Hypnosis can be defined as an intense focus, on a single idea (monoideism). Another definition is ‘a highly suggestible state’. Some argue that hypnosis is not a state at all — but a condition.
So, what is hypnosis, really? And how do we talk to people about hypnosis in a way that makes sense?
What Is Love?
Just as there are different types of love, there are different types of hypnosis. There’s not a universally accepted definition of love, and there’s not one of hypnosis, either. But most everyone accepts that love exists. Why is there so much skepticism about hypnosis?
Well, we have little information about how hypnosis works. And that troubles people who feel more comfortable knowing how something works. But we have lots of evidence that hypnosis works. In addition, there are lots of myths about hypnosis, and lots of misinformation floating around.
Hypnosis As A Plot Device
Part of the reason for doubt about hypnosis that it makes a good plot device — but not if there’s an accurate description of it.
I’ve been contacted by a few authors myself. The conversation typically goes like this. . .
Author: “Hi, my name is ___________, and I’d like to consult with you about a book I’m writing, that involves hypnosis, in a crucial plot twist. I want the parts about hypnosis to be accurate. How would I go about making a person in hypnosis do X (insert something that is either very unlikely, or impossible to do with hypnosis) while in hypnosis?”
Me: “It doesn’t really work that way. People don’t really X in hypnosis.”
Author: “Ok, well, how would you word things if you wanted to make someone X? How would you do it?”
Me: “I wouldn’t. And it’s not likely it would work, even if I did.”
Now, some of those authors go off and write their books anyway. There are lots of books, movies, and other media that depict hypnosis inaccurately, because they need it as a plot device.
The Occult, Religion, And Hypnotic Elements
Hypnosis makes it easier to imagine things vividly. Hypnosis can increase suggestibility. When people can imagine things vividly, then tend to believe their imaginings are real. It works if they imagine exercising, and it works in other areas too. Occult, and religious services involve hypnosis. I’ve never seen a religious service that did not involve hypnosis (double-negative, I know). Yes, I’m talking about your religion.
Rituals, repetition, singing, rhythm, specialized language, chanting, special clothes (including hats that you’d laugh at in any other context), silence/meditation/prayer, emotion, and authority figures are all ways to create hypnotic context. And those factors are often present in religious services of all kinds.
It’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. Many religions focus on charity work, self-improvement, and positive feelings of peace and love. And when you imagine those things (especially within the more hypnotic environment of religious ritual), it’s similar to a suggestion being given in a hypnotherapist’s office.
Essentially, it’s a hyper-focus on positive goals. That’s good!
However, these hypnotic elements can be detrimental to a person, if they are used to promote negative ideas, or positive ideas without critical thought. If a service of any kind focuses on threats, fear, or hate, it’s easier for the congregation to imagine those things as real, too. If an authority figure talks about a supernatural demon when people are in a receptive state, people are more likely to believe it’s real, and/or convince themselves they are being attacked by a demon.
Since lowering barriers to critical thought is often necessary to get people to accept ideas, hypnosis sometimes gets used in occult practices and religions, and gets people to accept ideas they wouldn’t, in a non-hypnotic context.
So, hypnosis can help someone get to a goal, or it can help them accept unsound ideas. Hypnosis is a tool, it’s what you do with it that counts! Screwdrivers sometimes get used to hurt someone. But more often they are used to build something. It’s how you use it.
Hypnosis Lowers Critical Barriers To Ideas
On the surface, you might think that reducing critical thought is always bad. I mean, shouldn’t we be using the full extent of our logical brains to make decisions? Advertisers are constantly trying to appeal to our emotions, and lower critical thinking, so they can sell us thing, whether we want them or not. We want to keep our guard up.
But in some cases, our mind has an idea that’s keeping us from accomplishing a goal.
In these cases, we want to strongly introduce a positive idea into the mind. We want to focus the mind on achieving the goal. Once the mind accepts the goal, you will automatically move toward it. If a person wants to lose weight, or stop smoking, they may have ideas that are interfering with accomplishing those. If we can get the mind to wrap itself around the idea of dropping pounds and breathing clean air, the mind will reduce cravings, and automatically generate supportive behavior.
Why It’s Safe
In most cases, a person is perfectly aware in hypnosis. In fact, it’s usually a state of increased awareness. You are not a puppet on a string. If a hypnotist gives a suggestion you don’t like, you can simply ignore it, come out of trance, and leave.
In some cases, people have amnesia for the session. But that doesn’t mean the session occurred without them present. Usually, they hear the suggestions as they occur, and forget them later.
In rare cases, you can be unaware of suggestions given, and have amnesia for much of a session. In those cases, it’s possible for a hypnotherapist to give you suggestions counter to your best interests. While typically, your moral structure will keep you from carrying out the suggestions against your will, the hypnotist may be able to frame the suggestions in such a way as to make it seem like you’re doing something you’re ok with.
If you don’t trust your hypnotherapist (or minister, for that matter), go to someone else. Or take a friend with you.
In general, though, the hypnotherapists office is a very safe place. It’s a place where you know you’re going to receive suggestions. In my opinion, suggestions you get from other sources while you’re in a hypnotic state are more dangerous, because you may not be aware that you’re being influenced.