What is Hypnosis?
According to the South Australian Society of Hypnosis, hypnosis is a process used in clinical work during which a person experiences an altered state of attention or degree of awareness. Alterations in perception, which occur when a person becomes absorbed to such a degree that his/her usual responses to stimuli are altered, are utilised to find and amplify people’s resources to enable them to overcome difficulties or to handle challenges in their lives.
Some of the areas that are commonly targeted using the focusing techniques of hypnosis include the management of pain without drugs and the alleviation of debilitating psychological symptoms associated with conditions such as anxiety, phobias, stress-related disorders and depression. The power of hypnosis is truly quite remarkable: from suggesting the altered physical perception of numbness to enable someone to undergo surgery without the use of chemical anaesthesia, to suggesting that someone imagine themselves in vivid detail confidently managing a previously anxiety-provoking situation to enable them to then go out and confidently manage that situation in real life.
Empirical studies have demonstrated that hypnosis enhances the efficacy of many of the therapeutic interventions used by health care practitioners.
Hypnosis, being a natural state that can occur in a person whenever they become totally absorbed in what they are doing, is a natural and safe process when used by trained professionals.
Myths and Misconceptions about Hypnosis
Part of the South Australian Society of Hypnosis‘s mission is promoting knowledge about hypnosis and dispelling the myths and misconceptions that are unfortunately all too often associated with hypnosis. Please take time to read what they have to say about some of these myths and misconceptions and consider the clarifications and corrections to them.
Myth #1 Hypnosis is about the control of one person by another
Fact This myth is often derived from stage hypnosis where the hypnotist carefully selects participants on the basis of their willingness to do what they’re told, their predisposition to “act out” in dramatic ways appropriate to a showbiz setting. In a healing context, power and control are fully maintained by the client who chooses what he or she is willing to consider.
Myth #2 Hypnosis is caused by the power of the hypnotist
Fact Hypnosis is a focusing method that is embedded within a relationship of mutual responsiveness. Entering hypnosis is a personal choice. It is because the client is in control that treatment results vary from individual to individual.
Myth #3 Only certain kinds of people can be hypnotised.
Fact Individuals vary in their hypnotisability. However, most people demonstrate hypnotic phenomena routinely in their everyday life. Have you ever had the experience of being engrossed in a task, for example, and only upon its completion noticing that you have injured (e.g. cut, bruised) yourself slightly: “I’m bleeding! How did that happen?” That’s an everyday event, yet highlights the fact that where your attention is focused determines what you do- and do not- experience.
Myth #4 Anyone who can be hypnotised must be weak-minded
Fact This particular misconception refers to the all-powerful image of the stage hypnotist. In reality, the healing therapist will use his or her skills to develop whatever capacity the client offers as the basis for positive outcomes.
Myth #5 Once one has been hypnotised, one can no longer resist it
Fact When hypnosis is used for healing the therapist and client may establish a “short cut” together to make future hypnotic inductions easier. Without the process being mutually agreeable, hypnosis doesn’t happen.
Myth #6 One can be hypnotised to say or do something against one’s will
Fact As emphasised throughout, a person in hypnosis is focused, relaxed but fully aware. A therapist can suggest possibilities, but the client chooses what he or she will take in and use.
Myth #7 Being hypnotised can be hazardous to your health
Fact The process of hypnosis is generally soothing and a gentle process of guiding and teaching. The experience of hypnosis in itself is not harmful, but an insensitive comment or a piece of bad advice may do damage. Thus, the value of a well trained, well qualified clinician is important, just as it is in any healing. The client is encouraged to choose a therapist with reputable training and experience relevant to his/her needs.
Myth #9 One can become “stuck” in hypnosis
Fact Hypnosis involves focused attention. It is literally impossible to become “stuck” in a state of concentration. One can shift one’s attention any time one wishes. Can you imagine getting “stuck” in reading an absorbing book?
Myth #10 One is asleep or unconscious in hypnosis
Fact Hypnosis is not sleep! Ever-present is some level of awareness of current goings-on. The goal is to use your mind in new and focused ways, not put it to sleep!
Myth #11 Hypnosis always involves a ritual of induction
Fact When we consider that hypnosis occurs spontaneously in everyday life, it should be apparent that it does not have to be formally induced.
Myth #12 Hypnosis is simply relaxation
Fact Relaxation feels good but it is simply a step on the path towards more complex experiences in hypnosis. People can be mentally and/or physically active in hypnosis, such as the “peak performance” experiences people often have when they’re focused and striving to achieve something important to them.
Myth #13 Clinical hypnosis is a specific type of therapy
Fact Hypnosis is a tool used to focus and absorb people in new possibilities. Thus, it’s a complement to specific forms of treatment in other therapeutic styles, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, mindfulness and psychodynamic approaches. You will find as many ways of doing hypnosis as there are therapists.
Myth #14 Hypnosis may be used to accurately recall everything that has happened to you
Fact Memory is no more reliable because it was obtained through hypnosis. Hypnosis cannot be used to uncover the truth of what actually happened in someone’s past. Memory as a process is far more complicated than the computer metaphor sometimes used in popular thinking.
Adapted from Trancework 3rd Edition by Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D. (2003) (pp. 25-55. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.