Chicken Stare

Look into my eyes…

Therapeutic use of hypnosis is perhaps most commonly associated with the archetypal psychoanalyst, using it to unlock memories and associations that might be inaccessible when people are fully conscious. This is one possible therapeutic use, but there are other areas where hypnosis is being trialled.

A recent Swiss paper by Cordi, Schlarb and Rasch has found that listening to an audio recording with hypnotic suggestions to sleep deeper led to people spending more of their nap time in slow-wave sleep, and a significant reduction in their time spent awake. This is a  potentially exciting finding because slow-wave sleep seems to be very important in the body’s repair processes, as well as brain function.  If people can be induced to spend more time in slow-wave sleep, following the experimenters’ logic, then it might improve their physical and mental health and well-being. This is potentially especially pertinent for healthy aging, as people tend to have less slow-wave sleep as they age, so a non drug-based intervention that increases amounts of slow-wave sleep could increase health and memory consolidation in an aging population. This could potentially mitigate the effects of dementias in people who were suggestible enough to be hypnotised.

It is worth noting that the increased slow-wave sleep was only observed in highly suggestible people, and in fact low-suggestible people’s slow-wave sleep significantly decreased in its amount. When people received suggestions to sleep shallower, there was no clear impact on their slow-wave sleep in either group of people. People’s suggestibility was measured using the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility.

An interesting part of this finding is that not only is hypnosis being used to communicate with non-conscious parts of the mind, but that the communication appears to be having a measurable physiological effect on sleep architecture – a process which occurs unconsciously. Words received and interpreted by higher cortical areas of the brain are presumably percolating down to areas concerned with deeper physiological functions of sleep, and actually changing the structure of the sleep people are having. This is perhaps even more striking than the apparent power of hypnosis to affect processes that take place when people are not asleep, such as heart rate, pain perception and sporting prowess.

A study in Cell recently demonstrated that if you measure someone’s brain waves, then synchronise the playing of pink-noise to them on the up-stroke of their slow wave sleep oscillations, not only are the slow-wave oscillations seemingly reinforced, but also the participants’ memory functions improved in subsequent tests. This might have implications beyond sleep problems in the realm of memory research. However, to do this more widely, one would need people to be connected to EEGs while they slept, limiting the wider applicability of the intervention, at least until more portable EEG devices are developed. If hypnosis-based interventions can be helpful in the reorganisation of people’s sleep architecture, it seems that further research would be beneficial.  This could look at the possibility of using hypnosis with different groups, and see if there are unanticipated side-effects of the intervention. The intervention itself seems inobtrusive, after the somewhat lengthy process of screening people for their susceptibility.

Storage of people’s susceptibility status (and by extension the record of their having been given hypnosis-based therapy) would probably need to be confidential: perhaps knowledge of who was susceptible might be of use to people or forces that might want to exploit that susceptibility. In a future where NHS records might be more widely shared, this and related confidentiality issues could be something worthy of deeper consideration.


  • How would people feel about an intervention being delivered beyond their conscious awareness or direct control?
  • Does this type of intervention have similar ethical dilemmas to pharmacological interventions?
  • Might therapists have a role in the development of bespoke hypnosis recordings for people’s specific needs?
  • What other concerns might hypnosis be capable of affecting?
  • What might the long-term effects of repeated hypnosis for sleep architecture alteration be?
  • Does the onset of dementia affect people’s susceptibility to hypnosis?


Photo – “Punk Chicken” – Copyright Charlie Tyack

People in a boat in Cambodia

Psychologistes Sans Frontières – Can clinical psychologists perform aid work?

One of my colleagues recently spoke to the team about her experiences when she volunteered to help in a children’s hospital in Myanmar with the charity World Child Cancer. Her experiences sounded tough and inspiring, and conveyed a real sense of uncertainty about the role psychology might have in such settings. This included the feasibility of work with people who might have little chance of the stability that is often said to be necessary when working in standard Western therapeutic settings. There was also discussion about the ethics of imposing Western psychological ideology on cultures that might not be compatible or receptive to it, and the unintented potential damage that might be done in the process.

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capsule hotel

Which came first, the sleepiness or the culture? Is there more narcolepsy in Japan?

I’ve been reacquainting myself with sleep-related issues of late, as half of my current placement is in a sleep disorders team. When looking into narcolepsy, I was intrigued to note that rates of narcolepsy are about four times higher in Japan according to self report than they tend to be elsewhere. This got me thinking about my sleep-related observations from the two years I spent there, and I wondered about differences in the way that sleep seems to be conceptualised in Japanese culture.
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Operation - the brain surgery edition

Internal conflicts – on treating distress with electrodes

Part of my current placement involves working with children experiencing dystonia who are candidates for or who have had deep brain stimulation (DBS). Since I was relatively naive to the concepts, I have read up. DBS seems to be helpful to clients experiencing a range of motor-related physical problems, and is most commonly used with people experiencing Parkinson’s Disease, and more recently people experiencing various forms of dystonia. There are two main subtypes of dystonia: primary (a discrete condition) and secondary (resulting from other conditions such as brain injury). DBS seems to be more effective for people diagnosed with primary dystonia. This might be related to the heterogeneity of the secondary dystonia group. A paper by John Gardner about the history of DBS was helpful in positioning the treatment in a historical and sociocultural context, but some of the assertions in the paper concerned me.

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Mount Hakkoda's Summit

On being uncertain in certain places

I recently started my specialist placement: children’s neurosciences incorporating paediatric sleep and a complex motor disorders service. It has been fascinating so far, working with new client groups and in a hospital setting, which is novel to me. It has also been a culture shock, hence the title of this post.

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Shoreditch Graffiti

Thoughts on the CPF Social Materialist Manifesto Special

A group of course-mates and I recently wrote a letter to the Clinical Psychology Forum in response to issue 256, which was itself a response to the Draft Manifesto for a Social Materialist Psychology of Distress, written by the Midlands Psychology Group. The letter was published in CPF 262. Continue reading for the letter.

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Bridging which gap? Reflections on Clinical Psychology Forum 261

This month’s CP forum special (PDF version at this link) has been quite evocative for me. It looks at the ongoing discussions about differences between clinical psychology and psychiatry.  I shall outline my thoughts about the special issue below.

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Technicolour Aura - Light Painting by Charlie Tyack

Guess who’s back…

Okay, so I’m back online. After a break of about 8 years, I have returned to the blogosphere. My last incarnation was as an assistant language teacher on the JET programme. Since then, a lot has changed. I am now a trainee clinical psychologist, training at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, UK and due to start my next placement in London. As you might imagine, I have a lot to write about, so I’ll keep this post brief.

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