There are basically three varieties of things that are commonly called hypnosis or compared to hypnosis :
1. Formal hypnosis, which includes relaxation and the use of suggestion,
2. Self hypnosis ("suggestions" are provided mentally and silently, or provided on a previously made tape)
3. Alert hypnosis (there is no relaxation component)
Common examples of how these processes are used include :
• Hypnotherapy : Psychotherapy which emphasizes the use of hypnosis.
• Medical hypnosis : Used as an adjunct to medical treatment to reduce pain or other symptoms.
• Stage hypnosis : Emphasizing confusion, distraction, and social pressure to gain quick, dramatic compliance for entertainment purposes.
• Self-Help : Using taped inductions, prepared scripts, or self-talk to attempt personal changes with the help of suggestion.
Things that have little or nothing directly to do with hypnosis include :
• barbiturate-induced stupor
• gullibility or moral weakness
• mental illness
The important elements in things we call hypnosis are, roughly in order of decreasing importance :
• slightly enhanced primary suggestibility for verbal language (words
• cooperative interpersonal communication, response to social cues (there is a guide, and we trust them)
• relaxation and enjoyable stillness
One of the ways to help make a complex definition more clear is to provide examples of things that don't fit. Some of the things that are not hypnosis but ppear to share some similarities include :
• Meditation : Meditation often shares some characteristics with our psychological state under hypnosis. Descriptions of our spontaneous experience under some kinds of meditation are similar to those under some conditions of hypnosis. Some people infer from this that the "trance" seen in hypnosis and that seen under meditation is the same. The observation is an interesting one, but there is currently no good way to confirm or disprove this notion, without actually turning meditation into hypnosis by testing for response to suggestions. Meditation does not necessarily involve specific responsiveness to verbal suggestion, or an enhanced sensitivity to social cues. It may or may not involve fantasy. These are important elements in hypnosis, particularly from a process perspective. Sensitivity to social cues is a cornerstone of the communications analysis view of hypnosis, and is absent during meditation. A meaningful definition of hypnosis that emphasizes how we use it will not include meditation as an example, and vice versa.
• Guided imagery : While it appears very similar, and often overlaps, hypnosis is not "just" guided imagery. There are additional important elements to hypnosis that are not generally found in guided imagery. We can certainly engage in guided imagery during hypnosis. But not all hypnosis involves guided imagery, and guided imagery does not necessarily result in hypnosis. More importantly, the skill for imagery is not the same as the skill for entering and using hypnosis. Vivid imagery is an important element in hypnosis, but it is not sufficient. There are other elements needed for hypnosis, including but not limited to hypnosis-relevant attitudes (Glisky, Tataryn, and Kihlstrom, 1995). There is evidence that guided imagery under hypnosis has subtly different effects on the body than guided imagery under relaxation alone. Also, there is so far no strong correlation between abilities at imagery and abilities at hypnosis. Vividness and motor imagery are only weakly correlated with hypnotizability, although the ability to become absorbed in imagery is slightly better correlated with hypnotizability. Ultradian cycles for imagery and hypnotic susceptibility vary at different rates (Wallace & Kokoszka, 1995). Overall, imagery is an important component in hypnosis, but guided imagery is not in any sense synonymous with hypnosis, the underlying ability to do hypnosis and the underlying ability to do imagery are two different things. To illustrate in practical terms that imagery is not the primary factor, it has been observed that verbal hypnotic suggestion takes effect even when we concentrate on imagery that is contrary to the suggestion ! (Zamansky and Ruehle, 1995)
upon responsiveness to verbal suggestion or responding to subtle social cues, so it really is a different process in some important ways. The key experience of involuntariness or effortlessness in hypnotic responding is shared by hypnosis and self-hypnosis, so they clearly share a similar kind of psychological state in general. However, one involves dynamic responses to ideas, and the other dynamic responses to words. There is no external guide during self-hypnosis. There are differences in the ease with which we can be hypnotized by another person and with which we can hypnotize ourselves. There is some evidence that automated response to words is an important element in hypnosis. For a number of reasons, it is necessary to make a distinction in spite of the similarity of hypnosis and self-hypnosis.
• Self-regulation, or "alert hypnosis" : This includes autogenics, biofeedback, and other methods used to influence autonomic body processes or increase primary suggestibility that do not involve a formal hypnotic induction. These are often distinct from hypnosis because they do not involve responding to social cues, but rather to cues provided by instrumentation. In addition, there is often no essential verbal component, and no necessity for relaxation. Some would call these methods kinds of "alert hypnosis," and in cases where the remaining elements are present, this is probably as reasonable as the distinction of self-hypnosis for cases where only the interpersonal element is missing.
• Subliminal self-help tapes : Let's assume for the sake of discussion that there exists a "subliminal" technology that actually works. This means that a message is encoded which we can reliably perceive but not be aware that we are receiving it. The message would become what is known as "implicit," meaning that it can affect our behavior though we do not recognize it as a memory of anything in particular. Hypnosis can also create or make use of implicit memory, however that doesn't mean that anything that affects implicit memory is hypnosis. As far as is known, subliminal suggestion would have none of the important elements that distinguish hypnosis ! Why do we even for a moment think that this would work in some way similarly to hypnotic suggestion ? I discuss this in detail in another section.
• Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) : Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is partially derived from careful observation of the patterns in what happens during hypnosis. It is therefore, at least in part, an extension of the communications analysis view of hypnosis. NLP borrows its basic concepts largely from cognitive psychology, which views behavior as guided by schemata or strategies. NLP practitioners use a variety of methods to attempt to determine what strategies people use for various activities, and then to modify those strategies or utilize them for other purposes. Some of the techniques used in NLP also resemble "alert hypnosis," because they use language patterns also used in hypnotic induction to elicit cooperation, build trust, and increase the effectiveness of suggestions. In practical terms, very little of NLP involves hypnosis.
• The Placebo Effect : The placebo effect is the most common name for very important role in our behavior under hypnosis, just as they play an important role at other times, and suggestion is a factor in placebo response. The role of expectations in hypnosis is particularly interesting because of the dramatic effect on our imagination. One of the most fascinating examples is in the elaborate role enactment known as "age regression," where the content is often directly related to expectations set prior to hypnosis. Hypnotic suggestion cannot entirely be described as placebo effect, however, as there are a number of distinct differences. Some of these differences can be demonstrated experimentally. This is why we can meaningfully compare hypnosis experimental groups with placebo control groups. Response to hypnotic suggestion is much more closely related to the semantic content of the suggestion than the more general effects of placebo, that is, it is far more specific. The correlation between placebo responders and hypnotizability is good but nearly strong enough to conclude that they are the same attribute. The placebo effect has some overlap with hypnosis, but is not the same thing as hypnotic suggestion. (Evans, 1977; Evans 1981; McGlashan, Evans & Orne, 1969; Orne, 1974)
Article by Todd I. Stark
From the Hypnosis FAQ by Todd I. Stark
Web version, revision 2. Last update: February 16, 1997.
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