People are always intrigued about hypnosis, hypnotism or hypnotherapy. Even these three terms are baffling to many. There is no clear distinction between hypnosis and hypnotism, both terms having been derived from 19th century physician and pioneer of hypnosis James Baird’s “neurypnology”, originally “neurohypnology” or the science of nervous sleep, from his book Neurypnology: or, the Rationale of Nervous Sleep. Because of the unfortunate association with stage hypnotism, which does not belong in the therapeutic domain, the term hypnosis is generally used in favour of hypnotism. To distinguish hypnosis for entertainment and therapeutic use, the term clinical hypnosis is generally used. Hypnotherapy, on the other hand, is often viewed as a particular, unique, school of therapy. This, however, should not be the case, because many other therapy approaches “emphasize generating and utilizing a client’s dissociated and suggestible state for increasing therapeutic responses the way practitioners of hypnosis do”. In other words, hypnosis can be integrated into (and indeed often used but called different names in) other models of therapy.
In this article, we will briefly discuss some of the myths and misconceptions about hypnosis:
Myth #1: I will lose my freewill.
Truth: You always have the power to choose. You are always free to overtly or covertly reject suggestions that do not fit you. In stage hypnotism, the subjects make a choice of going along with the hypnotist’s suggestions because of prior consent (by volunteering to be on stage), which is why you never see any unwilling participants being dragged on stage, because it will not work!
Myth #2: Hypnotic outcomes are caused by the power of the hypnotist.
Truth: The “power” of the therapist is actually given by the client. In other words, if the client has a good therapeutic relationship and trusts the therapist, better therapy outcomes might be expected. But this is not unique to hypnosis, but is inherent in all therapies, under the banner of “common factors” of therapy. The therapist therefore is only a guide for the experience of hypnosis but what the client experiences depends on how he/she permits the role of the therapist to function..
Myth #3: Not everyone can be hypnotised.
Truth: Hypnosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon. When you are driving on the highway and miss the exit because you are deep in thought about the holiday you just took, you are in a hypnotic state. Although many hypnotherapists still use formal induction techniques, these are found to be not necessary, although they can be helpful for clients whose expectations demand it. The American Psychological Association’s definition of hypnosis does not prescribe the necessity of formal induction, nor does it include the word “trance”.
Myth #4: One is asleep or unconscious during hypnosis.
Truth: Although the word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word Hypnos, meaning sleep, or the God of Sleep, hypnosis is not sleep. There is always some level of awareness of the current environment, even in deep hypnosis. Most people experience it as a relaxed state, although physical relaxation is not necessary for hypnosis to occur. They can hear the sounds of the surrounding environment, such as someone’s phone ringing next door, and so on.
Myth # 5: Hypnosis is simply relaxation.
Truth: While people are often relaxed in hypnosis, hypnosis is not just relaxation. Rather, it is an inner experience of focused attention, being absorbed, to a greater or lesser degree depending on various factors, in the therapist’s suggestions. Hypnosis can also occur in a non-relaxed state, such as with eyes open and in hyper-focus of an object, an imagination, or an event from the past. This is often called open-eye hypnosis or waking hypnosis.
Myth #6: Hypnosis cannot harm you.
Truth: Unfortunately, this also is a myth. However, the potential harm in hypnosis is not related to the hypnotic process itself, but rather, to the incompetency of the therapist, no different from any other form of psychotherapy. In any therapy, the client is in distress and in a vulnerable state, seeking help and relief of symptoms. Any inexperienced, insufficiently educated therapist may inadvertently (rarely intentionally), “misdiagnose a problem or its dynamics, offer poor advice, make grandiose promises, impose an antitherapetuic point of view, or simply waste ther person’s time and money”. In these respects, hypnosis, along with any other forms of psychotherapy, can be harmful.
I hope the above has helped you in your understanding of clinical hypnosis. If you have any opinions or experiences of hypnosis that you wish to share, or you wish to ask specific questions about hypnosis, please leave a comment.
 Gauld, A. (1992). A history of hypnotism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 281.
 Yapko, M. D. (2003). Trancework. New York: Routledge. p. 52.
 Zeig, J. (2001, as cited by Yapko, 2003). Trancework: New York: Routledge, p.38.
 Yapko, M. D. (2003). Trancework. New York: Routledge. p. 47.