A man stands at the oceanside, watching a photo of his forgotten brothers drift out to sea. The man is Major Ben Marco, and he has just come to the end of an awful adventure; the result of brainwashing many years ago. One that led to him forgetting his commanding officer summarily executed the other members of his platoon under the spell of hypnosis. One that involved himself being 'activated' and thus attempting to kill the U.S. president elect. One that ended in tragedy, as others were killed to stop them from committing terrible acts against their will or awareness. Some of you have picked up that I'm talking about The Manchurian Candidate, and of course, none of this has happened. But it reflects on our collective psyche that this movie was so popular. The idea that hypnotism is so powerful as to be a tool of our government (or in the 1962 version, the North Korean government) to assassinate people. Our fascination with performers like Peter Powers is testament to this. As is our invention of the word 'mesmerise', for the physician who discovered the power of suggestion, Franz Anton Mesmer. Hypnotism captures our interest. So, it's unsurprising that this question is one of the most common questions that enters my inbox:
what's the deal with hypnotism (and is it worth my time)?
So let me deal with the most common questions asked about hypnotism by busting the myths surrounding it:Four Common Myths:
- Hypnotism is an altered state of mind, like a trance
- When hypnotised, one is at the mercy of the hypnotist's whims
- Hypnotism doesn't work
- Hypnosis is a form of psychology or therapy (this is the important one)
Hypnotised people are like robots Nope. As we talked about above, hypnotism isn't even an altered state of mind. Just an altered way of thinking. We can certainly produce the 'hallmarks' of a hypnotism in the lab, like inducing hallucinations, but this is a product of the power of suggestion. As psychologists Steve Lynn and Judy Rhue explain in their book, although the things people do under hypnosis may feel involuntary, they actually aren't. People will resist or refuse things that go against their character. In fact, activities undertaken while hypnotised requires just as much attention and brain resources as when not hypnotised. This might be something to do with the anterior cingulate (mentioned above), which is seen to be involved in out of body experiences and the like. It seems to become active during hypnosis which may contribute to feelings of involuntariness. But they are perfectly under control (just like when people speak in tongues). Hypnotism doesn't work So, it's not like what we see in the movies. But it's not a crock either. The American Psychological Association talks about this on their website and I encourage you to check it out. Hypnosis is consistently clinically successful for addiction, chronic pain and other illnesses. As I have mentioned throughout the article, hypnosis seems to interact with our suggestibility. Our openness to things. However, it's a far cry from the 'placebo' effect, in which people think they have received treatment, but haven't, and yet get better anyway. Where the placebo effect has received mixed results, hypnosis is consistent and can work for the significant majority of people. It depends on our motivations, beliefs and expectations. For those that go in with an open mind, it appears to allow those people the ability to access certain mental faculties and skills. These same skills and faculties can also be accessed by other means but hypnotism is also a fairly successful tool.
Hypnotism is a form of psychology or therapy Hypnosis is NOT a form of therapy. It's not a form of psychotherapy. It's not a form of psychology. It's merely a TOOL that facilitates our ability to experience actual therapy. The classic image of a person in a chair waking up from a trance cured will probably not be your experience of hypnosis because hypnosis is not a treatment. Many of the emails I get and the questions asked of me in person are concerned with trying hypnosis from a 'hypnotherapist'. My advice will always be, be very, very careful. Often, the word 'therapy' and 'hypnosis' when combined, indicate a person who doesn't know what they're doing (or are looking for some easy cash). Now, we've talked about how people aren't really under the spell of the hypnotist, but suggestion is still a powerful thing. Using suggestion alone, with no mention of hypnosis, one can induce hallucinations, amnesia and insensitivity to pain in a clinical setting. The effects are short-lived and often come to no harm, but still indicate that in the hands of an inexperienced person, hypnosis could have a very poor outcome for us. So, if hypnosis is something that interests you, make sure (as that APA website I linked to before says):
"Clinical hypnosis should be conducted only by properly trained and credentialed health care professionals (e.g. psychologists) who also have been trained in the use of hypnosis and who are working within the limits of their professional expertise."The executive summary (i.e. what does this mean for me)
- hypnosis works, for a significant majority of people
- but it's not a different 'state of mind' or a trance
- certainly, one doesn't become some kind of mindless automaton during
- it is simply one way of enhancing one's way of thinking and uses the power of suggestion to help us access certain mental skills and faculties
- however, it's not a type of therapy or a treatment on its own, simply a tool
- as such, I encourage you to try it if you're interested or encourage your friends who might be asking, but only through a clinical professional (like a psychologist or a psychiatrist) to AUGMENT ongoing treatment or therapy