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uni'wissen 01-2016_ENG

The methods have been around since time im- memorial, their effectiveness known for centu- ries. Even thousands of years ago, people put other people into hypnotic trances to cure them of illnesses. The technique experienced a renais- sance in 19th-century Europe as a treatment for so-called hysteria. But hypnosis was also abused, for instance at variety shows and carnivals, where people were put in a trance before a sensation- seeking audience as a means of entertainment. However, evidence from numerous studies indi- cates that conditions as wide-ranging as phobias, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder can indeed be treated with a hypnosis therapy. The technique is now used even outside of psy- chotherapeutic contexts. Thanks to its soothing effect, it can also serve as an alternative to anesthetic drugs. Another practice that has long been known in many cultures is meditation, associated for millennia with the image of a meditating monk. Meditation is thought to help people calm their mind and collect their thoughts. It is a useful means of coping with stress and can also help treat various types of headaches, but it requires a lot of practice. One big difference between hypnosis and meditation is that a person is com- pletely alone and directed inward while meditat- ing, whereas a person under hypnosis is directed outward and needs to be kept in a trance by means of suggestion. An exception is self-hypnosis or autosuggestion, which does not require another person. What all these methods have in common is that they are means of reaching an altered state of consciousness. Using Positive Resources Despite a large body of evidence pointing to their effectiveness, scientists are still often skep- tical of hypnosis and meditation or deride them as esoteric methods. But that doesn’t scare off University of Freiburg neuropsychologist Prof. Dr. Ulrike Halsband. She has made the two methods into the subject of her research. “Hypnosis and meditation have a lot of advantages,” she says, emphasizing above all the fact that they are non- invasive treatment methods that do not involve making incisions or introducing devices or tubes into the patient’s body. Instead, they harness the positive resources available in every person. “After all, that’s better than swallowing pills.” Halsband has set about investigating the effects of hypnosis and meditation on brain activity from a scientific perspective. She wants to use her findings to develop the methods further and enhance their effectiveness. One of the topics she is concentrating on with regard to hypnosis is anxiety disorders, such as dental phobia. People with this disorder have an excessive fear of going to the dentist. For example, they show a very strong reaction to typical drilling noises or to graphic images of dental treatment. Dental hypnosis is already being practiced suc- cessfully today. Halsband’s studies have demon- strated that the brain does indeed undergo plastic changes under hypnosis. The researcher “That’s better than swallowing pills.” 25 Zen meditation from Buddhism has been the subject of the most research, but the image of the meditating monk has been known for millennia in many cultures.