Misconceptions Concerning Hypnosis

Misconception 1: Hypnosis is a condition induced in the subject by the hypnotist.

This erroneous idea is the natural result of our use of English. We collo quially refer to hypnotizing subjects, and books are written and courses are given to train therapists and others "to hypnotize" subjects. Actually all hyp nosis is self-hypnosis in the sense that any effect produced, including the trance state itself, is produced by the concentration and imagination of the subject, not the operator. The real role of the hypnotist is to guide and teach the subject how to think and what to do to produce the desired result. The operator no more imposes this state on a subject than a teacher learns the content of a course for a student. Both teacher and hypnotist can only fa cilitate the efforts of the student or subject.

Once a trance state is induced, the hypnotist may seem to utilize it for whatever result is sought, but even in the area of trance utilization, whatever phenomena occur do so because of the imagination of the subject, not the operator. For this reason the term trance capacity is preferable to the more common term hypnotic susceptibility to refer to the likelihood of a given sub ject's achieving a given trance depth. The latter term implies that the subject is having the state imposed on him, while the former recognizes that the capacity to achieve a given trance level is an ability of the subject, not the operator.

This is not to imply that the hypnotist is not important or does not have to be highly skilled. Self-hypnosis is extremely difficult to achieve without help and training from an external hypnotist in the beginning. Even with experi ence in self-hypnosis, it is always easier to achieve and utilize the trance state with the help of an external operator.

Inexperienced subjects should always be advised that they, not the hyp notist, are responsible for producing whatever results are obtained. This will have the effect of taking the onus of any difficulty in induction away from the operator and preventing the subject from losing the confidence in the hypnotist's ability that is so essential to a successful induction. Also, it is the truth. Some feel it undermines the probability of success in the induction if the hypnotist uses such equivocal language as "We will try to hypnotize I you," or "We will see how deep a state you can attain." They believe that the hypnotist should always speak as though the induction is certain to be successful. If the responsibility for the success of the induction is placed fully on the subject, such unprofessional assurances of success are unnecessary. It is possible to reflect confidence in the subject's success by both word and manner without adopting the unwarranted behavior of a charlatan.

Misconception 2: A hypnotist must be a dynamic, forceful, or charismatic person.

Since the subject and not the hypnotist is ultimately responsible for the induction of the trance state, it follows that the abilities of the subject and his motivation for hypnosis are more important than the personality of the hyp notist—unless this personality is such that it is incompatible with the needs or expectations of the subject. Different subjects require different types of hypnotists or different techniques. Some subjects can respond successfully to a wide range of hypnotists; others may require a specific type of approach to be successful. Certainly if the hypnotist is personable and has a good rap-port with the subject, it is a positive factor. On the other hand, some out standing hypnotists are not very good speakers and often have poor diction or marked accents. These characteristics evidently do not interfere with their success.

Kroger (1977b) makes the point that hypnosis is a "prestige" type of phe nomenon and that it is the belief in the imminence of hypnosis that produces it. Hence, it is an advantage to a hypnotist to be known to the subject as an authority in the field or to have a title like "Doctor," for this will enhance the subject's expectations of success. For this reason, psychotherapists who use hypnosis frequently in their practice would do well to have their diplomas and degrees on exhibition in their office or waiting room.

Misconception 3: Hypnosis involves a battle of wills with the hypnotist, who needs a stronger will than the subject.

This is a common misconception of many subjects that probably came from watching old Bela Lugosi movies. Unless it is dispelled, it can make the induction of hypnosis difficult or impossible since the subject will see it is an admission of inferiority. If a subject comes to the therapist's office with the attitude that he is chal lenging the latter to be able to hypnotize him, he must be informed that there is no contest and if he chooses to resist hypnosis he will, of course, be suc cessful. He must be made to understand that the hypnotic state can be pro duced only with his active cooperation and help. Incidentally, it is possible to achieve a hypnotic state without the subject's being aware that he is being hypnotized. This can be done simply by avoiding the use of the words hypnosis or sleep in the induction procedure, or by saying that what the hypnotist is trying to do is get him to relax deeply. On the surface, this may seem as if the operator is unethically hypnotizing a sub ject without his consent, but bear in mind that no effect will occur unless the subject is willing to produce it. Such a procedure may be justified in the case of a patient who could profit from hypnosis but who cannot get over his fear of being hypnotized because of some unfounded ideas he has about it. A good question to ask at this point is whether there is any real difference be tween a deep state of relaxation as produced by the Jacobson method (see p. 66) and hypnosis? In other words, what is being suggested is that hypnosis often occurs in therapy when even the therapist does not consciously intend to produce it. In any event, this issue deals more with names than with reality. Not only is the ability to be hypnotized not a sign of a weak will, gullibility, or stupidity, but it in fact requires a good degree of intelligence in order to be able to concentrate and to think in the unfamiliar manner that the operator requests. Generally the author has found that bright people make good sub jects, and it is a good idea to so inform subjects prior to induction attempts.