There are MANY myths about hypnosis. Typically most people have a preconceived notion about what hypnosis is that was caused by watching a magic show, a tv or a movie that perpetuated certain myths about what hypnosis really is. Hypnosis is not about entertaining an audience like a magician may do during a stage show. Hypnosis is about helping people change their behaviors as they experience a different state of consciousness.
The unfortunate part is that some of these myths may make people reluctant to embrace hypnosis to change their behaviors and make positive changes in their lives. In fact, hypnosis is a safe, effective and scientifically accepted procedure that is practiced all over the world. The American Medical Association (AMA) formally recognized the benefits of hypnosis in 1958, so hypnosis has been used with millions of patients over the last 50+ years.
In this article we will discuss some of the most common myths about hypnosis and evaluate the truth behind each one.
According to The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, one of two academic organizations for hypnosis in the United States:
“People often fear that being hypnotized will make them lose control, surrender their will, and result in their being dominated, but a hypnotic state is not the same thing as gullibility or weakness. Many people base their assumptions about hypnotism on stage acts but fail to take into account that stage hypnotists screen their volunteers to select those who are cooperative, with possible exhibitionist tendencies, as well as responsive to hypnosis. Stage acts help create a myth about hypnosis which discourages people from seeking legitimate hypnotherapy.”
Hypnosis Myth #1 – Hypnosis only works with certain people
Usually people who have this idea are wondering if they can be hypnotized. The answer is usually yes. Everyone is suggestible to some degree and some people are more suggestible than others, but that does not mean that someone who is less suggestible will have less success using hypnosis to change their behaviors.
Hypnosis Myth #2 – People who get hypnotized are weak minded
This belief stems from people confusing “being hypnotized” with “being gullible/weak minded.” Actually the opposite is true – in order to be hypnotized you need to have the capability to concentrate. And that requires some level of intelligence. People who have a lesser mental capacity (e.g. a below average IQ score), or those who cannot concentrate, cannot be hypnotized.
Hypnosis Myth #3 – Hypnosis is the same as sleep
It’s true that people may look like they’re asleep when they’re hypnotized because their eyes are closed and they have a peaceful and relaxed look on their face, but they are not asleep. In fact the brain waves of a hypnotized person are quite different from those of one who is asleep – the hypnotic trance is actually a heightened state of concentration. And the high level of alpha waves on an EEG show that a hypnotized person is awake, alert and very responsive.
Hypnosis Myth #4 – Hypnosis is an unusual state of consciousness
The myth is that hypnosis represents an altered state of consciousness that is unlike anything you have ever encountered before. The reality is that there’s nothing unusual about the state of hypnosis. Hypnosis represents a state of engagement and focus. If you have ever had the experience of “zoning out” in front of a TV, or of day dreaming and losing track of time, or of losing track of time on a long drive (aka “highway hypnosis”). then you have experienced hypnosis before. (Note: The Highway hypnosis images below are from a police website and also a comic book cover from the 1950′s about the causes of highway hypnosis and how to avoid its dangerous effects!)
In other words, hypnosis is the ability to become absorbed in a thought or state of mind, and very similar to something you have already experienced thousands of times.
Hypnosis Myth #5 – You can get stuck in hypnosis and be unable to wake up
This myth has been perpetuated in movies. In the movie Office Space, a satire of life in the corporate world in America during the 90′s, Peter Gibbons is a disgruntled computer programmer at Initech who spends his days “staring at his desk” instead of working. His girlfriend Anne convinces him to attend an “occupational hypnotherapy” session to help him get clarity about his life, but Dr. Swanson (the hypnotist) dies right after hypnotizing Peter. The newly relaxed Peter is “stuck” in a state of hypnosis and has a renewed outlook on things which leads him to act differently and lays the foundation for the rest of the hilarious movie.
Office Space is a hilarious movie, but unfortunately this scene perpetuates this myth that you can be stuck in hypnosis, unable to walk up.
In reality, if you are in a state of hypnosis and the hypnotist stops talking, you would naturally come out of the hypnotic state on your own. In reality, no one has ever been “stuck” in a state of hypnosis and unable to return to consciousness.
Hypnosis Myth 6 – You’re asleep or unconscious when in hypnosis
Obviously this myth is related to the one above. However, you’re not asleep and you’re not unconscious, you’re fully aware of what’s happening around you. Of course everyone’s experience is slightly different, but typically people report feeling very relaxed almost as if their body has gone to sleep but their mind is alert, awake and attentive.
Hypnosis Myth #7 – Hypnosis is an occult practice and religious people show avoid it
Because of the myths above which include the false general idea that another person (the hypnotist) can control you, some people have believed that it would allow people to be manipulated against their will to do bad things, perhaps even commit crimes, to be in “league with the devil.” The general idea is that another person is taking over your God-given free will.
The second general idea is that hypnosis involves occult powers – a notion that is likely made by association between hypnosis and mind control and witch doctors or things like “voodoo dolls” which are occult practices.
The Roman Catholic Church banned hypnotism until the middle of the 20th century until 1956, when Pope Pius XII gave his approval of hypnosis. Pope Pius XII stated that the use of hypnosis by health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment is permitted.
The mainstream psychology and medical communities really embraced hypnosis as a legitimate treatment modality in the 1950′s and it has been an accepted commonly used part of behavioral change techniques in the United States since that time. For example, the American Medical Association approved a report on the medical uses of hypnosis in 1958. And in 1960, the American Psychological Association endorsed hypnosis as a branch of psychology.
In a nutshell, hypnotherapy and hypnosis are legitimate, mainstream techniques used by modern medicine.
Hypnosis Myth #8 – When in hypnosis, you can be made to say or do something
against your will
Wrong! Generally, hypnosis is a state of heightened suggestion. Generally, people won’t do anything which goes against their personal values or beliefs. What you have to remember about hypnosis is that it’s not sleep and you’re aware of everything that’s happening around you. If someone tells you to do something that is really against your values then you won’t do it. You’ll come out of the state of hypnosis, and in fact it would you’d almost be shocked out of hypnosis. It’s as simple as that!
Hypnosis Myth #9 – Hypnotists have “special” or “mysterious” powers
The myth that hypnotists have “special” or “mysterious” powers is something that has definitely been perpetuated by the media.
In 1895 George du Maurier published a Trilby (a novel) that featured a character named Svengali, about a person who seduces, dominates and exploits Trilby (a young English girl) and turns her into a famous singer through the use of hypnosis. Since that book was published, the word “svengali” has become common usage for a bad, manipulative person. The picture below effectively captures this myth and depicts the manipulative hypnotist with mysterious powers.
The poster for the play shown below echoes the special powers myth. Notice how it says “she was a slave to his will!” in the text and perpetuates this myth?
In reality, the hypnotized person is ALWAYS in control, not the hypnotist. You determine your own level of participation and engagement in the process.
Let us be really clear about this. All the research suggests that hypnosis can never be used to make you do something you don’t want to do, or act against your will!
In a positive therapeutic context, hypnosis is used to strengthen positive messages, create negative associations (e.g. feel bad eating too much food), and increase your motivation for positive behaviors. These changes in motivation, perceptions and associations, are the underlying key ingredients in effective use of hypnosis for behavioral change.
The word “hypnosis often conjures up images in people’s minds that are inaccurate and sometimes hard to overturn. However, these images are inaccurate stereotypes that have been perpetuated in TV shows, movies, and magic shows and are perpetuated as described above. The goal of this article is to expose the truth and dispel these myths so that more people understand what hypnosis really is and how it can enhance personal growth, personal development and help people change unwanted behaviors.