Hypnotism- Mind control or valuable therapeutic tool?
Updated: May 18
In the movie Curse of the Jade Scorpion, an unscrupulous hypnotist plants a suggestion in the mind of Woody Allen and Helen Hunt. When he triggers them, they become walking zombies and go out to steal jewelry, hiding it and then forgetting what they had just done. This popular Hollywood vision of hypnotism, as a form of mind control, turns out not to be true according to experts. Movies from the Naked Gun to the Manchurian Candidate have relied on this "walking time bomb" plot device to great effect, but have damaged public perception of what hypnosis is and what it can do for people.
Hypnosis is now a commonly used treatment by therapists and specially trained professionals and is used to help people with a variety of problems. It's not for everyone- some people aren't able to get into a hypnotic state. It's also not recommended as a treatment by itself, but as a compliment to traditional talk and medicine therapies. When it works, hypnosis has been shown to aid in recovering memories, dealing with sleeping, smoking or eating issues, and alleviating anxiety, depression, grief, and stress.
Hypnosis is defined as a trance-like state in which you are more calm, relaxed, and open to suggestions. The mind is focused and calmed, and as the conscious mind relaxes, the unconscious mind supposedly becomes more accessible. Subjects who are being hypnotized are generally aware of everything that's happening, and cannot be made to do things against their will. But their inhibitions are relaxed and they are more open to suggestions of things that will help them in the long run. A trained hypnotist is the key element here, though some people can do self-hypnosis. The hypnotist can help subjects reach optimum relaxed states and then aid with planting the desired suggestions.
Hypnotic states are similar to what's experienced during guided meditation, which has also been shown to be very helpful in dealing with a host of mental health conditions. The goal is to get the new ideas and behaviors past the noise of the conscious brain and try to reach the subconscious.
One of the most intriguing uses of hypnosis is with pain management. It's been used by dentists during dental work, midwives during childbirth, civil war surgeons during amputations, and by practitioners of all types to treat chronic pain. While drugs like morphine and Oxycontin are effective but also very addictive, hypnosis apparently is a much safer alternative when it works. We don't know how or why it works, nor why some people react differently than others. A strong placebo effect is possible with hypnosis, but controlled studies have been done and the practice is being utilized more by medical professionals. Concerns over addiction to prescription pain-killers may mean more use of this technique.
Another popular area for hypnotherapy is desired behavioral changes. These include treating insomnia, eating disorders, smoking addiction, and bed wetting. The weight loss industry alone is full of pseudoscience and quasi-professionals, so extreme caution needs to be exercised if seeking help from hypnosis here. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs there is, and there is some evidence that hypnosis helps here. Hypnotherapy is being looked at for help with other addictive disorders like alcoholism, opioid and other drug addictions.
Beyond a medical or psychological degree, there are some certifications out there for certified hypnotists, some of which are legitimate and some of which are not. Check out references here, but the results speak for themselves. Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama, Matt Damon, Adele, and Ashton Kucher are all celebrities who supposedly have used hypnosis to stop smoking. Orlando Bloom, Sarah Ferguson, and Geri Halliwell claim to have lost weight using hypnosis.
The focusing power of hypnosis has been utilized by sports professionals, most famously by golfer Tiger Woods. There is an entire field of sports hypnosis that helps athletes focus their energies and improve performance. Celebrities and professionals use hypnosis for peak performance training in all sorts of areas. Does it work? I have no idea as I've never tried it myself, but it has much in common with mindfulness meditation, which we will cover later in this challenge. Anything that you can do to quiet the mind and focus on one or two desired changes is always a good thing.
And finally, there are a host of claims that hypnosis helps with symptoms of mental illness. It doesn't cure the underlying problems, but helps with the symptoms of things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, phobias, and more. For this type of hypnosis it's recommended to always work with a mental health professional and use it only as a supplement to therapy. Some claim that it works well in tandem with cognitive behavioral therapy.
One thing therapists need to be cautious about is using hypnosis to retrieve long lost memories. The research on memory is still unclear, and our brains are not like a recording device that takes perfect records that can be uncovered with hypnosis. Any memories accessed that way can be contaminated by the therapist, the patient, or any of a thousand people that have interacted with the patient since the forgotten event.
Hypnotherapy sessions for things like smoking or weight loss can cost about $100 each time and may or may not be covered by insurance. They typically are limited engagements of 3 to 5 sessions of 90 minutes each. If you go by what the hypnotherapy industry says, they can work wonders. Medical schools may not cover hypnosis, but sites like Mayo Clinic, Psychology Today, and Web MD recommend it for some people. Like with anything else, check out ratings and be careful out there.
Now that you know you can't be forced to cluck like a chicken or steal jewelry, here's another tool for you to put in your mental fitness toolbox.
The above information is provided courtesy of the author who has done his best to be factual. You are still responsible for interpreting and checking those facts elsewhere, and I make no representations that I am a mental health expert beyond what I presented. Thank you.