One of my favorite characterizations of hypnosis is as follows: “Hypnosis is not magic, but it looks like magic.”
Most of us have been conditioned by media to believe that amazing results are possible with the use of hypnosis–and in some cases that is true. What is also true, however, is that allowing the public to think that hypnosis is some kind of supernatural voodoo is not helpful to hypnotherapy as a scientifically-proven mode of help and healing.
Yes, practitioners can sometimes achieve startling results with hypnosis, but the results are only startling because many observers don’t fully comprehend what they are seeing. Take the example of using hypnosis to find a lost object. A patient recently asked me if it was possible to do just that. My answer was, “Yes, assuming that you already know where the object is, but you are for some reason unable to access that information in your conscious mind. Your unconscious mind, however–the part of your mind that notices things that your everyday conscious mind may overlook–may well remember where that object resides.”
Proceeding on that assumption, I conducted a hypnosis session dedicated to this subject, giving the patient a post-hypnotic suggestion that while she did not consciously know where the object was (her family had searched the entire house), as soon as she walked in the door of her home she would instantly know where the object was and would go directly to that object and retrieve it.
Sure enough, the patient told me the following week, the minute she walked in the door she went to a bookcase, moved it away from the wall, and retrieved her lost object, which had apparently fallen on the floor behind the bookcase. Her conscious mind had no idea that the object had fallen behind the bookcase, but her unconscious mind evidently had noticed it and had given up that information while she was under hypnosis.
So, is this magic? Definitely not! There was no psychic manifestation. What happened was simply that the patient was able to tap into her subconscious mind and retrieve information that was not available in her conscious thinking. She really “knew” all the time where the object was.
While this is a wonderful use of hypnotherapy, we must emphasize that nothing supernatural or occult took place here. This is not to deny, however, that the supernatural is real–as most practicing adherents of religions would surely acknowledge. To be sure, we still do not fully understand the workings of the subconscious mind, but we do understand that the mind has many wonders that we are just now discovering.