Just What Is Hypnosis Anyway

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Ask ten hypnotists, or hypnotherapists, to give you a definition of hypnosis, hypnotism, or the hypnotic state and you will get ten different answers. Possibly ten completely different answers. This is because there is no universally accepted definition of hypnosis.

If you look up the word hypnosis in the dictionary you will read something along the lines of "a sleep-like state", or "to be in a state that resembles sleep". Most hypnotists though will disagree with the contention that hypnosis has anything to do with sleep. Many hypnotists will tell you that hypnosis is the opposite of sleep, a heightened state of acute awareness.

Some hypnotists have talked about hypnosis as "an altered state of consciousness", or "a state that is neither full consciousness nor full unconsciousness". These are very vague descriptions of a state that has no agreed upon definition. The problem, of course is that if you can't define it, how do you know when it is or is not present?

There are the tests we discussed earlier that are supposed to help you discern if a subject is hypnotized. But, as I pointed out, those tests are arbitrarily created and do not necessarily prove anything. Besides, how can you prove that something is present when you can't define it?

Many people base their belief about what hypnosis is, or should be, on what they have been exposed to on television and in the movies. You've probably seen shows where a hypnotist, wearing a black outfit, a goatee, and slicked-back hair, swings a pendulum and says to his (it's never a woman, is it?) subject, "Look into my eyes.. .you are getting sleepy.. .very sleepy ", and in a matter of moments, the subject drops into a profound trance, with their body completely limp. The subject then proceeds to follow the every instruction of the often-evil hypnotist. When the subject awakens, the have no recollection of the events that took place while they were "under" the hypnotist's spell.

This fantastical portrayal of hypnosis has given hypnosis a bad name—and has also perpetuated the mystique of and many of the myths about hypnosis. Rarely if ever does hypnosis occur the way they show it on TV. However, there are aspects of what is shown that are accurate.

Some people do in fact "drop into trance" in a matter of moments. Most do not "drop" that quickly. Some people do go completely limp and let their arms drop to their sides and their heads tilt forward; many don't, though. Some people do "come out" of trance with absolutely zero recollection of what took place while they were hypnotized. Typically only a very small percentage of people experience total amnesia. A larger percentage experience partial amnesia. And even more people remember everything that happened while they were in trance.

Are you now thoroughly confused about what hypnosis is? It is confusing, and much of what you decide to believe comes down to opinion based on your personal experience and what you choose to buy in to. For every claim, statement or "fact" about hypnosis you can probably find hundreds of people to agree with that claim, statement or "fact". And you can also find just as many people who will adamantly disagree with it as well.

Such controversy is not limited to hypnotism. Most fields have within their circles an abundance of disagreement, debate and dissension. This is often how new branches of a specific field are created. The student learns from the teacher, thinking the teacher is absolutely brilliant and infallible. Later, the student has a revelation, insight, or breakthrough that leads him to realize the teacher is way off track! Student and teacher debate, argue, and eventually part ways, and the student goes off to create a new field, theory or discipline. This is common.

What has always amazed me, however, is that peers often disagree about "facts", "truth" and "what is right". I once did some editing work on a book by a neurologist who believed absolutely and unequivocally in the "unipolar" approach to diagnosing epilepsy. For years this man, a medical doctor, argued with dissenting colleagues that the unipolar method was the way to diagnose epilepsy—the right way, and the only proper way. This man was a prominent and respected researcher and a leader in the "unipolar" faction. Another faction, also medical doctors, vehemently disagreed with this man. Their "bipolar" approach was the only "true and correct way".

Ultimately, the bipolar folks won out, and it is this method that is commonly used today. But the man who first developed the unipolar approach went to his grave believing in it—and believing that the bipolar folks were crazy.

What absolutely astounded me, as a young editor, was that this debate of unipolar and bipolar approaches was between highly educated and respected men! It took me a while to begin to understand that controversy is everywhere. Perhaps more so in the sciences than anywhere.

The same is true in our legal system. Have you ever served jury duty? I've been called to serve jury duty twice, and actually served once. I was 19 years old and very excited, albeit intimidated, about participating in our nation's legal process. I looked forward to learning about the legal system and understanding just what goes on inside a courtroom. I was also looking forward to participating in a decision for justice. Assuming the case would be "cut and dried", I figured that making a "just" decision would be simple and easy. After all, facts are facts, right?

Wrong. Being a juror turned out to be one of the most frustrating, painful and eye-opening experiences of my young life. I was incredibly surprised at the way "justice" was very hard to figure out. And what amazed me the most was the way both attorneys (plaintiff and defense) claimed that their client was absolutely, unequivocally, and certainly in the right. Both attorneys also stated that their opposition was absolutely, unequivocally and certainly wrong. There was no room for compromise. There was no middle of the road. They were right and the "other" was wrong. And they both felt this way.

What I soon realized was this wasn't about justice. This wasn't about right and wrong. It was all about winning. And both attorneys were out for blood. They would use every single method, approach, technique, tactic and the like to get the judge and jury to agree that they were right and the other side was wrong. They did not care about compromise, about gray areas, or about separating truth from lies. They only cared about winning. The opinion I developed through this experience is that trial law is about two things: persuasion and winning—nothing else.

If asked, "Do you really believe that your client is right?" Virtually all attorneys will publicly respond, "Absolutely". In private, to a close and trusted friend, I suggest that often the answer would be very different.

Why is this so in our legal system today? I believe the primary reason is because so many lawyers value winning, and the money that comes with winning more than they value truth. They did not get into law to serve justice; they got into law for the money, the prestige, and all the trappings that go with.

Now their clients may believe, some of the time, that they are right, because of their deep conviction in their cause—whatever it is. This, of course, does not mean that they are truly "right". Every single legal battle has two opposing sides. Both claim to be right. Both claim the other to be wrong. This happens every day—thousands of times—across America.

Every legal case comes replete with a preponderance of evidence (from both sides) designed to prove the accurateness of the party's claims. Expert witnesses giving expert testimony, "scientific" reports, physical evidence, photographs, charts, pictures, etc. are offered, all designed to "prove" that "they" are right and the other is wrong.

Facts are fact, right? Wrong. Experts disagree, evidence is challenged and accused of being "contaminated", the character of key witnesses is attacked, and "scientific" reports are picked apart, with holes poked in their integrity.

And the result? Frequently, confusion on the part of the jurors. Whom do you believe? Which expert is right? Which is wrong? What about hidden agendas? Ulterior motives? Often jurors don't know whom to side with and end up making a decision on emotion, not the facts. Some jurors get so frustrated that they don't care whom wins, or who is right, and go along with the decision a dominant juror has made. Some jurors are naturally leaders. Others are followers. Some have very strong beliefs and convictions. Others do not. Some jurors feel very good about the decision they made. Others do not.

What's my point about all of this, and what does it have to do with hypnosis? Controversy. I want to make clear that controversy is as much a part of hypnosis as it is a part of law. Or medicine. Or any other field often associated with strong beliefs and "facts".

If you were to simply accept one of the many definitions of hypnosis that are out there (as many, many people have—they don't question what they are told, they just accept it as "fact")

your understanding of hypnosis would be simple. But if you are like me, and challenge assertions, try to "pin down" specifics, and attempt to find proof of specific claims, you would, like me, see that there is tremendous controversy, ambiguity and mystification in the field known as hypnosis.

And that's a good understanding to have. Why? Because it means you are thinking for yourself, and not just accepting what some "expert" or "authority" said.

I encourage you to challenge the ideas of others. Question their assertions. Debate their fundamental assumptions. Ask them to prove their main points with verifiable evidence. When they give you proof, challenge it. Play devil's advocate and make them stand behind their claims—not just with conviction that comes with arbitrary belief, but with evidence. Doing so will help you learn more than you ever imagined—about the subject you are studying, and about yourself.

Timothy Leary told me years ago, "Think for yourself and question authority". (I had the good fortune of spending the better part of a day with Dr. Leary back in 1987 when he came to the university I was attending to speak. I was on the Speakers' Forum Committee and drove several hours to pick him up. We had quite an interesting conversation during the three-hour ride back to campus.) Anyway, If I learned anything from Leary it was to question the assertions made by others, especially those that claim to be "experts" or "authorities" on any given subject. Many alleged authorities are simply caught up in their narrow way of thinking. They cannot see outside of their own reality.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H your mind and strive to understand many different perspectives on any issue and it will help you to become more creative and more philosophical about learning, knowledge, truth and life. And with the many different theories, approaches, understandings and mis-understandings in the field of hypnosis, stretching your thinking faculties will be extremely useful.

A Useful Working Definition

"The Amazing Kreskin" has a definition of hypnosis that is, in my opinion, is the best one to come along yet. Kreskin has said that hypnosis does not exist--that its existence is a myth. In his book Secrets of the Amazing Kreskin, he states, "hypnosis is persuasion to accept a suggestion". That is a very insightful, well thought out and accurate definition. What I believe Kreskin means by that definition is that the "trance state" often believed to be associated with "hypnosis" is in fact completely separate from hypnosis, and has nothing to do with hypnosis. In other words, when a person is "hypnotized" they are simply following your suggestions. You have persuaded them to do what you say.

Whether or not they experience anything that may be interpreted as being a "trance" (partial or total amnesia, the appearance of being unconscious, looking like a "zombie" etc.) is irrelevant. According to Kreskin, "hypnosis" does not exist. What people refer to as "hypnosis" is nothing more than persuasion or influence. And the people you "hypnotize" are simply

following your suggestions because of the "faith/prestige" relationship that you have established with them.

Kreskin is so confidant that hypnosis does NOT exist that he has a standing offer of $100,000 open to anyone whom can prove that there is such a thing as the hypnotic state. Kreskin makes reference to this offer in his book, but doesn't go into the details of the offer. Small print at the bottom of a photograph says that anyone who wants to go for the $100,000 must prove their case to a committee of scientists and meet certain criteria. Exactly what that means, I'm not sure, but I assume that the committee is, has been, or will be selected by Kreskin and the criteria will also be determined by Kreskin. Which is perfectly fair. After all, it is his hundred grand!

Whether or not it can be proven that hypnosis does or does not exist is not the point of this book. That would be like trying to prove that one religion is right and all of the others are wrong. Such debates are highly personal, highly subjective, and very philosophical—and nobody ever wins. Thousands of people worldwide practice hypnosis today, and they believe it exists. And I believe it exists also. At least in the sense that hypnosis is communication directed specifically at the subconscious mind (also known as the "unconscious" or "other-than-conscious").

So, in conclusion of this discussion of "what is hypnosis, anyway?" you really will have to come to terms with your own belief about what hypnosis is and how to define it. I will leave you with my two favorite definitions of hypnosis. The first, which we've already discussed, is Kreskin's: "Hypnosis is persuasion to accept a suggestion." Kreskin makes no reference or distinction to the persuasion being directed to the subconscious or the conscious mind (at least not in anything I have read from Kreskin). Perhaps to him such a distinction is not necessary.

The other definition is this: "Hypnosis is the use of unique suggestions to elicit unique responses." Most often, hypnotists use suggestion to induce states of mind that make a person more amenable to further suggestion. That is the goal, whether using traditional or covert methods. Additionally, most hypnotists endeavor to direct their subject's thought focus inward and communicate directly with the subject's subconscious mind. The goal it to distract the conscious mind and avoid the resistance often given by the conscious mind.

It is Wise to Keep Open Mind. As you Learn, Reflect and Grow, Undoubtedly so will The Number of Perspectives You have on any Given Subject.

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