De-Mystifying Hypnosis

Common Myths & Misconceptions

(Answers below!)

  • I don’t think I can be hypnotized !
  • The hypnotized person loses control over their actions
  • I won’t remember what happened under hypnosis…will I?
  • I don’t think I was hypnotized
  • If I don’t go deep, I’m not really hypnotized
  • Hypnosis is caused by the power of the hypnotist
  • The hypnotist makes it happen
  • You can get stuck in hypnosis
  • Anyone who can be hypnotized must be weak-minded
  • Hypnosis is a form of sleep
  • Hypnosis is a “truth” serum
  • Hypnosis can be harmful
  • Hypnosis is therapy

I don’t think I can be hypnotized !

Actually, virtually everyone can be hypnotized, including you.  Surprised?  Think of hypnotizability as a bell curve.  There is a small percentage of people at either end of the bell curve, with the greatest percentage of the population somewhere in the middle.  This means that some people are not readily hypnotizable, and some are highly hypnotizable.  But most can achieve a light to medium trance, more with practice.  People that are cognitively impaired or have significant cognitive disorders, generally cannot concentrate well enough to be hypnotized.  However, there are other factors that can interfere with someone entering hypnotic trance – but they can be worked through.  They are: fear (often due to misinformation about hypnosis), unclear motivation, and lack of rapport between the client and the hypnotist.  So once the interfering factors are dealt with, you are back on the hypnotizable scale, and you can move up the scale with practice.

The hypnotized person loses control over their actions

Contrary to what you might think, you have control and free-will while experiencing the peaceful state of hypnosis.

It may appear as if the hypnotist controls her/his clients because:

  • there is a trusting relationship between hypnotist and client
  • the client is clear about her/his goal, and there is agreement
  • the client is able to let go and accept the suggestions given by the hypnotist

But if these elements of the hypnosis process are affected, hypnosis may not unfold. Resistance on the client’s part can prevent this process from ever taking place.  Or the client may refuse a suggestion and automatically come out of the hypnotic trance.  You see, the client really does have control.  Not convinced?  Let’s discuss your particular concerns.

I won’t remember what happened under hypnosis … will I?

Most subjects have conscious recall of their experience under hypnosis.  Few do not, and some a combination of the two. (NOTE: you can choose to have the session recorded.) Regardless, the subconscious is engaged and the skilled hypnotist knows how to work with this.  By asking the subject a question, their response confirms the engagement of the subconscious mind.  It provides real-time feedback to the hypnotist that they are engaging with the subject’s subconscious and later provides for very interesting feedback for the subject.  Clients are usually amazed to learn about their responses afterwards.

I don’t think I was hypnotized

It is possible you did not experience even the slightest trance.  Recall that most people are hypnotizable and are able enter a light trance, but are surprised by how it feels for them.  Expectations may be skewed in the favour of deeper states.  You may have experienced a light trance, but expect it to feel like an ultra-deep trance. What really helps?  Allowing it – it’s the best thing you can do – imagine the opposite of trying.

Manage expectations:

Do you expect this to occur?  …

“To be unconscious”   -you are not asleep or in a coma while in hypnosis!

“Not hear anything”   -how can the hypnotist communicate with you if you don’t hear anything?

-or, you may be listening but not consciously hearing

“Not feel anything”     -feelings are not lost – unless the session is specifically for  “glove anesthesia” or specific instructions are given for amnesia

“Not be aware”              -your conscious mind has not left you! – it may try to take over

“Remember all the things I have no conscious memory of”

-memory recall under hypnosis varies from subtle to re-vivification, not all memories can be called-up at will (see Regression for more info)

“To be a totally foreign experience”

-you have likely experienced a similar feeling many times in your life, but never attributed it hypnosis

… understand that hypnosis does not occur at a precise point – it is not on or off.  It has a bandwidth of experiences. Where are you in that bandwidth?

If I don’t go deep, I’m not really hypnotized

Depth is not the focus – results are. Rather than measuring success by “did I go deep enough”, or is this “how it’s supposed to feel”, tap into your motivation.  Although these are common questions people have – almost universal – they can distract you from your goal.  The truth is, deep levels of hypnosis are really not necessary for most therapeutic work.  All levels of depth are beneficial.

Hypnosis is caused by the power of the hypnotist

The hypnotist cannot make you go into hypnosis – you let it happen while being guided by a hypnotic induction.  You let the focused attention come about.  Much like when you fall asleep – no one can do it for you. It is a relationship of mutual responsiveness. Another viewpoint is that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis.  This statement reflects one of the basic tenets of practicing hypnotists.  In other words, you invoke hypnosis, not the hypnotist.  The hypnotic induction that is used to help you to enter trance, may be given by yourself (i.e. self-hypnosis or auto-hypnosis) or by another person (hetero-hypnosis).  Interestingly, practice helps!

he hypnotist makes it happen

You are the one making it happen!  Your desire for change is the important element in successful hypnosis.  You are motivated and prepared to allow changes to happen. Under hypnosis, suggestions are made to encourage your subconscious to adopt the desired changes.  These changes are specific to the goal you have identified.  Without this key motivational ingredient on your part, change can be thwarted.  Hypnosis, you see, is not a magic pill.

You can get stuck in hypnosis

The client has control over entering the hypnotic trance and can end the trance at will.  In fact, many clients say that they tend to float in and out of hypnosis during a session.  If the hypnotist were to leave the client in a hypnotic trance, the person would either open their eyes and naturally return to regular consciousness, or drift into sleep.  On the rare occasion, a client might resist the instruction to emerge from hypnosis (client may be demonstrating control).  They are enjoying hypnosis so much they choose to remain in hypnosis.  Additional instruction from the hypnotist, sometimes with a motivating suggestion, guides the client to emerge.  Some believe that one can experience a “hypnotic hang-over”.  That is, a slight lingering feeling of being hypnotized even after the client has by all appearances opened their eyes and emerged – there is nothing to be concerned about – the “hang-over” feeling will naturally wear-off.  If this were to happen, advise your hypnotist she/he will want to know about this so that future sessions will be terminated with more vigorous instructions to terminate the trance.

Anyone who can be hypnotized must be weak-minded

In fact “the ability to be hypnotized is not reliably correlated with specific personality traits, or other such factors as age or gender” (Kirsch & Council 1992).   Although, many hypnotists find that teenagers and young adults distinguish themselves as highly hypnotizable subjects, this has not been confirmed in studies.  And, some find that the more intelligent, the more hypnotizable.  As you see, hypnosis is not about being weak-minded.  Other factors such as fear, motivation and rapport with the hypnotist play a much higher role in hypnotizability. Experience has shown me that predicting hypnotizability based on character traits is very unreliable!

Hypnosis is a form of sleep

You are certainly not asleep during hypnosis and you are not unconscious. One of the ways that hypnosis works is by by-passing the rational mind to have greater access to the subconscious mind.  However, you remain aware and responsive to questions, and are able to verbally interact if asked to.  In some very deep states, subjects may not be willing to respond.  The skilled hypnotist will be able to provide suggestions to the subject so that they reach a state of depth that motivates interaction.


Hypnosis is a “truth” serum

Hypnosis does not have such extraordinary powers!  We have seen elsewhere already that the person maintains control while hypnotized.  The person has the ability to censor what they say, and even withhold information.  It is true that a person may access memories with greater attention to detail while hypnotized, sometimes accessing memories that they do not recall while in a conscious state.  However, one’s perception of the facts and possible emotional involvement may affect the accuracy of the stored memory and hypnosis cannot undo any distortions, willful or not, of the stored memory.  One must distinguish between truth and memory.  The information which we have processed and stored in our memory may or may not resemble  “true” facts as they were.

Hypnosis can be harmful

Hypnosis itself is never harmful.  That said, you want to let yourself be guided by someone who has your best interests in mind.  That is, to assure you and ground you, as you work towards your goals—never leading you on. Be sure that you feel comfortable with your practitioner.  Look for someone who practices with integrity and skill, and is competent.  The actual state of hypnosis is a healthy one for mind, body and soul.  It’s a letting-go process, mostly inwardly focused, sometimes euphoric.  It is the opposite of stress.  So good for your well-being.  More and more studies on the “brain on meditation/hypnosis” show how the brain is positively enhanced by altered states of consciousness. [see studies and articles below1]  This portends the positive potential of hypnosis.

 1 Studies and Articles:
University of California – Los Angeles (2012, March 14). Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from­ /releases/2012/03/120314170647.htm

Brain Imaging Illuminates Neuro Basis of Meditation
By CARRIE GANN, ABC News Medical Unit
Nov. 22, 2011

Re-Wiring Your Brain for Happiness: Research Shows How Meditation Can Physically Change the Brain
July 28, 2011 ABC News

Montreal Gazette – Meditation, hypnosis change ‘brain signature’
Mar. 22, 2011 cite: Dr. Amir Raz

Halsband, U., Mueller, S., Hinterberger, T. and Strickner, S. (2009), Plasticity changes in the brain in hypnosis and meditation. Contemp. Hypnosis, 26: 194–215. doi: 10.1002/ch.386

The Memory Trace Reactivation and Reconstruction Theory of Therapeutic Hypnosis:
The Creative Replaying of Gene Expression and Brain Plasticity in Stroke Rehabilitation
Ernest L. Rossi, Ph.D.

Hypnosis is therapy

Hypnosis in and of itself is not therapy.  No more than sleep is. Hypnosis is a tool that can be used for personal development, therapeutic, clinical, or entertainment purposes, and can also be used in self-hypnosis.  It is what you do with hypnosis that creates changes and promotes well-being.  Simply invoking a trance does not create the desired changes – however beneficial the peaceful state of hypnosis may be to your brain.  Although hypnosis can be used in so many beneficial and helpful ways, it is clearly not a magical cure-all.

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