Hypnotism is the scientific and clinical use of hypnosis. Hypnosis, or a hypnotic state, is a temporary condition of altered attention in an individual. A hypnotist is a person who uses hypnotism. Scientificevidence suggests that hypnotism is useful when it is practised by qualified professionals. For example, some professionals use hypnotism to treat patients who have certain medical or psychological problems.
People have used hypnotic techniques since ancient times. But the practice of hypnotism has been condemned at times because of its misuse or because of ignorance, mistaken beliefs, and overstated claims. Today, professional organizations accept hypnotism when it is used for valid medical or scientific purposes.
The hypnotic experience
Some people can go into hypnosis within a few seconds or minutes. Others cannot be hypnotized easily. There are various levels of hypnosis. For example, with light hypnosis, the person becomes rested and follows simple directions easily. In deep hypnosis, complete anaesthesia may be experienced. In the treatment of medical or psychological problems, the level of hypnosis is not usually related to the effectiveness of treatment.
Inducing hypnosis in another person can be achieved through several techniques. Perhaps the best-known techniques use direct commands. These commands consist of simple suggestions repeated continuously in much the same tone of voice. The hypnotist instructs the subject to focus his or her attention on an object or fixed point, such as a spot on the ceiling. Then the hypnotist tells the subject to relax, breathe deeply, and allow the eyelids to grow heavy and to close.
Many professionals use verbal and nonverbal techniques known as indirect inductions. Such procedures usually omit the use of a focal object. The subject responds to a story or a mental puzzle presented by the hypnotist. The hypnotist does not tell the patient to relax or to close the eyes. Instead, the hypnotist suggests these actions indirectly through the story or puzzle. The hypnosis treatment remains much the same.
Some hypnotists give their subjects a challenge suggestion to test for hypnosis. For example, the hypnotist may say, “You will have difficulty moving your right hand.” The person may then find the movement difficult or impossible to perform. Such tests do not necessarily indicate a hypnotic state. They may merely demonstrate a person’s response to suggestion.
Historically, various drugs occasionally have been used to help induce hypnosis. However, drugs and special tools or other gimmicks are rarely necessary for inducing hypnosis. Most professionals do not make use of them.
There are many individual differences in what a person experiences with hypnosis. A hypnotized person may experience changes in awareness, creative imagination, reasoning, and wakefulness. Physical changes within the body also may be produced by suggestion. These phenomena include changes in blood flow, blood pressure, heart rate, and sensations of cold and heat.
Professionals sometimes concentrate on a certain phenomenon of hypnosis to help treat their patients. One useful phenomenon is the ability of some hypnotized people to remember forgotten experiences. After people have a shocking or painful experience, they often repress (block) memories associated with the experience from their conscious thoughts. Sometimes, the repressed memories influence the individual’s normal behaviour and may result in certain forms of mental illness. For example, during World War II (1939-1945), soldiers occasionally developed amnesia (loss of memory) as a result of some of their experiences. By hypnotizing these patients, doctors were able to help the patients remember their experiences and relieve the emotional tensions that had built up. This treatment helped the patients regain their health.
Another hypnotic phenomenon is called age regression. The doctor or therapist suggests that the hypnotized patient is a certain age. The patient may then recall or “relive” incidents in his or her life. If the hypnotist suggests that the patient is 7 years old, for example, the patient may appear to talk, act, and even think much as a 7-year-old. In this way, patients may remember events and feelings that may have had some bearing on their present illness. The patient can then reinterpret the situation with additional information, new insights, and increased coping skills.
Sometimes, at the hypnotist’s command, subjects may believe they are living in some past or future time. They may feel that they have travelled back to the Middle Ages or on to the next century. Untrained hypnotists may look upon such changes as proof that the individual was or will be reincarnated. Most professionals consider these fantasies to be much the same as dreams and unrelated to past or future reality.
Ending the hypnosis session is generally not difficult. A person usually remains in hypnosis until given a signal by the hypnotist. The hypnotist may count to five, make an indirect suggestion, or produce some type of sound. Sometimes the subject ends the experience even when no signal is given. Occasionally a hypnotist may have difficulty ending the hypnosis. This problem is one of the reasons why only trained professionals should practise hypnotism.
Some dentists may use hypnotism as an anaesthetic. After the patient has been hypnotized, the dentist drills the tooth and fills the cavity. The patient remains relaxed and feels comfortable throughout the procedure.
What hypnotism is
Scientists have shown that hypnosis is a natural part of human behaviour that affects psychological, social, and physical experience. There is no magic connected with hypnotism, and the hypnotist has no special power. The effects of hypnotism depend on the willingness and motivation of the person being hypnotized. In hypnosis, a change in the quality and focus of a person’s attention alters his or her internal and external experience.
Hypnosis has been compared to dreaming and sleepwalking. The term hypnosis comes from the Greek word hypnos, which means sleep. However, hypnosis is not actually related to sleep. It involves a more active and intense mental concentration. Hypnotized people can talk, write, and walk about. They are usually fully aware of what is said and done.
A hypnotist uses certain methods to induce (guide) hypnosis in another person. As the person responds to the methods, the person’s state of attention changes. This altered state often leads to various other changes or phenomena. For example, the person may experience different levels of awareness, consciousness, imagination, memory, and reasoning or become more responsive to suggestions. Additional phenomena may be produced or eliminated. Such phenomena may include sensations, blushing, sweating, paralysis, tensing of muscles, and anaesthesia (loss of pain sensation). Scientists have shown that changes in almost every body function and system may occur with hypnosis.
None of the experiences of hypnosis are unique. Some or all of the phenomena can occur without the use of hypnotic techniques. For example, people who are very responsive to hypnosis show an increased responsiveness to suggestions before they are hypnotized. This responsiveness increases during hypnotism.
People once believed that hypnotists could force their subjects to perform criminal acts or other actions against the subjects’ will. There is no clear evidence to show that hypnosis causes such behaviour. Hypnotized people can and do resist suggestions. They do not lose control of their actions and can distinguish between right and wrong.
Public performances of hypnotism are responsible for many popular misconceptions about hypnosis. Many people are first exposed to hypnotism through a magic show or a film. Such presentations often make hypnotism appear simple. They may tempt untrained people to try to perform hypnotismon