Hypnosis Resources

Hypnosis FAQFrequently Asked questions


Just what is hypnosis and how does it work?

This is a difficult question to answer because, quite frankly, we know so little about the human mind, which is so extremely complex. There has never really been a completely acceptable theory about hypnosis, or a truly scientific explanation of what happens in this state. It has been defined as a state, an attitude, a method, etc. I would personally prefer to consider it as a "learning process", a teacher-student relationship. It is a heightened sense of suggestibility, where the subconscious mind dissociates from the conscious. IN the hypnotic state, although the subject is completely aware of all his surroundings, all sounds, etc., he is concerned only with the words, ideas and suggestions to which he is specifically directed by the hypnotist. Hypnosis is an attitude which the client assumes willingly and each person may describe it differently. Some describe it as a "heavy feeling, some feel light and so on. It is, certainly, a state of complete relaxation, mentally and physically, and the mind is not being bombarded by any stimuli other than ideas suggested by the practitioner. Actually, it is a feeling that one has to experience in order to appreciate.

One who uses hypnosis daily cannot help being impressed by the extreme variations in the minds of people concerning what hypnosis is and how it can or cannot be used to help people. However, when we consider the history of hypnosis, we can readily understand these varying view points.

Some two hundred years ago, Dr. Anton Mesmer conceived his concept of "animal magnetism" which, he believed, produced a magnetism that affected the flow of body fluids. This resulted in "cures" which were nothing short of phenomenal. Dr. Mesmer never realized that his results were obtained by pure suggestion and imagination! It was not until a hundred years later that the word "hypnosis" was coined by a Dr. James Braid, who thought his "trance state" was akin to sleep and borrowed the Greek word "hypnos," meaning sleep.

Actually, Dr. Braid later realized his error when he found that his patients were not really asleep, but heard everything in this "state". He even tried to change the words to "monoideism", meaning that the mind had narrowed to one idea. Although this word more accurately describes the condition, the term" hypnosis" had already obtained a good start and - unfortunately - the idea still persists that you are asleep in the hypnotic state. 'Tain't so!

When stage performers added hypnotic procedures to their magic acts, somewhere in the 19th century, hypnosis took on another aspect in the public's mind. People sometimes expect "magic" and that problems which have existed for years would "magically" disappear in one session of hypnosis.

During World Wars I and II, hypnosis was found to be a useful technique and many physicians carried this new tool into their private practice, upon returning to civilian life. After much study, the AMA, in 1958, officially accepted hypnosis as a tool. It is not a cure-all. More and more, as time progresses, the public - and the professions - are being educated to the wonderful values of hypnosis and its acceptance is on the increase.

How far back can hypnosis be traced?

Since the beginning of mankind. Hypnosis is older than medicine. It goes back to the days of Egyptian priests and their sleep temples where they "cured" illnesses. In the British Museum, there is a bas-relief taken from a tomb in Thebes showing an Egyptian Hypnotist and his patient. Hippocrates spoke of impressing health on the ill by "passes".

Cave drawings suggest that man began to experiment with hypnosis 10,000 years ago, belief it or not! This evolved into a process of primitive systems of medico-magic, with tribal healers learning to induce trance and hallucinations with such rituals as dancing, drum beating, etc. The ancient Chinese employed techniques of prayer and meditation to obtain elaborate hallucinations and Egyptian whirling dervishes achieved cataleptic states. Greek sleep temples and Celtic Druids applied "magic sleep" for various purposes. Early western culture associated hypnotism with witchcraft and devil worship.

Back in 1584, a chap named Cardan reported an experiment whereby anesthesia was produced by a "magnet" leading to theories that "magnetism" explained all natural phenomena. Influenced by these theories, and his own thesis, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer formulated his own brilliant theory of "animal magnetism". Briefly, he believed that a "magnetic fluid" permeated bodies and that this fluid theory could help diagnose and cure, as well as prevent, illnesses. Of course, in those days they didn't call it "hypnosis" and didn't really realize what they had: namely, the "power of suggestion". This was in the late 1700's and can be considered the beginning of modern hypnosis.

Mesmer was later tagged a medical quack and, consequently, public interest wanted, for a time.

How can you tell if a person is hypnotized?

An experienced hypnotist can tell simply by observing his subject! His experience has taught him to associate certain changes in the subject’s appearance as indicative of the hypnotic state. Such things as an obvious relaxation, body sagging, increased lacrimation, fluttering eyelids, a tendency to roll the eyeballs upward, slight redness of the eyes upon awakening ... these are many other signs indicate the "state".

How does one know if he is really hypnotized?

Often – in fact, usually – a person being hypnotized for the first time doubts he has been "under", simply because he expected unconsciousness or oblivion. This is a misconception. Hypnosis is truly a wonderful state of relaxation. People don’t all react in the same way and, although most folks have a "heavy" sensation, some report a feeling of lightness. Eyelids may feel heavy and, although you are perfectly aware of all your surroundings and all sounds, your attention becomes concentrated on the hypnotist’s voice. Other sounds sort of fade away.

How can it be that one hypnotist may be unable to put someone under, while another may be successful?

I can only answer this generally, since I am not familiar with the circumstances. Confidence is an important ingredient in the relationship between hypnotist and the subject, since it inspires trust and creates the important factor of "rapport". Often, a person will just not respond to a stage hypnotist, for instance, because he knows he will be made sport of. This same person, seeking help of some sort from a professional person, will respond beautifully! He has complete confidence and this creates the expectation that he will respond.

Is it possible to be just a "little bit" hypnotized?

Yes, in fact it isn’t even necessary to be deeply hypnotized to achieve benefits of hypnosis. Some folks cannot get beyond a light to medium state, while others easily move into to deeper stages. With just light stages, a person can increase capacity to respond to suggestion.

You have stated that all normal people are hypnotizable, yet I know some, myself included, who have tired - unsuccessfully?

What I said is still true! There is always some reason, if a willing subject has difficulty in achieving the hypnotic state. That word, "willing", is most important and a necessary factor. Some folks fear the unknown and, unless the hypnotist gives some insight, dispelling this fear, it could cause resistance. Other misbeliefs can contribute as well: belief that it means "unconsciousness;" belief that undue influence can be exerted; the false idea that it takes a weak mind to be hypnotized. Another important ingredient is to simply have confidence in the hypnotist.

Do people react differently to hypnosis?

Yes, definitely. There are various depths, or levels, of trance, and some folks are more suggestible than others. Without reinforcement, a post hypnotic suggestion will last-and this is speaking generally – perhaps up to two days, at the most … usually much less. We teach everyone "self-hypnosis", for any problem they seek to alleviate, and they are able to reinforce the suggestions themselves. Eventually, it becomes a permanent "re-conditioning".

What characteristics in a person would make him difficult to hypnotize?

A person who is skeptical or analytical toward hypnosis would be a difficult subject. Fears, albeit unwarranted, would be detrimental. An inability to concentrate would decrease hypnotizability. The attitude of "see if you can hypnotize me", in a sort of "challenge" would indicate resistance and would not be a good relationship.

Can hypnosis work if a person doesn't really believe in it? How important is the "faith " factor in hypnotic conditioning?

A person would really not be a good candidate for hypnotic techniques, if he were skeptical about it. He would not have the confidence which is so important.

Whenever a person with a psychogenic complaint believes that a particular type of therapy will help him, he is helped not so much by a particular therapeutic modality as by his inner conviction, his faith, (imagination, if you will) that he will be helped. It will work even better if he knows someone who has definitely been helped by similar methods. One of the greatest ingredients for hypnotic suggestibility is the expectation of help from someone in whom one has faith. From time immemorial, all such healing by suggestion has been based on this premise.

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