Deconditioning the myths of hypnotherapy


Chloe Lai and Divya Nelakonda

Commonly seen in movies as a magical process, hypnosis is popularly portrayed by a man slowly swinging a pocket watch in front of his patient’s eyes in order to lull them into a mesmerized state of obedience. While parts of the re-enactment are loosely based on scientific facts, hypnotherapy is, in actuality, useful for medicinal practices to slow brain waves to achieve heightened focus and concentration. This procedure has been found by many doctors to provide significant mental and physical health benefits, especially when performed on patients with disorders, in need of surgery, or even in a therapy session.

Hypnotherapy was recognized as a valid medical practice since 1958 in America. Several medical professionals, including dentists, anesthesiologists and psychologists are trained in the basic components of hypnotherapy.

The level of success of hypnosis depends on how willing the individual is to act upon suggestion. Its aim is to relax the mind and increase concentration levels by limiting white noise in the background. The practitioner then poses suggestions that gently guide one’s behavior to release negative feelings. This power of suggestion in a highly responsive state has helped many patients quit unhealthy habits such as smoking or dangerous dieting.

“I feel like hypnosis is almost like tricking your mind into believing an alternative reality where your world is calmer so what you want to fix can be your main focus,” said freshman Erin Gao. “It would be just like when you’re concentrating on one thing, because you’re giving undivided attention, other factors like your crazy schedule or commitments are on the side for now.”

In this other, calmer state of mind, an individual’s perspective will likely change to become more positive; this is an ideal mindset with the belief system one may wish to achieve.

“Hypnotherapy can reach into the subconscious mind more deeply. Getting deep into a person’s inner space and having them hear positive words in regard to changes they want to make with themselves is a profound way to make changes,” said hypnotherapist June Steiner. “Hypnosis can help change thoughts, change belief systems, change behaviors [and’ change the outcome of one’s actions. There’s very little that hypnosis can’t help with. It can help with healing and the nature of the human body.”

A typical session of hypnosis begins with the practitioner asking the patient to close his or her eyes and visualize a relaxing scene, hence putting the mind at ease and slowing down brain waves–all while the patient is in a conscious state. In a state of tranquility it will be easier for the patient to concentrate.

If one has the motivation and desire to change behaviors based on the procedure before a hypnotherapy session, he or she will be more vulnerable to hypnosis and be more agreeable.

“Oftentimes, when I’m angry or I have a lot going on, it’s hard to to be open to ideas.  But when I’m just sitting in my room and I’m feeling positive that day, I’m pretty open to change,” said sophomore Sonali Mbouombouo.

Once concentration is reached, the process of induction–the step before actual hypnosis–will ensue. Induction is the stage in which the patient enters a state of relaxation, able to receive instructions from the practitioner.

The method of induction is based on the preference of the client. The first form of induction includes the use of authority, where the practitioner gives instructions in declarative sentences. Another form is guided visualization, in which the practitioner uses vocal descriptions of images to ease the patient into hypnosis. The practitioner may use auditory induction, such as quiet music or repetition of words and sounds. With better knowledge of the patient, the practitioner can then use emotional cues or probes to induce the patient into hypnosis. The final common method of induction is the use of analogies, metaphors and associative statements. These methods of induction allow the patient to narrow their attention and block out sensory impressions.

The client will then enter three stages of hypnosis. The first state is hypnoidal, which is the lightest stage of hypnosis. It is characterized by fluttering eye movements. The next state of hypnosis is the cataleptic stage. It is somewhat deeper, contextualized by eye movements from side-to-side. The final stage of hypnosis is somnambulistic, the deepest state. This state is characterized by the patient’s eyes rolling backwards. The hypnoidal and cataleptic states are amnesic in nature, where the patient can experience subconscious suggestions, but not remember them later. The somnambulistic state allows the patient to enter hypnosis that is deep enough to undergo surgery without the need for anesthesia. Indication of hypnotic state includes stillness, tearing of the eyes, slumping and rapid eye movements.

The session typically ends with a posthypnotic suggestion, where the practitioner verbally expresses their desired outcome for the procedure. The suggestion is repeated each session to achieve the desired outcome, and will affect the patient when they return to their normal life afterward. The patient then undergoes termination, a gradual return to consciousness. The methods that can be used to awaken a patient include counting backwards completed by an authoritative “wake up,” or the client may simply open their eyes and readjust.

A common misconception about the hypnotic process is that the patient is brainwashed into performing tasks unknowingly. Only when brain waves slow down will the mind become more open to suggestion, as information processed by the brain will pass the barriers of its logical left side into the creative right side. Studies have shown that more imaginative people slip into hypnosis quicker because they do not fight against the suggestions of the practitioner like logical people usually do; they are more inclined to do what the practitioner wants, which may sometimes look like they are being brainwashed. They still have complete control, but in the heightened state of concentration, their wills tend to be slightly more pliant and easily influenced.  

“Many believe that the person being hypnotized will not have control over their body,” said Steiner. “This is not true. If your character or belief system as a human being believes in not doing any harm or doing anything bad that someone may suggest you do, then you won’t take on a suggestion you don’t agree with.”

While more imaginative and creative people who primarily function through the right side of their brain may be more open to suggestion, this only means hypnosis may prove more effective for them in just a few sessions while it may take longer for logical people who use the left sides of their brain on a normal basis. The left side of the brain is responsible for one’s more intellectual thoughts and reasoning,  but because the right side is more willing to accept possibilities that lie outside the realm of reason and one’s comfort zone, suggestions that are prompted by the practitioner are likely to be positively received by the individual.

Hypnotherapy holds many benefits for both patients with a specific problem and people who simply wish to garner the general advantages of hypnotherapy. Those who choose to practice it effectively should schedule regular appointments and have a willingness to hear different perspectives. Not only can hypnosis physically heal the body, it also encourages higher concentration and a freer mindset that can help one let go of unwanted habits in addition to everyday stress.