What is Hypnosis? - Definition & Techniques

Instructor: Holly DeLuca

Holly has taught special education students and has a master's degree in special education

In this lesson, we will learn what hypnosis is. We will also debunk some common myths about hypnosis, and finally, we will look at some of the techniques used to hypnotize people.

What is Hypnosis?

Hypnosis is the induction of a trance-like state resembling sleep, in which you are highly susceptible to suggestion or direction from the hypnotist. During hypnosis, you enter a state in which you are more focused and able to concentrate. The hypnotist helps you to relax and become calm, which makes you more open to suggestion. Hypnosis is comparable to daydreaming. When you daydream, you tend to block out other thoughts or stimuli that are present, and simply focus on your daydream. During hypnosis, you are similarly inclined to focus fully on what is happening in the immediate moment, without being distracted by other thoughts or sounds.

Hypnosis can be used to treat various ailments, conditions, and complaints. For example, the suggestibility induced by hypnosis can work to relieve anxiety or depression. Hypnosis is also used to treat certain medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders, skin conditions, or chronic pain, although hypnotic treatment is obviously not proactical in all cases. Researchers have also employed hypnosis in order to gain information about its impact on learning, memory, sensation, and perception.

In order to get a better sense of how hypnosis works, let's look at an example. Imagine that you bite your nails, and want to rid yourself of this bad habit. To this end, schedule a session with a hypnotist. When you enter the room, the hypnotist asks you to choose a place to sit, or even lie down. You sit in a chair and the hypnotist asks you what you would like to work on. You tell him you want to stop biting your nails, so the hypnotist asks you to close your eyes and imagine being in your favorite place, like on the beach or at a park. The hypnotist guides you through several visualizations intended to make you feel calm and relaxed. Once you are relaxed, the hypnotist suggests that you no longer need to bite your nails. He asks you to visualize unbitten nails, healthy and nicely trimmed. In your extremely calm state, this suggestion has a more powerful impact on your mind than it otherwise might. Your intensely calm and relaxed state of mind renders you highly suggestible. Once you generate the suggested mental imagery, the hypnotist uses a phrase like 'it is time to come back into the present', to induce you to open your eyes; with this, the session ends.

Are you in a Trance?

There are several prevalent myths about hypnosis. First, some people believe that the hypnotist has 'power' over the person being hypnotized; this is not true. Even in a calm hypnotic state, you retain full control over what you do and imagine during the session; you are in no way being forced to go along with anything the hypnotist suggests. Second, some people believe that a person under hypnosis loses consciousness; this is another myth. Throughout the hypnosis session, you retain control over your thoughts, and you can also hear what is going on around you. Finally, many people believe what they have learned about hypnosis from movies and TV shows, which often portray hypnotized subjects as completely unaware of their surroundings, virtually unconscious, or performing bizarre acts involving animal noises and funny songs. In fact, hypnosis sessions are quite simply intended to help you relax and feel calm, which in turn enables you to confront and combat your ailments or bad habits.

Hypnosis can make you relax

Hypnosis Techniques

Hypnotists use a variety of techniques during sessions. In the nail-biting example above, the hypnotist uses visualization. Visualization is a technique in which the hypnotist asks you to remember a time when you did something that relaxed you (e.g., a fondly remembered walk on the beach), or mentally picture your favorite place (e.g., your childhood home). You can successfully participate in the visualization by calling up a memory, or simply by imagining an ideal place or time. You may picture yourself at a favorite vacation spot, or relaxing in bed. Mental imagery is the most widely used technique in hypnosis, and it is a particularly powerful method.

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