More than 200 years later, research in neuroscience is confirming at least parts of Mesmer’s outlandish theory. No, there is not magnetic fluid coursing through our bodies. But the power of mere suggestion — of imagination, as Franklin phrased it — is a more effective treatment than many modern skeptics might expect, causing real, measurable changes in the body and brain. Hypnotism has been shown to be an effective treatment for psychological problems, like phobias and eating disorders, but the practice also helps people with physical problems, including pain — both acute and chronic — and some gastrointestinal diseases. Physicians and psychologists have observed this with their own eyes for decades; now, many of them say that brain-imaging studies (not to mention the deep respect people tend to have for all things prefixed by “neuro”) are helping them finally prove their point.
In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you'll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you'll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it's all imaginary. Essentially, you're "playing pretend" on an intense level, as kids do.
Hypnotherapy is guided hypnosis, or a trance-like state of focus and concentration achieved with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist. This trance-like state is similar to being completely absorbed in a book, movie, music, or even one's own thoughts or meditations. In this state, clients can turn their attention completely inward to find and utilize the natural resources deep within themselves that can help them make changes or regain control in certain areas of their life.