Hypnosis is a process whereby a person, under the direction of another, achieves increased relaxation, concentration, and susceptibility to suggestion. The effectiveness depends on what is trying to be accomplished, the mindset of the subject, and the ability of the hypnotist. When a person is hypnotized, their brain waves differ than when they are fully alert, but the person is never under the hypnotist’s command.
Hypnosis comes in many forms, so we will go through them, from the legitimate to the loony to the lurid.
The one potentially valuable use is hypnotherapy, where patients try to conquer an undesirable behavior, such as smoking, anger, or anxiety around strangers. There are some success stories here, although cognitive-behavioral therapy might bring the same results.
It is impossible to gauge if these successes are due to hypnosis because double blind tests cannot be conducted. There’s no way to pretend-hypnotize someone. Hypnotherapy is of little concern to the skeptic. It is not fraudulent or dangerous, and some patients see positive results. Furthermore, it makes quantifiable claims, as opposed to increased chakra empowerment via crystals. Also, it focuses on behavior and so is less susceptible to post hoc reasoning, like we would see in a claim that Reiki clears sinuses. The best therapies also involve post-hypnotic suggestion and guidance, where the patient is given a roadmap to continued success.
Analytical hypnotherapy is a form of psychoanalysis augmented by hypnosis. The client delves into thoughts, emotions, and memories under hypnosis, and this can help with serious issues such as phobias or personality disorders. It is important that this be done by a psychiatric specialist under strict conditions.
Here, we delve into the most well-known entrant in the field, the hypnotist show. These involve a dapper showman seating an audience member in a chair and inducing the subject to quack, walk, and look like a duck without actually being so, shooting a hole in that cliché. The subject’s actions are usually the result of conditioned behavior. They have an idea how a person under hypnosis should act, so they respond accordingly. The thought of an enthusiastic audience reaction could serve as another incentive to roll on the floor or to act as if hot coffee is cold. Such shows are sometimes entertaining, more often silly, and almost always innocuous.
Now we enter nonsense territory, our first stop being Past Life Hypnosis. Here, a person is guided by the hypnotist, and by guided I mean taken to as ridiculous a realm as the subject’s gullibility will allow. Most of what is brought forward are confabulations, which are fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about one’s self or surroundings. The subject may describe what 19th Century London looked like, which most people could do a reasonable job of without hypnosis. Past lives are almost always interesting and occur in fascinating times. Memories of past lives could never be proven or disproven, though some hypnotists prefer the even safer avenue of having subjects examine their future lives.
Hypnosis seldom has a place in police work, but sometimes creeps in like other desperate detective measures, such as polygraphs, psychics, and truth serum. It might be of value in rare cases, though it is unclear if hypnosis is necessary to bring the memory back, and there’s the danger of false memories being concluded or suggested.
The greatest area of potential damage involves trying to bring repressed memories to the surface. Here, hypnosis and suggestive language can combine to create false memories of sexual abuse, alien abduction, or having witnessed a crime.
This can be detrimental to the patient and a living nightmare for the falsely accused. The most infamous case involved Gary Ramona, who was fired from his lucrative job and divorced by his wife after therapists used hypnosis and amobarbital to convince Ramona’s daughter that he had molested her.
The most deliberately evil incarnation is command hypnosis, which differs little from brainwashing. Suggestions are forceful, repetitive, and intended to alter a person’s beliefs or emotions. It’s pretty much like commercials except you can’t turn them off.