hypnosis myths and misconceptions

Although hypnosis has become more mainstream these days, it continues to have a bit of an image problem.  For many people, hypnosis is, at best, humiliation for entertainment, or at  worst, a dark art of mind-control and manipulation.  Although the truth is much more prosaic - hypnosis is simply a way of working with naturally occurring states of mind - these misconceptions persist, so it's useful to have a look at some of them and demolish a few myths along the way.

The idea of hypnosis as mind-control probably springs from stage hypnosis, where people are indeed hypnotized for the entertainment of others and encouraged to perform bizarre/amusing/humiliating acts, depending on your point of view. In reality, stage show hypnosis is exactly that - showbiz. The hypnotist is there to entertain, and they have many techniques  to  ensure that the people who end up on stage will put on a good show for them. This isn't to say they're faking it - they're not.  But the selection process is very thorough. Highly introverted people are very unlikely to find themselves before the audience doing Elvis impersonations or eating raw onions believing them to be apples. 

Of course, highly introverted people are unlikely to attend the show in the first place, and that's a very important point. Everybody at the show arrives with certain expectations. They expect to be entertained by the Elvis impersonations and raw onion routines, and may even be willing to go along with that themselves. Paul McKenna calls it "3D karaoke", and that's a very good description.

The dark side of the stage hypnosis idea is that of hypnosis being used to seduce, abuse and otherwise manipulate the innocent into performing immoral or criminal acts. This is quite an old idea, popularized by the character of Svengali in George Du Maurier's novel Trilby and regurgitated by Hollywood movies ever since.

Again, this is just dramatic license. The founding father of modern hypnotherapy, Milton Erickson, conducted many experiments in which he attempted to make hypnotic subjects perform objectionable or minor criminal acts. Outside of formal laboratory settings, when people felt it was OK to perform such acts because it was "just an experiment", people simply refused to co-operate in situations where the act might have real consequences.  As Erickson put it, “hypnosis cannot be misused to induce hypnotized persons to commit actual wrongful acts, against themselves or others.”

Immoral people will always act immorally, and moral people will act against their better natures when exposed to lies, trickery and social pressures. But this has nothing to do with hypnosis.

Another common fear about hypnosis is that it will somehow make you blurt out your deepest darkest secrets. Hypnosis isn't a truth drug - for a start, people are just as capable of lying under hypnosis as they are at every other time. When you're in a hypnotic trance state, you're still aware of everything that's going on around you (indeed, some studies suggest that you're actually more aware), so you're free to say as much or as little as you wish. 

Some people also worry that they will become "stuck" in hypnosis. This is as likely as being "stuck" in a daydream - it simply never happens. Even if the hypnotist were to drop down dead in the middle of an induction, the worst that would happen is that the subject would fall asleep and wake up in the normal way (to a rather unpleasant sight).

Neither is hypnosis a magic power or a miracle cure. Human beings cannot fly unaided, teleport or walk through walls - and no amount of hypnosis will make this soYou might imagine these things happening whilst in a hypnotic trance, but the laws of physics ensure that it won't actually happen. Sadly, there is no universal panacea, either. There's never going to be one thing that cures all things for all people all of the time - we're too varied and individual for that ever to be the case.

The main thing to remember is that hypnosis is a collaborative process. In order for it to work, it relies on you joining in with it, rather than allowing it to be done to you. It's a fundamental and perfectly natural human experience, and a powerfully effective way of gaining more control over our lives.