Although some definitions describe hypnosis in terms of interaction between people, hypnosis is not something one person "does" to another. Hypnosis is like daydreaming: a form of relaxed concentration. First the body is relaxed and secondly, the conscious part of the mind. .
Some hypnotherapists believe our everyday sense of reality is actually a trance. That we need to awaken, to de-hypnotize from the myths of what we think is real. For most practitioners the most common view of hypnosis is that it is an altered state of consciousness; your awareness differs somehow to your everyday sense of reality. This is often referred to as being in a trance. However, for many, perhaps most people being in hypnosis does not seem much different to how they feel at other times.
The very existence of trance is challenged by some hypnosis authorities. See, for example, British psychologist and hypnosis expert Michael Heap's article where, among other topics, he discusses the man who was sexually attracted to his mattress and household appliances subsequent to being hypnotized.
No. Often all a person new to hypnosis will note is that she feels relaxed. Often more deeply relaxed than she's ever felt before. This has led to claims that hypnosis is nothing more than profound relaxation. But laboratory tests prove hypnosis is something more than relaxation: e.g., after hypnosis the heart rate remains slowed down longer than after relaxation alone.
What does this mean? That people in hypnosis will accept suggestions more readily than when not in hypnosis?
That explains nothing. People are readily suggestible without hypnosis -- the mammoth advertising industry attests to that -- and people in hypnosis by definition want to cooperate. Of course they accept suggestions. They suspend their disbelief as they would while reading a novel. But suggest something that is distasteful to them and they'll quickly stop cooperating -- just as they'd drop a novel which offended them.
Some theorists say that people think or do things in hypnosis because it's expected of them and by them. They are fulfilling a role. They want to please the hypnotist. So there's no altered state of consciousness, there's simply a motivation to act as though hypnotised. This theory might hold for stage performances and the like but can hardly apply to surgery. Thousands of hypnotised persons have benefited from operations with no chemical anesthetic.
According to this explanation, a person learns through direct experience or through TV or the movies, how to behave 'hypnotised.' Another way to see hypnosis as something learned, is to assert that a person becomes conditioned to a word stimulus such as "Relax." Once having allowed himself to relax, the client is thereafter conditioned to repeat the experience of relaxing upon hearing the stimulus-word.
This definition claims that in some as yet unexplained way, the mental functioning of a person is compartmentalised and one part can be isolated from the others. Dissociation is an everyday conscious experience which begins in childhood, according to Dr Josephine R. Hilgard, noted hypnosis researcher and author. When a person is engaged in conversation with someone else he is also talking with himself and thinking ahead to his next comments. Children blithely slip in and out of fantasy lives, temporarily adopting make-believe roles which they discard at will. This capacity to fantasize can be retained through practice and makes the dissociation characteristic of hypnosis less surprising.
No, when you are in hypnosis you are conscious, awake and aware.
Altered state, relaxation, heightened suggestibility, role-playing, conditioning or dissociation, whatever hypnosis is, it enables a person to experience thoughts and images as though they were real.
Not necessarily. Many hypnotists define hypnosis as the bypassing of the critical [conscious] mind and an accessing of the subconscious.
Although some people equate the subconscious with the brain's right hemisphere the subconscious is probably better understood in a metaphorical sense. For example, Freud claimed it is a cesspool of sexual and violent urges while present-day theorists are more likely to consider the subconscious to be either a wellspring of goodness or a storehouse of memories that normally lies outside our conscious awareness. Perhaps there's no such thing as the subconscious.
Those by Michael Yapko and those by the APA. [American Psychological Association].
Generally speaking, yes. But not:
- if the person doesn't want to be,
- if the person is weak-willed,
- if the person is drunk or stoned.
Psychotic people can be hypnotized. (Although that is rarely advisable).
Here's a more traditional answer from Steve G. Jones: YES. The lightest state of hypnosis (Alpha) is achieved easily. Everyone enters a hypnotic state every day, several times per day. It's that state you are in when you are watching TV, reading a good book, or playing video games. It's the state you are in when you are just waking up or just going to bed. You are not fully conscious, but you are not fully unconscious either. In this state you're up to 200 times more suggestible than when you are fully awake (Beta). Many people, when they hear about hypnosis, say, "Well, I can't be hypnotized." These people have been misinformed, mostly by Hollywood, about what hypnosis is and is not. It is not necessary to be in some sort of otherworldly trance to be in hypnosis. Hypnosis is a natural state which everyone moves in and out of throughout each day. Many of our everyday normal activities are actually performed under hypnosis without us being aware of it. An example of hypnosis is playing video games. Some people can play video games for hours in one sitting. If someone were to talk to you while you were in a video game session, you would be able to respond. Yet another good example of a hypnotic state is being on the computer. People who are using a computer are focused on what they are doing, but can intelligently answer the phone when it rings. So, hypnosis is no different to playing video games or working on a computer. Most people engaged in these activities would not think they are in a trance, but they are. They are in a light hypnotic trance known as Alpha. Oh, by the way, reading a fascinating article (like this one) is another form of hypnosis...surprise! You're in hypnosis!!! In alpha, your mind is slowed down just a little, your focus is narrow, your breathing is slow, and you are relaxed. Since you are up to 200 times more suggestible even while you are in the light state of alpha, anything beyond this is unnecessary for most purposes (i.e. programming someone to lose weight, stop smoking, overcome fear of flying, etc.). You can have an extremely effective hypnosis session while being aware of and able to recall every word spoken by the Hypnotherapist.
Steve G. Jones Clinical Hypnotherapist www.SteveGJones.com 912.897.9799
Although some people claim this is possible you have only to remember that the sleeping person is unconscious to realise the absurdity of trying to hypnotise her.
Yes. Hypnosis is an inborn talent of the client. Its use, deliberate or unwitting, varies from person to person. Your development of this skill can be enhanced with the guidance of an experienced hypnotist. Then the talent can subsequently be even more useful and enjoyable when employed by you on your own.
No. Hypnosis is not a fixed trait, like eye colour. Although built-in to our basic biology it can be enhanced with practice.
Not much. People who are highly intelligent are more easily hypnotized as are people who have been sexually abused as children (possibly because to survive they had to dissociate).
The Science of Hypnosis:
Yes. Hypnosis has been studied extensively. Here's some of the scientific research: Research into Hypnosis
Yes. When a person is in hypnosis specific parts of the brain "light up" in brain scans. Also, for decades Candace Pert, a scientist, and Ernest Rossi, a psychologist, have explained how hypnosis has measurable effects arising from thoughts and behaviours through the intermediary flow of neurons and hormones.
Yes. It's the opposite of the well-known "flight-or-fight" response. It's the calm-and-confident response.
No. Memory is selective and malleable. There is no unblemished record of your life stored somewhere just waiting for you to re-discover events from your past. With hypnosis you may be able to recall some events that you are consciously unaware of but there is no guarantee that the recall is accurate.
Sort of. These metaphors suit our current thinking. They serve as handy shorthand for describing the process of hypnosis. But just as Newtonian physics was revolutionized by Einstein and his theories later brought into question by quantum physics so our metaphors will likely be superseded when we understand more about how the brain functions. Meanwhile, just as Newton's ideas are still useful in certain contexts, so too is the idea that our minds are somewhat like computers. However, remember that a computer spits out exactly what is entered into it. The human mind modifies the information entered.
Hypnosis: Who's in Control?
Only as much as the client wants to be controlled. Bad movies and books notwithstanding, since the client is awake and aware she decides what she'll agree to.
Yes. For example, when you are so mesmerized while surfing the Net that you would buy something you don't need just because you are in a daze. More seriously, you might want to be de-hypnotized from the food industry's TV ads or from the negative messages implanted in your head by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) parents.
Only if they actually want to commit the crime. And then they wouldn't need to be hypnotized. :-) If it were possible to make someone commit a crime by hypnotizing them then the CIA and the KGB would have rejoiced in being able to program killers. Despite their best efforts (in the 60s) they were unable to persuade normal recruits to kill just because they were hypnotized. And their psychopaths don't need hypnosis as an excuse.
You will only say what you want to say. In therapy it is often beneficial to reveal a secret. But if you are revealing a secret while in hypnosis it's because you choose to do so, not because you're hypnotised.
No. This question is often asked by someone wanting to know for sure if their partner is really being faithful. However, the partner could tell lies while hypnotized. Hypnosis does not act like a truth serum.
Dangers of Hypnosis
No. There's no danger in hypnosis, only in
hypnotists. Hypnosis can be misused. Deliberately or unwittingly. Deliberate misuse of
hypnosis is what a philandering physician did when he tricked his hypnotized wife into swallowing a fatal
overdose of pills.
Unwitting misuse is like the British stage hypnotist who was convicted of causing a volunteer extreme distress because he regressed her to an age when she recalled being sexually assaulted. He should have suggested she act like a six-year-old, rather than be six years old.
No. But she could create a false belief. Inadvertently because she suggests something that didn't actually happen or deliberately because it's part of your therapy. Let me explain: the hypnotist might by accident ask a "leading question" such as "And who else is in the room with your 7 year-old self"? which would likely cause a hypnotized client to imagine someone being in that room even though in reality there had been no other person present. On the other hand, the hypnotist might very deliberately and positively suggest a client who is afraid of public speaking imagine himself giving a great speech at his next business meeting.
No. If the hypnotist stopped talking to you after a while you'd either drift off to sleep or you'd open your eyes to find out what's going on.
No. You are the one in control of what you say and do. Even in a hypnotic trance, you are aware of your actions.
Of course. But since you are awake and aware of what's happening while you're in hypnosis you'd only allow the assault to continue if you wanted it to. Assaults are far more prevalent by "professional" physicians, psychologists and psychotherapists, who are not using hypnosis.
This is traditionally answered by "it feels different for each person"
which is a bit like claiming that no two snowflakes are alike. How on Earth would we know? When used in a
therapeutic context many people report:
- feeling relaxed,
- uncaring about their everyday concerns,
- only vaguely aware of their surroundings,
- barely hearing extraneous noises,
- focused in their imaginations,
- arms and legs either pleasantly heavy or light,
- enjoyable tingling sensations,
- sense of peace and lethargy,
- mind super alert.
To an observer the hypnotized person looks as relaxed as if she were asleep. In particular, the face becomes placid and sometimes a little flushed. The eyelids may twitch a little.
The best way is from the results achieved. If you experience the kind of
physical and imaginative details described above you probably won't even ask this question. However, if
like a lot of people, you don't feel much different physically or mentally while supposedly in hypnosis
there are three possibilities:
1. You were hypnotised but because of false notions about hypnosis decided you weren't.
2. You chose not to be hypnotized.
3. You were not hypnotised.
The late hypnotherapist Michael Carr-Jones answers this by saying your question is his "biggest bete noir".
"Of course you hear every word. You are awake, aware, fully conscious. If you could not hear every word we would all be wasting our time and your money."
Because that invokes the out-dated concept of the hypnotist being in control, of the client being involuntarily sedated.
Yes. Hypnosis is safe for everyone. Children can readily benefit because, even more than adults, they slip in and out of hypnosis naturally all day as they play make-believe.
No. It is, of course, preferable to relax when you are in a therapist's office. But you could (and often do) go into hypnosis while exercising vigorously (e.g. running a marathon) or in an emergency (such as a car crash).
The use of hypnosis in police and similar investigations. The North American acknowledged expert in this field is Inspector Marx Howell.
Strictly speaking, no. The label is often applied when a therapist uses hypnosis with a client. But however refreshing it is to enjoy being in hypnosis the experience by itself is not therapeutic. Therapy is done while a person is in hypnosis, not by hypnosis.
Not necessarily. In many jurisdictions anyone can open an office as a hypnotherapist (or as a psychotherapist) with absolutely no credentials in psychology, medicine, hypnosis, psychotherapy or psychopathology.
You follow these Guidelines: How To Choose the Right Hypnotherapist
Not necessarily. Here's my longer answer: Who Should Practice Hypnotherapy?
Donald Robertson writes, "The false premise of the question can be exposed by comparing it to asking: "How long do beliefs last"? Hypnotic suggestions are simply ideas which are accepted as beliefs at a particularly "deep" level. In fact, there's no simple answer. A post-hypnotic suggestion could last a few minutes or a lifetime, it depends upon a multitude of factors, including the psychology of the client, their subsequent life experiences, the precise nature of the suggestion, and the means of its delivery."
Perhaps. If you are frequently in the formerly phobic situation but now feel comfortable, it's unlikely you'll need a "top up". The new habit of being non-phobic will have replaced the old phobia. However, if the phobic situation is one that you rarely encounter but you do find yourself once again about to face it then you might need brief hypnotherapy. Or you could use the self-hypnosis techniques taught to you by your therapist.
"Depth" in hypnosis is subjective. But what might be called a "light trance" is sufficient for therapeutic change such as stopping smoking or losing weight. Presumably, though, you'd want to be deep into hypnosis if it was the only anesthetic you were using while undergoing surgery!
Some hypnotherapists like to have their clients listen through headphones to a relaxing induction mix of words and music. Others will use a metronome, pendulum or other device for focusing the clients' attention. No device is actually essential. Most hypnotherapists simply talk their clients into hypnosis on a one-to-one basis. (Probably not as financially profitable as having a number of clients in several rooms with electronically-equipped recliners linked to a central "broadcasting" unit.)
No. Unless he's trying out for a part in a Hollywood movie. Real-life hypnotherapists use whatever voice they've been graced with. Of course, it helps if the voice is soothing rather than grating. And a confident tone is important. Apart from that any kind of voice is sufficient.
Regression is helping a client in his imagination to go back in his life; past-life regression supposedly takes a person to a previous life. More likely, the many accounts of such experiences are a tribute to human creativity. But such a past-life experience can be therapeutic.
Thorough grounding not only in the techniques of hypnosis but in psychopathology, psychotherapy, human behaviour, ethics and marketing. It's essential to be properly mentored.
Yes. And everything. It's best to first experience hypnosis with a competent practitioner.
Yes. Although their advocates will argue otherwise, in my opinion here are
a few of the many practices that are basically hypnotic:
- Creative Visualization
- Guided Imagery
- "Flooding" (a technique used by psychologists)
- Emotional Freedom Technique [EFT]
- Eye Movement and Desensitization and Re-Processing [EMDR].
No. You can keep your eyes open -- especially for our hypnotic DVDs. There are three reasons a
hypnotherapist will ask you to close your eyes:
1. Doing so sets the stage for you doing as she asks,
2. You focus more easily on whatever you are imagining,
3. It's quite disturbing to the therapist to watch an unblinking client for an hour or so.
To quote myself (from "Easily Hypnotize Anyone" ): "There are so many
applications for hypnosis that you might consider it a panacea -- i.e., a solution for all emotional,
psychological and physical problems. Especially since hypnosis can be used with people of all ages and
with a myriad of problems. Here are a few:
- weight control,
- eating disorders,
- sexual dysfunctions,
- smoking cessation,
- medical illness,
- post-traumatic stress, and
- bipolar affective disorder.
For sure. Hypnosis can be used to enhance:
- your sports activities,
- your love life,
- your work habits,
- your confidence,
- your creativity.
Because it deals with fundamental beliefs. Supposedly stored in what we call the subconscious (or "unconscious" in England) these beliefs are what guide us in our everyday living. Change these beliefs and you change your life.
There are hypnotherapists who make such claims. While some remarkable physical effects of hypnotherapy are possible, the actual curing of diseases such as cancer and diabetes seems to be a somewhat outlandish claim, not to mention probably illegal in most jurisdictions. However, hypnosis, its imitators and derivatives, are certainly powerful in helping sick people to be relaxed and to lead less despairing lives.
Hypnotherapists who specialise in pain control say that the focusing may begin first on the pain. Alleviation of some discomfort helps the client feel she still has some control. Then, when she's ready, she exercises the ultimate in self-control: letting go.
"Somnambulism" is the concept of a very "deep" level of hypnosis that some practitioners consider mandatory if a client is to successfully achieve change. Since I consider this to be a belief, rather than a fact, my answer is that reaching somnambulism only matters to the therapist. Might morphine make it easier for a patient to utilise hypnosis? After all, she is already relaxed. I'm not aware of any studies on this so I am not giving a definitive answer.
No. On the contrary. You will remember everything you want to remember.
- you request a suggestion for amnesia,
- you choose not to remember, or
- you spontaneously forget.
Either because your subconscious considers you are not yet ready to consciously face whatever you were dealing with during the session, or because you are one of the estimated 3% of the population who enjoy such a high talent for hypnosis that amnesia occurs automatically. Even for these fortunate people (sometimes known as "somnambules") a few verbal hints will suffice to activate recall.
Something within your brain that Ernest Hilgard, scientist and hypnosis researcher, postulates is always there keeping an eye out, so to speak, to keep you safe. It's the reason somnambules can recall what went on when prompted to do so.
No. But as with all therapies placebo plays a large part. (Perhaps more than 50%, claims Ernest Rossi, psychologist).
Hypnosis and Religion
Some Christian fundamentalists frown upon the use of hypnosis. They believe hypnosis is a tool of the Devil; that hypnosis opens you up to access by evil spirits. Mainstream Christian groups have no such qualms. Indeed, some not only use hypnosis in a therapeutic manner but have their own associations. For example, Reverend Scott Giles does a lot of work for the National Guild of Hypnotists. And you might enjoy Reverend Paul Durbin's "Human Trinity Hypnotherapy" website.
Perhaps. Some people think hypnosis is referred to here: Genesis 2:21, 1 Samuel 26:12, Job 4:13, 33:15, Acts 10:10.
Yes. From prayer to music to ritual procession to repetitive chants to
awe-inspiring buildings, religions benefit from techniques that could be considered hypnotic. Some of these are:
- suspension of disbelief
- inculcation of new beliefs
- repetition through sermons
- hymn singing or chanting
- rituals to reinforce beliefs
- repetitive drumming or dancing
He (and occasionally, she) deliberately gives that impression. However, the only control the stage hypnotist has is whatever amount the volunteers give. They are cooperating with his suggestions, allowing themselves to have fun and they can exit hypnosis any time they choose.
Yes, of course. [Most of them. Some people will just "play along."]
Seems to be a holdover from earlier times when people thought hypnosis was a type of sleep. Also in those days all hypnosis interaction (stage and therapeutic) was authoritarian. Today, audiences still expect this approach by stage hypnotists.
No finer place than in my colleague Alex Duvall's excellent ebook, Stage Hypnosis Secrets Revealed.
The #1 Question about Hypnosis
The wording varies but the #1 Question I've been asked is: "Can hypnosis help me forget someone"? And the answer is: Possibly.
Often the enquirer wants to be able to forget a former lover, a traumatic event or an obsessive thought. What is certain is that the damaging emotions around an event, person or persistent thought can be minimized or even eliminated with hypnotherapy. "Cutting the cords" (or the ties that bind?) is a technique that hypnotherapists often use to free a person from a disturbing memory.
Here's an email exchange between a websurfer and myself that is a great example of the questions people typically have about hypnosis, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis.
The exchange also illustrates the power of entrenched beliefs. My comments are interspersed: Q. "At work we were discussing hypnosis and I just have a few questions if you would be so good as to answer them.
l. You can't be hypnotized unless you are willing to be hypnotized? In other words, if we're sitting and talking, I couldn't be put under hypnosis unless I wanted to be put under. Many years back we had a hypnotist at school and that is what he said too.
A. Depends what you mean by "willing". People are swayed by a politician or a salesman using hypnotic techniques. Ditto with TV ads. But you see, no amount of hamburger ads would persuade me to buy a hamburger because just the thought of eating something with all those chemicals, animal cruelty and environmental devastation, makes me feel sick. So, I'm "not willing to be hypnotized" to eat red meat.
2. You can't be hypnotized and not know you're being hypnotized? Example: We're talking and without having a clue, you could hypnotize me. (Sure hope not.)
A. Controversial. Hypnosis is like daydreaming. So if you're in awe of someone or say, falling in love with a guy, you might not realise that you are in a sort of trance-like state. Basically all this is words. You probably have an erroneous idea of what hypnosis is from bad movies, books and stage shows that deliberately make you think the hypnotized person is in some kind of other-worldly state, under the control of the hypnotist. Not so.
3. If you willingly are hypnotized, can you be made to forget what happened while you were hypnotized??
A. No one can MAKE you do or think anything unless you want it. So you may ask the hypnotist to suggest amnesia. And you'll forget. But recall is always possible with a little verbal nudging. The "hidden observer" in your mind is watching continuously to keep you safe.
"Second part of question. And then when you're brought out of the hypnosis, you have no idea you were even hypnotized in the first place"?
A. Well, many people think that. And they have that erroneous belief precisely because they have a totally wrong concept of hypnosis to begin with. In hypnosis you are awake, aware, conscious. You can even tell lies if you choose.
"Surely you would know you woke up or time had passed or something"?
A. You don't "wake up" because you were not asleep. Time is very subjective. In hypnotherapy the subjective passage of time can be slowed down or speeded up. Very useful for therapy.
That wasn't enough for the enquirer. She wrote a follow-up: "Thank you for your prompt reply. I think you're probably right. I don't really know what hypnosis is. Regarding my 1st question your example of the hamburgers was a good one. By willing, that's what I meant. Example: If I smoked (I don't) and I didn't want to stop, I couldn't be made to stop through hypnosis. Another example, if I see a dog, hypnosis couldn't make me think it's a horse because I wouldn't want to think that. Am I right" ?
A. Right. Except that in the second example you could be "tricked" if you trusted the hypnotizer and were told that a new language or a new definition, would now call the dog a horse. (If you were on stage you'd readily identify the dog as a horse). But again, you still believe it because you want to.
And, once out of hypnosis, the absurdity would have you laughing.... "Regarding question #2 you hit the nail on the head. I thought the hypnotist was in control and able to make you do things you didn't want to do. That's false"?
A. Thought I'd made that point -- as you have above. "From your explanation am I right in saying the hypnotist can suggest things such as thirsty or hungry but if you're not, you're not going to want a drink or food. He can suggest it but he can't MAKE you want it. Right"?
A. Right. Why don't you read a good book on hypnosis. "The last part of #3 regarding time. If I were in a session with you, you could make it seem like time had passed quickly or slowly but if my appt. started at 3:00 and I left at 3:15 I would know time had passed. You couldn't make me think no time had passed. Correct"?
A. Couldn't MAKE you think anything. I didn't write that NO time had passed. I wrote that time (remember this is a human construct) is subjective so the hypnotic suggestion re time could be of stretching it, or of shortening it. But not to outlandish lengths.
"So to sum it up, (1) a hypnotist is not in control, (2) she can't make you do or think something you do not want to do or think, and (3) she can't make you forget you were hypnotized because you are not in a trance (sleep). Correct"?
A. Whether you're in a trance or not is a controversial point. What, after all, is a trance? But definitely not sleep. How could you follow suggestions if you were asleep? Always amazes me that people don't wonder about that.
"I think my wrong ideas about hypnosis are like you said. From bad movies, etc. Are hypnosis and hypnotherapy one and the same"?
A. Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis to enable the therapist to conduct therapy.