Brain-imaging studies have helped to illuminate what occurs inside the hypnotized brain, though much still remains a mystery.
Imaging studies observing the general effect of the hypnotic state have found that observable changes occur in the brain during hypnotherapy (1,2). Areas and systems involved in:
Brain Imaging during Hypnotherapy
During hypnotherapy, activity in a brain region that aids people switch between tasks quiets down. This same region seems to disconnect from another area responsible for self-reflection and daydreaming—which may be why hypnotized people aren’t worried about who they are or what they’re doing. Researchers have also found that hypnosis can calm different regions that help control autonomic functions like heart rate, blood flow, and breathing. This is likely what leads to the physical relaxation that’s a hallmark of hypnosis.
In hypnotherapy the brain enters the alpha (light hypnosis) and theta (deep hypnosis) states, and one is highly focused on suggestions and imagery while suspending the ordinary thinking processes of the beta state. In the alpha and theta states, suggestions are integrated into the mind more easily, and memories become more accessible.