Hypnotism:the Basics– for the Novice
When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering “Yes, master,” the subject does the hypnotist’s evil bidding.
This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their “masters” — they have absolute free will. And they’re not really in a semi-sleep state — they’re actually hyper attentive.
Our understanding of hypnosis has advanced a great deal in the past century, but the phenomenon is still a mystery of sorts. In this article, we’ll look at some popular theories of hypnosis and explore the various ways hypnotists put their art to work.
Why the name â??Hypnosisâ??
James Braid, a 19th-century Scottish surgeon, originated the terms “hypnotism” and “hypnosis” based on the word hypnos, which is Greek for “to sleep.” Braid and other scientists of the era, such as Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault, Hippolyte Bernheim and J.M. Charcot, theorized that hypnosis is not a force inflicted by the hypnotist, but a combination of psychologically mediated responses to suggestions.
In the proper nomenclature, hypnosis refers to the trance state itself, and hypnotism refers to the act of inducing this state and to the study of this state. A hypnotist is someone who induces the state of hypnosis, and a hypnotherapist is a person who induces hypnosis to treat physical or mental illnesses.
History of Hypnotism:
People have been entering hypnotic-type trances for thousands and thousands of years; various forms of meditation play an important role in many cultures’ religions. But the scientific conception of hypnotism wasn’t born until the late 1700s.
The father of modern hypnotism is Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician. Mesmer believed hypnosis to be a mystical force flowing from the hypnotist into the subject (he called it “animal magnetism”). Although critics quickly dismissed the magical element of his theory, Mesmer’s assumption, that the power behind hypnosis came from the hypnotist and was in some way inflicted upon the subject, took hold for some time. Hypnosis was originally known as mesmerism, after Mesmer, and we still use its derivative, “mesmerize,” today.
So what is Hypnosis?
People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn’t clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It’s unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it’s a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.
But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It’s not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. But most psychiatrists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you’ll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you’ll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it’s all imaginary. Essentially, you’re “playing pretend” on an intense level, as kids do.
In this special mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed. Presumably, this is because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check. You might experience the same feeling while watching a movie: As you get engrossed in the plot, worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you’re thinking about is what’s up on the screen.
In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the hypnotist tells you do something, you’ll probably embrace the idea completely. This is what makes stage hypnotist shows so entertaining. Normally reserved, sensible adults are suddenly walking around the stage clucking like chickens or singing at the top of their lungs. Fear of embarrassment seems to fly out the window. The subject’s sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience, however. A hypnotist can’t get you to do anything you don’t want to do.
Myths and Misconceptions:
There are many myths and misconceptions concerning hypnosis, for example, that a client is completely under the hypnotist’s control. A hypnotist cannot make an individual do anything under hypnosis that they do not want to do. Hypnotic subjects are totally alert under hypnosis and can remember everything that happened while they were in trance. And if an emergency were to occur during a session, such as a fire, the subject would simply snap out of trance, and attend to the problem at hand.
The Role of unconscious mind:
Often the conscious mind and the unconscious mind are in conflict or disagreement. For example, consciously you may want to stop smoking, but unconsciously you may still associate smoking with being macho or looking sophisticated. Or you may consciously want to eat better food and smaller portions, but unconsciously may associate eating with a positive experience like being nurtured or loved.
During a hypnotic session, clients are helped to progressively relax. As they do so, their conscious mind lets go more and more and the unconscious mind starts to play a more active, more dominant role. The same thing happens in the early stages of sleep; however, in the hypnotic state the unconscious mind maintains a peculiar ability to remain extremely alert and to receive whatever suggestions the client has asked to receive, without normal conscious resistance. In this way, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind are finally able to agree on the desired results. The hypnotist is the facilitator or guide during the journey.
Methods of Hypnotism:
Hypnotists’ methods vary, but they all depend on a few basic prerequisites:
1.The subject must want to be hypnotized.
2.The subject must believe he or she can be hypnotized.
3.The subject must eventually feel comfortable and relaxed.
If these criteria are met, the hypnotist can guide the subject into a hypnotic trance using a variety of methods. The most common hypnotic techniques are:
Fixed gazed Induction or Eye Fixation:
This is the method you often see in movies, when the hypnotist waves a pocket watch in front of the subject.
The basic idea is to get the subject to focus on an object so intently that he or she tunes out any other stimuli. As the subject focuses, the hypnotist talks to him or her in a low tone, lulling the subject into relaxation. This method was very popular in the early days of hypnotism, but it isn’t used much today because it doesn’t work on a large proportion of the population.
The idea of this method is to overload the mind with sudden, firm commands.
If the commands are forceful, and the hypnotist is convincing enough, the subject will surrender his or her conscious control over the situation. This method works well for a stage hypnotist because the novel circumstance of being up in front of an audience puts subjects on edge, making them more susceptible to the hypnotist’s commands.
Progressive Imagination and Imagery:
This is the hypnosis method most commonly employed by psychiatrists.
By speaking to the subject in a slow, soothing voice, the hypnotist gradually brings on complete relaxation and focus, easing the subject into full hypnosis. Typically, self-hypnosis training, as well as relaxation and meditation audio tapes use the progressive relaxation method.
Loss of Balance:
This method creates a loss of equilibrium using slow, rhythmic rocking.
Parents have been putting babies to sleep with this method for thousands of years.
Before hypnotists bring a subject into a full trance, they generally test his or her willingness and capacity to be hypnotized. The typical testing method is to make several simple suggestions, such as “Relax your arms completely,” and work up to suggestions that ask the subject to suspend disbelief or distort normal thoughts, such as “Pretend you are weightless.”
Depending on the person’s mental state and personality, the entire hypnotism process can take anywhere from a few minutes to more than a half hour. Hypnotists and hypnotism proponents see the peculiar mental state as a powerful tool with a wide range of applications. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the more common uses of hypnotism.
Applications of Hypnotism:
In this application, a hypnotist focuses on one particular habit that is embedded in your unconscious (smoking or overeating, for example). With the “control panel” to your mind open, the hypnotist may be able to reprogram your subconscious to reverse the behavior. Some hypnotists do this by connecting a negative response with the bad habit. For example, the hypnotist might suggest to your subconscious that smoking will cause nausea. If this association is programmed effectively, you will feel sick every time you think about smoking a cigarette. Alternatively, the hypnotist may build up your willpower, suggesting to your subconscious that you don’t need cigarettes, and you don’t want them.
In a therapy session, a psychiatrist may hypnotize his or her subject in order to work with deep, entrenched personal problems. The therapy may take the form of breaking negative patterns of behavior, as with mass habit-control programs. This can be particularly effective in addressing phobias, unreasonable fears of particular objects or situations. Another form of psychiatric hypnotherapy involves bringing underlying psychiatric problems up to the conscious level. Accessing fears, memories and repressed emotions can help to clarify difficult issues and bring resolution to persistent problems.
Law Enforcement/Forensic Science:
Hypnotists may also tap dormant memories to aid in law enforcement. In this practice, called forensic hypnotism, investigators access a subject’s deep, repressed memories of a past crime to help identify a suspect or fill in details of the case. Since hypnotists may lead subjects to form false memories, this technique is still very controversial in the forensics world.
Doctors and spiritual leaders all over the world claim that hypnotic suggestion can ease pain and even cure illness in some patients. The underlying idea behind this is that the mind and body are inextricably intertwined. When you suggest to the subconscious that the body does not feel pain, or that the body is free of disease, the subconscious may actually bring about the change.
There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support this idea. Using only hypnotic suggestion as an anesthetic, thousands of women have made it through childbirth with minimal pain and discomfort. Countless cancer patients swear by hypnosis, claiming that it helps to manage the pain of chemotherapy, and some former patients credit their recovery to hypnotherapy.
The success of hypnotherapy is undeniable, but many doctors argue that the hypnotic trance is not actually responsible for the positive results.
Thus it is clear from the above topic that hypnotism though seems like hypothetical concept hypnotism is present in our life almost every day.