Medical hypnosis is being studied to treat certain health conditions by relaxing and focusing the mind.

The technique usually has two parts focusing attention and helpful suggestion, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Focusing makes the brain more flexible,” explains Dr. Mark P. Jensen, a pain expert at the University of Washington who researches hypnosis. “You get someone’s attention and then you offer them a new way of looking at a problem that will make the problem easier for them to manage.”

In addition to pain, studies suggest that hypnosis may help manage irritable bowel syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Researchers are also studying hypnosis for mood disorders such as managing depression and anxiety.

Hypnosis is not mind control by another person. “We’re all open to new ideas at some level,” says Jensen.

Imaging studies are shedding light on what happens in the brain during hypnosis. “Hypnosis is a particularly powerful technique for changing brain activity,” Jensen says.

Researchers have found that different hypnotic suggestions can affect different parts of the brain.

For example, pain involves both sensation and emotion, but hypnotic suggestion for greater comfort changes the brain activity in the areas that process the intensity of the sensations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says more studies are needed to fully evaluate the potential benefits of hypnosis and how it might work.