Misconceptions Concerning Hypnosis(continued)

Misconception 4: Hypnosis is an unusual, abnormal, or artificial condition.

With a little thought, readers will be able to think of dozens of examples of spontaneously induced mental states that are highly similar or identical to a hypnotic trance. The common experience of daydreaming while commut ing to work or becoming completely absorbed in a book to the exclusion of everything else going on around you are common examples. There is a con dition called highway hypnosis, which is produced by a driver staring straight ahead on a monotonously straight road, possibly with the added influence of windshield wipers in steady operation. This phenomenon is probably responsible for an unknown number of highway accidents each year. Good human engineering of highways requires taking this phenomenon into account by providing enough turns in a road to break up the monotony of travel. A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but It Is not always the best roadway design. Other common examples of spon taneously induced trance states may be found in a person's staring at a television set or reading a book without noticing what he is watching or reading. Most members of a movie audience exhibit many of the characteristics of people in a hypnotic state.

Misconception 5: Hypnosis is a form of sleep.

There are several reasons for this common misconception. First, the word hypnosis Itself is a misnomer (Goldstein, 1982). It derives from Hypnus, the name of the Greek god of sleep. Second, the lack of facial expression and spontaneous movement coupled with slumping of the head or body fre quently seen in hypnotized people is suggestive of sleep. Last, many methods of induction make use of exhortations directing the subject to sleep. Indeed, it is possible to bore a subject to the point where he will actually fall into a real state of sleep instead of hypnosis.

In spite of the superficial similarity between a hypnotic trance and normal sleep, the two states are quite different (Evans, 1977, 1982). During stage 1 sleep (the phase in which vivid visual dreams are most common), the skel etal musculature is effectively paralyzed, and, thus, reflexes like the knee jerk are diminished. However, under hypnosis, there is no paralysis (unless sug gested), and there is no diminution of the basic reflexes or muscle tone.

Electroencephalograph (EEG) patterns are often said to be different for the hypnotic state and for sleep, but during stage 1 sleep, the EEG pattern is similar to the normal waking state except for the presence of rapid eye movements (REMs). Hence, stage 1 sleep is called arousal or paradoxical sleep. In stage 2, sleep spindles appear on the EEG record. Delta waves begin to appear in stage 3, becoming over 50% of the record by the deeper stage 4. None of these events occurs under hypnosis, where the EEG record is consistently similar to the waking state.

Misconception 6: The subject is under the control of the hypnotist and can be made to do things that he ordinarily would not do or to reveal secrets.

This misconception makes it difficult for some subjects to permit them-selves to be hypnotized because they fear loss of control. It is also the subject of much controversy and will be dealt with in more detail later. The weight of the evidence seems to support the notion that if a subject is directly re quested to do something that is objectionable to him, he will simply refuse to do it or in some cases "awaken" from the trance. On the other hand, It may be possible to get a subject to perform an act he would not normally do by deceiving him into believing a situation is different than it actually is. For example, he may be told that a person that he is being asked to attack It about to harm him.

All subjects should be informed prior to an induction that they will be In complete control; and if the hypnotist suggests anything that offends them, they will be free not to follow the suggestion. Such an instruction will allay the fears of the subject and will also serve to protect the hypnotist from charges of misconduct or of exercising undue influence over the subject. There is no legitimate reason in therapy why a subject would ever be asked to do some-thing repugnant to him. Indeed, one of the great advantages of a passive therapist is that he or she permits a patient to limit the production of anxiety-producing material to what the patient feels he can currently tolerate. This is a built-in safety valve. If the therapist is to make the decision about how much anxiety a patient can handle, he or she had better be an extremely good prognosticator or there is a risk of driving the patient out of therapy.

Although a hypnotist does not have complete control over a subject (and, in fact, if he or she did, hypnosis would be a dangerous procedure at best), the hypnotic state creates an atmosphere where suggestions, if ac ceptable to the subject, are more influential than they would be if the subject were not hypnotized. However, it must be kept in mind that people do in­fluence the behavior of other people with words, whether their listeners are hypnotized or not. Although hypnosis does not produce a zombie-like de pendence on a hypnotist, words can be potent and have the power to cure or harm, whether the recipient is hypnotized or awake. The danger lies not in the hypnotic state but in the use made of it. If any method of psycho therapy has the potential to help a patient, it must necessarily also have the power to harm him if not competently handled.

As an example of the misuse of a valid psychological technique, the prac- tice of a certain industrial plant that utilized a psychological screening test to select its employees may be cited. An applicant had to have a certain personality profile on this instrument before being hired. The net result of this selection process was the hiring of an undue number of neurotic employees and the failure to hire many potentially productive people. The reason for this regrettable state of affairs was not that this particular test or psychological tests in general are not useful. In fact, it was a very good test; for if it caused the selection of neurotic candidates, it could just as readily have been used to exclude them. The real difficulty in this case was caused by the incom petent use of a valid test by an untrained personnel manager. The same is true in the case of many examples cited to show the dangers of hypnosis, which are really examples of the danger of its incompetent use.