It is fair to say that, when it comes to hypnosis, there are many misconceptions in people’s minds. These misconceptions are often rooted in old media portrayals, and rarely make any sense. However these outdated (or just plain ridiculous) ideas can lead to a person being afraid of a process that could be wonderfully beneficial to their health.
So – I want to discuss some of the common misconceptions, and hopefully allaying some fears along the way.
In hypnosis, you are asleep or unconscious (i.e. “Put under”)
Some researchers believe that hypnosis is an altered state of conscious awareness. Others feel that hypnosis is a result of normal psychological function, coupled with certain sociological forces (e.g. role-playing at being hypnotised). However, no matter which theory of hypnosis you subscribe to, it has nothing to do with being unconscious. The truth is, physical relaxation need not be present in order for hypnosis to occur – you can be very alert and yet still capable of producing hypnotic phenomena.
Whilst experiencing hypnosis, particularly in a clinical setting, you will always retains your conscious awareness, even if it becomes a bit ‘day-dreamy’.
Not everybody can be hypnotised
There is defnitely a spectrum of responsiveness to hypnosis. This spectrum depends on a whole array of factors. These factors could be intrapersonal, such as a fear of hypnosis, ability to relax, a belief that it can be done, etc. These factors can also be situational, such as the room in which the hypnosis is being carried out, the time of day. These factors can also be intrapersonal, e.g. personal rapport between the hypnotist and the client, etc.
According to some research (Gfeller, 1993; Wagstaff, 1996), “low” hypnotisables can be coached into responsive hypnotic subjects with practice and training.
Everyone can be hypnotised. All it takes is feeling comfortable with the idea of going into it. Some people find it easier than others to begin with, but with practice it just gets easier and easier.
To give you an idea – I’ve hypnotised thousands of people in my time (so far) and I can count 3 people who I couldn’t hypnotise (and one of those kept pinching herself! I guess she really didn’t want to stop smoking after all…)
Only the weak-minded or weak-willed can be hypnotised
There has been a lot of scientific research into whether specific personality traits correlate with being “more hypnotisable”. According to research the ability to be hypnotised does not correlate with any specific personality trait (Kirsch & Council, 1992), including a person’s capacity for will (Kirsh, Lynn, & Rhue, 1993; 1996).
This is one of those things said (usually by men) by people who believe that hypnosis is some form of mind control. There is simply no connection between being ‘strong willed’ or ‘weak willed’ and hypnosis.
Once one has been hypnotised, one can no longer resist it
Although techniques such as anchors can be used to rapidly re-induce hypnosis, the hypnotic process is always context-determined. According to Michael Yapko, “Prior experience of hypnosis is not the sole or even primary factor in whether hypnosis is accomplished or not”.
This is one of those misconceptions that make little sense, if you think about it. Let’s say I hypnotised you to stop smoking. Then, a year later, I bump into you in a put. The idea that all I’d need to do is go “SLEEP!” and you’d be “under” (and be willing to buy me free beer all night) is (sadly?) not true…
One can be hypnotised to do or say something against one’s will
This is an interesting one. Despite the fact that virtually all hypnotherapists will tell you that you can’t be made to do anything you don’t want to do, the truth is that people can be manipulated negatively to do things seemingly inconsistent with their beliefs and attitudes.
However – and this is important – the conditions necessary to exert such a powerful influence have nothing to do with a typical therapeutic encounter (Yapko, 2003). Again, as research carried out into social factors and hypnosis has demonstrated (T. Barber, 2000) hypnosis is context-dependent.
Think about it – if, whilst sitting in my therapy room, I hypnotised you and said “And – now – you will jump out of the window / give me all your money / take off all your clothes / etc”, the truth is you will come out of the trance and probably punch me on the nose for thinking you were so gullible. It just makes no sense.
If it were a stage show, and you thought I was asking you these things as part of a show – i.e. entertainment – then maybe you’d go along with it, maybe you wouldn’t. But in a therapy session? Never.
Hypnosis doesn’t make you gullible, stupid, or blind.
One can be made to disclose things they would prefer to keep private
Hypnosis is not a truth serum, but a process that is dependent on personal choice. A hypnotised person would not disclose any information they would not normally disclose. Much research has been carried out into this, particularly by “Millitary Intelligence” types (oxymoron?) who, for obvious reasons, would love to find out if people were telling the truth or not. It was quickly established that people can lie under hypnosis just as easily as out of hypnosis.
When experiencing hypnosis, you still have free will. You don’t have to do, or say, anything that you do not want to.
Hypnosis is dangerous
Hypnosis, particularly if induced via relaxation, causes a slowdown of physiological functions, and an inner absorption. Such responses are inherently healthy, reducing stress and discomfort, and can relieve hypertension, anxiety and pain. Hypnosis also helps to foster feelings of self-control, increased self-confidence, enhanced emotional well-being, and a freedom from past traumas. Far from being dangerous, hypnosis is an incredible tool for bringing about psychological or physical healing.
It is true that difficulties may arise through misdiagnosis or inappropriate content during therapy, but those conditions exist in any therapeutic relationship where one is in distress, vulnerable, or seeking relief.
With that in mind, it is important to get a good therapist, not just somebody who has learned how to hypnotise people, but somebody who is interested in the art & science of hypnosis, therapy, psychology, and health. Perhaps somebody who takes the time to blog on the subject!
Hypnosis in itself just isn’t dangerous, it is beneficial for the body & mind. It is important that you visit a skilled therapist; consider how long they have been in practice, what approaches they take in therapy, whether they are flexible and knowledgeable enough to help YOU.
So that’s all for now – in part two I’ll look at more misconceptions. Any questions or comments, drop me a line or leave a comment (I love comments!)