The Dangerous Psychology of Coronavirus

See the source image

It is news to virtually nobody that a pandemic of COVID-19 is spreading across the world and is being blamed for many problems, from the actual sickness itself to the disruption of our daily lives and the damage to our economy.  The sickness, of course, can be attributed to the virus itself, but the attendant problems are the result of a single factor, namely fear.

As mental health professionals, we are seeing daily the stoking of the furnace of fear as more and more reports come out about the spread of COVID-19.  The emphasis is on which celebrity or government official has tested positive, how many have died, cancellation of sporting and entertainment events, and foolish political commentary designed to make government look incompetent at being able to stop a disease we have never seen.  All of this seems to threaten our sense of personal safety, and quite naturally makes us more fearful.

It is fear that, as of this writing, has moved government agencies to shut down any place–including open spaces such as beaches–at which more than a few people might congregate.  Officials, understandably, are afraid that if they don’t keep people apart, more of us might contract the disease, or even die from it.  They are protecting us from a threat, and rightly so.  The problem is that as more and more of us stay hunkered down in our homes, our economy and our daily lives grind to a halt, depriving us of several fundamental emotional needs:

First, there is the need for security, the sense that we are relatively safe in going about our daily work and lives.  The current media climate is one of implied, and sometimes explicit, gloom and doom.  And when we see businesses shuttered and activity in our communities virtually stopped, we feel less secure.

Next, there is, the sense of autonomy and control,  the idea that we have the ability to direct the course of our lives in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling.  At the moment, such control has been greatly reduced, leaving many with a feeling of helplessness, and even depression.  Many of the things we might turn to for distraction–watching or participating in sports, live entertainment, gatherings with friends and neighbors, eating at a restaurant–have been taken away.  Even our sources of inspiration and hope (churches, synagogues, etc.) are only available online.

We are deprived of being able to emotionally and physically connected to others, a basic human need.  Certainly, we can use technology to stay in contact, to see and hear those we care about on a screen, but that is not an ultimate substitute for an encouraging pat on the shoulder or a loving hug from a grandparent.  Research has amply demonstrated the importance of touch to emotional health, but the present situation has mandated that we do no such thing.  Even traveling to see those we love presents problems, particularly if they are not in the country.

Still, it seems wise to do whatever we need to do to stop the spread of the virus. If we accept that, how then can we help ourselves and others during this unprecedented time of emotional deprivation?  The answer begins with the realization that all of this is temporary.  God willing, we will see and end to this virus, and many of the promising medical advances that we hear too little about will bear fruit.  Financial experts assure us that the economy, which is another source of dysphoria for many of us, will eventually rebound.  Until that happens, here are some useful and positive thoughts to keep in mind:

Treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed and tested rapidly, with the government fast-tracking research.  The New York Post reports that an existing anti-malaria drug saved a Florida man from certain death at the hands of the virus.  Hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug that has long been used to treat malaria, was the life-saver, and President Trump has instructed the FDA to fast-track testing of this medication and a related drug, chloroquine, as a treatment for COVID-19.

The CDC reports that in the US, the death rate among those who test positive for COVID-19 is (at this writing) only 1.3 percent.  To put that figure in perspective, there have been 473 COVID-19 deaths in the US at this writing, while there have been 23,000-59,000 deaths from the flu since Oct. 1, 2019.  Many who contract Coronavirus will be asymptomatic, or have mild symptoms.  The numbers are in our favor.

Finally, we must in all things look to our Maker for protection and relief.  While some would mock the power of prayer in healing, it has actually been demonstrated in research.  The present crisis will end, and Americans have shown themselves to be a strong and resilient people.

Psalm 91:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper And from the deadly pestilence. …




Examining the Dangers of Hypnosis

See the source image

I have often said that when it comes to hypnosis, there are literally no negative side-effects connected with its practice when it is performed by a trained and qualified individual.  Nevertheless, there are some who believe hypnosis can be a negative factor, causing a variety of problems, including fatigue, antisocial acting out, anxiety, panic attacks, concentration loss, delusional thinking, depression, insomnia, tremors, weeping, and a host of other complaints.

First, let me note that I have hypnotized close to 1,000 individuals and I have never seen any of the above symptoms arise–or had them reported at a later date.  Since some claim that these things do happen, however, I looked into what they were saying.  In one online article, the author provides a much more comprehensive list of problems he claims can occur with hypnosis, including things such as fainting, fear of fearfulness, guilt, headache, histrionic reactions, identity crisis, insomnia, irritability, nausea, vomiting, obsessive ruminations, over dependency, personality change, phobic aversion, psychosis, sexual acting out, sexual dysfunction, somatization, spontaneous trance, stress, lowered threshold, stupor, and tactile hallucinations.  And this is not the complete list.

Once again, I have to say that none of my hypnotherapy patients has exhibited any of the symptoms above, nor were they later reported.  Allowing for the remote statistical probability that my patients have avoided these outcomes due to random chance, I read further into this article until I was finally able to discern the cause of some reported cases (he cites four case examples).  It appears that in at least some of these cases, the problem was caused by ineptitude on the part of the hypnotist, rather than by some innate factor in the practice of hypnosis itself.

For example, one case cited is that of a woman who had hypnosis to alleviate the pain of a dental procedure because she was reportedly sensitive to local anesthesia.  While riding her motorcycle on the way home, she experienced “dizziness.”  Was the dizzy feeling a result of the hypnosis, or did it occur for another one of the various reasons that people sometimes get dizzy?  When we ask the question “why do people get dizzy?” lists 84 different possibilities (low blood sugar, low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, stroke, inner ear problems, etc.), but hypnosis is not among them.

The article sidesteps the question above by attributing the dizziness to the idea that “the de-hypnotization was too quick and incomplete,” although it does not cite any proof that this was the reason.  Whatever the cause, however, it seems clear that there is no evidence to support the idea that hypnosis, in and of itself, causes dizziness.

In another case cited by this same author, a woman who had dental phobia apparently went into a trance before she even sat in the dental chair.  Here, the solution was that the hypnotist had to be more precise in his instructions for the patient to relax, telling her the relaxation would happen at the moment she sat in the chair, rather than when she was simply on the way to the office.

It seems that a number of the problems that are reported with hypnosis are traceable to the therapist and his or her flawed technique, rather than being a natural reaction to the hypnotic process.

In defense of the article cited above, the author does affirm that hypnosis is “one of the safest tools in the healing profession,” and that adverse effects occur when it is misused, misapplied, or done by amateurs.  He also notes that patients who come in for hypnosis for one problem may be experiencing a variety of other problems, and this is where the importance of a comprehensive clinical interview becomes evident.  If a patient is depressed after being hypnotized for weight loss, we really need to know whether the depression was the chicken or the egg.

Another Internet source sums this up nicely: “dangers do exist in hypnosis, but… they are no worse than those associated with psychotherapy in general. The real dangers… arise with the therapist, not with hypnosis:”  The lesson?  Seek out hypnotherapists who are fully trained, certified as required by law, and experienced in the areas in which you would like to work.  Much of this information on practitioners can be found online.  If not, ask questions!


Can a Hypnotist Really Make You Cluck Like a Chicken?

See the source image

As habitual readers of this blog (obviously very discerning individuals) know all too well, I have been writing for years about the myths and misconceptions that surround the practice of hypnotherapy and hypnosis in general.  Many of these half-truths, lies, and nuggets of fake news emanate (not surprisingly) from mainstream media and from entertainment media in particular.

But what about some other questionable things that seem to have some basis in reality?  I refer to hypnosis ostensibly being employed in order to get people–usually audience members at a hypnosis show–to do strange and embarrassing things.  There is no question that such shows, both live and recorded, do exist, and that it certainly looks like we hypnotists have the ability to make the general public look like childish fools if we apply our mysterious powers to them.

A number of examples exist online, and I invite you to search for them.  In one particular video, the voice over claims that the subjects (all young women, for reasons on which I will not speculate) have all been hypnotized to start acting like chickens when they are prompted by the alleged hypnotist.  How this was accomplished is not shown, which leaves one wondering if any real hypnosis was involved, or if the video was just produced for entertainment purposes.

In another video, the hypnotist explains his suggestions, then shows the alleged effects in a stage show that features mostly women (do I sense a trend here?).  One woman in particular is quite an enthusiastic clucker, much to the delight of the audience and the other supposedly hypnotized individuals.  So let us at least admit that in some cases something like hypnosis occurs and individuals find themselves doing strange and embarrassing things.

Interestingly, none of these individuals behave as if they were embarrassed at exhibiting such behavior, at least in the clips I was able to find–and in my experience having attended such shows.  There is one logical reason for this: These people are not embarrassed!  These folks are enjoying being part of the entertainment, and they are completely comfortable acting silly for the enjoyment of others.

Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that any hypnotist is “making” these women do embarrassing things.  There is also a good reason for that phenomenon: We hypnotists can’t make people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do!

So, when any potential patient asks me whether or not I will make them cluck like a chicken, I answer in all honesty: “Only if that’s what you want me to do.”

Welcome to reality!

Hypnosis as a Part of Mainstream Medicine

If you ask most medical doctors today about the use and effectiveness of hypnosis in the clinical setting, it is safe to say that many (although not all) will pooh-pooh the notion and express doubt that anything so mysterious could be of any help to the scientists who call themselves physicians.  To put it bluntly, hypnotherapy (like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield) gets “no respect.”

Yet there was a time when doctors–and psychiatrists in particular–regularly utilized hypnosis as a valuable tool to help their patients.  For example, according to The Freud Page, “Sigmund Freud studied with Charcot, in France, in 1885 and was impressed by the therapeutic potential of hypnosis for neurotic disorders. On his return to Vienna he used hypnosis to help neurotics recall disturbing events that they had apparently forgotten.”  Similarly, “It is clear from (psychology pioneer Carl) Jung’s writings that the way he was using hypnosis was what is called today ‘paternal’ hypnosis, i.e., the hypnotist gives specific suggestions for attitude or behavior change to the entranced client. He referred to it as hypnotic suggestion therapy’,” says ResearchGate,net.  

In his seminal work “Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death,” Frederic Myers cites the case of an apparently epileptic itinerant preacher in Rhode Island who, at age 61, suddenly disappeared one morning and remained missing for two months.  When he was finally located, he was in Norristown, PA, where for the past six weeks he had been operating a variety store under a different name which was not dissimilar to his given name.  When he regained his ordinary waking conscious state, says Myers, he had no memory of his life or actions in Pennsylvania.  Later under hypnosis, however, he was able to give a full account of his eight-week absence.

Said Myers, “It is doubtful, I think, whether any definite post-epileptic memory had ever previously been recovered,” adding that “this application of hypnotism to post-epileptic states affords us possibly our best chance… of getting down to the obscure conditions which predispose to each attack.”

One might suppose that after this success, there would be increased use of hypnotherapy in such cases, but apparently not.  One neurology expert I spoke with said it is extremely unlikely that modern medicine would have turned to hypnotherapy to help an epileptic who had lost significant memory as recorded above.  The answer, instead, would be increased application of pharmaceuticals to help prevent further episodes.

It is unfortunate that the practice of hypnotherapy still labors under false and misleading characterizations put forth by films, television, and stage entertainers.  When it comes to accurate portrayal of this helpful practice, much of what is still out there is “fake news.”  Happily, this is changing.  Even as prestigious an organization as the Mayo Clinic now includes hypnosis as part of its offerings on a limited basis.




Hypnosis and Telepathy: Perfect Together

See the source image

The practice of hypnosis has been linked with many other practices and ideas–some clinical and health-oriented, and some “alternative” and often controversial.  One example of the latter is the phenomenon known as telepathy.

Telepathy, in simple terms, is, according to Merriam-Webster, “communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means.”  In this context, “extrasensory” refers to something that is beyond the capability of our five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.  Some would refer to perception of an event without the involvement of the senses as mind-reading, but this is a less-than-complete definition, in that much of what we refer to as telepathy occurs spontaneously–that is, the person is not consciously trying to send or receive a message from another mind, whether that mind is close by or far flung.

Much has been written about this subject, and many demonstrations have been performed–some of which actually do resort to using sensory means (e.g., pre-arranged signals between the thought sender and the thought receiver).  The key question is whether or not we believe that such a phenomenon actually exists.  Opinions on this point are sharply divided.  Wikipedia, admittedly not the most reliable of sources, claims that,  “There is no convincing evidence that telepathy exists, and the topic is generally considered by the scientific community to be pseudoscience.”  Of course, the scientific community also once believed that Earth is flat and that one could fall off the edge into oblivion if one ventured too close to the horizon.

On the other hand, sites like Collective Evolution point to numerous studies that support the idea that telepathic communication does take place, particularly in dream states.  Then there are the well-documented instances of telepathy between twins. In fact,  according to an article on, “Although a telepathic connection between twins is not universal… it is common enough to serve as some of the best evidence for the reality of telepathy among humans.”

My own humble view is that telepathy definitely exists, and I take this view because I have personally experienced it on many occasions.  I often “hear” or anticipate my wife’s thoughts before she verbally expresses them, but one might as well put that down to the fact that we are very familiar with each other and are likely to know what the other is thinking at times.  But what about complete strangers?  On one occasion, I stepped into an elevator at a hospital and before the door closed, a woman (a stranger to me) stepped on as well.  As she did so, I heard the name “Patel” clearly in my mind.  Not a second later, the lady asked me, “Can you tell me where Dr. Patel’s office is?”  I did not know the doctor in question, nor anyone else of that name.  And let me add here that I have had other similar experiences with people who were not known to me.

Of course, my personal reports are anecdotal and not peer-reviewed studies.  I certainly claim no extraordinary abilities for telepathy, since I am convinced that most of us experience it in some form or other.  Nevertheless, I have no doubt that these things occurred and no other explanation for them other than that some form of mind-to-mind communication was responsible.  I am certain that many of the readers of this article will have experienced similar events in their lives.

So, how do we relate what I believe to be a real phenomenon to the practice of hypnosis?  In his book, Mind to Mind (1948 Hampton Roads Publishing), author Rene Warcollier discusses “the value of hypnosis… for concentration of the attention in a relaxed and receptive state” in order to facilitate mind-to-mind communication.  Indeed, this notion makes sense, since hypnosis endeavors to clear the mind of conscious thoughts in order to allow the suggestions of the hypnotist to be heard without interruptions from the conscious mind.  It is not a giant leap to assume that clearing conscious thoughts from the mental stage might well open the person to thoughts from others.

Later in the same work, Warcollier recounts a clinical case in which a woman who was uneducated and could not even read was capable under hypnosis of understanding the meaning of words which she failed to comprehend in the [normally conscious] state.  The doctor involved said that this could only be explained “by recognizing that this woman read in my own thoughts the meaning of the word on which I had questioned her.”

One can imagine that this woman, in her normal conscious state, would have clearly stated that she had no idea what “encephalon” (another term for “brain”) meant.  Her conscious mind would certainly tell her that.  Yet the unconscious mind found a way to acquire the information from the mind of the clinician, and hypnosis was the means by which her unconscious mind could so operate.  As we have mentioned before, hypnosis is viewed by many–including this author–as the “royal road to the unconscious mind.”

The mind certainly remains as a vastly unknown and unexplored frontier.  Hypnosis, I am certain, will turn out to be a most valuable tool for this exciting exploration now and in the future.


Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Hallucinations in Hypnosis

Image result for public domain images magician

Despite the fact that hypnotherapy has been validated as a legitimate practice by Scientific American and other scholarly publications, it’s ill-deserved reputation as a branch of quackery or cheap entertainment is alive and well.  Thus, when we discuss the idea of hallucination in relation to hypnosis, the average reader will not be surprised.

Just about everyone has heard that a hypnotist cannot force anyone to do anything that is against his or her firmly held morals and beliefs–such as commit murder or rob a bank.  In fact, a hypnotist can’t force you to do anything that you don’t really want to do in the first place.  The same may not apply, however, to what your senses tell you.

In the book, Course in the Science of Hypnotism (1960 Nelson-Hall, Chicago) author Axel Wayne Bacon quotes a certain Dr. Moll as saying that our sense organs may be “deluded” while in hypnosis.  That same individual states that it is well known that some people under hypnosis will drink water thinking it is wine or will smell onions and think they are smelling cologne.

I’ve actually witnessed a live demonstration of the altering of the sense of smell by none other than The Amazing Kreskin (who, by the way, has publicly stated that he does not believe hypnosis exists!).  In that demonstration, Kreskin told a group of hypnotized students sitting on stage that another student who was called up to the stage had not bathed in some time and was reeking with body odor.  No sooner had the student taken the stage than the hypnotized group began to hold their noses and complain.  One student was apparently so offended that he got up out of his seat and pushed the allegedly stinking student away, telling him to get off the stage!

This was an example of an olfactory hallucination, but what about the other senses?  Dr. Moll cites several examples of hypnotized patients hearing things and feeling things that are not there.  While he does not address the sense of sight, I have heard that even this sense can be altered.  In one case, a hypnotized woman was told that when she awoke from her session, she would notice a certain object on the hypnotist’s desk and would comment on that object.  Sure enough, when she was brought out of hypnosis, she pointed to the object (which was not there) and asked the hypnotist about it.  Ironically, the patient was not even hypnotized when she asked about the object!

In other cases, Dr. Moll  notes patients in hypnosis told that they are in a cold environment may begin to tremble, shiver, and wrap their coats around themselves, despite the fact that the room temperature is quite comfortable.

Of course, the hypnotist is not “forcing” anyone to apprehend something that isn’t there. The hypnotized subject is quite simply more open to suggestion when relaxed and listening to the hypnotist.  It is this very “openness” to suggestion that allows the hypnotherapist to make helpful and healthful suggestions that the patient will often adopt.

This speaks to the idea that trust is a key issue in any hypnotherapy session or in the relationship between hypnotherapist and patient.  This is not news to those who already practice as psychologists and therapists–who often find themselves in the position of offering helpful suggestions to their patients.  This trust begins with taking a full history of the patient and listening to the patient’s story as it relates to his or her presenting problems–getting to know the patient as in individual, and not just a set of symptoms.  In such situations, trust is much more likely to develop.

The hallucinations, then, are an important symbol and a demonstration of the patient’s trust in the therapist.

Scientific American Confirms It: ‘Hypnosis is Real’

Related image

It is not unusual to hear intelligent people question the effectiveness and process of hypnosis, but many will take this a step further and question the idea that hypnosis–as a state of mind–exists at all.  One such doubter–a man for whom I have great respect–is The Amazing Kreskin.  Although Kreskin has used hypnotic techniques in his own performances, I have heard him insist that hypnosis does not exist as a state of mind.  It could certainly be argued that those who seem hypnotized and perform amusing and embarrassing acts in Kreskin’s demonstrations are merely going along with suggestions in order to be a part of the “show.”

How, then, can we demonstrate that hypnosis is a legitimate phenomenon arising from a subject’s brain?  Certainly, we in the hypnotherapy community can point to mountains of anecdotal evidence that hypnosis has brought about significant positive changes in people’s lives, but skeptics may argue that such changes could have come about by chance, or by the simple acceptance of a suggestion, rather than a therapeutic intervention into the subconscious.

It turns out, however, that at least one respected scientific journal has proclaimed that hypnosis is real.  A Scientific American article written 10 years ago tells about the use of what the authors call post-hypnotic amnesia (PHA) induced via hypnosis in order to do research on memory disorders such as functional amnesia.  While the results in themselves confirm the effectiveness of inducing temporary forgetfulness via hypnosis, the article also boldly affirms that these effects are real and that they are observable by certain changes in the brain.

Why is this so important?  Because it takes hypnosis out of the “New Age Hokum” basket in which some have chosen to place it, and affirms that this is a real phenomenon backed by both psychological and physical evidence.  Thus, skeptics–even those as accomplished as Kreskin–are no longer able to claim that hypnosis is a figment of someone’s imagination or an incorrect name for the power of suggestion.

To be fair, the publication is not necessarily endorsing all forms of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, including stage hypnosis.  For those of us who practice hypnosis as a form of therapy, that’s just fine, because the toughest challenge we often face is convincing potential patients that hypnosis is not just some hoodoo they have seen in the movies or on television.  The affirmation by SA that hypnosis is the real thing is a welcome sign that this wonderful therapeutic modality is gaining traction as a respected practice in the world of healing and research.


God Does Hypnosis

Image result for public domain images God

One of the most frequent criticisms of hypnosis and hypnotherapy comes from friends and even some religious authorities who maintain that hypnosis is a form of sorcery, the practice of which is clearly forbidden in Holy Scripture.

As we have pointed out previously, hypnosis is not magic (or sorcery), but it can sometimes appear to be just that because of the amazing results that can be achieved. This is especially true when we witness a hypnosis demonstration in which the hypnotic subject appears impervious to pain or incapable of ordinary movement, or when the subject does something bizarre or  unusual at the bidding of the hypnotist.  This “magical” view of hypnosis is further expressed in popular media, such as films and television, although the depictions of hypnosis in those cases are almost always more fiction than fact.  Unfortunately, such depictions often portray hypnosis as an instrument of evil, or as a method used by unscrupulous individuals to hurt others.

Of course, the word “hypnosis” did not exist at the time of the writing of the Scriptures.  Yet the word “trance” does appear in the Bible, and in a very meaningful way.  In fact, in the biblical book of Acts, we find the following in Chapter 10:

9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the 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 sky opened up, and an 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 crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. [New American Standard Bible]

Let’s consider what is happening in this passage.  Peter prepares to pray, but he falls into a trance in which “a voice,” apparently that of God, tells him to kill and eat animals which Jewish law considered unclean.  Peter knows this is against God’s law as he previously knew it, but when God himself cleanses something, it can certainly not be viewed as unclean.   This message comes to him not in a dream (we see no reference to sleep), but while he is in a trance induced by God–in order to teach Peter something new.  {This revelation later enables Peter to break bread with gentiles, which would otherwise have been frowned on by Jewish religious authorities.)

In general, this is a perfect picture of what happens in the hypnosis process, in that the deeply relaxed (in a “trance”) subject is given helpful suggestions and perhaps learns a new way of doing or being.  The trance state bypasses the possible arguments against those suggestions that might be posed by the conscious mind, in order to impress upon the deep unconscious the need for something new.

The point is that if God Himself can teach a lesson through trance and suggestion, it certainly suggests that we mortals can do so as well.  The Lord could have simply spoken aloud to Peter or caused him to have a prophetic dream in order to teach this lesson, but He chose this hypnotic method instead.  If God used this process to achieve His own purposes, surely the process itself cannot be said to be some kind of evil sorcery.

This is not to say, however. that mankind doesn’t ever seek to use any and all tools for evil purposes.  But hypnosis is just another tool–a clinical tool which is guided by the skill of a qualified professional and employed for the benefit of the subject.

The motives of our hearts, on the other hand, are truly the province of the Divine.

Who Can Be Hypnotized?

Image result for public domain images hypnosis

It always fascinates me that whenever I meet someone new and I tell them that I practice hypnotherapy, they often seem to want to tell me one of two things: 1.  that they can be easily hypnotized; 2.  that there is no way they could ever be hypnotized.

In general, people who are fascinated with the subject of hypnosis (but who have never experienced the process) seem to believe, or more likely want to believe, that they would easily fall into a trance induced by a hypnotist.  There are several different psychological forces at work here.  First, there is the tendency of some people to want to please someone like a therapist, perhaps because they see therapists as good, helping people who are due some respect.  It is also a widely-reported fact among therapists that the number one thing a patient wants from a therapist is to be liked,  thus they express a liking for what the hypnotist does. Then again, there are some who simply find the whole idea of hypnosis to be exciting and interesting, and those individuals want a hypnotist to know that they are definitely open to being hypnotized.  Perhaps they are even hoping for a demonstration of hypnosis on the spot!

The other group, however, is quick to proclaim that they could never fall into a hypnotic trance, for a variety of reasons.  Again assuming they have never tried hypnosis before, some of these individuals claim they are too strong-willed to ever be taken in by such nonsense.  Others say that they are too intelligent to be hypnotized, implying that only a mind-numbed moron would allow himself or herself to be “taken over” by someone else’s ministrations.  Of course, some individuals are convinced that hypnosis has no basis in science and has no real effects; that it is a bogus undertaking, and thus any efforts by a hypnotherapist would be ineffective in their case.  Still others cite their own inability to relax, or to pay attention to anything for more than a few minutes.

Having hypnotized literally hundreds of people over the years, I also find that there are those who hint–or outright state–that they don’t want anyone mucking about in their minds and possibly unearthing secrets known only to them.  It is important to note here that these individuals are not expressing a disbelief in the effectiveness of hypnosis on them or anyone else.  On the contrary, they seem to be saying that hypnosis may be far too effective on them, and that the results could be embarrassing for them!  Rather than openly expressing such a fear or subjecting themselves to what they view as shame or embarrassment, some will simply insist that they cannot be hypnotized for other reasons, including those mentioned above.

Then again, there are times when hypnotherapy patients will turn out to be mistaken in their expressions about how easily they can be hypnotized.  I have personally seen cases where individuals will express great enthusiasm for hypnosis and its possible benefits, but will later say they found it difficult or impossible to “go into a trance.”  In subsequent interviews, some such patients have revealed previously unspoken reasons for not wanting to be hypnotized (“My husband thinks it is hogwash and may be the work of the devil!”) or for not wanting the hypnosis to work (“If I lose weight, it will hurt my overweight wife’s feelings.”}.

On the other side of that coin, I have also seen cases where individuals who disbelieve in the validity of hypnosis and/or their likelihood of being hypnotized will cooperate fully with the process and do beautifully in resolving a presenting issue.  Sometimes these people do not even realize that a change has occurred until the hypnotist points out that 40 minutes has passed on the clock, or until someone else notices a marked change in their behavior.  Such individuals are often pleasantly surprised.  While they may not have wanted to be hypnotized, they were apparently holding on to the slim chance that it might actually help them.

And this brings us to an answer to the question posed in the headline of this essay: “Who Can be Hypnotized?”  The obvious answer is that anyone who wants to be hypnotized–either consciously or unconsciously–can be hypnotized and can derive great benefit from the hypnotherapy process.  What this means is that the patient must be completely honest with himself or herself about whether this process is something in which they desire to participate.  For this reason, a skilled hypnotherapist will do a thorough screening to reveal any negatives that could compromise the effectiveness of the hypnotherapy session.

As an addendum, let me note that some studies have purported to show what percentage of the population in general is “suggestible” enough to be hypnotized.   Such studies, however, rarely take into account the psychological issues mentioned above.  Further, as practitioners have learned in clinical practice, suggestibility is not the key issue. Rather it is the level of desire to solve a problem and to allow the hypnotherapy process to work that will ultimately decide who can be hypnotized and how effective that hypnosis will be.

The Problem of Measurement in Hypnosis

In perusing the web, I ran across a neat little article from Psychology Today, dealing with “The Trouble with Hypnosis.”  Since I wasn’t aware that we had any trouble with hypnosis, I delved into said article and came up with an interesting point of view.  You can look at the piece via the link above, but let me summarize, if I may, just what the author believes is the “trouble” with the treatment mode known as hypnotherapy or hypnosis.

The trouble, from PT’s point of view, is that hypnosis as a process does not seem to lend itself to measurement  Yes, believe it or not, despite many attempts to quantify and capture this experience in a bottle, researchers have not been able to show that anything special is going on physiologically when a person enters hypnosis (beyond the obvious drop in blood pressure, slowing of heartbeat, deeper breathing associated with being relaxed in any condition).  That is, there don’t seem to be any brainwave patterns that can be readily identified as indicating the “hypnotized” state.

Actually, this is not quite true.  According to one online source, “In some studies, EEGs from subjects under hypnosis showed a boost in the lower frequency waves associated with dreaming and sleep, and a drop in the higher frequency waves associated with full wakefulness. Brain-wave information is not a definitive indicator of how the mind is operating, but this pattern does fit the hypothesis that the conscious mind backs off during hypnosis and the subconscious mind takes a more active role. Researchers  have also studied patterns in the brain’s cerebral cortex that occur during hypnosis. In these studies, hypnotic subjects showed reduced activity in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex, while activity in the right hemisphere often increased.”

The real problem seems to be that we don’t quite have that telltale brain signature that screams “this person is under hypnosis.”  And if we can’t reliably tell whether or not a person is in a “trance,” then we can’t reliably measure such a trance.  Measurement, you see, is the scientist’s bread and butter.  If we can’t measure something, then how on earth can we find out how it works, or to what degree it works in any given situation?

These are fair questions for physiologists, but they are actually irrelevant for psychologists, who have been trying to measure behaviors and their causes for more than 100 years without anything like what a hard-core scientist would call “scientific accuracy.”  The hard fact is that we are dealing with human behavior, and much as we try–sometimes with limited success–to predict such behavior, we are nearly always stymied by the fact that every human mind is different.  That is not to say that brains are necessarily different, but it is to say that the processes of the mind–while they can be generalized to some extent–do not in any way lend themselves to comparative measurement from one mind to another.  [Merriam Webster defines mind as “1 :the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons. 2 :the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism.”]

I find this strangely reassuring, in that it confirms that we are not cranked out of the celestial factory with minds that work exactly the same.  That would make us little more than advanced robots, and it would be rather boring.

The fact that hypnosis is not a measureable process does not concern us, because in countless studies and in countless practitioners’ offices, the results have spoken for themselves.  As long as we accept that we have not yet figured out the physiology behind hypnosis–if physiology is even relevant–this should not prevent us from taking advantage of the obvious salutary results.  I am reminded of the fact that even in medicine, which assuredly holds itself in higher scientific self-esteem than mere psychology, some compounds are known to work for some conditions, yet the scientists do not precisely know “how” they work.

Will we ever know precisely “how” hypnotherapy works?  That certainly is a question for speculation!