Hypnosis: What You Don’t Know

Many people have very limited knowledge and faulty understanding of hypnosis. Everyone has seen nightclub or television acts in which a hypnotist induces a trance-like state in a group of audience members and then uses the power of suggestion to have them do his bidding, often to entertaining effect. Most people have also heard about hypnosis as an aid in managing bad habits like smoking and overeating. But these examples represent only a fraction of the ways hypnotism can be used. “Hypnosis can facilitate treatment for a wide range of psychological and medical problems,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Richard Dauber of the Morris Psychological Group. “It can’t be used in every case or for every patient, but it can be a valuable tool in treating phobias, stress, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic disorders, depression, behavioral problems, addictions, sleep and eating disorders. In our practice, we have also increasingly been using hypnosis in such diverse areas as pain management and sports performance.”

Despite its versatility as a therapeutic approach and its long history, hypnosis is not well understood. Trance-like or meditative states have been elements of spiritual practice for thousands of years and scientific exploration began in the 1700s with the Austrian physician Franz Mesmer, who believed that a magnetic force flowed from the hypnotist to the subject. In the nineteenth century, Scottish surgeon James Braid and others advanced the theory of susceptibility to suggestion that became the foundation of the modern practice of hypnosis. “Under hypnosis, you are fully awake and alert, but in a highly relaxed state that resembles daydreaming,” says Dr. Dauber. “In fact, you are hyper-attentive, which means you are able to focus on a specific thought and tune out distractions. In this relaxed state you become more open to suggestions, which enables you to work more effectively on deeply entrenched problems.”

How does hypnosis work?
There is still an element of mystery about hypnosis. We can see what happens when a subject is in a hypnotic state, but science has still not determined precisely how or why it happens. It is thought that the deeply relaxed and focused hypnotic state provides access to the subconscious, which facilitates changing unwanted negative behavior patterns, dealing with fears and anxiety, and uncovering repressed emotions that can be addressed to resolve various psychological problems.

Do I lose control over my behavior under hypnosis?
“This is one of the most common misconceptions about hypnosis,” says Dr. Dauber. “It is understandable that anyone who has seen people on stage engage in silly antics at the suggestion of the hypnotist might think that you are giving up control. However, while you are less inhibited and more open to suggestion in trance, you are still in control. Furthermore, you will remember what happens during hypnosis. Your personal morality and integrity remain in effect and you won’t do anything you don’t want to do.”
Can anyone be hypnotized?
Some people are more responsive to hypnotic suggestions than others. Usually those who are resistant to suggestions are under the misunderstanding that they will lose control under hypnosis. To be successfully hypnotized you must want to be hypnotized. It also helps to feel relaxed, comfortable and trusting of the hypnotist.

How can hypnosis relieve pain?
The mind and the body are inextricably linked. Hypnosis offers the ability to utilize both the conscious and subconscious mind together to reduce pain. There are a variety of suggestions and techniques that can be used to enable access to your subconscious mind to help better control or alleviate pain. Hypnosis has been effective in easing the pain of cancer, burns, fibromyalgia, headaches and more.

Are there risks associated with hypnosis?
As practiced by a licensed mental health professional who has had specialized training through a recognized organization such as the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, hypnosis is safe. It should not be used with patients who have psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations or who are currently using alcohol or drugs. The use of hypnosis to recover repressed memories is controversial because it is possible that false memories can be unintentionally created through suggestion.

“Hypnosis is not therapy,” Dr. Dauber emphasizes. “It is a technique that can facilitate therapy and should only be used by a qualified psychologist or other licensed health professional as part of an overall therapeutic plan. For a patient who is open to the process, it can be an effective tool in addressing a wide range of psychological, behavioral and medical problems.”