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!