William L. Golden, PhD
We now have more of an understanding about hypnosis than ever before. We are aware of its value as well as its limitations. Here is an overview of some of its legitimate applications. You may be surprised to learn that some of the things that you thought were true about hypnosis are myths. On the other hand, there are some valid uses of hypnosis that could be of value to you.
What are the Myths and Facts About Hypnosis
Here are some of the most common myths and the truth about hypnosis:
“Hypnosis is sleep” – Hypnosis is not sleep and you are not unconscious. It is a relaxed state. While in this relaxed state, your concentration is focused and you are more receptive to suggestions.
“Hypnosis makes you dependent and weakens the will” – The opposite is true. Hypnosis is a tool that you can learn to use for achieving your goals. It can be used for personal growth in addition to being used to overcome fears and phobias.
- “Only weak or gullible people can be hypnotized” – There is no negative personality trait associated with hypnotic ability.
“Only people with low intelligence can be hypnotized” – The opposite is true. There is a positive association with intelligence and hypnotic ability.
“There is a danger that you might not wake up from a trance” – Hypnosis is a relaxed state. Even if you did drift off to sleep during self-hypnosis, you would eventually wake up on your own.
“You can be cured in one session of hypnosis” – Hypnotic suggestions need to be repeated and reinforced, which is why self-hypnosis is so important.
What is Hypnosis Good For?
Here are some of the clinical applications of hypnosis:
Hypnosis can be used to help you to relax, reduce stress, and can reduce performance anxiety about taking exams or giving speeches.
- It is most effective in controlling pain and stress-related disorders such as headaches and insomnia.
It has been found to be effective in treating functional disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome. A functional disorder is one where there is nothing medically wrong or identifiable, except that there is a disturbance in the individual’s functioning.
It is useful in the treatment of fear, anxiety and phobias.
It has been used to reduce dental fears and anxiety about childbirth and medical procedures.
- It is a valuable adjunct to sex therapy.
It can be used to enhance athletic performance as well be used for reducing sports anxiety.
Hypnosis, by itself is not that effective for controlling weight or stopping smoking. That might be surprising to you, especially if you noticed all of the advertisements that claim to cure cigarette smoking or weight problems in one session of hypnosis. Research studies reveal that hypnosis, without behavior modification, is only minimally successful in curing cigarette smoking or when used for weight control. However, when hypnosis is combined with behavior modification or cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), it is effective for habit control.
In behavior modification, you monitor and change eating habits. You replace bad eating habits with good ones. In combing hypnosis with behavior modification, hypnosis is used to reinforce good eating habits. In CBT, you replace self-defeating thoughts with rational and constructive thoughts. Combining all three approaches produces the best results. While in a relaxed hypnotic state, you visualize yourself thinking, feeling and acting in a manner that is consistent with your goals. You think positively. For example, you imagine yourself being motivated, feeling optimistic, eating a healthy diet, eating smaller portions, and then finally, losing weight.
In applying the combination of hypnosis and CBT to cigarette smoking, first you identify the situations, thoughts and feelings that trigger your cravings. Then you develop strategies for coping with those triggers. For example, if you smoke in reaction to stress, you could use self-hypnosis for calm yourself as well as for reducing craving.
How Does Hypnosis Work?
Hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation and focused attention. A hypnotherapist helps you to achieve this state through guided imagery and relaxation procedures. Then, while in the relaxed hypnotic state, suggestions are given. These hypnotic suggestions are designed to help you achieve your goals and/or overcome a problem. They are usually developed prior to your first experience of hypnosis. They can be directed toward the symptom but can also be directed toward the causes of the symptom. Treatment directed toward the causes of a problem usually produces more enduring results than symptom-relief alone.
As an example, if you were a patient with tension headaches, first the therapist would help you to identify the circumstances, thoughts and feelings that trigger your headaches. Then hypnotic suggestions could be developed for helping you to deal with the sources of the tension. If worry about job performance was found to trigger your headaches, then hypnotic suggestions could be focused on overcoming worry in addition to those for pain relief. Suggestions for overcoming worry might include “you’re a good worker, you’re careful, you don’t make many mistakes but everyone makes mistakes, just focus on what you are doing, and if you make a mistake, think about what you could do to correct it.” Suggestions for pain relief for a tension headache could include “whenever you start to feel tense, focus on your breathing and with each exhalation, you can let go of tension, feeling more and more relaxed with each exhalation, feeling the tension leaving your body so that you are feeling more calm and relaxed.” These suggestions would be given to you while you are in a relaxed hypnotic state.
Imagery is also often used in conjunction with hypnotic suggestions. While in a relaxed hypnotic state, the hypnotherapist might have you imagine yourself successfully handling stressful and anxiety-producing situations while giving you suggestions for building your confidence and lowering your anxiety. Finally, the hypnotherapist could teach you self-hypnosis so that you could repeat the hypnotic procedures on your own and strengthen their effect.
Golden W.L. (1994). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 8, 265-274.
Golden, W.L. (2006). Hypnotherapy for anxiety, phobias and psychophysiological disorders. In R. A. Chapman (Ed.) The Use ofHypnosis in Cognitive Behavior Therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Co.
Golden, W.L. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy in the treatment of irritable-bowel-syndrome-induced agoraphobia. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 55, (2), 131-146.
Golden, W.L. (2012). Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 54, 4, 263-274.
Golden W.L., Dowd, E.T., & Friedberg, F. (1987). Hypnotherapy: A Modern Approach. New York: Pergamon.
Golden W.L., & Friedberg, F. (1986). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy. In W. Dryden & W.L. Golden (Eds.), Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches to Psychotherapy. London: Harper and Row.
Dr. Golden’s website is http://williamgoldenphd.com/
In this article, my intention was to demystify hypnosis. If further information about psychological services, or if professional help is needed, you can utilize the referral service of the Westchester County Psychological Association (WCPA). WCPA is an organization that is committed to furthering the development of psychology as a science and as a profession, in addition to safeguarding the interests of the public.
Disclaimer: Although Dr. Golden is a board member of the Westchester County Psychological Association (WCPA), the views in this article are his and not the views of WCPA.
Statements contained in the authored articles on the Westchester County Psychological Association (WCPA) website are the personal views of the authors and do not constitute WCPA policy unless so indicated. The information in the articles on the WCPA website is for educational purposes only. The information contained in the articles is not intended for diagnosis, psychological advice or medical advice. It is not intended to be treatment and is not a replacement for psychotherapy. If you are in need of psychological treatment, you can utilize our clinician database which can be accessed by clicking on the link, “Find a Psychologist.” WCPA and its directors and employees are not liable for any damages resulting from the utilization of information contained in articles posted on the WCPA website.