left hand. Let your right hand float up in the air like a balloon. How is it feeling now?
It’s almost like its own thing.
Does your right hand feel as if it’s not as much a part of your body as your left hand?
Take your left hand, pull your right hand down, and then let go. What’s happening?
It’s a resistance training almost.
Let go of it again with your left. What’s happening?
It floated back up. I can feel it.
Does that surprise you?
Yeah. It’s like working with an elastic band almost.
When I ask you to touch your right elbow, your usual sensation and control will return. You’ll find something pleasant and amusing about this sensation. Now, touch your right elbow with your left hand. How’s it feeling now?
A little cooler maybe but normal. I have control of it again. I had done the test on Reveri and I had a slightly different experience but I also had a distraction of a puppy that was trying to chew on me while I was doing it. The feeling was different because my hand never got up without help. I had to help it but then when I tried to put it back down, it felt like there was an anti-pulling sensation. It felt uncomfortable to put it down.
It’s not like there was resistance but I was like, “That doesn’t feel right.” It’s interesting to see the difference between the level of focus that I had and also the benefit of you being across the screen from me changed things a little bit too. It was interesting how hard it is to look up and at the same time, I’m trying to close my eyes.
It takes intense concentration. Let’s try one more time. I want you to look up again. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. It is hard. Breathe out. Eyes relaxed, the body floats. Notice how quickly and easily you can go into this state of self-hypnosis. Now, we’re going to come out together by counting backward from 3 to 1. On 3, get ready. 2) With your eyelids closed, roll up your eyes. 1) Let your eyes open. If your hand is up, it’ll float back down and that’ll be the end of the exercise.
I did start to float almost immediately. It’s like it came off the surface of the desk.
You’ve learned dissociation. It’s what your brain can do with your body. It can make it feel very different very quickly.
I feel focused, calm, and a little ecstatic about the experience which is not a bad thing. I was like, “That was cool.”
That’s the sense of surprise of what your brain and body can do together. I’m glad you’re feeling good. Often, people feel that way. They feel intensely focused but calm at the same time. Your body is calm but your brain is working to get you focused on what you want to focus on. That’s a tremendous therapeutic opportunity.
Couple that with the right nutrition and exercise program, you can be a lot healthier, I imagine. Thank you so much for joining me. This has been my absolute pleasure. I would love to offer you the floor for a moment to offer any closing thoughts for our audience. Any ideas that you like them to walk away from this conversation thinking about?
I love your definition of hypnosis as a meditation on steroids. It is a state of highly focused attention that is a tremendous opportunity for people to better manage their body and their lives to help with problems like pain, stress, insomnia, and getting to sleep. Also, habit problems like smoking and drinking. It’s a way of mastering how you and your body work together. You become a better caretaker of your body and your body takes better care of you.Hypnotism is a state of highly focused attention. It is a tremendous opportunity to better manage your body and become its better caretaker. Click To Tweet
It’s a wonderful opportunity. I welcome people to come to Reveri. We have a website www.Reveri.com. You can download the Reveri app, if you have an iOS phone, from the App Store. If you have an Android, from Google Play. Try it. The first week is free. You can get a feeling for what it’s like. If you find it helped, you can keep doing it. If you don’t, that’s fine, but it’s an opportunity to help you deal with many of the daily problems of life and learn to manage them yourself, your brain, and your body better. We welcome everybody to give Reveri a try.
I personally have been using it and I found that it does help me return to a deep restful sleep. Sleep can make everybody’s life better. Whether or not you need it for a high-stress moment or something like that, you can download the app and give it a try. I encourage you because as it stands, it’s like bringing Dr. David Spiegel in your pocket with you because it’s his voice walking you through these self-hypnosis sessions or meditations on steroids.
I’m very glad to be there when you need me. When we developed Reveri, I used to hope it was almost as good as being in my office with me. We worked hard. It’s interactive so it is a lot like being in the office with me. I ask a question. You give an answer and you get a different instruction. However, when I was thinking about insomnia, which can be very helpful, I thought, “In some ways, this is better when you wake up at 3:00 in the morning and you need to go back to sleep. I’m not there in your bedroom, but I am on the phone. Anytime, anywhere you need me, I’m there. I hope people will take advantage of that.”
It is available for a monthly subscription to try out after the one-week timeline expires. You even have an annual and a lifetime membership option. You’re trying to make it work for everybody and I’m sure the app will continue to improve with time. I love where it is so far. I do have it on my Android. Thank you for making it available on both. This Android girl is appreciative. Thank you.
You’re welcome. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Corinna. I’m glad you’ve discovered more and more about your hypnotic abilities and you spontaneously made good use of it. I’m sure now, you’ll make even better use of it.
Again, thank you so much. It’s an incredible tool. I look forward to hearing from my audience how you’ve been able to utilize self-hypnosis in your daily lives and how it might have made your experience a little better.
I hope so. I’m looking forward to learning about that too.
What an incredible discussion with Dr. David Spiegel. I felt like I was revealing a bit with you all going through that hypnosis over the show, but I have to tell you, the experience was very similar to the app itself, even the word usage and everything else. Also, the asking of questions and you clicked through. Again, there is a seven-day free trial. You should get it. Try it out. See how hypnotizable you are. Perhaps, you’re a poet like me. Perhaps you’re a researcher and more skeptical. However, perhaps also like me, you’re a skeptic on the surface but, underneath it all, able to focus with intent and able to leverage the power of hypnosis for good in your life.
If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll receive a five-step guide to help organize your efforts and unleash your potential. I will also be sure to follow up with a coupon code from Dr. David Spiegel to get the Reveri app for a discounted rate. You’ll want to join that newsletter. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe wherever you are catching us. Click that bell to be notified of new episodes. If you give us a thumbs up, a five-star rating, and even write us a review, we’ll find more people to share this message with. I encourage you to do that as well.
That simple act simply helps the show grow so we can continue bringing you great conversations like that with Dr. Spiegel. Thank you, now and always, for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more. We can be better. We can even reduce our reliance on Band-Aid prescriptions, and take ownership of our lives, health, and mind. Also, heal ourselves with the incredible power of the mind. Thank you.
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- Hypnotizability and Weight Loss in Obese Subjects by Marianne Barabasz, Ed. D and David Spiegel, M.D., International Journal of Easting Disorders, Vol. 8, No. 3, 335-341 (1989)
- Predictors of smoking abstinence following a single-session restructuring intervention with self-hypnosis
- Trance & Treatment by Herbert Spiegel, M.D. and David Spiegel, M.D.item-id=amzn1.ideas.7MH7RZ7ZJLS3&ref=aip_sf_list_spv_ons_mixed_d_asin