ARCATA, Calif., October 14, 2013 — Scientists and those reporting on their work often claim some people are “unhypnotizable” while others are “highly hypnotizable.” It may appear this way when the same approach, called an “induction,” is used for every person participating in a research study. The clinical environment is a different story.
Movies and stage shows have given rise to many myths about hypnosis. The most common ones are that a person in hypnosis can get stuck in hypnosis, unknowingly reveal secrets or be made to do things against their will. Before beginning clinical hypnosis work, it is common to debunk these as false.
The point about “hypnotizability” is also worth making because people commonly ask whether they can be hypnotized and some express doubt. If you don’t want to go into hypnosis, you won’t. If you do want to, know that you can. And you do. Really, we all go in and out of hypnosis in many ordinary ways each day. Examples include daydreaming, crying during a sad movie, feeling the sting of a cut only after seeing it, and exiting the highway and realizing you don’t remember passing the previous five exits.
These common experiences are hypnotic because they involve selective focus of attention. Some factors are deleted from awareness and other things happen automatically. In these examples, you can go into the enhanced or altered state of hypnosis without another person guiding you. When researchers study hypnosis it typically involves facilitation from another person - the hypnotist.
Allowing the hypnotist to use only one induction for everybody is like choosing one song to represent all music. Some people will want to dance to it and others won’t. Nobody would say that means some people are incapable of dancing while others are inherently gifted at it.
James Hazlerig, a Certified Hypnosis Practitioner in Austin, Texas, likens this to giving 100 people lukewarm Big Macs, finding 10 folks won’t eat them, and declaring 10% of the population is “not susceptible to food.” It’s silly.
The “scientific method” isolates variables and standardizes how experiments are conducted. This is good and important. It just can’t be applied to the study of absolutely everything. If you put the world’s best poets, painters or songwriters in a lab to study what produces the best art, the creative output will surely be affected by the environment and its uniformity.
Is hypnosis an art?
We don’t know everything about how the brain changes during hypnosis, but there is a large and growing body of evidence that it does. The experience of hypnosis can be studied as a science while the act of facilitating hypnosis is at least partly an art. Researchers and reporters rarely make this point.
That works to the detriment of both hypnosis and the general welfare of the public. That’s no exaggeration. If doctors and scientists studying hypnosis would be more flexible about how they approach inducing hypnosis in test subjects, few if any would be deemed “unhypnotizable.” With more subjects in hypnosis, there would be even more scientific data about how the brain and other parts of the body can change and benefit.
Various fields recognize the “Law of Requisite Variety.” This says the more flexible you are, the more likely you are to get the outcome you want. It is a foundational premise in the field of clinical and medical hypnosis. In other words, what happens in a hypnosis research lab is not always based on what happens when hypnosis is used to help people in the real world.
We do need scientific studies about hypnosis. They just have to be constructed realistically to have more value. Some of that value is in helping the general public understand that everyone can be hypnotized - if you want to be, expect to be, and cooperate with the hypnotist who is flexible enough to select an approach that works for you.
Meanwhile, whether you seek out a local hypnotist, explore the benefits of self-hypnosis, or just remain curious enough to keep reading this column, challenge yourself to be more flexible in your thoughts and actions this week and notice how many more options you create and successes you experience.
Dave Berman, C.Ht. is a clinical and medical hypnotherapist in private practice.
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