Largely misunderstood, hypnosis can be a valuable tool for treating anxiety, nicotine addiction, and other common problems
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Myth: Hypnosis is a form of mind control.
Fact: “Hypnosis has nothing to do with mind control,” says Fay. “It’s a cooperative venture that takes place between a therapist and an individual.” Pargament agrees. “People cannot be brainwashed by a hypnotist. You cannot be made to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, that’s not in your belief system, because your conscious mind is still active.” Because the state of hypnosis calls upon your own subconscious, a hypnotist would be unable to force errant or uncharacteristic thoughts or behaviors upon you. “You can’t suddenly be convinced to go rob a bank,” Pargament says, quickly adding with a laugh, “unless that was something you were already apt to do.”
Stage hypnosis (unfortunately the most widespread public conceptualization of the practice), during which a seemingly unwitting audience participant ends up clucking around like a proud hen, is nothing more than most stage acts — a sleight of hand. Often the participant is prescreened, or selected by the stage hypnotist after certain compliant or extroverted characteristics are witnessed. If the observed hypnosis is not entirely coached or staged, the resultant silly behavior is not necessarily evidence of the hypnotist’s “control” over the participant. “The participant opened their mind to silly activity when they agreed to walk on stage,” explains Pargament. Which brings us to our next myth...
Myth: Hypnosis is something done to you.
Fact: “For hypnosis to be effective it has to be a collaborative effort,” emphasizes Fay. “If someone comes in with a passive expectation that ‘You’re going to fix me, so just hypnotize and change me,’ that doesn’t work. It comes down to hypnosis being a tool for an expansion of how you yourself do things. There’s got to be an active participation.” That active participation is willingness or desire to change or learn, and a certain amount of letting go.
This emphasis on collaboration and its profound effects on the psyche is why hypnosis is most often used therapeutically. For Fay, hypnosis organically promotes the essence of good therapy — the reciprocity that develops between therapist and client. “There is the capacity for therapist and client to link up and connect on a level that allows for the intimate exchange of ideas that get past the limitations and conscious defensive barriers we tend to operate from,” he explains. “Hypnosis works to disarm that stuff and allows for people to get to another level of experience or understanding by expanding the possibilities.”
Myth: Hypnosis is a game or a party trick.
Fact: “Hypnosis is not something to dally with,” insists Fay. “You have to make sure someone has adequate training. Trance has the potential to open doors, and you’d hope that if those doors open, the person you’re working with has the wherewithal to deal with that appropriately.”
It was several years ago that Fay encountered this firsthand in his practice when a middle-aged woman came to him to stop smoking. As she went into trance she started to enter into the same dissociative state she would as a child whilst being abused. “If I didn’t have the therapeutic training, that could have turned out very badly for her,” Fay recalls.
Myth: The state of hypnosis or trance is a supernatural or preternatural experience.
Fact: “Hypnosis is a naturally occurring state we can all experience, and do experience. We naturally enter this state when we daydream or when we’re driving down a road we’ve driven a million times,” explains Pargament. Fay agrees: “Hypnosis is just the utilization of everyday experience in a different way.” A trance-like state can be entered into unknowingly when reading a book, watching a movie, or while zoning out in a waiting room or at your desk. While there can be a visual component to a trance (colors or patterns may be enhanced), it is pretty certain you will not see ghosts or zombies, or turn into one yourself.