Although hypnosis has become more mainstream these days, it continues to have a bit of an image problem. For many people, hypnosis is, at best, humiliation disguised as entertainment, or at worst, a dark occult art of mind-control and manipulation.
And although the truth is much more boring (hypnosis is simply a way of working with naturally occurring states of mind) these misconceptions continue to persist, so it’s helpful to have a look at some of them and demolish some common myths.
Most people are surprised to find out that hypnosis is actually a normal state of mind that every person experiences dozens of times every day of their lives. While it may conjure up images of mind control or a loss of awareness, clinical studies have shown that people can achieve a greater awareness of their environment during hypnosis. Hypnosis is an extremely efficient state of mind artists and athletes refer to as “being in the zone”.
Hypnotherapy is getting into that desired state of mind intentionally and using it with purpose for some pre-selected reason. The American Medical Association, British Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Dental Association, and the Roman Catholic Church have all formally recognized the value and benefits of hypnotherapy and its applications.
Hypnosis Myth #1
“Only weak-minded people can be hypnotized.”
False! The truth is that everyone can be hypnotized. As a matter of fact, each one of us are using hypnosis in some form every single day of our lives either consciously or unconsciously. We are all experiencing some form of a trance-like hypnotic state each time we engage our imagination, each time we engage our emotions, and each time our attention is focused upon our subjective experience. Activites such as sports, watching movies and TV, driving the car, etc. are all hypnotic events. Hypnosis is a natural state of mind.
It’s been said many times, and it needs to be said once more: “all hypnosis is ultimately self hypnosis”. Unless you are willing to be hypnotized, unless you agree to allow a hypnotist to help you achieve a hypnotic trance state, and unless your subconscious mind agrees with the suggestions the hypnotist may make – it just doesn’t happen. You are always in full control of your mind.
What about the assertion that the subject must be weak minded? In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. A weak minded person doesn’t have the capacity for concentration that is required for hypnosis, or the strength of motivation, either. The January/February 2001 issue of Psychology Today carried an article by Dr. Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D., titled “The Power of Hypnosis.” Barrett notes, “modern research shows that hypnotizability is correlated with intelligence, concentration and focus.” Successful subjects often show high creativity, are cooperative, and usually have less fear and suspicion of the process. Actually, about 95% of all people are susceptible to hypnosis, to one degree or another.
The people that are easiest to hypnotize are those who have great imagination, high intelligence, and are able to maintain their focus on the desired objective. The smarter the better (smarter with both sides of the brain). In other words, it’s people who can still nourish that childlike quality of pretending, acting “as if” that which they desire to experience is their only reality.
The goal of a hypnosis session is successful installation of a desired outcomes deep into the subconscious mind from where it eventually expresses itself automatically without any further conscious activity. We disempower ourselves when we choose limiting beliefs which reduce the number of available options toward reaching desired outcome; and we empower ourselves whenever we open ourselves to more options.
Hypnosis Myth #2
“Hypnosis is mind control and you can be made to say or do something against your will.”
False! Generally, hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestion and people won’t do anything which goes against their personal values or beliefs. What you have to remember about hypnosis is that it’s not sleep and you’re aware of everything that’s happening around you. If someone tells you to do something that is really against your values then you won’t do it. You’ll come out of the state of hypnosis, and in fact it would almost be as if you were shocked out of hypnosis. It’s as simple as that!
The idea of hypnosis as mind-control probably springs from stage hypnosis, where people are indeed hypnotized for the entertainment of others and encouraged to perform bizarre/amusing/humiliating acts, depending on your point of view. In reality, stage show hypnosis is exactly that – showbiz. The hypnotist is there to entertain, and they have many techniques to ensure that the people who end up on stage will put on a good show for them. This isn’t to say they’re faking it – some are, but many are not. But the selection process is very thorough. Stage hypnotists are looking for certain extroverted and flamboyant personalities that they hope will be the most entertaining to the crowd. Highly introverted people are very unlikely to find themselves before the audience doing Elvis impersonations or eating raw onions believing them to be apples.
Of course, highly introverted people are unlikely to attend the show in the first place, and that’s a very important point. Everybody at the show arrives with certain expectations. They expect to be entertained by the Elvis impersonations and raw onion routines, and may even be willing to go along with that themselves. Paul McKenna calls it “3D karaoke”, and that’s a very good description.
The dark side of the stage hypnosis idea is that of hypnosis being used to seduce, abuse and otherwise manipulate the innocent into performing immoral or criminal acts. This is quite an old idea, popularized by the fictional character named “Svengali” in George Du Maurier’s novel Trilby (published in 1895) and this false nonsense has been regurgitated by Hollywood movies ever since.
Again, this is just dramatic license. The founding father of modern hypnotherapy, Milton Erickson, conducted many experiments in which he attempted to make hypnotic subjects perform objectionable or minor criminal acts. Outside of formal laboratory settings, when people felt it was OK to perform such acts because it was “just an experiment”, people simply refused to co-operate in situations where the act might have real consequences. As Erickson put it, “hypnosis cannot be misused to induce hypnotized persons to commit actual wrongful acts, against themselves or others.”
Immoral people will always act immorally, and moral people will act against their better natures when exposed to lies, trickery and social pressures. But this has nothing to do with hypnosis.
Hypnosis Myth #3
“Hypnosis can force you to divulge secrets and private information that you do not want to share.”
False! Another common fear about hypnosis is that it will somehow make you blurt out your deepest darkest secrets. Hypnosis isn’t a truth drug – for a start, people are just as capable of lying under hypnosis as they are at every other time. When you’re in a hypnotic trance state, you’re still aware of everything that’s going on around you (indeed, some studies suggest that you’re actually more aware), so you’re free to say as much or as little as you wish.
Hypnosis Myth #4
“You can become permanently “stuck” in hypnosis and never come out of it.”
False! You can’t be permanently stuck in hypnosis any more than you could be permanently stuck in a waking daydream. You’re “in a trance” many times every day; every time you shift your focus just a little, to become absorbed in a book, a television program, or even driving on the highway. The trance state is natural to us as human beings; we pass in and out of it constantly, without even noticing the transitions.
In a 1981 article, “The Phenomena and Characteristics of Self-Hypnosis”, Erika Fromm and several colleagues described the state that is part of both hypnosis and self-hypnosis. They said that it “exhibits absorption, or the complete focus and occupation of the mind, as well as a fading of the usual orientation to general reality”. Doesn’t that sound like the way you feel when you are reading a fascinating book, meditating, praying or listening to music? Don’t you narrow your focus to the book, meditation, prayer, or the music surrounding you? And don’t you feel aware of – but not at all focused upon – “general reality,” or everything else around you? Therefore, you’ll never get stuck permanently in hypnosis.
Suppose that you were being hypnotized, and the hypnotist stopped in mid-sentence and walked out of the room. What would happen to you? One of two things: either you would realize immediately that the hypnotist’s voice had stopped speaking, and you would open your eyes and wake up normally, feeling fine; or else you would drift off into a few minutes of normal sleep, and then open your eyes and wake up, feeling fine. Remember, hypnosis puts you in a state that is normal and natural to all of us. Even if the hypnotist were to drop down dead in the middle of an induction, the worst that would happen is that you would fall asleep and wake up in the normal way (to a rather unpleasant sight).
No one has ever gotten stuck, but some people enjoy deep trance so much that they don’t want to come out. Imagine being in a state where your body feels so deeply relaxed that you may not need to pay any attention to it, and your mind is completely free of any stresses associated with your daily life and you are finally able to experience all of your most cherished dreams and secret desires come to life in full color with exquisite sensations. At least here, perhaps for the first time, you are able to experience total freedom, inner peace and happiness and all seems absolutely perfect in your world. You are in control.
Do you know what happens to your body in these deep states? It begins to release an abundance of pleasure hormones (endorphins). You feel better than you ever felt before. The deeper into trance you go, the better you feel. You have no desire to leave this state. But the session comes to an end and you are invited to emerge out of this state of total bliss. You have two choices: either you reluctantly choose to leave this state knowing that you’ll be able to experience it again or you refuse to come out.
Hypnosis Myth #5
“Hypnosis is evil and is related to the occult, and hypnotists have special powers and are possibly psychic.”
False! The idea that hypnosis is related to the occult is pure Hollywood. The producers of films are not always as interested in truth about their subjects as they are in drama; and rightly so, that’s their job – to keep the public entertained. It does hypnosis a great disservice, however, to portray it as somehow evil or manipulative, a kind of brainwashing or mind control.
Some very religious people talk of hypnosis as the “work of the Devil” or claiming that it causes “demon possession”. Remember that anything can be used positively and negatively. It’s not the hypnosis that might be at fault, it’s the operator. It’s whether a person is professional and ethical. There are many doctors who use hypnosis. We’re not so sure that they’re in league with the devil. After all, hypnosis is a naturally occurring, beneficial, positive state that we all experience dozens of times every single day.
The only “special power” some hypnotists have is the power of observation, and a knowledge of human beings. Keep in mind that all hypnosis is ultimately self hypnosis: in the end, it’s you yourself who decide to be hypnotized, or not to be hypnotized.
It is worth noting that in 1955, the British Medical Association approved hypnosis as a viable treatment option. Two years later, 1957, saw approval by the Roman Catholic Church of hypnosis as an option for therapy.Another year later, 1958, the American Medical Association also approved hypnosis as a valid therapeutic method. Hypnotherapy is coded as a profession by the U.S. Department of Labor, with “hypnotherapist” listed as code number 079.157.010 in the Federal Government Titles of Legitimate Occupations.
Neither is hypnosis a magic power or a miracle cure. Human beings cannot fly unaided, teleport or walk through walls – and no amount of hypnosis will make this so. You might imagine these things happening while in a hypnotic trance, but the laws of physics ensure that it won’t actually happen. Sadly, there is no universal panacea, either. There’s never going to be one thing that cures all things for all people all of the time – we’re too varied and individual for that ever to be the case.
Hypnosis Myth #6
“Hypnosis is dangerous, and could damage my mind.”
False! Electrical activity in the human brain is measured as brain waves by an electroencephalogram (EEG). The measurement is described in terms of “cycles per minute” or hertz. Here is a brief explanation of how brain waves are related to hypnosis, as well as to the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind.
- Beta brain waves (14-30 hz) = conscious, waking, alert. The “filters” of your beliefs, ethics, values, and all your past experience and conditioning are too active in the Beta state to allow you to accept hypnosis.
- Alpha brain waves (8-13 hz) = creativity, inspiration, daydreaming. The conscious mind is no longer dominant, and the subconscious is becoming active. Your brain waves register in the Alpha region when you are in a light trance state. Hypnotic suggestions are readily accepted in the Alpha state.
- Theta brain waves (4-7 hz) = subconscious, dreaming, hypnosis, meditation, “in the zone” with sports. Here the subconscious mind is dominant. The Theta level is where past experiences and emotions can be relived. It is also the level at which hypnoanesthesia occurs: for example, dental or surgical procedures can be carried out without pain, and childbirth can take place painlessly, with the assistance of hypnoanesthesia instead of physical anesthesia.
- Delta brain waves (0.5-6 hz) = unconscious, asleep, deep sleep. Your brain waves would register as Delta if you fell asleep during hypnosis.
Hypnosis is no more dangerous than sleep-dreaming, meditation, or being “in the zone”.
Hypnosis Myth #7
“Hypnosis is not effective for changing your health or your life.”
False! Hypnosis was approved for medical use in 1958 by the American Medical Association. Hospitals now commonly use some form of hypnosis in preparing patients for surgery and in helping them recover more rapidly. In fact, many of our best hospitals now have Departments of Integrative Medicine, where hypnosis is recognized and used along with other types of alternative medicine, such as healing touch and chiropractic, in support of traditional medical procedures.
A comparative research study done by American Health Magazine on Psychoanalysis, Behavior Therapy, and Hypnosis as treatments for mental health issues reported the following results validating the superiority of hypnosis:
- Psychoanalysis = 38% recovery after 600 sessions
- Behavior Therapy = 73% recovery after 22 sessions
- Hypnosis = 93% recovery after 6 sessions.
Here are just a few examples of results published in medical journals:
- Hypnosis during surgical radiology reduced patients’ anxiety and pain, as well as shortening time required for surgery and reducing complications. (Lancet, 2000).
- Many cancer patients experience vomiting and nausea before chemotherapy, as well as after treatment. A study of 16 subjects who usually showed these symptoms revealed that hypnosis prevented pre-chemotherapy nausea in all 16. (Oncology, 2000).
- A single session of group hypnotherapy was sponsored by the American Lung Association, to see if it would help smokers to kick the habit. Of nearly 3,000 participants in one session, 22% reported not smoking for a month after the session. (The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2000).
- Hypnosis is shown by research to be as effective as Ritalin in treating Attention Deficit Disorder ( ADD) in children. (Presented at the American Psychological Association Meeting, 1999).
Hypnosis Myth #8
“It’s only safe to be hypnotized if the hypnotist is a psychologist.”
False! It is interesting to note that hypnosis is not a regular part of most training programs for psychologists. The exception would be if the training took place at one of the few universities where a department is engaged in active research in the field of hypnosis. The subject is not part of the regular curriculum for psychologists-in-training. (Remember that the American Medical Association approved hypnosis in 1958).
The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), founded by Milton H. Erickson, MD, in 1957, requires only 40 hours of training in hypnosis for psychologists who wish to become members. In comparison, the National Guild of Hypnotists, Inc. (NGH), founded by Dr. Rexford L. North in 1950, requires a minimum basic course of 100 hours in hypnosis (most basic courses are actually 150 hours), as well as a minimum of 15 additional hours of training each year to renew annual membership. The NGH considers this level of training to be the minimum requisite for safe practice in hypnosis.
There is no reason to believe that expertise in psychology would be transferrable as expertise in hypnotherapy. No psychotherapy is involved in the practice of hypnosis.
Over the years, probably due in part to Hollywood’s colorful dramas about mind control and brainwashing, the word “hypnosis” has been wrongly distorted and has created the illusion that you lose control in hypnosis. In fact, the real truth is that hypnosis is a perfectly natural occurring state of mind and when hypnotized, you are relaxed and focused – and able to choose to get up and walk away at any time. If you have been fearful of hypnosis in the past, hopefully you now understand the truth about these hypnosis myths.
The main thing to remember is that hypnosis is a collaborative process. In order for it to work, it relies on you joining in with it, rather than allowing it to be done to you. All hypnosis is ultimately self hypnosis. Only you can decide to allow yourself to be hypnotized; without your consent, it simply cannot happen. It’s a fundamental and perfectly natural human experience, and a powerfully effective way of gaining more control over your life.