Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis: In Medicine, Dentistry, and Psychology, 2nd Edition

4. Misconceptions About Hypnosis


It is imperative to remove all the most popular misconceptions about hypnosis before attempting an induction procedure. The most common of these is that the subject is asleep, unconscious, or in a “knocked-out” state. The stage hypnotist has contributed to the widely held notion that hypnosis is a “trance,” or a “sleeplike” or “out-of-this-world” state.

Apprehensive patients should be informed that they will not necessarily lose awareness or fall asleep. Rather, they will be more awake! One should explain carefully that all levels of hypnosis, including the deeper stages, are characterized by increased attention to the operator's suggestions, that this concentration facilitates receptivity to suggestions, and that the profound concentration achieved is one of the principal reasons for the use of hypnosis.

Actually, hypnosis has little resemblance to true sleep. Most ideas equating sleep with hypnosis stem from motion pictures that portray the hypnotized individual with his eyes closed. An explanation that the eyes are closed to facilitate concentration can be amplified by the following remarks: “Have you ever noted how a music lover at a concert often has his eyes closed while he is listening appreciatively to the performance? Even though he looks relaxed and asleep, he is more alert; he can even follow a single theme through many variations.” This analogy is useful for differentiating sleep and hypnosis.

The author seldom uses the term “sleep” in his verbalization technic to induce hypnosis, as it only creates confusion. However, many good operators use the word “sleep” as part of their induction technic. Most subjects are intuitively aware, nevertheless, that they are not expected to fall asleep. If, during the induction technic, the term “sleep” is used inadvertently, it can be qualified by stating, “You will feel as if you could go to sleep, or as if you are about to fall asleep.”

Frequently, even after it has been emphasized repeatedly that the hypnotized individual does not fall asleep, patients state, “Doctor, I know I wasn't hypnotized. I heard everything you said.” I often remark, “That's right. I wanted you to hear everything that was said. If you heard 100 per cent of what I suggested, you then have a 100 per cent chance of absorbing these suggestions, and if you absorbedall of these suggestions, there is a much better chance that you will follow these suggestions.” This statement, when made in an affirmative manner, clears up any misconception that sleep and hypnosis are synonymous.


Another misconception is that the subject “surrenders his will” to the all-powerful hypnotist. Unfortunately, the “Svengali-Trilby” novel, comic strips, and television programs have perpetuated this myth. Since the capacity to be hypnotized is a subjective experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Many patients state, “I always thought that under hypnosis I could be made to do anything against my wishes.” It is helpful to emphasize that subjects are not dominated by the will of the hypnotist; they are fully capable of making decisions at all times.

Those who fear that hypnosis can weaken their moral code or permanently change their attitudes can be informed that strong persuasion, mass psychology, and propaganda (subtle forms of suggestion) are thoroughly capable, especially during wartime, of changing attitudes and behavior. However, it is conceivable that an unscrupulous hypnotist, by producing a total amnesia and establishing a valid motive, could get an individual, already predisposed to lie, steal, or kill, to commit a criminal or antisocial act. Naturally, such circumstances do not exist in the doctor-patient relationship. This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 19.


Some still believe that morons, imbeciles, and weakminded persons make the best hypnotic subjects. This, too, is a misconception. Rather, it appears that people of above average intelligence, who are capable of concentrating, usually make the best subjects. Motivation can be increased by stating, “If you are readily hypnotizable, this indicates that you are above average in intelligence.”

In this connection, constant hypnotic induction does not weaken the mind or make an individual more suggestible. Thousands of subjects have been hypnotized hundreds of times without the slightest demonstrable harm.


Few patients reach the deeper stages of hypnosis if they think that intimate secrets will be revealed, as might occur under anesthesia or “truth serum.” They should be informed that they will be aware of everything while hypnotized and afterward, unless a specific amnesia is suggested. As a result, guilt-laden subjects relax and become more amenable to hypnosis.


Some subjects fear that they will not be “brought out of it.” A common question is, “Doctor, what happens if you can't get me out of this?” Another is, “What happens if you should drop dead while I am hypnotized?” These fears can disrupt the interpersonal relationship, and may cause a real resistance to being hypnotized. As has been mentioned, the patient actually induces the hypnosis through his own convictions. Therefore, he can readily dehypnotize himself in a split second, if necessary. The author points out that, when posthypnotic suggestions contrary to the wishes of the patient are given, invariably spontaneous dehypnotization occurs and breaks the rapport. One must remember that hypnosis is an interpersonal relationship between the therapist and the patient and that it is an intrapersonal one for the patient. Often, if the operator merely leaves the room, this causes deeply hypnotized subjects to dehypnotize themselves. Because many patients are now taught autohypnosis, they can terminate it at any time. Emphasizing this fact allays their fears, anxieties, and tensions.


Some persons believe that, if they are hypnotizable, this indicates that they are gullible and believe everything told to them. The difference between the two states has already been explained. Mental discrimination is not impaired with regard to stimuli which threaten the integrity of the organism.


Another widely held misconception is that one has to have a strong personality to be a hypnotist and that males, having supposedly dominant personalities, are better hypnotists than females. This is not true, as a male hypnotist also can be an excellent subject for a female hypnotist.


All misconceptions should be removed by adequate explanations during the initial visit. This discussion should be conducted at the level of the patient's intelligence. Readily understood examples should be used for illustrative purposes. Although this is time-consuming, the results are rewarding. Mentioning that the phenomena of hypnosis occur as a part of everyday life is helpful in the removal of the commoner misconceptions.

The author finds that it is particularly helpful to have all new candidates observe an induction procedure in a well-conditioned subject. A few minutes of observation will save hours of explanation. A wellconducted induction also corrects the false impressions derived from stage hypnosis. The fallacious ideas about hypnosis, originating from uninformed sources, have to be removed.

As has been stressed repeatedly, hypnosis is not a “sleep” state, a “trance,” or a state of unconsciousness. Rather, it closely resembles the waking state. The following points bear reemphasis in the interests of dispelling persistent misconceptions about hypnosis: (1) intelligent individuals usually make the best subjects; (2) the subject's will is not surrendered; (3) a hypnotized person does not lose control or reveal intimate material unless he wishes to do so; (4) susceptibility to hypnosis is not related to gullibility or submissiveness; and (5) hypnosis can be terminated readily by either the subject or the operator. Many other misconceptions, such as being helpless to resist undesirable posthypnotic suggestions, stem from outmoded and wholly unscientific tenets. Removal of all doubts and misconceptions helps to establish a closer rapport and the motivation necessary for successful hypnotic induction and therapy.

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