Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Hype and History behind Hypnotherapy: Is it a Science, or Just a bunch of Silly Quacks?

I've seen people do some pretty wild things on stage when under the spell of a hypnotist. I sometimes wonder if these hypnotists are bitter, failed comedians reduced to making a living at the expense of silly volunteers whose curiosity sends them to the stage to quack like a chicken, stick ice cream in their nose, or run around trying to catch a non-existent tail. Not having a natural inclination to humiliate myself, the thought of paying someone to send me into a trance that would make me susceptible to the suggestions of a hypnotist and reduce my capability of making conscious decisions about what actions are appropriate in a given situation frightens me. The possibility that something awfully embarrassing might be lurking in my subconscious and a hypnotist could unleash such an inner monster is enough to make me tremble with trepidation. But curiosity gets the best of me every time, so off I went to try to face my fears about hypnosis, armed with science and skepticism

"I'm curious about the science behind hypnosis," I confronted one of the therapists at the NLP center. "Hypnosis is probably a placebo effect of sorts, right?"

"Kind of, but not really," he replied.

"Great, that's helpful," I grumbled, irritated.

"Do you want to try?" The therapist was calm and patient with my nervous, snappy remarks.

"Kind of, but not really—if you know what I mean." I mocked. "This is for my science blog, just so you know. Can we do this quickly? The mere idea is really scary for me. Please don’t ask me to eat an onion and run around the building. I did see a guy on stage do that once."

"No problem, We’ll keep this scientific. Make yourself comfortable. I suggest closing your eyes, but you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Try concentrating on <a href='' >Hypnosis
intense, effortless relaxing..."

"Should I be getting sleepy? Very sleepy?" I asked, just trying to clarify.

“No. Hypnosis is not at all like sleep, though that is a common misconception. Let’s try again." He lowered his voice and murmured: “Picture yourself by the ocean, in a hammock. The breeze is warm and ssooooothing...”

I have to admit, envisioning myself swinging in a hammock on the beach did make for a relaxing few minutes, and I don't recall doing anything too crazy. Actually, I don’t actually recall much at all. If anyone saw me running around Union Square and clucking like a chicken, please do let me know. In any case, for the rest of the skeptics out there, here’s a bit of information on scientific studies in the field of hypnosis:

The history of hypnosis can be traced back to the ideas of James Braid, who proposed the theory of hypnotism as an alternative to the practices of Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was the founder of Mesmerism, a popular mid-18th century concept that was based on the theory that trance and healing could be achieved through calling on a mysterious power referred to as “animal magnetism.” Braid countered the idea of the supposed magical powers of animal magnetism with his theory that an altered state is achieved through neuro-hypnotism. In his practice, James would hold small, shiny objects 8-16 inches from a patient’s eyes, causing strain and spontaneous closing of the lids. His patients did seem to fall into a sleepy trance. Eventually, James found that he could induce a trance-like state in many of his patients through mere suggestion, so he tried to adjust the already coined term “hypnosis” (borrowed from Hypnos, the Greek God of sleep) to “monoideism,” but was unsuccessful. Maybe the term “hypnosis” was already locked in the depths of his patients' subconscious mind.

As you may have guessed, not everyone is equally susceptible to the power of suggestions. Over the course of many Google searches, I came across a number of studies that have tried to link certain personality characteristics (such as gullibility, aggressiveness, various psychological ticks, etc.) but the only connection that continued to come up was a person’s ability and tendency to become absorbed in activities like reading, listening to music, and daydreaming (if you’re interested in more details about this, check out information about the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scales). If you are totally engrossed in my blog and can't pull yourself away, for example, you probably shouldn’t volunteer at a stage hypnotist's show (unless you like to cluck like a chicken, stuff ice cream up your nose, and eat raw onions).

For those of you who are reading this blog when you're supposed to be working at the office, maybe you want to reconsider your career path. Here's a link to information about how to become a hypnotist:
If you're always getting sleeeeepy, very sleeeepy, it could just mean that you have a really boring job. Good luck trying to get people to stuff ice cream up their nose.


Richard Erickson PhD HHCP LPHt said...

In today’s ever increasing stressful socioeconomic environment the advantages of Medical hypnosis are being accepted by main stream medicine as a viable adjunct to conventional pharmacotherapy or other medical protocol.
Unfortunately, persistent myths, half-truths, and suspicions still surround hypnosis, which compel most people to continue to seek prescription medications or alternative procedures rather than hypnotherapy for certain problems like weight gain, smoking, nail biting, bed wetting, thumb sucking, test-taking, sports enhancement, certain addictions, pain issues, phobias, and disorders.
The troubling aspects of these Medications and procedures; they mainly concentrate only on the "effect(s)” of an issue,” while often having multiple side effects that may be excessive or even potentially fatal.
By contrast, Medical hypnotherapy safely helps decrease or even eliminates effect(s), while simultaneously assaulting the "cause" of the issue. It therefore, is important to understand, as the therapist helps the patient redirect or even eliminate negative habits, emotions, or perceptions, and/or raise pain threshold, self-esteem, and confidence issues, the patient is not treated with hypnosis but rather through hypnosis.
Although, over-the-counter books on hypnosis may be informative as to the scientific nature of the hypnotic phenomenon, and many Store bought CD's or internet sites can offer general repetitive response guided imagery, these methods usually have low efficacy long-term.
Choosing the right qualified hypnotherapist with proper training, credentials, rapport, and past efficacy is therefore very important. One-on-one personalized sessions are most desirable over groups, in correcting conditioned habitual responses or medical conditions, as each patient has different and sometime multiple past and present sensitizing events.
As public awareness to the increased efficacy of Medical hypnosis is confirmed by scientific study the validity of medical hypnosis will benefit our stressful society.

refillneil said...

Very good post here on explaining hypnosis. For most people just being informed on what hypnotherapy course to get involved with is the most important step.

La eliminaciĆ³n de puntos negros said...

Hypnosis is a science or tabu, very interesting that people say hiptnotizan have a spiritual contact with beings from beyond, for me is simply a method that used to sleep so the body can heal the ills of many people. Many people go where hypnotists to their concerns so we can heal or other things. my question is if I acquire buy viagra, and hypnosis sessions I go, I can cause some bad.

Anonymous said...

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