Hypnosis: Christian faith compatible?

There is much controversy about hypnosis Christian teachings  forbid the occult and some Christians think hypnosis is occult and  worry about whether it is compatible with their faith. This is because hypnosis is much misunderstood and clinical hypnosis is often confused with stage hypnotism, the former is for therapeutic purposes, the latter is a form of entertainment that is non-therapeutic. In stage hypnotism, it appears that the hypnotist has control of the person and some Christians worry that in hypnosis, like stage shows, there might be involvement of the supernatural or the occult because of seemingly unexplained phenomena. This article explains the differences between clinical hypnosis and stage hypnotism.

The Hypnotic State

The hypnotic state is a naturally occurring state, when the brain cycles at a somewhat lower rate than normal functioning state. This is called the alpha state. When a person is relaxed, the brain waves cycle at about  7-14 cycles per second (CPS), compared to the alert state of 14-32 CPS, the drowsy state of 4-7 CPS and the deep sleep state of approximately 3-5 CPS.

When you are driving and very relaxed and miss the exit on the highway, you are probably in the alpha or hypnotic state. The alpha state is commonly associated with closing one’s eyes, being relaxed or daydreaming, not just in hypnotherapy.

The latest research shows that staring into space can be a hypnotic trance without being “under”.

Stage Hypnotism

Stage hypnotism works on the person’s own internal motivation. The hypnotist asks for volunteers and by volunteering, the person is implicitly agreeing to be part of a show, with all the expected results of being “hypnotised”.

What is the Unconscious Mind?

Hypnotherapy teaches that what we hear, see, think of or imagine, goes into the unconscious mind before it goes into the conscious mind. This can be illustrated by someone saying “don’t think of a giraffe”, “don’t think of a lion”, and so on, and you immediately having to think of a giraffe or lion, before you try to NOT think of the animals. Suppose I ask you now to NOT think of your first high school dance, to NOT think of your fist kiss, to NOT think of your first car, you have already thought of all those things. This has now been explained in neuroscience: the brain processes thoughts in pictures and because there is no picture for the word “don’t”, you end up thinking of what you don’t want to think about.

The unconscious mind is the human spirit. Hypnosis is a spiritual process of change. Eugene Gendin, an American philosopher and psychotherapist, and his colleagues, studied hours and hours of psychotherapy tapes to  find out differences between sessions that clients  reported achieving change and sessions that did not. They found that the tapes that contained a lot of silence correlated to sessions that produced change. This “silence” occurs when  clients are  processing thoughts, feelings, sensations and imaginations, on a deeper level, similar to a hypnotic state of making new meanings and accessing clients’ own resources. This is why hypnosis is so powerful: it works on the spirit level of the human psyche.

Mind Control  and Free Will

Can anyone else control our mind? As answered in the myths page, the answer is no. The person always has a choice, and does exercise that choice. This is observed in hypnosis that if a suggestion is not congruent to the person’s will, he/she will either reject the suggestion and/or jump out of trance.  It is no doubt that the mind can be persuaded to change. In conversation every day, we persuade others to embrace our ideas, to do what we want them to do, to buy our products or to take our advice. All these changes of mind involve the free will of the other person. In hypnotherapy, only suggestions that are congruent with the person will be accepted.

Although scientists have shown that subliminal images in advertising shown to viewers who had no possibility of seeing the images consciously, do get recalled, research does NOT show that these people’s minds get changed about what brand they would actually buy! This confirms human free will functioning. God gave us free will and unless we agree with what is communicated, no one can really change our minds!

[Sophie Firmin holds a Bachelor of Ministry from Christian Heritage College, affiliated with Christian Outreach Centre, and is an active member of a Crosslink Network church. Character reference available on request.]



[1] Gauld, A. (1992). A history of hypnotism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 281.

[2] Yapko, M. D. (2003). Trancework. New York: Routledge. p. 52.

[3] Zeig, J. (2001, as cited by Yapko, 2003). Trancework: New York: Routledge, p.38.

[4] Yapko, M. D. (2003). Trancework. New York: Routledge. p. 47.


(See also Hypnosis Myths in tab above.)

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