Miscellaneous Applications of Hypnosis

Hypnosis has been used in education as a learning aid, and as a methodof dealing with examination anxiety, and for self-improvement suggestions (e.g., of greater self-confidence) in social and business situations (Boutin, 1978; Cohen, 1979; Hebert, 1984; Porter, 1978; Spies, 1979; Wollman, 1978). Cole (1979) found that hypnosis was no more effective in improving the academic performance of 31 students in a college preparation course (who were exposed to a 40-minute induction and deepening tape plus four sub- sequent 15-minute hypnotic tapes making suggestions of enhanced academic performance) than exposing students to control tapes making the same sug- gestions without hypnosis or lectures. These results are not particularly sur- prising. Hypnosis would not be expected to improve academic performance unless poor performance was caused by psychological factors (other than a low level of ability) and these factors were identified and addressed by the hypnotic technique used. Van Pelt (1975a, 1975b) suggested the use of hyp- nosis in business as a method of coping with interpersonal problems and in space travel to deal with boredom, nervous strain, and problems produced by weightlessness, interruption of sleep cycles, and space sickness. Christie (1982) discusses a variety of industrial uses of hypnosis, such as attitude change, performance facilitation, vocational counseling, advertising, and consumer research, both with and without formal trance induction.

Hypnotic phenomena play an indirect role in entertainment. Most mem- bers of a movie audience resemble people in a hypnotic trance. The movie itself probably functions similarly to the word picture painted by a hypnotist in a cognitive induction and detaches the audience members from their im- mediate surroundings. Good subjects trained in self-hypnosis can probably use this skill to enhance the vividness of the private fantasies in which all people engage. It is likely that creative people like authors or playwrights can use hypnotic fantasy productively to generate new ideas for their work. Rob- ert Louis Stevenson got the idea for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from a nocturnal dream (Dement, 1974). Hypnotic suggestions have not only been used to help actors assume a character but also to generate appropriate facial expres- sions in photographers' models (Kondreck, 1963).

Hypnosis even comes into play in modern religious life. Many people have had the experience of being so entranced by the charismatic style of a tele- vision evangelist that they listened captivated for an entire sermon without having had prior interest in the message being conveyed. Indeed, the ability to attract and hold the attention of an audience is much like a hypnotist's getting a subject to concentrate on a fixation object or instructing him to "at- tend only to the sound of my voice."

Matheson (1979b) points out the similarities between religious experiences and healing and hypnotic phenomena. Tappeiner (1977), a theologian who notes the operation of hypnotic factors in several varieties of religious ex- perience, argues that the fact that religious phenomena can be explained in terms of hypnotic principles does not negate their spiritual validity, that is, God works through natural mechanisms.

The present author would agree that noticing the hypnotic qualities and techniques of an evangelist commits the observer to nothing regarding the spiritual validity of his message.

Walker (1984) notes the common factor of what he calls "inadequate re- ligious attitudes," which can complicate psychotherapy, and suggests a role both for hypnosis and ministers of religion in an effort to correct these and facilitate therapy. This thought-provoking article suggests that perhaps psy- chotherapists, as part of their training, should be exposed to the major tenets of the various religious denominations, for guilt is commonly seen in patients with overly strict religious beliefs, and psychotherapists are often reluctant to address such issues. Perhaps if they were more knowledgeable concerning the beliefs of the major religious denominations, they might recognize when their patient's beliefs were idiosyncratic or "inappropriate" and when a con- sultation with a clergyman might prove helpful in correcting them (just as therapists are trained to recognize when a medical consultation is necessary).

The diverse applications of hypnosis discussed tend to ob- scure the fact that hypnosis is basically a phenomenon rather than a tech- nique. It would be strange indeed if a natural phenomenon like hypnosis did not occur often in daily life, but when it does occur naturally in such prosaic settings as the movies or while watching television, we usually fail to recognize a spontaneous trance for what it is. Sometimes naturally occurring trances can have unfortunate consequences, as in the case of highway hypnosis. Recognizing that effects of this nature can occur makes it possible for engi- neers to design cars and highways to minimize or eliminate such risks.

Training in self-hypnosis opens the door for the employment of hypnosis in many minor applications, such as the control of normal levels of anxiety before giving a speech or prior to an important business interview, where it would normally not be practical to incur the expense of a professional con- sultation.

While this chapter has considered some of the major applications of hyp- nosis, it is not possible to consider all of its potential uses, for these extend to any situation that requires relaxation; the stimulation of imagery, emotion or motivation; or the enhancement of the ability to concentrate on something and become detached from the environment.