The film portrayal of hypnosis is one where a dominant and powerful man (usually evil) takes control of a vulnerable and helpless woman and forces her to do his bidding against her will.
This framing of the “power” of hypnosis has been supported by the many television and stage hypnosis shows, where a hypnotist appears to have amazing powers of control over the thoughts and behaviours of members of the audience. As a result, the common view of hypnosis is that it is a force exerted by the hypnotist on a weak-willed or vulnerable person, and that they can be made to do almost anything against their will.
The truth about how hypnosis is done is nothing like this at all. Yet, the amazing, strange and bizarre phenomena of hypnosis are what you might have seen or heard. The great thing is that they don’t come from the hypnotist – they come from you. You can’t be made to do anything under hypnosis; rather, under hypnosis you can let yourself do and experience the things that you want.
Unfortunately, many people are stopped from discovering their own potential in hypnosis because of the negative beliefs and misconceptions that have surrounded the practice. Many people are afraid, embarrassed or defiant and so never get to properly understand and explore what hypnosis has to offer them.
Here are some of the common misunderstandings about hypnosis. If we can dispel these for you, then perhaps you can feel more confident about considering hypnosis as a tool that might help you in your life.
Myth 1 – Hypnotic trance is a state of unconsciousness which is forced on a person during which they can be made to think and do whatever the hypnotist wants.
- Hypnotic trance rarely involves a loss of consciousness. If anything, people find themselves in a mildly relaxed state of increased attention. Sometimes they may forget, at a conscious level, some of the things that a hypnotherapist is saying to them because their attention is focused somewhere else. But, in hypnotherapy the forgetting of information may mean that it has simply been noted by the inner mind and doesn’t need to be made available to the thinking mind.
- All hypnosis is self hypnosis. Yes, really. It may look like people are being “forced” into trance states but, actually, a person being hypnotised is being invited to utilise something that already exists in them (and in most people) – the capacity for trance. Trance is a common experience in all cultures around the world and throughout history. It simply means the capacity to suspend immediate reality testing and go with the flow of experiencing. You can’t be made to do that. You have to make a choice, largely a conscious one, to allow your mind to do something different.
- Anything that a hypnotised subject does in hypnosis is something they choose to do, or choose to allow to happen. A hypnotised person cannot be made to do something against their will. If a suggestion is made for them to do something that is morally or personally offensive the person will either find a subtle (usually unconscious) way of resisting, or simply come out of the trance state.
Myth 2 – Only people who are weak-willed or lower in intelligence can be hypnotised.
- In fact, it is very difficult to find anything about people that predicts or correlates with the likelihood that they will be hypnotiseable. After more than a century of research it’s true to say that the only way of knowing whether a person can be hypnotised, is to try it and see what happens.
- However, out of the research the “best” predictors of hypnotic capacity are having an outgoing personality, adventurousness, above average intelligence, and emotional stability. Other indicators are dissociative capacity, good capacity for imagery, ability to become absorbed, and a good imagination.
- So, the best hypnotic subject is actually someone who is confident, outgoing, willing to take risks and have adventures – with a good imagination and ability to really absorb themselves in an experience.
- Part of the job of the hypnotherapist is to help people to get past the fears that they might have developed about hypnosis, in order that they can connect with the confident and adventurous person who can really make use of the trance experience.
Myth 3 – Hypnosis is a magical phenomenon where pretty much anything can happen.
- I really wish this were so! You can do some pretty amazing things with hypnosis; pretty much anything you might be able to imagine. But it’s not magic. It is simply the power and potential of the human mind. Most people have not explored their full potential so, perhaps, they will discover they can do much more than they previously thought possible.
- There are natural limitations to what can be done with hypnosis. Some people can use hypnosis incredibly well. Most people can use hypnosis really well. Some people can use hypnosis only a little bit. And a few people cannot use hypnosis at all. What people can achieve with hypnosis is limited by their innate capacity for trance experiencing. The more capable they are the more hypnotic phenomena they can access and utilise.
Hypnosis is a powerful clinical modality, and can often lead to a quicker resolution of life’s problems through therapy. In my view this is partly because hypnosis is a collaborative process. The patient and the hypnotist have to work together, in order to focus on and achieve the goal of therapy. By being willing to join in and work with the trance experience, you take control over your own experience.
In conclusion, hypnosis is a perfectly natural human ability which can lead to powerful and effective ways of taking control in your life.
Author: Dr Alistair Campbell, BA (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), PhD.
Dr Alistair Campbell is a Clinical Psychologist working with individuals, couples and families. His favourite way of working with clients is using hypnosis and trance to enhance change processes, however he is trained and experienced in a wide range of evidence-based therapeutic approaches.
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