Photo of Dr. Robert G. Dean

Written by Dr. Robert Dean, Ph.D., C.Hth.
Chief Resident Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy
New Life Clinics®

There are many misconceptions and superstitious beliefs regarding hypnosis. Whenever hypnosis is used in a clinical application or for entertainment, it attracts attention. The result is commentary from two different groups of people. The first group of people are knowledgeable about human behavior (psychologists, Hypnotherapist, counseling therapists, and mental health care providers). The second group are those who are ignorant and mislead by the belief system of unknowing, misguided or superstitious people. This article was written to make certain that you do not end up in the latter group.

There are several schools of thought by clinicians as to what hypnosis is and its appropriate application for therapy purposes (hypnotherapy). However, most all clinicians trained in behavior modification science and/or the study of human behavior (psychology) do agree that the phenomenon of hypnosis may be described as follows:

Hypnosis is an altered state of mind. When I say an altered state of mind, the mind set is altered similar to how a day dream or nocturnal dream alters the state of ones mind when they are day dreaming or dreaming while asleep. To prove this, consider the time when you watched a scene in a movie which was very sad. You felt the emotion of sadness. Tears came to your eyes. Why did you feel so sad that it caused tears to form in your eyes? Let's examine that. You simply were watching a movie. The scene in the movie was not real. It was acted out by an actor. Nevertheless, you felt sad and wept while watching the scene. What happened is the implied suggestions of sadness in the movie scene bypassed your conscious analytical, critical mind and entered your subconscious mind which created an altered state of consciousness. While in this altered state of consciousness, which we call hypnosis, the suggestion of sadness (portrayed and implied by the actor) was accepted by your subconscious mind, which in turn caused you to feel sad and tears to form in your eyes. What really happened is you entered a light state of hypnosis, or put in different words, an altered state of mind.

From the foregoing example we can see that you have two levels of mind. Actually, you have three levels: Super conscious, conscious, and subconscious. However, for this discussion we are only concerned with the latter two levels which are conscious mind and subconscious mind (sometimes called the unconscious mind). The conscious mind functions with the use of logic. It concludes that 2+2=4. Your subconscious mind does not always think logically. It sees 2+2 equals whatever it desires to create, believe, is self-suggested, or suggested by the therapist or outside programming source.

In our example, when you were watching the movie, you entered an altered state of mind which is called hypnosis. The scene in the movie caused a temporary shutdown of the conscious mind's logical analysis. As you progressed more deeply into the movie's plot, it slowly caused your conscious mind to become oblivious of the fact you were watching an artificially produced image (a movie). At that point, all the information you were taking in from the movie (including the sad scene) bypassed your conscious analytical, critical mind (which does critical analysis) and went directly to your subconscious mind. In turn, your subconscious mind illogically responded to the sad scene and reacted to it as if it were real. Therefore, you felt sad, and tears came to your eyes.

It's obvious that the subconscious mind is capable of responding to direct and implied suggestions (like those in a movie scene or that are given by a hypnotist). It doesn't matter if the suggestions are true or false. The subconscious mind responds to acceptable suggestions as if they are real. This is how a woman can be hypnotized to deliver her baby without feeling pain, a hypnotized man can have a root canal without feeling pain, or a well-made movie can hypnotically evoke emotions of sadness, excitement, anger or laughter from its viewer.

Fortunately, one's free agency cannot be overruled merely by suggestion or hypnosis. For instance, when you experience a sad movie which makes you sad and weep, you are watching the movie with your permission. You had a mind set (an expectation) that you were going to watch the movie and be entertained which included the experience of the emotions generated by the story, through the actors. Therefore, if the movie is a comedy, you fully expect it to amuse you and make you laugh. If the movie is a horror story, you expect it to frighten you. If the movie was sad, you expected it to evoke feelings of sadness within you. Therefore, one's mind set or level of expectation is a mandatory prelude to achieving an altered state of mind (which is hypnosis). Because of this fact, nobody can be hypnotized nor can their mind be placed into an altered state without their permission. Consequently, a human being cannot be hypnotized against his or her will.

Other facts about hypnosis you should know:

Hypnosis causes neural activity to be excited within certain parts of your brain. This can be observed on devices that measure brain wave activity. Brain wave activity changes when the mind enters an altered state (hypnosis). This is just as natural as entering a dream state or being in a state of deep meditation.

Hypnosis is amplification of one's imagination.

Hypnosis is a state in which the conscious mind is experiencing an excess of information (overload) through one or more of the primary senses (hearing, sight, smell, touch or taste). This overload is caused by the narrowing of one's focus on one's own thoughts or an outside source such as the suggestive statements of another person. Example: When you are driving down the highway in deep thought on a given subject (your mind is being overloaded with your thoughts) and you miss a turnoff. You were, at the time you passed your turnoff, in a light state of hypnosis. You were so deeply and narrowly focused on what you were thinking about, you became oblivious to the turnoff, and drove past it.

Hypnosis is a process in which the client or a hypnotist guides the client past the client's conscious thinking which in turn causes direct accesses to the client's subconscious mind. Once access to the subconscious mind is achieved (when one enters the hypnotic state), the subconscious mind can be given directions and suggestions by one's self or by a Hypnotherapist. The suggestions presented may or may not be accepted. If they are accepted, they are acted upon by the hypnotized subject, and sometimes without conscious awareness. Generally speaking, the subconscious mind will not cause any change in one's behavior which it knows is a detriment to itself (meaning you), other people, things or property.

Accessing the subconscious mind (the act of inducing a person into a hypnotic state) can be done using a variety of induction methods such as progressive relaxation, imaging, visualization, overloading the conscious mind, implied and indirect suggestion, fervent prayer, chanting, cult dancing and music, or prolonged meditation.

Hypnosis, when used in hypnotherapy, is not a belief system. It doesn't matter whether you believe in it or not. It works for the vast majority of the human race. The use of clinical hypnosis to modify behavior is a science. It is a clearly understood phenomenon which is primarily used in clinical applications to modify behavior in order to eliminate specific disorders and undesirable habits and behavior. It is also used for entertainment such as hypnotist's stage shows. Hypnotic therapy is taught in most every major university which has a department of psychology. Hypnoanesthesia is used by many medical doctors (pain-free surgery without the use of anesthesia). Dentists use hypnosis to eliminate fear of dentistry, to relax their patient and to eliminate pain caused by tooth filling, tooth extraction, and root canal procedures. They also use it to eliminate bruxism (grinding of teeth).

Many psychologists and other health care providers use hypnosis to help their client's achieve goals and to promote better mental health. Hypnosis, and its use in clinical therapy (hypnotic therapy), is endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

Photo of a severely burned woman being administered hypnotherapy for pain relief during a medical procedure.

Photo of a severely burned woman in hypnosis. She cannot receive conventional anesthesia because it causes her to go into violent shock which could kill her. Therefore, Hypnoanesthesia is being administered to the patient to relieve pain and to prepare her for surgical removal of burned, dead skin to prevent infection. Arm levitation test is being administered by the hypnotherapist to check for the depth of hypnosis the patient is in before surgery begins.
(Photo censored for privacy purposes.)

Almost everyone enters an altered state of mind (hypnosis) daily. This is true even for those who ignorantly believe they cannot be hypnotized or that hypnosis is unnatural, weird, demonic or in some way Antichrist. Whenever you are in deep thought, meditating, engaged in solemn prayer, spellbound by a movie, entranced in a television show or engrossed in a good book, you are in a light state of hypnosis.

Anytime you respond to a suggestion, either directly, or indirectly, you are experiencing a light state of hypnosis. An example is when a comedian acts out bizarre behavior which makes you laugh. The comedian's suggestive, comical behavior and comments are exaggerated or simply not true, but they are funny, and you laugh. If you seriously and critically analyzed the comedian's bizarre antics and comments, they would not be funny to you. Try this experiment: Watch a comedian or sitcom that normally makes you laugh. Remain serious and critically analyze everything the comedian is saying and doing (which keeps you functioning at your conscious mind's level and blocks access to your subconscious mind). You will not find the comedian or sitcom funny. Why? Your logical conscious mind is in a state of critical analysis. Whenever the conscious mind is in a state of analysis, it is impossible to access your subconscious mind and enter an altered state of mind. In other words, it's impossible to achieve a state of hypnosis while critically analyzing the process of being hypnotized.

The conscious mind has to be moved out of the way or in some manner diverted to allow access to the subconscious mind for hypnosis to happen. Many methods have been devised to accomplish this. Any method which effectively bypasses the conscious mind and obtains access to the subconscious mind can broadly be defined as hypnosis. The most common methods used to bypass the conscious mind to allow access to the subconscious mind are:

  • Progressive relaxation
  • Confusion
  • Overload
  • Guided imagery (visualization)
  • Biofeedback
  • Prayer
  • Meditation

Hypnosis is not brain washing. The term brain washing is a colloquial term used by the military and intelligence agencies for the forceful extraction of secrets and intelligence data from individuals utilizing psychological and physiological methods. It is also used by intelligence agencies and cults to modify belief systems to accomplish a predefined behavior. Brain washing incorporates the use of prolonged, repetition of psychologically driven cult dogma and rituals, or the application of physical and psychological torture methods which produce prolonged, agonizing, controlled pain or discomfort to force behavior to change or a confession of information. Brain washing can also be accomplished with the use of drugs which inhibit the brain's ability to use logic and resistance and facilitating easier access to the conscious and subconscious minds from which intelligence data may be extracted.

A hypnotized person will not reveal any personal information, or secrets unless he/she wants to.

A hypnotized person is capable of confabulation (making up stories, exaggerations and lies). A hypnotized person cannot be forced to tell the truth via hypnotic interrogation. This is why testimony derived from a hypnotized subject is not admissible as evidence in a court of law in the United States.

Professional, clinical hypnotherapy has absolutely nothing to do with any religion, spiritualism, demons, Satanism, witchcraft, Lucifer, or any other kind of evil icon. Anyone who tells you it does is ignorant of the science of hypnosis.

Do not confuse hypnosis with the trance state which people appear to be in while performing a religious or cult ritual like voodoo dancing, screaming and chanting. When observing such phenomena, you are observing a state of hysteria.

Some people, particularly those who are members of certain secular religious groups and have no training in modern psychology, believe that accessing a person's mind using hypnotism exposes the subject's mind to demonic forces and evil spirits. They believe one gives up their free agency and self-will to the control of these imaginary evil ghosts and beings. Such ignorant people cannot, in any understandable manner, substantiate their claim of a client being demonically possessed while the client is in a state of hypnosis. Such people who claim demonic possession happens or is possible have beliefs which are based purely on ignorance, fear and superstition. Anyone who acts out as if possessed by some evil entity is in a state of self-induced hysteria.

The only main stream religions which forbid the use of clinical hypnotherapy for their members are Christian Science and Seventh-Day Adventist. Other religions of which I am aware embrace modern, clinical hypnotherapy as a modality used for positive behavior modification, vocational and avocational improvement.

Some religions frown on stage hypnosis for entertainment purposes, but endorse hypnosis for therapy purposes.

The only person who has the authority and power to hypnotize you, is you! The reason for this is simple. Technically, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. When a hypnotherapist is engaged in the process of hypnotizing you, it is actually you who are hypnotizing yourself with his or her guidance. The hypnotherapist is merely guiding you into the hypnotic state with your permission; however, it is only you who puts yourself into a state of hypnosis acting on the suggestions given to you by the hypnotherapist. If you gave yourself the same suggestions that a hypnotherapist would give to you and self-acted them out, you would enter the same state of hypnosis the hypnotherapist would have guided you into. When you hypnotize yourself, it is called autosuggestion or self-hypnosis.

Most people do not know the correct techniques to provide themselves the proper suggestions to cause a self-induced hypnotic trance. It is a skill which is learned. Therefore, most people who seek hypnotherapy rely on a clinician who is properly trained and experienced in the clinical application of hypnosis to guide them into a hypnotic state. This is called hetero-hypnosis. If you want to learn how to hypnotize yourself for self-improvement, you should complete the appropriate courses in self-hypnosis which are available from state-certified schools and accredited universities. If you do not want to take the time to learn self-hypnosis, then you will need to rely on a professional hypnotherapist to help you achieve a hypnotic state.

The vast majority of the human race is hypnotizable. It is estimated that more than 90% of the world's population is hypnotizable.

In my professional opinion, the only people who cannot be hypnotized are those that have the following disorders:

  • Mentally challenged, with a clinically diagnosed intelligence score indicating a low level of intelligence and/or cognitive awareness.
  • Refractory. Consistently resistant due to an ignorant belief system, resists for sport or in defense of the ego.
  • The complete inability to use imagination.
  • Has an intellectual, analytical, suggestible personality and therefore, cannot obtain a hypnotic state because the patient is in a state of analysis. Note: This can be corrected with proper cognitive counseling of the patient prior to undergoing hypnotherapy.
  • Certain severe, psycho pathological disorders such as acute anxiety which cause panic attacks, paranoia, borderline personality disorder.

People who are blind can be hypnotized.

People who are hearing impaired or completely deaf can be hypnotized with use of visual signing.

The more intelligent a person is, provided they are mentally stable, the more susceptible they are to hypnosis. Smart people enter into hypnosis quite easily.

People who are in an altered state of mind (hypnosis) are always in control of themselves. They are aware of what is going on. They remain conscious. All the primary and secondary autonomic body functions and mental processes are fully functional, and, in certain instances, are amplified.

A person in a state of hypnosis can hear, see, feel, taste and smell just as well as they do in a non-hypnotized state.

People in a hypnotic trance have the ability to self-terminate their trance instantly and at any time. You cannot be made to remain in a hypnotic state.

An altered state of mind (hypnosis) can be induced via a posthypnotic suggestion. For instance, a therapist may assist the client to implant the suggestion into the client's mind that when he (the therapist) says the word sleep (or any other key word suggested) the client will immediately return to a hypnotic trance, swiftly, deeply and soundly. Provided the client discerns there is no detriment to this suggestion and agrees to it, thereafter, every time the therapist says to the client, sleep, the client goes into a hypnotic trance. This is ideal for repetitious therapy. It shortens the time necessary to induce the client into the hypnotic state for each therapy session, and allows more time for the application of therapeutic counseling and programming while the client is in a state of hypnosis. A post hypnotic suggestion may also be structured to trigger an act or certain behavior by the client. For instance, a suggestion may be given to a client that every time he steps into an airplane, he immediately becomes deeply relaxed and has no fear of flight. The result is the client's phobia (fear of flying) is countered and relieved via the posthypnotic suggestion.

Now you have many facts regarding hypnosis which are substantiated with volumes of clinical data and hard scientific research. Hypnotherapy is safe when used by professional clinicians to benefit their clients. It works in a positive manner. It is the first choice of therapy used by thousands of health care professionals to assist their clients, change behavior, and to cause improvements in vocation, avocation, lifestyle, physical and mental health.