When Hypnotherapy DOESN’T Work

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Hypnotherapy is a psychological treatment modality that seeks to mobilize the patient’s own subconscious mind in order to accomplish a therapeutic goal that is agreed upon by patient and therapist.  Like any other treatment modality, however, it is not successful 100 percent of the time.
This is not surprising.  When you visit your physician and he or she writes a prescription, there is never a guarantee that said prescription will work as desired, even if it is effective for most people.  As physicians know very well, different treatments work for different people.  So, when hypnosis, a tried and true method of making behavioral and emotional changes, fails to deliver, what is the problem?
The best answer is that the hypnotherapy treatment does not work because the patient does not want it to work.  How can this be?  As an example, a patient came to me wanting to start eating healthy and losing weight.  Over our first few sessions, he seemed to do very well, reporting modest weight loss each week, along with increased relaxation and a general feeling of good health.  Then the weight loss suddenly stopped, and the other benefits were lost as well.  What caused the change?  It seems that the man’s wife, who did all the cooking, was offended that her husband was eating less at every meal and even leaving food on the plate.  So, in order to spare his wife’s feelings, the man reverted to his former unhealthy eating patterns, which resulted in a halt to his progress.
We see this reluctance to allow the hypnotherapy process to work in habitual smokers as well.  While they profess to want to quit this deadly habit, sometimes they are only going through hypnotherapy in order to prove that it won’t work, which will allow them to continue.  Again, they do not want the hypnotherapy to be successful. 
In my clinical experience, this lack of desire for success accounts for most of the cases in which hypnosis fails or is not as effective as hoped.  That said, there are also some individuals who, for whatever reason, are not responsive to hypnotherapy as a treatment–just as they might not be responsive to a particular drug prescribed by their physician.  There will always be individual differences.
The good news is that for such patients, more straightforward counseling may accomplish what hypnosis cannot.  The mind is a wonderful instrument, but each mind is different in terms of how it responds to a treatment.  We may never know exactly why this is so.  Only our Creator has the final answers.

Hypnosis and the Bible

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Much has been said about the practice of hypnosis as it relates to spirituality, but very little of it has been positive.  Based on fear and superstition–and a healthy dose of mischaracterization from movies and other media–some have even come to regard hypnosis as a “tool of the devil.” Yet the Bible tells quite a different story.

While the word “hypnosis” did not exist in ancient times, the Bible does make reference to a “trance.”  In fact, the word is used several times, most notably in the following text from Acts.

On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the [f]sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the [g]sky opened up, and an [h]object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and [i]crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the [j]air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, [k]kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything [l]unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider [m]unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the [n]object was taken up into the [o]sky. [NASB]

In this context, clearly it is God himself who puts Peter into a trance in order to reassure him about what is permitted to eat.  No one would suggest there is anything demonic in this.  Next we have another quotation from ACTS.

17 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ [NASB]

Again, we see the Lord using a trance to pass on vital knowledge.  In fact, nowhere in Scripture is the trance associated with evil.  So, the next time someone questions the value of hypnosis on a spiritual basis, feel free to direct them to the Book of Acts!

Hypnosis Q&A: Can Hypnosis Really Recover Lost Memories?

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The answer to this question depends on what kinds of memories we are talking about.
For example, one of the most controversial uses of hypnosis has been in the so-called recovery of “suppressed memories” of traumatic events.
There was a time not so long ago when it was believed that the subconscious mind records an exact record of everything that happens to a person, and that if hypnosis could tap this record, even long-lost memories could be recovered.  This technique has been famously used to allegedly help victims of psychological and physical trauma to recover memories of what was done to them long in the past, and by whom it was done.  The idea is that the memory has been suppressed by the unconscious mind because it is too painful for the conscious mind to deal with.
Unfortunately, this way of recovering “memories” rests on a false premise: namely that what the unconscious mind records is an exact record of what went on–similar to a video recording.  Research has shown, however, that this is simply not so.  What the mind remembers is its own “story” of what happened, and this story–told by an individual to himself or herself–has many contributing factors, such as the emotional state of the individual at the time of the event, the ability of the individual at that time to understand what was happening, the influence of those attempting to recover the memory, and the desire of the individual to change the story to make himself or herself appear more heroic or blameless.  Readers interested in this subject should consult Elizabeth Loftus’ groundbreaking work “The Myth of Repressed Memory.”
The key point is that what is “recovered” could certainly be tainted by a number of factors to the point that it is far from a factual representation of any situation remembered.  I have yet to see any convincing evidence that exact memories of past events can be extracted by hypnosis, but I have seen that an individual’s feelings about such events can be uncovered by reliving the the events under hypnotherapy.  This can be highly useful in therapy.
Other memories, such as the location of a lost object, can indeed be recovered, but this is more a case of the individual concentrating on the object–aided by hypnosis–and simply accessing information already contained in the mind.  This information is usually not of a traumatic nature, so suppression for that reason is not a factor.
To be sure, this is a very complicated subject, and we have barely scratched the surface here.  It is worth remembering, however, that hypnosis–while it may look like magic–is not.  Helping the mind to relax and focus is sometimes all that is needed to retrieve the “lost” information sought.
Please keep your questions and comments coming!

Hypnosis Q&A: Undue Influence?

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Q: Isn’t hypnosis just a way to take over a person’s free will and make him or her do whatever the hypnotist wants?
A.  Fortunately for all of us, the answer is no.  People who are given hypnotic suggestions that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs and desires will simply reject such suggestions.  In our clinical setting, of course, patients are only given positive, healing suggestions–many of which are agreed upon by the patients in advance of the hypnotherapy session.  Not surprisingly, such suggestions are almost always welcomed.
Hypnosis, then, acts as a magnifier of these positive suggestions, as the patient is able to focus clearly on the positive changes desired, while ignoring other thoughts that could interfere with such healing.
Yet almost every media and cinema representation of hypnosis involves some nefarious individual bent on bending the will of some poor victim through hypnosis. This perception has become ingrained in our public consciousness over the years to the point that the average person assumes it is true.  This is most unfortunate, because most clinical hypnotists–like others who practice healing arts and sciences–are interested only in helping individuals to marshal their own subconscious resources to affect positive change and healing.
This is not to be confused with stage hypnosis, whose end is to entertain an audience.  I will have much more to say on that in answer to future questions.
Meanwhile, please rest assured that hypnosis cannot subvert the strong will of the individual.  In fact, it is primarily because hypnotherapy patients have such a strong will to change and heal that hypnosis is such a wonderful and effective treatment modality!
Keep those questions coming!

But HOW Does Hypnosis Work? (Part 3)

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In our previous discussions, we have learned a bit about what happens in the mind of a hypnotherapy subject during the process of hypnosis.  Remember, however, that every mind is unique, and the best we can do is speak broadly about the process of hypnosis for people in general.

We have seen that suggestions offered to subjects who are in a hypnotic trance (relaxed and focused, but not necessarily asleep) are often adopted by the subject, assuming that the suggestions are normally agreeable to that subject.  This then results in a change of behavior or attitude–or both.  But just how long will this changed behavior or attitude last?

To answer this, let’s consider the subject of the post-hypnotic suggestion, that is, a suggestion given to the subject during hypnosis that will show itself later, after the hypnosis session is done.  For example, if a client is hoping to find some lost article in her home, I may give her the suggestion that “as soon as you walk in the door of your house, you will instantly remember where that article is and you will go right to the spot and retrieve it.”  In this case, the suggestion only has to last for the hour or so until the lady returns home, whereupon her subconscious mind directs her to the lost object.

But what about suggestions that lead us to a more permanent change in behavior, such as suggestions about stopping smoking?  Some research indicates that such suggestions may last as long as 10 days, although in practice we see a wide variety of time spans.  This is why it is so important to reinforce suggestions by having multiple sessions or having subjects repeatedly listen to the session on CD.  In the example of smoking, the unconscious mind keeps hearing and repeating the anti-smoking ideas over weeks and months, until the unconscious “habit” becomes NOT smoking, rather than lighting a cigarette.

It should come as no surprise that learning a new behavior takes time and practice.  When most of us first learned to ride a bicycle, we had to have help and we had to think about what we were doing in order to remain upright on the bike.  Over time, however, the actions become automatic, and for the most part we don’t give them a second thought.

Overall, this is what we are often attempting to do in hypnotherapy–that is, the teaching of a new positive behavior that, with repetition, becomes part of the subject’s normal behavior.  That we are able to accomplish this is many cases is a testament to the effectiveness of hypnosis and to the power of the subconscious mind–a power that can be tapped by each and every one of us, if we are willing.

This concludes our brief series on how hypnosis works, but I am sure there are many questions out there about one or more aspects of this powerful treatment modality.  In my next few postings I will answer any and all questions you may have (as well as some I have heard often).  Just send your query or comment to:


I look forward to hearing from you!

But HOW Does Hypnosis Work? (Part 2)

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Welcome back to our discussion of the mysteries of hypnosis–in particular our examination of how hypnosis works to affect desired changes in thoughts or behaviors.  Again, let me state that no one definitively knows the answers to these questions.  What follows is my opinion, informed by research, training, and experience.

We have already noted that hypnosis and hypnotherapy work by accessing the unconscious mind–the part of our mind that generates dreaming and is alternately blamed or credited for behaviors that may be desirable or undesirable.  But just how does the clinical practitioner (I am not talking about stage hypnosis here) gain access to thoughts that are, by definition, not generally accessible to the conscious mind?

Hypnosis begins with encouraging the subject to relax.  In the movies, various alleged practitioners use the command “sleep!” liberally, but in actuality we want our subjects to relax deeply, yet still focus their attention on the hypnotist’s words or actions.  Sleep is not what we are seeking, in most cases, although it may spontaneously occur.  A common technique, called progressive relaxation, encourages subjects to relax their bodies, one part at a time.  Hypnotic subjects may be asked to respond to questions from the hypnotist while in this state of intense awareness and relaxation, which requires a level of consciousness a bit higher than a typical snoozefest.

Inducing this state of focus and relaxation serves the purpose of essentially putting aside the thoughts of the conscious mind and allowing unconscious thoughts to surface.  Typically, the conscious mind becomes so bored with the drone of the hypnotist that it shuts down and awaits something more interesting.  As a result, the therapist can speak more directly to the unconscious mind, which remains active even while the conscious mind decides to put itself on hold.

Please be aware that this is a much simplified version of what happens in many hypnosis sessions.  The relaxed and focused mind tends to be much more receptive to suggestionx from the hypnotist, but only if those suggestions are syntonic (agreeable) to the subject in the first place.  In most cases, hypnotherapists will offer suggestions that come directly from the subject before the session begins.

From this point on, the therapist is simply repeating and reinforcing positive messages that the subject has agreed are helpful.  If the goal is to lose weight, for example, suggestions may center around selecting a healthier diet, stopping eating when one is full, or only eating when the body actually needs fuel to run efficiently.  Long after the hypnosis session is over, the effects of these suggestions may be felt and actualized in behavior–sometimes much to the surprise of the subject!

Again, I should emphasize that a hypnotic subject will not do things that are against his or her own values or morals.  The idea that hypnotists can somehow brainwash their subjects is pure hogwash.

So once the positive suggestions have been given, how long will the new thoughts or behaviors last?  We will discuss that subject in our next posting.

Comments or questions?  Please feel free to share below.

But HOW Does Hypnosis Work? (Part 1)

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In our last post, we looked at the question of whether or not hypnosis or hypnotherapy actually works, which it undoubtedly does.  But that begs another, perhaps more interesting, question: Just how does hypnotherapy work in the mind to affect desired changes?
First, let me state that no one actually knows the answer to this question, although there are many interesting ideas.  If this surprises you, think about the fact that there are a number of drugs that share this same mystery; that is, they do work for the prescribed conditions, but doctors are not sure exactly how working works!  Science has not yet caught up with real world functionality.
So what follows is my own opinion about how hypnosis enables individuals to make changes, based on my training, my research, and–most important–my experience as a clinician.  It should also be stated that I am taking a broad overview of hypnosis as a practice, acknowledging that there are many differences in therapeutic modalities while at the same time stating that most forms of hypnotherapy share the same basic factors.
Most hypnosis clinicians agree that hypnosis involves the unconscious mind.  According to SimplyPyschology.org, “the unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgements, feelings, or behavior (Wilson, 2002). According to Freud (1915), the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see.”
Freud said this part of the mind is filled with images and thoughts that, if known by the conscious mind (the part we use during most of our waking lives), might prove disturbing or upsetting.  Be that as it may, our unconscious thought processes can exert a powerful influence on our perceptions and behaviors.  These thought processes are often blamed for otherwise inexplicable things, such as unreasonable fears or habits that seem to arise out of nowhere.
The unconscious is also thought to be expressed in the realm of dreams, which suggests that the understanding of our unconscious mind is far different–and usually far less logical–than that of the conscious mind.  It is for this reason that dreams, when remembered, often seem to be nonsensical to our conscious minds.  To put it another way, the unconscious mind has a language and symbolism of its own–an idea advanced famously by the noted psychologist C. G. Jung.
Since most of us acknowledge that the unconscious mind has the power to influence behavior and perception, it follows that influencing or changing what goes on in the unconscious mind itself can and will bring about positive changes, whether the problem is a phobia, a bad habit, anxiety, or your errant golf swing.  This is the task of the hypnotherapist: to access the unconscious mind, to see how that mind is influencing or causing undesirable feelings and behaviors, and to change or repair thought patterns to yield more positive and helpful results.
In our next posting, we will discuss how the hypnotherapist works with the unconscious mind to achieve those desired results.
Meanwhile, your comments and suggestions are always welcomed.

Hypnosis: Does it Really Work?

One of the questions I get asked most about the practice of hypnotherapy or hypnosis–and I am usually asked this by my fellow mental health practitioners–is: Does hypnosis really work?

After I get done laughing, I explain that if hypnosis didn’t work, I wouldn’t waste my time doing it.  The body of literature that supports the efficacy of hypnotherapy as a healing tool is certainly sufficient proof of just how well this treatment modality does work.  But that’s not the only way I know that hypnosis or hypnotherapy does work.

I know from my own personal and professional experience that hypnotherapy is an amazing and powerful method of changing lives and solving problems.  Having hypnotized hundreds of persons, I can assure you that positive changes are made and that lives are enhanced and improved.  Like any other treatment, however, hypnotherapy does not work for everyone–and for these folks, more mainstream forms of psychological counseling are available.

Still–where it does work–hypnotherapy appears to be nothing short of magic, although it is not at all an attempt to trick or deceive anyone.  Where an individual might take as long as 6 to 12 months in counseling to work through issues around anxiety, for example, the same result can often be achieved in just six sessions of hypnotherapy.  It seems like magic, but it is not.

Again, there are no guarantees–just as when you receive a prescription from your physician there are no guarantees it will work.  The effects of hypnosis are sometimes subtle, such as helping the subject to sleep better, but sleeping better can produce powerful and healthy results for many individuals.

At other times, the effects of hypnotherapy can be striking and surprising.  In one case, a woman who came to me for help with eating habits and weight loss told me the following story.

“After my hypnotherapy session last week, I went food shopping,  When I was done and I reached the checkout counter, I looked into my shopping cart and said to myself: ‘Where did all these fruits and vegetables come from?!'”

Magic?  No!  Effective?  Yes, often!

The Trump/Hypnosis Hysteria Continues

Greetings, mind minders.  Well, I really thought this would go away.  You know, the ridiculous idea that presidential candidate Donald Trump is using mass hypnosis techniques to dupe the public into voting for him.

But no.  Let’s face it; this is a fascinating, mysterious idea, and the reality that it is hokum, hogwash, and horse hockey seems to matter little at all to those promoting it. In fact, even a respected publication like Forbes has now gotten into the act.  A contributor named Ralph Benko, who according to his biography has no clinical training, reports that, “The evidence shows that Donald Trump is, in fact, using technique indistinguishable from hypnosis.”  Since Mr. Benko seems to be a blogger and a lawyer, I’m not exactly sure what he thinks hypnosis looks like.  And I have yet to see any evidence that Mr. Trump is a master of hypnotic techniques.

For those of you who haven’t had the experience, I invite you to peruse my previous writings on the subject of The Donald as a manipulator of minds.  Just select the article from the list on this blog.  .

Meanwhile, be reassured that people will often vote for a candidate in much the same illogical way that  they bet on a horse at the racetrack–that is, color of the animal, colors on the jockey’s back, cute name, funny name, the jockey’s name, the jockey’s gender, the horse’s number (drawn at random before the race), predictions in their horoscopes, etc.  (Never mind those past performances.)  .

And if The Donald would like me to teach him some hypnosis techniques, I invite him to inquire.  I can’t guarantee it will get him any more votes, but it will undoubtedly help him to sleep better and to be more relaxed when he is awake.  And there’s a lot to be said for that!

Is Donald Trump Using Mass Hypnosis?

In the bizarre carnival that is the 2016 Presidential campaign, one almost expects to hear ideas and statements that strain the bounds of credulity.  After all, these are politicians, and politicians are known for their tendency to say or do anything in order to get those precious votes.
The purpose of this essay is not to promote (or criticize) any political campaign, but instead to put to rest a ridiculous idea that has sprung up online, and even in some media.  This is the notion that Donald Trump has been using secret and scary tactics of “mass hypnosis” to bamboozle voters into liking him and voting for him.  This is how they try to explain Trump’s unexpected popularity with voters across many demographic lines.
First, let’s be clear about what we mean when we say “mass hypnosis.”  Certainly, this may mean the practice of actively engaging a crowd of onlookers to follow harmless suggestions that may be somewhat embarrassing to the subjects later.  Such suggestions may include imagining that one’s arm is being pulled up by a bunch of helium balloons, or that the arm is being weighed down by stacks of barbell weights.  Stage hypnotists do it all the time.
In the case of Trump, however, what is being alleged by some is really a form of mind control.  According to Wikipedia, mind control is “a controversial theory that human subjects can be indoctrinated in a way that causes “an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations. In this context, brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values.”
The reason the theory is controversial is that it has never been demonstrated and replicated in any scientific setting of which I am aware, although attempts have been made.  Still, the idea has many proponents.  Some believe that charismatic figures like Adolph Hitler exercised some form of mass hypnosis over the German public during his rise to power.  Then again, maybe he was just saying things that appealed to the German citizens of that time.
The reality is that even highly trained hypnotherapists can’t get anyone to do anything that is against their deeply held morals.  People will follow harmless suggestions from a hypnotist because they know that the suggestions are harmless.  Watching a speech by a political candidate, however, bears no resemblance to a hypnosis session, at least for most of us.
Then there is what I would call the Svengali theory.  Some online writers allege that Hitler–and later Trump–are utilizing some arcane, subtle eye, hand and finger movements that somehow put viewers under a spell. While that method worked wonderfully for magician Vincent Price in the movie “The Raven,” its efficacy in real life remains doubtful.
And here is one more thing to consider.  If we hypnotists were capable of exerting such power as the mass hypnosis theorists, suggest, I can assure you we would all be wealthy beyond our dreams and that we would occupy all the positions of power in the world.  I can safely say, however, that this is not the case.
I’m sure it must be confounding for political scientists and pundits to explain Mr. Trump’s popularity, but if they are counting on mass hypnosis as the answer, I’m afraid they are out of luck.