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Hypnosis, is popularly understood to be a psychological condition in which an individual may be induced to exhibit apparent changes in behaviour or thought patterns - in particular an increase in suggestibility and subjective feelings of relaxation. The procedure by which this is achieved is called "hypnotism".

A topic of intense debate, many scientists dispute the very existence of hypnosis. Many therapists insist upon its value. One of the problems that creates controversy is the wide variety of theories of hypnosis. The definitions of hypnosis are as varied as the definers. Dr. William S. Kroger states:

"Like the nature of human behavior, there will be different theories about hypnosis since all hypnotic phenomena have their counterpart in the various aspects of human behavior." (1977)

The applications of hypnosis vary widely. Currently, two distinct applications of hypnosis include its use in entertainment and in health applications. The popular perception of the hypnotic experience is that of the entertainment version. The stage hypnotist uses a variety of methods to relax and focus the subjects eventually making it appear to the audience that the subject is asleep or, popularly termed, in trance. During the performance, the subjects seem to obey the commands of the hypnotist to engage in behaviors they might not normally choose to perform.

On the other hand, hypnosis applications in the medical and health-related fields are often experienced very differently. Clinical hypnosis is used in attempts to increase the ability to recall memories, assist with dieting, smoking cessation, pain reduction or elimination, eliminating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as resolving mental disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.



The following definitions are based on the theories presented later in this article.

American Psychological Association

In 1993, the American Psychological Association defined hypnosis as "a procedure during which a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or experimental participant experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior."[1]

This definition was revised and expanded March 2005. It begins, "Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented." (see Complete definition and description.)

Dave Elman

Dave Elman defines hypnosis as "a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human mind is bypassed, and selective thinking established." The critical faculty of your mind is that part which passes judgment. It distinguishes between concepts of hot and cold, sweet and sour, large and small, dark and light. If we can bypass this critical faculty in such a way that you no longer distinguish between hot and cold, sweet and sour, we can substitute selective thinking for conventional judgment making. [2]


Through data collected via electroencephalography (EEGs), four major brain-wave patterns—frequency of electrical impulses firing from the brain—were identified. The Beta state (alert/working) is defined as 14-32 cycles per second (CPS), the Alpha state (relaxed/reflecting) falls in the 7-14 CPS range, the Theta state (drowsy) from 4-7 CPS, and Delta state (sleeping/dreaming/deep sleep) is defined as approximately 3-5 CPS.

Alpha State-based Physiological Definition

One physiological definition states that the brainwave level necessary to work on issues such as stop smoking, weight management, reduction of phobias, sports improvement, etc. is the Alpha state. The Alpha state is commonly associated closing ones eyes and relaxing.

Theta State-based Physiological Definition

Another physiological definition states that the Theta state is required for therapeutic change. The Theta state is associated with Hypnosis for surgery, hypnoanesthesia and hypnoanalgesia occur more readily in the Theta and Delta states. It should be noted that hypnoanalgesia of the skin is a common test for somnambulism. Arm and body catalepsy are one of a few tests done to determine readiness for these surgical applications.

However, it is important to reflect upon the fact that both arm and body catalepsy can be induced in normal non-hypnotised subjects. Indeed, arm catalepsy is a standard stage-hypnotists test of susceptibility. Moreover, normal, non-hypnotised subjects can be found in any of these states of cortical arousal without also displaying any of the behaviour, traits or enhanced suggestibility associated with being hypnotised.

Michael Yapko

Michael Yapko defines hypnosis: "...hypnosis is a process of influential communication in which the clinician elicits and guides the inner associations of the client in order to establish or strengthen therapeutic associations in the context of a collaborative and mutually responsive goal-oriented relationship. (Yapko, M.. Hypnosis and the Treatement of Depressions. Brunner/Mazel Inc., New York, New York, ISBN: 0-87630-682-2, p. 37)



Indian & Egyptian sleep temples

"Hypnotism as therapy seems to have originated among the Hindus, who often took their sick to the temples to be cured by hypnotic suggestion or 'temple-sleep,' as in Egypt and Greece. The Englishmen who introduced hypnotherapy into England —Braid, Esdaile and Elliotson—'undoubtedly got their ideas, and some of their experience, from contact with India”. (Will Durant; ‘Story of Civilization’). These sources indicate the use hypnotic-like inductions to place the individual in a sleep-like state. Although it is now accepted that hypnosis is not a variety of sleep.

Magnets and Other Healing Objects

Paracelsus and "Magnet" healing

Paracelsus (1493-1541), a Swiss medical doctor who is also known for his discovery of the mercury cure for syphilis, was the first physician to utilize magnets in his work. Many people were healed after he passed magnets (or lodestones) over their body.

Valentine Greatrakes and Johann Joseph Gassner

An Irishman by the name of Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1666) was known as "the Great Irish Stroker" for his ability to heal people by laying his hands on them and passing magnets over their bodies.

Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779), a Catholic priest of the time, believed that disease was caused by evil spirits and could be exorcised by incantations and prayer.

Father Maximilian Hell

Around 1771, a Viennese Jesuit named Maximilian Hell (1720-1792) was using magnets to heal by applying steel plates to the naked body. One of Father Hell's students was a young medical doctor from Vienna named Franz Anton Mesmer.

Franz Anton Mesmer and "Animal Magnetism"

Western scientists first became involved in hypnosis around 1770, when Dr. Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a physician from Austria, started investigating an effect he called "animal magnetism" or "mesmerism" (the latter name still remaining popular today). Unfortunately, Mesmer had little scientific insight and reportedly plagiarized the writings of English physician Richard Mead.

Mesmer found that, after opening a patient's vein and letting the patient bleed for a while, by passing magnets over the wound would make the bleeding stop. Mesmer also discovered that using a stick instead would also make the bleeding stop.

After moving to Paris and becoming popular with the French aristocracy for his magnetic cures, the medical community challenged him. The French king put together a Board of Inquiry that included chemist Lavoisier, Benjamin Franklin, and a medical doctor who was an expert in pain control named Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Mesmer refused to cooperate with the investigation and this fell to his disciple Dr d'Eslon. Franklin constructed an experiment in which a blindfolded patient was shown to respond as much to a non-prepared tree as to one that had been "magnetised" by d'Eslon. This is considered to be perhaps the first placebo-controlled trial of a therapy ever conducted. The commission later declared that Mesmerism worked by the action of the imagination. (H.F.Ellenberger, "The Discovery of The Unconscious", Basic Books, 1980).

Although Mesmerism remained popular and "magnetic therapies" are still advertised as a form of "alternative medicine" even today, Mesmer himself retired to Switzerland in obscurity, where he died in 1815.

French Revolution in 1789 and oriental hypnosis of Abbe Faria

Many of the original mesmerists were signatories to the first declarations proclaiming the French revolution in 1789. Far from being surprising, this was almost to be expected in that mesmerism opened up the prospect that the social order was in some sense suggested and could be overturned. Mesmerism in its later guise of hypnotism contained a clear implication that many saints might be hysterics, leading The Roman Catholic Church to ban hypnotism until the middle of the 20th century. Magnetism was neglected or forgotten during the Revolution and the Empire.

An Indo-Portuguese priest, Abbé Faria, revived public attention to animal magnetism. In the early 19th century, Abbé Faria introduced oriental hypnosis to Paris. Faria came from India and gave exhibitions in 1814 and 1815 without manipulations or the use of Mesmer's baquet. Unlike Mesmer, Faria claimed that it worked by the power of expectancy and cooperation of the patient, now known as suggestion.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Carl Reichenbach began experiments to find any scientific validity to "mesmeric" energy, which he termed Odic force. Although his conclusions were quickly rejected in the scientific community, they did undermine Mesmer's claims of mind control.

Marquis de Puységur and somnambulism

A student of Mesmer, Marquis de Puységur first described and coined the term somnambulism. As a sidenote, followers of Puységur called themselves Experimentalists and believed in the Paracelsus-Mesmer fluidism theory.

Beginnings of Formal Medical Research


In 1821, Récamier was the first recorded use of hypnoanesthesia and operated on patients under mesmeric coma.

James Braid and "Hypnotism"

The evolution of Mesmer's ideas and practices led James Braid (1795-1860) to coin the term and develop the procedure known as hypnosis in 1842. Popularly titled the "Father of Modern Hypnotism", Braid rejected Mesmer's idea of magnetism inducing hypnosis, and ascribed the creation of the 'mesmeric trance' to a physiological process—the prolonged attention on a bright moving object or similar object of fixation. He postulated that "protracted ocular fixation" fatigued certain parts of the brain and caused the trance, "nervous sleep."

At first he called the procedure neuro-hypnosis and then, believing sleep was involved, to hypnosis. Realizing that hypnosis was not sleep, he later tried to change the name to monoideaism, but the term hypnosis had stuck.

Braid attempted to use hypnotism to treat various psychological and physical conditions. He had little success, notably in his attempts to treat organic conditions. Other doctors had better results, especially in the use of hypnosis in pain control. A report in 1842 described an amputation performed on a hypnotized participant without pain. The report was widely dismissed and there was strong resistance in the medical profession to hypnotism, but other successful reports followed.

Braid is credited for writing the first book on hypnosis in 1843 titled Neurypnology.

John Elliotson

Dr. John Elliotson (1791-1868), an English surgeon, reported numerous painless surgical operations using mesmerism in 1834.

James Esdaile in India

Dr. James Esdaile (1805-1859) reported on 345 major operations performed using mesmeric sleep as the sole anesthetic in British India. The development of chemical anesthetics soon saw the replacement of hypnotism in this role.

The deaths of Braid and Esdaile curbed the interest in hypnotism. Experimentation was revived into the 1880s, mainly in continental Europe where new translations of Braid's work were circulated.

Beginnings of Formal Psychological Studies

Jean-Martin Charcot

The neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) endorsed hypnotism for the treatment of hysteria. La méthode numérique("The numerical method") led to a number of systematic experimental examinations of hypnosis in France, Germany, and Switzerland. The process of post-hypnotic suggestion was first described in this period. Extraordinary improvements in sensory acuity and memory were reported under hypnosis.

From the 1880s the examination of hypnosis passed from surgical doctors to mental health professionals. Charcot had led the way and his study was continued by his pupil, Pierre Janet. Janet described the theory of dissociation, the splitting of mental aspects under hypnosis (or hysteria) so skills and memory could be made inaccessible or recovered. Janet provoked interest in the subconscious and laid the framework for reintegration therapy for dissociated personalities.

Holy See of 1847

Objections had been raised by some theologians stating that, if not applied properly, hypnosis could deprive a person of their faculty of reason. Saint Thomas Aquinas specifically rebutted this, stating that "The loss of reason is not a sin in itself but only by reason of the act by which one is deprived of the use of reason. If the act that deprives one of his use of reason is licit in itself and is done for a just cause, there is no sin; if no just cause is present, it must be considered a venial sin."

On July 28, 1847, a decree from the Sacred Congregation of the Holy office (Roman Curia) declared that "Having removed all misconception, foretelling of the future, explicit or implicit invocation of the devil, the use of animal magnetism (Hypnosis) is indeed merely an act of making use of physical media that are otherwise licit and hence it is not morally forbidden provided it does not tend toward an illicit end or toward anything depraved."

Later, in 1956, Pope Pius XII gave his approval of hypnosis. He stated that the use of hypnosis by health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment is permitted. In an address from the Vatican on hypnosis in childbirth, the Pope gave these guidelines:

  1. Hypnotism is a serious matter, and not something to be dabbled in.
  2. In its scientific use, the precautions dictated by both science and morality are to be followed.
  3. Under the aspect of anaesthesia, it is governed by the same principles as other forms of anaesthesia.

American Civil War

Hypnosis was used by field doctors in the American Civil War and was the first extensive medical application of hypnosis. Although hypnosis seemed to be very effective in the field, with the introduction of the hypodermic needle and the general chemical anesthetics of Ether in 1846 and Chloroform in 1847 to America, it was much easier for the war's medical community to use chemical anasthesia than hypnosis.

Ambroise-Auguste Liébault

Ambroise-Auguste Liébault (1864-1904), the founder of the Nancy School, first wrote of the necessity for cooperation between the hypnotizer and the participant, for rapport. He also emphasized, with Bernheim, the importance of suggestibility.

British Medical Association Approval, 1892

The Annual Meeting of the BMA, in 1892, unanimously endorsed the therapeutic use of hypnosis and rejects the theory of Mesmerism (animal magnetism). Even though the BMA recognized the validity of hypnosis, Medical Schools and Universities largely ignored the subject.

First International Congress 1889

First International Congress for Experimental and Therapeutic Hypnotism was in Paris, France Aug.8-12, 1889.Attendees included Jean-Martin Charcot, Hippolyte Bernheim, Sigmund Freud and Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault.The second was in August 12-16, 1900.

Emile Coué and the Laws of Suggestion

Emile Coué (1857-1926), a French pharmacist, popularized the following laws of suggestion:

The Law of Concentrated Attention 
Whenever attention is concentrated on an idea over and over again, it spontaneously tends to realize itself.
The Law of Reversed Effect 
The harder one tries to do something, the less chance one has of success.
The Law of Dominant Effect 
A strong emotion/suggestion tends to replace a weaker one.

Modern Applications

Pavlovian Cotribution

Russian medicine has had extensive experience with obstetric hypnosis. Platanov, in the 1920s, became well known for his hypno-obstetric successes. Impressed by this approach, Stalin later set up a nationwide program headed by Velvoski, who originally combined hypnosis with Pavlovian techniques but eventually used the later almost exclusively. Ferdinand Lamaze, having visited Russia, brought back to France "childbirth without pain through the psychological method," which in turn showed more reflexologic than hypnotic inspiration.

Sigmund Freud, Joseph Breuer, and Hypnotherapy

Sigmund Freud met with his teacher Charcot, and with Liébault and Bernheim. Back in Vienna he developed abreaction therapy using hypnosis with Josef Breuer.When Sigmund Freud discounted its use in psychiatry, in the first half of the last century, stage hypnotists kept it alive more than physicians.

Hypnosis in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War

The use of hypnosis in the treatment of neuroses florished in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Hypnosis techniques were merged with psychiatry and was especially useful in the treatment of what is known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

William McDougall (1871-1944), an English psychologist, treated soldiers with "shell shock".

Clark Hull

The modern study of hypnotism is usually considered to have begun in the 1930s with Clark Leonard Hull (1884-1952) at Yale University. An experimental psychologist, his work Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933) was a rigorous study of the phenomenon, using statistical and experimental analysis. Hull's studies emphatically demonstrated once and for all that hypnosis had no connection with sleep ("hypnosis is not sleep, … it has no special relationship to sleep, and the whole concept of sleep when applied to hypnosis obscures the situation"). The main result of Hull's study was to rein in the extravagant claims of hypnotists, especially regarding extraordinary improvements in cognition or the senses under hypnosis. Hull's experiments did show the reality of some classical phenomena such as hypnotic anaesthesia and post-hypnotic amnesia. Hypnosis could also induce moderate increases in certain physical capacities and change the threshold of sensory stimulation; attenuation effects could be especially dramatic.

Andrew Salter

In the 1940s, Andrew Salter (1914-1996) introduced to American therapy the Pavlovian method of contradicting, opposing, and attacking beliefs. In the conditioned reflex, he has found what he saw as the essence of hypnosis. He thus gave a rebirth to hypnotism by combining it with classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov had himself induced an altered state in pigeons, that he referred to as "Cortical Inhibition", which some later theorists believe to be some form of hypnotic state.

British Medical Association Approval, 1955

On April 23, 1955, the British Medical Association (BMA) approved the use of hypnosis in the areas of psychoneuroses and hypnoanesthesia in pain management in childbirth and surgery. At this time, the BMA also advised all physicians and medical students to receive fundamental training in hypnosis.

André Weitzenhoffer and Ernest Hilgard

Studies continued after the Second World War. Barber, Hilgard, Orne and Sarbin also produced substantial studies. Ernest Hilgard and André Weitzenhoffer created the Stanford scales in 1961, a standardized scale for susceptibility to hypnosis, and properly examined susceptibility across age-groups and sex. Hilgard went on to study sensory deception (1965) and induced anesthesia and analgesia (1975).

American Medical Association Approval, 1958

In 1958, the American Medical Association approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis. It encouraged research on hypnosis although pointing out that some aspects of hypnosis are unknown and controversial.

Recent Innovators and Current Applications

Milton Erickson and Authortarian vs. Permissive styles

Milton Erickson (1901-1980) developed many ideas and techniques in hypnosis that were very different from what was commonly practiced. His style is commonly referred to as Ericksonian Hypnosis and it has greatly influenced many modern schools of hypnosis.

Dave Elman

Dave Elman (1900-1967) was one of the pioneers of the medical use of hypnosis. Elman's definition of hypnosis is still widely used today among many professional hypnotherapists. Elman coined the term "Esdaile state" after the operations of Dr. James Esdaile to describe a new state that he had discovered, which featured a complete anesthesia of the subject without suggestions for removing discomfort. Elman believed that he had found the state that Esdaile had written about in his medical journals. This is also known as the "coma" state, although the subject is not actually in a coma and can be awakened at any time.

Ormond McGill

Ormond McGill (1913-2005), stage hypnotist and hypnotherapist, was the "Dean of American Hypnotists" and writer of the seminal "The Encyclopedia of Genuine Stage Hypnotism" (1947). McGill passed away on October 19, 2005.

Jeffery Zeig


The exact psychological state of a subject in hypnosis is unclear, and its very existence and effects are strongly debated. The following are some of the more popular theories on the phenomena of hypnosis:

Hypnosis as a state of hysteria

Charcot postulated that hypnosis was a symptom of hysteria and that only those people experiencing hysteria were believed to be hypnotizable.[3] Although those exhibiting hysteria seem to be more suggestible, normal individuals are, indeed, hypnotizable which calls this theory into question.

Hypnosis as a conditioned process leading to sleep

Ivan Pavlov believed that hypnosis was a "partial sleep". He observed that the various degrees of hypnosis didn't significantly differ physiologically from the waking state and hypnosis depended on insignificant changes of environmental stimuli. Pavlov also suggested that lower brain stem mechanisms were involved in hypnotic conditioning.[4]

Although some modern researchers still subscribe to this theory, Kroger states "during deep sleep, conditioned reflexes and physiological responses to a repeatedly given stimulus cannot be established, whereas in hypnosis the learning of conditioned reflexes is enhanced over and above that of the nonhypnotic state."

In hypnosis, the subject typically appears to be asleep because of eye closure that is typically part of the induction procedure, but there is quite a bit of literature on blood pressure, reflexes, physiochemical and EEG studies which indicates that hypnosis more closely resembles complete wakefulness.[5]

Dissociation and neodissociation theories

This theory of hypnosis, postulated by Pierre Janet, states that while in hypnosis, areas of an individual's behavioral control is split off from ordinary awareness. In this case, hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind and the individual will respond with autonomic, reflexual behavior. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as "dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place."[6]

Ernest Hilgard took this theory and went further with a neodissociation theory. This theory postulates that although there exists a normal ego function that controls socially acceptable behaviors, there are other processes that occur outside of these controls, and could also function simultaneously with the normal controls.

Altered state of consciousness theory

Hypnosis is commonly viewed by its proponents and practitioners as a natural, altered state of consciousness, where the conscious (analytical) mind is bypassed, and the subconscious (creative) mind is accessed. This allows the subject to use the power of visualization and suggestion, given by oneself or another, to change and improve behavior patterns.

Hypnosis, then, is just a state of mental and physical relaxation, along with a more focused sense of concentration. Hypnosis is not sleep (as is often popularly assumed), and most people find that they are more aware of smells, sounds, and feelings than usual. Some believe that this is a form of trance state, similar to somnambulism, while others believe that hypnosis functions predominantly by focusing and diverting attention. This concentrated awareness is what allows the hypnotherapist to plant positive suggestions and images in the mind of the client to bring about lasting changes.

State theory

Currently a more popular theory, it proposes that hypnosis is a state or, more commonly, a "trance". Hilgard relates this state as an "ability component" or a "trait of hypnotic responsiveness".[7]

Non-state theory

Barber theorizes that hypnosis is not a state or a trance and is not produced as the the result of suggestions. He suggests that hypnosis is based on a number of overlapping variables, but, primarily, that interpersonal relationships allows the operator to restructure perceptions and conceptions of the subject. He theorizes that this occurs because the subject is relatively inattentive to the environment and, because of this misdirection of attention, the subject is willing to think as the hypnotist wants them to think.[8]

Role-playing theory

This theory suggests that individuals are playing a role and allowing the hypnotist to create a reality for them. This relationship depends on how much rapport has been established between the hypnotist and the subject (see Hawthorne effect, Pygmalion effect, and the Placebo effect).

Hypersuggestability theory

Currently a more popular theory, it states the subject's attention is narrowed by certain techniques used by the hypnotist. As attention is narrowed, the hypnotist's words eventually take over the inner voice of the subject. From this theory comes the implication that only gullible or weak-minded people are suggestable. Some people, however, find the narrowing of attention to be desirable. Milton Erickson was said to have told his subjects, "... and my voice will go with you," meaning that Erickson's voice would be a comforting presence in the face of adversity and trouble.

Informational theory

This theory applies the concept of the brain-as-computer model. In electronic systems, a system adjusts its feedback networks to increase the signal-to-noise ratio for optimum functioning, called a "steady state". Increasing the receptability of a receptor enables messages to be more clearly received from a transmitter primarily by trying to reduce the interference (noise) as much as possible. Thus, the object of the hypnotist is to use techniques to reduce the interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).

Hypnotism as a social construct

Generally, under hypnosis people become more receptive to suggestion, causing changes in the way they feel, think, and behave. This suggestibility has led some psychologists to believe that hypnosis does not actually correspond to any underlying mechanism of the human mind, but is merely a social construct so well-known that strong social expectations are played out by subjects, who believe they are in a state of hypnosis, behaving in a way that they imagine a hypnotized person would behave. This would, if true, tend to denigrate hypnosis to the status of a purely social phenomenon.

Research on Hypnosis

Research into the state of hypnosis has been covered with varying results. As demonstrated above, due to the differing ideas of what hypnosis actually is, research can be difficult.

Some modern research seems to suggest that hypnosis has a genuine effect on brain functioning. For example, one controlled scientific experiment postulates that hypnosis may change conscious experience in a way not possible when people are not "hypnotized", at least in "highly hypnotizable" people. In this experiment, color perception was changed by hypnosis in "highly hypnotizable" people as determined by positron emission tomography (PET) scans (Kosslyn et al., 2000). (This research does not compare the effects of hypnosis on less hypnotizable people and could therefore show little causal effect due to the lack of a control group.)

Another research example, employing event-related fMRI and EEG coherence measures, compared certain specific neural activity "during Stroop task performance between participants of low and high hypnotic susceptibility, at baseline and after hypnotic induction". According to its authors, "the fMRI data revealed that conflict-related ACC activity interacted with hypnosis and hypnotic susceptibility, in that highly susceptible participants displayed increased conflict-related neural activity in the hypnosis condition compared to baseline, as well as with respect to subjects with low susceptibility." (Egner et al., 2005). Skeptics dispute the significance of such findings, claiming that such changes cannot be shown to be particular to the hypnotised state, and that any other action such as daydreaming is also likely to alter brain activity in some manner. The subject is still a matter of current research and scientific debate.

Claims that hypnosis has been used with success for applications including entertainment, analgesia and psychoanalysis are widespread and well-documented yet successes are still variable.

Hypnosis Methodologies and Effects

General methods

The act of inducing a hypnotic state is referred to as an induction procedure. There is no current consensus on what the requirements are for an induction procedure to be effective; while some practitioners use simple calming verbal techniques, others use complex triggers, including mechanical devices (see Michael Robinson's Self-Hypnosis Learning or Licensed Online Counseling, page 45).

Many experienced hypnotists claim that they can hypnotize almost anyone. They also claim it is a myth that people with strong will power cannot be hypnotized, as they claim these generally make the best participants. This is based on the idea that those who are most intelligent are also the most creative and as such they will make strong associations with the structure of language used by the hypnotist and by the visual or auditory representations inside of their mind. On the other hand, there is a common claim that no one can really be hypnotized against his or her will (Liébault, Le sommeil provoqué (Paris, 1889)). The counter-claim given by many hypnotists is that while you cannot make someone do anything against their will, you can change what it is that they wish to do.

Many religious and cultural rituals contain many similarities with techniques used for hypnotic induction and induce similar states in their participants.

General effects

Focused attention

This school of thought holds that hypnosis as a state is very similar to other states of extreme concentration, where a person becomes oblivious to his or her surroundings while lost in thought. Often suggested as an example is when a driver suddenly finds himself much further down the road without any memory of driving the intervening distance, or when a person is watching television and focuses so intently on the program that he or she ceases to be aware of the sides of the screen.

The act of hypnotizing, is, in effect, the act of manually inducing a similar state (See, for example, general information on the ASCH website).


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}} Psychologists have produced controversial studies that seem to show a strong correlation between the ease of putting someone in a state of hypnosis and their level of suggestibility (see Stanford scales).

Hypnosis has further been described as "The suspension of the critical factor" which expands on the idea of "increased suggestibility". A person who claims to be hypnotized may accept statements as true that he or she would normally reject.

For example, when told "you have forgotten your name," the subject in a normal state would react with disbelief, but under hypnosis people have claimed that they have, indeed, forgotten their own names.

It often appears as if the hypnotized participant accepts the authority of the hypnotist over his or her own experience. When asked after the conclusion of such a session, some participants appear to be genuinely unable to recall the incident, while others say that they had known the hypnotist was wrong but at the time it had seemed easier just to go along with his instructions. (Richard Feynman describes this in his memoir Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! as his own experience under hypnosis.) The mechanism of this effect is however disputed: Some hypnotists would claim that this showed the difference between a deep and a shallow hypnotic trance, while skeptics would question the validity of this conclusion, citing that such effects can be duplicated in other circumstances where an agent holds authority, such as the Milgram experiment, and suggest that unreliability in results discredits a scientific theory of hypnosis.


Some believe that hypnosis can affect the subject's judgment and therefore could potentially cause them harm. In the hand of a "professional" seeking to promote the subject's welfare, those of this opinion believe, hypnosis can produce profound effects and be a compliment to treatment. Some of those who believe in hypnosis believe that in most cases one can resist hypnosis if one is aware of it. However, some of those who hold this belief also believe in brainwashing and/or mind control and believe that when hypnotism takes place in the context of these, resisting hypnosis is far more difficult. These beliefs are not generally based on scientific evidence, as there is no scientific consensus on whether mind control even exists, let alone whether it is more difficult to resist hypnotism in the context of this unverified theoretical construct.


Some psychologists and other mental health professionals are concerned that practitioners of hypnosis might evoke intense emotions in their clients that they are untrained to handle. These abreactions might occur when spontaneously or purposefully recalling traumatic events or, some believe, spontaneous mental breakdowns.

Hypnosis Applications


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}} Hypnotherapy is a term to describe the use of hypnosis in a therapeutic context. Many hypnotherapists refer to their practice as "clinical work." Hypnotherapy can either be used as an addition to the work of licensed physicians or psychologists, or it can be used in a stand-alone environment where the hypnotherapist in question usually owns his or her own business. The majority of certified hypnotherapists (C.Hts in the US, Diploma.Hyp in the UK) today earn a large portion of their money through the cessation of smoking (often in a single session) and the aid of weight loss (body sculpting). Some of the so called 'incurable' diseases have shown to be treatable with the mind-body (such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis). Some of the treatments practiced by hypnotherapists, in particular so-called regression, have been viewed with skepticism. In many cases false memories can be invented due to a combination of suggestibility (hypnosis is effective in part because it lowers the critical facility), social expectation, and intentional or unintentional collaboration from the way the hypnotist leads the exploration. Thus many feel that these memories cannot be held to be reliable recollections, with some denouncing the procedure as harmful to the patient, and without any basis in fact.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in dealing with cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that "it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one"[9], and so the procedure is "fraught with problems of potential misapplication"[10]. This is why Forensic Hypnosis is not widely used in many countries' legal systems.

Clinical hypnosis

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is an organization that "promotes greater acceptance of hypnosis as a clinical tool with broad applications". Hypnosis is applied to a great range of both physical and psychological ailments, rather than being restricted to purely psychological phenomena. The society was founded by Milton Erickson, a doctor who attempted to put hypnosis on a firm therapeutic backing in the 1950s. Recently, efforts to reduce obesity with hypnosis (when used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and a low-fat diet) have been effective in most cases[11].


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}} Self-hypnosis— (or autosuggestion) hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself without the assistance of another person to serve as the hypnotist—is a staple of hypnotherapy-related self-help programs. It is most often used to help the self-hypnotist stay on a diet, overcome smoking or some other addiction, or to generally boost the hypnotized person's self-esteem. It is rarely used for the more complex or controversial uses of hypnotism, which require the hypnotist to monitor the hypnotized person's reactions and responses and respond accordingly. Most people who practice self-hypnosis require a focus for their attention in order to become fully hypnotized; there are many computer programs on the market that can ostensibly help in this area, though buyer beware!

Some people use devices known as mind machines to help them go into self-hypnosis more readily. A mind machine consists of glasses with different colored flashing LEDs on the inside, and headphones. The LEDs stimulate the visual channel while the headphones stimulate the audio channel with similar or slightly different frequencies designed to produce a certain mental state. A common occurance is the use of binaural beats in the audio which is said to produce hypnosis more readily.

Indirect application

In addition to direct application of hypnosis (that is, treatment of conditions by means of hypnosis), there is also indirect application, wherein hypnosis is used to facilitate another procedure. Some people seem more able to display 'enhanced functioning', such as the suppression of pain, under hypnosis.

One of the major initial applications of hypnotism was the suppression of pain during medical procedures; this was supplanted (in the late 19th century) by the development of more reliable chemical anesthetics.

Some studies suggest that while hypnosis may possess these qualities, they are not exclusive to hypnosis, that it is often the drama and fantasizing that produces the behavior.

"And it's no coincidence that the most psychologically effective ad that the Bush campaign used in 2004 wasn't the wolf ad (that was #2) but one that had two specific NLP-based posthypnotic suggestions embedded into it, telling people that "in the quiet" and "when you're alone in the voting booth" that they "can't take the risk" of voting for Kerry. It looked like a simple check-list ad, but was saved for the last minute and played so heavily because it was so psychologically sophisticated and potent."[12]

Objective Sign of the Hypnotic State, Breuer's Absent Pupillary Reflex Sign

A Possible Proof of the Hypnotic Trance State:

For those who discount trance state completely. This may be a objective sign... and is opposite the normal physiological response! When the subject/patient/client is in 'deep' hypnosis (based upon most scales)she/he is asked to stay in hypnosis and open their eyes. The pupils are usually dilated. When a penlight is shone into the eyes the pupils will usually stay dilated or poorly reactive (the normal non-hypnotic response being contraction). Some clinicians use this as a benchmark for cases being readied for hypno-anesthesia. What is meant by very 'deep hypnosis' is debatable as is the terminology used for that state (somnamulistic, Esdaile, Ultradepth, etc.). This is a brief test and will not take away from therapy. (Dr. William Breuer popularized this test in University lectures to his students after conducting a research project that involved professionals in multiple sites from three countries.) HISTORY: The early mention of this sign is in an 'archaic' and esoteric book, 'Hypnotism' by Carl Sextus, which stated that when people are asked to open their eyes while remaining in deep trance and then when a light is shone into their eyes, their pupils won't contract. Use any suggestions you wish to keep them in hypnosis, but at this point in trance do not use any suggestions relating to their eyes, visual focus, light or the pupils' dilation/contraction. http://www.angelfire.com/psy/sign

Professional associations and governmental authorities

Several types of organizations exist to further the professionalism and regulation of practicing hypnotists. For example, professional associations typically offer opportunities for collegial exchanges and professional development in general and/or specialized areas of hypnosis. They also may establish codes of conduct and standards for various certification programs. They may offer such certification programs directly or approve third-party programs. Organizations not affiliated with any professional association may offer their own certificates as well.

Governmental authorities, such as state licensing agencies, may establish minimum requirements for credentials that must be earned before one may practice hypnosis within their jurisdiction. Such credentials typically are called certificates or licenses. Some noteworthy examples of professional associations and governmental authorities that offer certification, licensure or statutes that regulate hypnosis follow.

Professional associations

Governmental authorities

Historical sites

Popular culture

The notion of hypnotism has elicited many presentations in popular culture. Intrinsically, the notion that people are succeptible to commands outside their conscious control can be an effective way of representing the notion of the fallible narrator.

Fictional treatments

The typical uses of hypnotism in fiction concentrate on one of the major abilities of hypnotism. As mentioned in the introduction, hypnotism can be used to:

  • Recollect knowledge
  • Take command of a subject
  • Implant suggestions that the subject will obey while free of the hypnotic trance.

The recollection of knowledge has inspired use in detective fiction, as a tool for witnesses to examine details (such as license plate numbers) that could not be recalled while fully conscious. This appears in many television series, such as Law & Order or Homicide: Life on the Street. In addition, it has been expanded to the notion of remembering "past lives", that is, previous reincarnations of the subject, in such movies as "DEAD AGAIN."

In real-life cases, recollection of knowledge via hypnosis has been used in many cases, but its effectiveness is disputed. Proponents claim that recovered memories have aided in the solving of many crimes, often corroborating with physical evidence which would have been impossible to obtain otherwise. Skeptics suggest that such successes are a function of simple chance, pointing to cases where its use on victims of rape or attempted murder to help them jog their memory in identifying an accused has caused sentences to be doled out to the wrong person. This is because the hypnotist might make suggestions that are more likely to be remembered as "truth". Most experts recommend that the practice be used at most like a lie detector, to glean more information, and never as the smoking gun.

The notion of implanting suggestions is probably the most thoroughly explored; ranging from comedies such as The Naked Gun trilogy to dramas such as The Manchurian Candidate. These films usually center around the concept of brainwashing or mind control. Several cases have been recorded where the defense argued the accused had committed the murder under hypnosis, though there is little real evidence that such control is possible.

Stage hypnotism

Stage hypnotists will put on a show, usually comedic in nature, that centers around the use of hypnotism. Typically, they will select a subject from the audience and have him or her perform acts that he or she would normally be very reluctant to perform in public, usually slightly humiliating or embarrassing acts, such as dancing, singing, or pretending to be someone else. Very often, the subject will claim to not remember having performed these acts.

The response to these acts from people who consider themselves legitimate practitioners of clinical hypnotism as well as skeptics of hypnotism is that the performer will select those from the audience that he or she feels already have exhibitionist tendencies, and use hypnotism to relax the inhibitions away or to give the person an unconscious excuse to violate his or her own inhibitions.

See also



  1. ^ — Executive Committee of the American Psychological Association Division of Psychological Hypnosis [1993, Fall]. Psychological Hypnosis: A Bulletin of Division 30, 2, p. 7; citation culled from hypnosis-research.org.
  2. ^ — Dave Elman, Hypnotherapy, Westwood Publishing Company, 1984 ISBN 0930298047 (page 26).
  3. ^ — Charcot, J. M.: Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System. London, New Sydenham Society, 1889.
  4. ^ — Pavlov, I. P.: Experimental Psychology. New York, Philosophical Library, 1957.
  5. ^ — Dittborn, J.M., and O'Connell, D.N.: Behavioral sleep, physiological sleep and hypnotizability. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 15: 181, 1967)
  6. ^  Weitzenhoffer, A.M.: Hypnotism - An Objective Study in Suggestability. New York, Wiley, 1953.
  7. ^  Hilgard, E.R., and Hilgard, J.R.: Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain. Los Altos, CA, William Kaufman, 1975.
  8. ^  Barber, T.X.: The concept of hypnosis. The American Journal of Psychology, 45: 115, 1958.


External links

Scientific Hypnosis Home Page [13]

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