Hypnosis can be an incredibly powerful life tool…or it can be impotent…it depends specifically on what the individual thinks hypnosis is, what can and what can’t happen because of it, and interestingly enough, the relationship between the two people involved.
The word “hypnosis” is like the word, “run.” “Run” can have several meanings: you can have a run in your stocking; you can run in a marathon; he’s on a run at the blackjack table; he’s running for office, etc.
Hypnosis has a lot of ambiguous and un-agreed-upon meanings. Because of that, it is often dismissed (and rightfully so) by researchers. After all, if you can’t measurably define it, you can’t study it. But there IS useful research that is coming out for some who have done a good job in defining it.
Hypnosis can serve as a valuable adjunct to certain kinds of psychotherapy, says Steven Lynn, professor of psychology at Binghamton University, State University of New York. But not everyone responds to it equally well.
The Popular Myth of Hypnosis
In the popular imagination or myth, a person who submits to hypnosis falls into a trance. The subject slavishly follows the hypnotist’s commands, perhaps to squawk like a chicken, re-enact events from childhood or develop a lasting aversion to cigarettes. When the subject “awakens,” he or she forgets everything that happened during the session.
Actually, hypnosis is not like that at all, said Lynn, who has devoted much of his career to establishing a clear, scientific understanding of hypnotic suggestion.
The Person Who Responds Well to Hypnosis
A person who responds well to hypnosis takes an active rather than a passive role, working in partnership with the hypnotist. “Hypnosis involves the participant thinking and imagining along with whatever is suggested, in an expectant manner,” he said.
In some of his latest work, Lynn tries to pinpoint what makes certain people especially good hypnotic subjects and determine if it’s possible to raise others to their level. One project, supported by a $376,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, explores the idea that the ability to respond to hypnotic suggestions “can be changed and enhanced when participants are instructed,” Lynn said. Janet Ambrogne, assistant professor in Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing, is working on this study along with Lynn and his team of graduate students.