7 Hypnosis Myths Busted
The practice of hypnosis has been around for a long time. Unfortunately – over the years,
hypnosis has picked up all sorts of weird associations from stage hypnotists, the media and superstition. Let’s
take a look at 7 of the biggest hypnosis myths, and learn the truth about them.
Hypnosis is a form of mind
control, exerted by the hypnotist on a weak minded subject.
It’s been said many times, and it needs to be said once more: all hypnosis is ultimately
hypnosis. Unless you are willing to be hypnotized, unless you agree to allow a hypnotist to help you
achieve a hypnotic trance state, and unless your subconscious mind agrees with the suggestions the hypnotist may
make – it just doesn’t happen. You are always in full control of your mind.
What about the assertion that the subject must be weak minded? In fact, the reality is quite the
opposite. A weak minded person doesn’t have the capacity for concentration that is required for hypnosis, or the
strength of motivation, either. The January/February 2001 issue of Psychology Today carried an article by Dr.
Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D.*, titled “The Power of Hypnosis.” Barrett notes, “modern research shows that hypnotizability
is correlated with intelligence, concentration and focus.” Successful subjects often show high creativity, are
cooperative, and usually have less fear and suspicion of the process. Actually, about 95% of all people are
susceptible to hypnosis, to one degree or another.
Hypnosis is like being put to sleep: you lose
consciousness, you’re not aware of your surroundings, and afterwards you can’t remember what happened while you
There is no loss of consciousness in hypnosis. Often, people who have been hypnotized report
being totally aware of what was going on. The hypnotic state is very much like meditation, but differs in that with
hypnosis, there is a stronger internal focus.
“People who are hypnotized for the first time,” says Barrett, “are frequently disappointed
to find that they experience nothing overwhelming. They feel mildly relaxed but they remain in touch with
reality and in control of their thoughts” (Psychology Today).
Very often, when a person goes deeper into hypnotic trance, the eyes are closed. This may seem
to be sleep, but it is completely different. Although you are very deeply relaxed, it is unusual to remember
nothing that happened while you were hypnotized – unless, of course, your subconscious mind decides not to recall
the details of the session.
It’s possible to become permanently stuck in hypnosis, and
not be able to come out of it.
You can’t be permanently stuck in hypnosis any more than you could be permanently stuck in a
waking daydream. You’re “in a trance” many times every day; every time you shift your focus just a little, to
become absorbed in a book, a television program, or even driving on the highway. The trance state is natural to us
as human beings; we pass in and out of it constantly, without even noticing the transitions.
In a 1981 article, "The Phenomena and Characteristics of Self-Hypnosis", Erika Fromm and several
colleagues described the state that is part of both hypnosis and self hypnosis. They said that it exhibits
absorption, or the complete focus and occupation of the mind, as well as a fading of the usual orientation to
general reality. Doesn’t that sound like the way you feel when you are reading a fascinating book, praying or
listening to music? Don’t you narrow your focus to the book, or your prayer, or the music surrounding you? And
don’t you feel aware of – but not at all focused upon – “general reality,” or everything else around you?
Therefore, you’ll never get stuck permanently in hypnosis.
Suppose that you were being hypnotized, and the hypnotist stopped in mid-sentence and walked out
of the room. What would happen to you? One of two things: either you would realize immediately that the hypnotist’s
voice had stopped speaking, and you would open your eyes and wake up normally, feeling fine; or else you would
drift off into a few minutes of normal sleep, and then open your eyes and wake up, feeling fine. Remember, hypnosis
puts you in a state that is normal and natural to all of us!
Hypnotists have special powers, possibly psychic or
related to the occult.
The only “special power” some hypnotists have is the power of observation, and a knowledge of
human beings. Keep in mind that all hypnosis is ultimately self hypnosis: in the end, it’s you yourself who decide
to be hypnotized, or not to be hypnotized.
The idea that hypnosis is related to the occult is pure Hollywood. The producers of films are
not always as interested in truth about their subjects as they are in drama; and rightly so, that’s their job – to
keep the public entertained. It does hypnosis a great disservice, however, to portray it as somehow evil or
manipulative, a kind of brainwashing or mind control.
It is worthwhile noting that in 1955, the British Medical Association approved hypnosis as a
viable treatment option. Three years later, the American Medical Association also approved hypnosis as a valid
therapeutic method. The previous year, 1957, saw approval by the Roman Catholic Church of hypnosis as an option for
therapy. Hypnotherapy is coded as a profession by the U.S. Department of Labor, with “hypnotherapist” listed as
code number 079.157.010 in the Federal Government Titles of Legitimate Occupations.
Hypnosis is dangerous, and could damage my
Electrical activity in the human brain is measured as brain waves by an electroencephalogram
(EEG). The measurement is described in terms of “cycles per minute” or hertz. Here is a brief explanation of how
brain waves are related to hypnosis, as well as to the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind.
Beta brain waves (14-30 hz) = conscious, waking, alert. The “filters” of your beliefs, ethics, values,
and all your past experience and conditioning are too active in the Beta state to allow you to accept
Alpha brain waves (8-13 hz) = creativity, inspiration, daydreaming. The conscious mind is no longer
dominant, and the subconscious is becoming active. Your brain waves register in the Alpha region when
you are in a light trance state. Hypnotic suggestions are readily accepted in the Alpha state.
Theta brain waves (4-7 hz) = subconscious, dreaming, hypnosis, meditation, “in the zone” with sports.
Here the subconscious mind is dominant. The Theta level is where past experiences and emotions can be
relived. It is also the level at which hypnoanesthesia occurs: for example, dental or surgical
procedures can be carried out without pain, and childbirth can take place painlessly, with the
assistance of hypnoanesthesia instead of physical anesthesia.
Delta brain waves (0.5-6 hz) = unconscious, asleep, deep sleep. Your brain waves would register as
Delta if you fell asleep during hypnosis.
Hypnosis is no more dangerous than sleep-dreaming, meditation, or being “in the zone”.
Hypnosis is not effective for changing your health or your
Hypnosis was approved for medical use in 1958 by the American Medical Association. Hospitals now
commonly use some form of hypnosis in preparing patients for surgery and in helping them recover more rapidly. In
fact, many of our best hospitals now have Departments of Integrative Medicine, where hypnosis is recognized and
used along with other types of alternative medicine, such as healing touch and chiropractic, in support of
traditional medical procedures.
A comparative research study done by American Health Magazine on Psychoanalysis, Behavior
Therapy, and Hypnosis as treatments for mental health issues reported the following results:
Psychoanalysis = 38% recovery after 600 sessions
Behavior Therapy = 73% recovery after 22 sessions
Hypnosis = 93% recovery after 6 sessions.
Here are just a few examples of results published in medical journals:
Hypnosis during surgical radiology reduced patients’ anxiety and pain, as well as shortening time
required for surgery and reducing complications. (Lancet, 2000).
patients experience vomiting and nausea before chemotherapy, as well as after treatment. A study
of 16 subjects who usually showed these symptoms revealed that hypnosis prevented
pre-chemotherapy nausea in all 16. (Oncology, 2000).
A single session of group hypnotherapy was sponsored by the American Lung Association, to see if it
would help smokers to kick the
. Of nearly 3,000 participants in one session, 22% reported not smoking for a month
after the session. (The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 2000).
Hypnosis is shown by research to be as effective as Ritalin in treating Attention Deficit Disorder (
) in children. (Presented at the American Psychological Association Meeting, 1999).
It’s only safe to be hypnotized if the hypnotist is a
All hypnosis is ultimately self hypnosis. Only you can decide to allow yourself to be
hypnotized; without your consent, it simply cannot happen.
It is interesting to note that hypnosis is not a regular part of most training programs for
psychologists. The exception would be if the training took place at one of the few universities where a department
is engaged in active research in the field of hypnosis. The subject is not part of the regular curriculum for
psychologists-in-training. (Remember that the American Medical Association approved hypnosis in 1958!)
The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), founded by Milton H. Erickson, MD, in 1957, requires only
40 hours of training in hypnosis for psychologists who wish to become members. In comparison, the National Guild
of Hypnotists, Inc. (NGH), founded by Dr. Rexford L. North in 1950, requires a minimum
basic course of 100 hours in hypnosis (most basic courses are actually 150 hours), as well as a minimum of 15
additional hours of training each year to renew annual membership. The NGH considers this level of training to
be the minimum requisite for safe practice in hypnosis.
There is no reason to believe that expertise in psychology would be transferrable as expertise
in hypnotherapy. No psychotherapy is involved in the practice of hypnosis.
Over the years, probably due in part to Hollywood’s colorful dramas about mind control and
brainwashing, the word ‘hypnosis’ created the illusion that you lose control in hypnosis. In fact, the real truth
is that hypnosis is a perfectly natural occurring state of mind and when hypnotized, you are relaxed and focused –
and able to choose to get up and walk away at any time. If you have been fearful of hypnosis in the past, hopefully
you now understand the truth about these hypnosis myths.
* Dr. Barrett is a psychologist specializing in Behavioral Medicine at Harvard Medical
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