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Patient lying on a doctors couch undergoing hypnosis as part of a clinical trial
Irene CismaAug 23, 2023 12:00:00 AM16 min read

Hypnotism & Clinical Research



Contemporary hypnosis has evolved beyond direct suggestion to include the suspending of critical thinking in order to allow the patient’s unconscious mind to take over and make internal changes. The growing profession of hypnosis has support from research in neuroscience. If we look at Pub Med, 15,441 results come up under the keyword “hypnosis”:


Source: Pub Med, data exported on 10/12/2021


Clinical Research and hypnosis meet in many different projects. 250 clinical studies are published on with the keyword “hypnosis” (search conducted on 10/12/2021). Hypnotism is being studied as a strategy for many different conditions, but also as a complementary tool to enhance treatments. The populations that are studied range from healthy volunteers to cancer or surgery patients, across many different conditions and health areas.

Ted Dinan, Atlantia’s medical director and former professor of psychiatry at UCC, interviews the well renowned mentalist, Keith Barry. Ted Dinan’s research focused on how gut microbes influence brain function. Have a dive into their insightful conversation about hypnotism, positive mindsets, and clinical research.


When did you find yourself having a skill in hypnosis? How did you develop hypnosis skill?


Ted Dinan: When I was a medical student; I remember I wasn't reading too much anatomy and physiology as I probably should have been. But I read a lot of Freud at the time, and he was probably one of the main reasons I came into psychiatry, although I moved very far from Freudianism. He was a really lousy hypnotist, and he developed all the techniques, free association and so forth in order to get at the subconscious processes in the patients he was dealing with. And you know, you have many strings to your bow, and clearly in terms of hypnotism, you're incredibly talented.

At what stage did you find yourself that you had a skill in this? Or how did you develop that skill because Freud never did develop it?


Keith Barry: Well, it's a good question, and it's kind of a couple of different answers to the question. I bought my first booklet, a little pamphlet. I still have it, called, “Practical Hypnotism” by Ed Wolf. And that was my first, I suppose, foray into hypnosis. And I read that book and I started to try to hypnotise people straight away. So just family members and things like that. A funny side note, I gave that book to a friend of mine in school at the time, David Burke, and he read that booklet himself, and now he's a professional hypnotherapist out of water. But in fact, I was just fishing with him a couple of nights ago. We're still great friends, but that book changed his life and it changed my life. But ultimately, I tried to hypnotise probably hundreds of people and it didn't work. I think where Freud probably failed is, you've got to keep going until you find the technique that works for you. And here's the problem, one size doesn't fit all with hypnosis. So very often people will take a hypnosis course. They'll learn some of the language. They'll try and apply that language to their own practice or to people that are trying to hypnotise. But you've got to have your own twist on hypnosis. You've got to make it in a natural way to you.

It wasn't until I was a bit more mature, probably when I was 18 or 19 that I really started to get reasonably adept at it and it started to work. I actually wrote about it in my new book, “Brain Hacks”, that I hypnotised a friend of my dad's to stop smoking when I was about 19, and that actually worked.


So I was fascinated by the concept that this could actually work, but again, to go back to it, if you just read a script, the people don't know, it's just a script.

Subconsciously, people are very adept at using their own subconscious minds. They pick up on subliminal clues and cues all the time, like there's a story. So, I examined a lot of this area right now. So does a study and its interest that were here in your clinic.

And it's a clinical study on the placebo effect, which I'm sure you'll have great interest in. And the idea is this that if a person, so I'm talking about dentistry here, right? So if a person takes a placebo before a dentist goes near them, they're 35% to 55% likely to feel the anesthetic effects of that painkiller, even though it's just a placebo. However, that percentage goes way higher if the dentist themselves believes that the placebo is the real thing so people can subliminally pick up on even a dentist, their body language, the tone of their voice as to whether this is a placebo or the real thing.

So to go back to what a hypnotist, you have to really believe that you can hypnotize somebody. And if the belief system in yourself, coupled with the natural language patterns that you have to come up with that will really be effective in changing somebody's subconscious mind to Freud, may maybe he tried a lot and failed and then realize hypnosis wasn't for him to change tack, and that was probably smart. So I think very often I actually only I think genuinely, I only had a message about this probably two days ago from somebody who trained as a hypnotist.


They've been out there for four or five years, and they're finding that it's not only not working out with the people, it's not working on themselves. And they're looking for direction from me. And my direction to them will be simply, You've got to change your pattern, change your language patterns, change your own behavior in order to be that confident hypnotist that can effectively change other people, you know.


The placebo response therapy and its relationship to hypnosis


Ted Dinan: You mentioned placebo response therapy. I have mainly worked in treating people with severe forms of depression. And of course, the placebo response rates in treating depression are incredible. 30, 40% of the 55%. And you know, if you were to give advice to people doing trials in depression, is there any way you would reduce that placebo response rate? Because I mean, people are trying to develop new therapies and sometimes the reason therapies fail, is that the placebo response rate is 40 or 50%? It's very hard to find that something works if you've got a placebo response.


Keith Barry: Well, I think the issue with the placebo effect is it's fantastic, but it really only works for a certain period of time. That's what they found. So the placebo rate drops off after a certain period of time. I don't know what that time is, but I do know the studies have been done and the placebo rate drops off. So that's where I suppose real medicine needs to kick in. Now, in my opinion, when it comes to depression, I think a lot of people agree, not everybody, but a lot of people are in agreement that people are overmedicated now and too easily medicated. So therefore, we have to find that happy medium. There are people who do need medication. We know this right. I'm not anti-medication, far from it, I'm pro-science. So for me, it's finding that happy balance.


I think the problem is the doctors. If we take a step back for a moment, the doctors are just untrained with somebody coming into them who's, you know, exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, and they're not trained in how you know how bad that is. They're also untrained in, you know, has the neurology of this brain changed? Has the neurology of this brain, you know, exhibit signs of dumping too much cortisol into the body? They can't know that because they're not scientifically examining a person. So therefore, they just prescribe because that's all they can really do. That's their foundation. So to get back to it when you talk about the studies and so on, you know, I would love to find companies who are openly expressing the happy medium.

In other words, they're trying placebos and saying, well placebos work. But also they're, you know, they are pro-science themselves, are developing their own products that potentially change and alter brain chemistry. But I think they themselves need to have accountability and responsibility that, you know, their medication should only be used on people who really actually need it.

And then they should support the older strategies that are out there, such as, you know, whatever it may be, CBT therapy, whether it's hypnotherapy. Because look, I'll just be straight there. I don't talk a lot about the work that I do behind the scenes.

I'm very open today here somewhere that I respect and admire the work that you guys are doing. But I have made profound changes in people using just language patterns. And within one hour, I can flip somebody's whole life. Within one hour of meeting them their whole life, so they might have had depression for 20 years.

And within one an hour with me, I can free their mind to such an extent that they can then live a happy life without depression. I mean, that's a phenomenal thing for me to claim and say, but I've done it. I've done it for thousands of people.


Hypnosis theory and framework

Ted Dinan: Is there a model of mind that you work with? I mean, Freud had a kind of, put forward a theory that many people, even nowadays would work with psychoanalysts. Do you have a framework of mental activity or mind that you kind of incorporate what you do into?


Keith Barry: Not really. And I think this is important. I think especially with hypnosis and hypnotherapists, psychologists as well put them into this category and even psychotherapists. I think it's about the client/patient relationship. And you know, for me, the relationship is key.

That relationship is key, so it's not one size fits all. I think the most important thing in the world that we're in today, for anybody out there that's listening in this world, I have a lot of experience in this world, is always be agreeable with your client. I find it very often a lot of, you know, very high-end psychotherapists, psychologists, hypnotherapist, they'll immediately listen to listen to their client, but then they'll say yes, but that's the wrong language immediately to start using with the client because you're creating a combative atmosphere.

So for me, I always agree with the client, no matter what they say, I don't care what they do, anything. Like, I'll agree with everything. And the reason for that is to get agreement from a client to change their subconscious mind, you have to be an agreeable person. But then I use language patterns to take them away from the problem that they're in.

For an example, I've got two examples that come to mind. My ex manager at the time a number of years back, he rang me and said a friend of his called him and said, “Look, I'm in a really bad spot. I had a shotgun in my mouth five minutes ago and I and this what he said. I believe only Keith Barry can help”. Now that's a lot of weight on my shoulders as a person, right? And you know, there's always self-doubt, no matter who you are in the world, self-doubt as to whether I can actually help this person or not.

So in my head, I'm like, OK, well, what do I do here to actually try and help this person? And if they do harm themselves, I'll have that on my conscience for the rest of my life. And if I don't help them and they harm themselves, I’ll have that on my conscience. It's a double bind in a wrong way on me, but I always have to try to help the person. So I remember I asked, because I always ask the client to make an effort. If they're not willing to make an effort, then I'm not willing to make the effort, that's been straight with you. Because I think people have to be accountable on some level. So I said, I'm not going to travel down to you, you live down the south of Ireland. I said, you've got to come to the Olympia Theater, I’m there tomorrow night. I'll give you an hour in my dressing room before the show. So, he came up and within that hour, I used certain language with him that I knew would work with him. And this is to get back that there isn't a one size fits all.

And I remember with him, even though it was, you know, him under trance, I was actually standing on a desk in the Olympia, screaming and shouting at him. That can be controversial in the world of hypnotists or hypnotherapy, but somebody in that state of mind, they actually need a bit of shock therapy to get them out of that state. If I sit there and just use, you know, really, I suppose, hypnotic language such as, you know, “as you focus on my voice now, you'll find that your subconscious mind recognizes the right thing to do is actually be a more positive individual”, that's not going to work on that person or that particular individual. So I had to shock him out of the mindset that he was in to break it.

But ultimately, here we are all these years later, I don't know how many years later, the last time I heard he was doing really well. And you know, he had a full shift in his mindset, but he needed a radical approach.


Ted Dinan: Therapists tend not to take that approach, that attitude. I mean, I felt myself with patients on occasion, I don’t find myself with patients, effing and blinding very often. But you know, generally speaking, when you go to a doctor, you don't see that behavior to a patient very often, but sometimes you need to adopt an approach that you think is going to get through to the individual in front of you. And if you don't adopt the right approach is to say you're going to get nowhere.


Hypnotism, coping mechanisms, and mental health


Ted Dinan: The last two years have been absolutely diabolical for everyone. How do you look after your own mental health?


Keith Barry: It's a good question. So, I have some strategies that I put in place every single day because people ask me all the time. I remember PJ Coogan, he was the person who said to me, he said, “There's a man coming on this radio station now, and he makes me sick, sick with his positivity”, right?

And so people say to me, “How are you so positive?” It's because I have behavior patterns and habits that I’ve put in place to ensure that I live with a positive mindset. And that doesn't mean that I don't have negative days. That's important for people to realize. I do have negative days and I have problems, but ultimately I stay on top of those by putting certain habits in place. Number one, a habit I use for myself and it's different for every person. I'll give a number of habits that people can use, but for me, because you asked me first thing I do every morning, I have a freezing cold shower. Yeah. People laugh at that. They go, “Well, I'm not that stupid. I'm going to have a freezing cold shower”, and I'll tell you, look into the science of it because if you have a freezing cold shower, it's going to dump dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline into your system. First thing in the morning. Now isn't that better than getting up and scrolling into your newsfeed? Sky News and Facebook, whatever, just feeding your brain with negative information.

So I choose to take a freezing cold shower and we have a choice of what to do first thing in the morning, I choose a freezing cold shower. Now, after that, I will go out and creatively visualize in my cabin whatever it is that I visualize for that day, and I'll spend 15 minutes doing that. So the first five minutes of that will be relaxing my physical body, just making sure that I’m nice and relaxed. Next five minutes will be focusing on my breathing techniques. I've got my own breathing techniques. The 636 technique I followed, so inhale for six seconds, hold for three, exhale for six. So that puts me into an alpha brainwave state, which is the sweet spot that you need to be in in order to effectively, creatively visualize. And then for the next five minutes I’ll envisage a big screen just like the one we have here. And I'll imagine my goals, my dreams, my targets on that screen. And by doing that, I'm rewiring the chemistry of my brain. There’s 86 billion neurons in your brain, you know, and you've probably heard this before, and that is the wired together, fire together, nerves that fire together, wire together, whatever you focus on, you become.

So for me, cold showers create a visualization and then I’m very connected with two things which is so important. Family and nature. So I always make sure I spend enough time with my kids. I've got a very busy life. But when I leave here today, I've got an event tonight, but tomorrow morning I'm a rugby coach to my son's rugby team. And then after that we go to nature and we do something. But that's the second thing I’m very connected with nature. So a few nights ago I went fishing with David Burke, the hypnotherapist, the two of us standing in Tramore Beach talking.

Nothing to do with COVID, but just talking nonsense and emptying your brains. And it's so important you have to find something to empty your brain. People are wondering why they're so anxious, so, you know, not able to deal with certain situations or perhaps suffering signs of depression. For me, the important thing is you've got to develop coping mechanisms. But I think people underrate being connected with nature. Like I forage with my kids, I go cycling in the forest, we go to the beach, I swim in the sea all year round.

I'm not expecting people to do all those things. Sure. We've got to connect with nature somehow, but really connect with it, you know what I mean? And I think if people understand that and do that, like I know, a lot of people have actually had their lives fully flipped around. Nothing to do with me, just friends of mine. We've had their lives fully flipped around because they get up at half six in the morning to go swimming in the sea every single morning, and that's their pattern. But other people I know equally as well, they flip their mindset of flip their whole lives, but just slightly, you know, so something to connect with nature, you know?


Irene Cisma

Irene Cisma Diaz, a data-driven professional with a passion for neuroscience, seeks to merge social and biological sciences to unravel human behavior. With 5+ years in marketing and scientific communication, she's known for her restless, critical thinking and multilingual prowess. Aiming to excel in behavioral research, she welcomes scientific communication collaborations.