Somatoform disorders and dissociative disorders are two separate categories of mental illnesses that share some similarities, particularly in their connection to altered states of consciousness. This chapter will explore the relationship between hypnotic states and dissociative disorders, examining how these altered states of consciousness can be harnessed therapeutically and how they relate to the manifestation of symptoms in somatoform and dissociative disorders.
Hypnosis as an Altered State of Consciousness
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness that involves a heightened state of suggestibility. It is typically induced through a process of relaxation, concentration, and focused attention. During hypnosis, individuals may experience changes in perception, memory, and bodily sensations. Hypnotic phenomena, such as anesthesia, amnesia, and hallucinations, can be observed in individuals under hypnosis (Kihlstrom, 2013). These alterations in consciousness can also be seen in dissociative disorders, suggesting a potential connection between hypnosis and dissociation.
Hypnosis in the Treatment of Somatoform Disorders
Somatoform disorders are characterized by the presence of physical symptoms that cannot be adequately explained by medical conditions. Hypnosis has shown promise as a therapeutic intervention for somatoform disorders, particularly for individuals who are highly suggestible (Barabasz & Perez, 2018). Hypnosis can be used to help patients focus their attention away from their physical symptoms and onto more adaptive cognitive processes. By inducing a relaxed state and suggesting alternative interpretations of their symptoms, hypnosis can help individuals with somatoform disorders gain control over their bodily sensations and reduce symptom severity.
One study by Barabasz and colleagues (2019) examined the effects of hypnosis on a group of individuals with somatoform disorders. The study found that participants who received hypnosis treatment experienced a significant reduction in symptom severity compared to those in a control group. These findings suggest that hypnosis may be an effective intervention for reducing physical symptoms in somatoform disorders.
Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders
Dissociation is a psychological process in which an individual detaches from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders are a group of mental illnesses characterized by frequent and severe dissociative experiences. These experiences can range from mild detachment to more severe dissociative episodes, such as dissociative amnesia, depersonalization, or dissociative identity disorder (DID).
The connection between hypnosis and dissociative disorders can be understood through their shared underlying mechanisms. Both hypnosis and dissociation involve alterations in consciousness and suggestibility (Spiegel & Cardeña, 2017). In hypnosis, individuals willingly enter an altered state of consciousness, while in dissociative disorders, dissociative experiences often occur involuntarily as a defense mechanism against overwhelming experiences or traumatic events. Some individuals with dissociative disorders may naturally have a high level of hypnotic suggestibility, making them more prone to experiencing altered states of consciousness.
Effects of Hypnosis on Dissociative Disorders
The therapeutic applications of hypnosis in dissociative disorders are complex. On one hand, hypnosis can be used to access dissociated memories or feelings that are otherwise difficult to retrieve (Spiegel & Cardeña, 2017). By guiding individuals into a hypnotic state, therapists can assist in uncovering and integrating dissociated aspects of experiences or identities. This process can help individuals with dissociative disorders gain insight into their symptoms and work towards healing and integration.
On the other hand, hypnosis can also increase suggestibility and potentially exacerbate dissociative symptoms in vulnerable individuals (Kihlstrom, 2013). For some individuals with dissociative disorders, hypnosis may trigger dissociative episodes, leading to increased fragmentation of identity and functioning. Therefore, caution must be exercised when using hypnosis in the treatment of dissociative disorders, and it should only be conducted by professionals with expertise in both hypnosis and dissociative disorders.
Hypnotic states and dissociative disorders share similarities in terms of altered states of consciousness and suggestibility. Hypnosis has shown promise as a therapeutic intervention for somatoform disorders and can be used to help individuals focus their attention away from physical symptoms. In dissociative disorders, hypnosis can be utilized to explore and integrate dissociated memories or aspects of experiences. However, caution must be exercised when using hypnosis in dissociative disorders, as it can potentially exacerbate symptoms in vulnerable individuals. Further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between hypnosis and dissociation, as well as to develop tailored interventions for individuals with dissociative disorders.