Suspend your disbelief about hypnosis, and while you're at it, forget about swinging watches and the phrase "You're getting sleepy." Despite the fact that people have been using hypnotherapy for decades to help them ditch behaviors like overeating and smoking—and that major medical organizations recognize it as valid therapy for a range of health issues—it's still viewed as mental sleight of hand, a tool of stage performers, not doctors. But thanks to a spate of recent research—most notably a study that showed, via MRI imaging, how the brain actually changes during hypnosis—the practice has gained more legitimacy and is often combined with talk therapy or meds. Now, "people are signing up for it at the recommendation of their physician," says health psychologist Laurie Keefer, Ph.D., director of psychobehavioral research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
During a session, a therapist will ease you into a hyper-focused relaxed state (by having you concentrate on, say, soothing words), then give you suggestions to help you conquer your health problem. You'll be physically alert but mentally calm, similar to what happens when you are driving and reach your destination but don't remember how you got there. Here, why over a half a million people couch-surf away what ails them each year, and what you can expect.