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.
9 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!
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!
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.
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!