Facts & Fiction

Very few topics in the whole history of mankind can have given rise to so many absurdities, misunderstandings, and misconceptions. From the very beginning the study of hypnosis has been tied up with fantastic conceptions like animal magnetism, the influence of the stars, and similar tarradiddle. Even nowadays, popular conceptions of hypnosis are extremely confused, and journalistic reports in newspapers have done but little to clarify the issues involved. - Hans Eysenck, Sense & Nonsense in Psychology (1957)

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is essentially a state of heightened suggestibility, or "hyper-suggestibility." Hippolyte Bernheim, the father of twentieth century hypnotism, wrote

"I define hypnotism as the induction of a peculiar psychical [i.e., mental] condition which increases the susceptibility to suggestion. Often, it is true, the [hypnotic] sleep that may be induced facilitates suggestion, but it is not the necessary preliminary. It is suggestion that rules hypnotism. (Hypnosis & Suggestion, 1884: 15, my italics)".

What does hypnosis feel like?

Hypnosis is a cognitive state related to belief and imagination and not reducible to specific feelings or sensations. The experience of hypnosis is primarily determined by the suggestions being accepted at the time. While people usually feel relaxed during hypnosis, fixating on preconceptions of what hypnosis should feel like can prevent hypnosis from occurring. It's essential to be patient, open-minded and discover one's typical experiences of hypnosis through practice.

Is hypnosis like being asleep?

Hypnosis is not the same as sleep, despite the word hypnosis coming from the Greek word for "sleep". In hypnosis, the person is mentally awake and aware of their surroundings. The use of the word "sleep" by hypnotists is simply a trigger word to evoke relaxation. However, in a deep state of hypnosis, a person may feel drowsy and experience a sleep-like state.

Is hypnosis an "alpha" brain state?

The idea that people in hypnotic trance produce a higher frequency of "alpha" or "theta" brain waves on EEG recordings is an outdated and inaccurate theory found in cheap books on hypnosis. The neurological and physiological correlates of hypnosis are task-specific, making it impossible to produce a single unambiguous marker of hypnotic trance.

Can anyone be hypnotised?

Anyone can enter into hypnosis as it is as easy as daydreaming or relaxing your mind in any other normal way. Hypnosis is essentially a matter of belief and imagination, so if you believe or imagine that you are in hypnosis, then you are in hypnosis. It is important to have a positive mindset and believe that hypnosis is easy in order to be successful.

Are some people easier to hypnotise?

Of course. Some people are exceptionally good at going into hypnosis, this may be a natural talent or the result of practice. However, anyone can do it and everyone can learn how to improve their ability with a little practice and basic instruction.

Am I under someone else's "power" or control in hypnosis?

No, you cannot be forced into hypnosis against your will nor compelled to do anything embarrassing or objectionable while in hypnosis. In hypnosis, you are generally aware and fundamentally in control of everything that happens. Some early researchers believed it was possible to induce people in hypnosis to perform anti-social acts, but subsequent research has shown that hypnotized subjects are no more compliant in this respect than non-hypnotized people. Hypnosis adds nothing in this respect, and if you want to "brainwash" people, there are much better ways of doing it.

In other words: even in the deepest levels of hypnosis, you remain in control of your responses and will not accept suggestions which are in any way objectionable to you.

Can I get stuck in hypnosis?

No. Just as you cannot get stuck in a daydream, in your imagination, or in meditation. Given time you will either rouse yourself naturally or drift off to natural sleep; hypnosis is a temporary state of mind. Otherwise we would have piles of people who are "stuck in hypnosis" piled up in a warehouse somewhere. It has never happened.

Does it mean I'm weak-willed or gullible?

There is no correlation between gullibility and hypnotic susceptibility. Hypnotic suggestibility, or the ability to respond positively to ideas at an experiential or emotional level, is not a weakness of intellect but rather a valuable asset. Good suggestibility is often found in highly self-disciplined people, such as soldiers, athletes, and successful businessmen.

Is Hypnotism a form of Meditation?

Hypnotic "trance" is often compared to certain forms of meditation, with a lot of overlap between the two. However, the fundamental aims of hypnotism and meditation are usually different, with meditation often seeing thee attainment of meditative trances as an end-in-itself, whereas the "trance" in hypnosis is seen as a means-to-an-end for personal transformation through autosuggestion. Goal-directed suggestion is not the dominant theme in traditional meditation.

What is the relationship between hypnosis & self-hypnosis?

The slogan "All hypnosis is self-hypnosis" is partially true as the subject's imagination plays a significant role in hypnosis. In a questionnaire study by Stanford University, subjects viewed the hypnotist's role as a "guide" rather than an authority figure. Subjects passively follow instructions and respond automatically to suggestions from their imagination. Hypnosis is not active conscious compliance but instead, a response stimulated by suggestion and imagination.

Are there different uses of hypnosis?

Hypnosis has been used in various ways throughout history. Initially, it was used without suggestion or other therapy techniques, manipulating posture to work cures. Later, verbal suggestion was introduced as a therapeutic intervention. Sigmund Freud introduced hypnosis as a means of re-experiencing childhood memories and achieving insight into the unconscious. After World War II, hypnotherapists integrated techniques from various forms of psychotherapy, and many styles of hypnotism emerged. Nowadays, many hypnotherapists in the UK practice integrative psychotherapy, combining hypnosis with other forms of therapy.

Where can I find current research on hypnosis?

The International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, and Contemporary Hypnosis are the leading peer-reviewed scientific research journals in the field of hypnosis. They are published by the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, respectively.

What evidence is there that hypnosis works?

Hypnotherapy has been subject to analysis and experiment since the early days of psychology. The British Medical Journal published a 'Clinical Review' confirming hypnosis's effectiveness in alleviating pain and treating various medical conditions, particularly anxiety, pain, and insomnia. Other research shows that hypnotherapy is effective for conditions such as phobia, obesity, and cancer-related anxiety. Additionally, a UK Consumer Association survey of over 2,000 people found that 82% of hypnotherapy clients found that their condition had improved as a result of treatment.

Is Hypnosis a Quick Fix?

Hypnotherapy is one of the most rapid forms of psychotherapy, but the idea of instantaneous miracle cures is false. The average treatment length is about 3.7 weeks based on data from 42 randomized controlled studies employing several thousand participants. The number of sessions per week is not specified, but the real figure is estimated to be 4-5 sessions on average. Hypnotherapy tends to be slightly quicker than other brief therapies and is more effective in a shorter space of time, but it usually lasts longer than just one session.

Is hypnosis a 'recognised' therapy?

Hypnotherapy is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the UK, while hypno-psychotherapy is recognized as a branch of integrative psychotherapy. The British Medical Association (BMA) has recognized the therapeutic benefits of hypnosis since 1892, and the House of Lords committee categorizes it as CAM. Hypno-psychotherapy is recognized as an established model of psychotherapy by the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the European Association for Psychotherapy.

What can hypnosis be used for?

Hypnosis has been successfully used for various medical and psychological conditions, as well as by athletes for performance enhancement, by professionals for business success, and by artists and poets for inspiration and self-exploration. It has also been used by people from different cultures and religions throughout history to help deal with daily problems, overcome fears, and improve confidence. However, despite its vast range of applications, there is still much to be discovered about the potential uses of hypnosis.