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“Very few topics in the whole history of mankind can have given rise to so many absurdities, misunderstandings, and misconceptions. From the very beginning the study of hypnosis has been tied up with fantastic conceptions like animal magnetism, the influence of the stars, and similar tarradiddle.”

– Professor Hans Eysenck,  Sense and Nonsense in Psychology (1957)

“Even amongst those professionals trained in the exacting disciplines of medicine and psychology, it seems that an interest in hypnosis all too easily becomes a readiness to accept any fad or fashion that presents itself as a means of curing the ills of the age. Equally there is a willingness to provide intellectual accommodation to the most outlandish notions about the working of the human mind, brain and body.”
 – Dr. Michael Heap et al, Hartlands Medical and Dental Hypnosis 4th Edition) 

Lynn, Kirsch et al. emphasise that, “clinicians can now rely on the following empirically derived information to educate their clients and inform their practice.” Each point is substantiated by reference to a major piece of scientific research, most of which are well over a decade old now.

On several key points these findings clash with popular ideas about hypnosis, pop psychology, New Age therapy, stage hypnosis hype (3,4,5,12), and certain principles of hypnotic regression therapy (9,13) and NLP/Ericksonian hypnosis (10,14). All are consistent, however, with the theory and practice of cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy which is intended to be evidence-based.

  1. The ability to experience hypnotic phenomena does not indicate gullibility or weakness (Barber, 1969).
  2. Hypnosis is not a sleep-like state (Banyai, 1991).
  3. Hypnosis depends more on the efforts and abilities of the subject than on the skill of the hypnotist (Hilgard,1965).
  4. Subjects retain the ability to control their behaviour during hypnosis, to refuse to respond to suggestions, and to even oppose suggestions (see Lynn, Rhue, and Weekes, 1990).
  5. Spontaneous amnesia is relatively rare (Simon & Salzberg, 1985), and its unwanted occurrence can be prevented by informing clients that they will be able to remember everything that they are comfortable remembering about the session.
  6. Suggestions can be responded to with or without hypnosis, and the function of a formal induction is primarily to increase suggestibility to a minor degree (see Barber, 1969; Hilgard, 1965).
  7. Hypnosis is not a dangerous procedure when practised by qualified clinicians and researchers (see Lynn, Martin, and Frauman, 1996).
  8. Most hypnotised subjects are neither faking nor merely complying with suggestions (Kirsch, Silva, Carone, Johnston & Simon, 1989).
  9. Hypnosis does not increase the accuracy of memory (Lynn, Lock, Myers & Payne, 1997) or foster a literal re-experiencing of childhood events (Nash, 1987).
  10. Direct, traditionally-worded hypnotic techniques appear to be just as effective as permissive, open-ended, indirect suggestions (Lynn, Neufeld, & Mare, 1993).
  11. A wide variety of hypnotic inductions can be effective (e.g., inductions that emphasise alertness can be just as effective as inductions that promote physical relaxation; Banyai, 1991).
  12. Most hypnotised subjects do not describe their experience as “trance” but as focused attention on suggested events (McConkey, 1986).
  13. Hypnosis is not a reliable means of recovering repressed memories but might increase the danger of creating false memories (Lynn & Nash, 1994).
  14. Hypnotisability can be substantially modified (Gorassini & Spanos, 1999; Spanos, 1991). Many initially low-hypnotisable participants can respond like high-hypnotisable participants after positive attitudes about hypnosis are instantiated and training in imagining, interpreting, and responding to suggestions is undertaken. Research in at least five laboratories (see Spanos, 1991) has shown that more than half of participants who test as low hypnotisable can, after assessment and training in a variety of cognitive-behavioural skills, test in the high hypnotisable range on a variety of assessment instruments and suggestions, some of which were not specifically targeted in the training.

(Lynn, S. J., Kirsch, I., Neufeld, J. & Rhue, J. W. (1996). Clinical hypnosis: assessment, applications, and treatment considerations. In: S. J. Lynn, I. Kirsch & J. W. Rhue (Eds.), Casebook of Clinical Hypnosis (pp. 6-7 – numbering added). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.)

  • Banyai, E. I. & Hilgard, E. R. (1976). A comparison of active-alert hypnotic induction with traditional relaxation induction. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85: 218–224.
  • Banyai, E. I. (1991). Toward a social-psychobiological model of hypnosis. In S. J. Lynn and J. W. Rhue (Eds), Theories of hypnosis: Current models and perspectives (pp. 564-598). New York. Guildford Press
  • Barber, T. X. (1969). Hypnosis: A Scientific Approach. South Orange, NJ: Power Publishers.
  • Barber, T. X., Spanos, N. P. & Chaves, J. F. (1974). Hypnotism, Imagination & Human Potentialities. New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Gorassini, D. R. & Spanos, N. P. (1999). The Carleton skill training program for modifying hypnotic suggestibility: Original version and variations. In: I. Kirsch, A. Capafons, E. Cardeña-Buelna & S. Amigó, Clinical Hypnosis & Self-Regulation: Cognitive-Behavioural Perspectives (pp. 141–177). Washington: American Psychological Association.
  • Hilgard, E. R. (1965). Hypnotic Susceptibility. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  • Kirsch, I. Silva, C. E et al (1989) The surreptitious observation design: An experimental paradigm for distinguishing artefact from essence in hypnosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98(2), 132-136
  • Lynn, S. J., Lock, T., Myers, B., & Payne, D. (1997) Recalling the unrecallable: Should hypnosis be used for memory recover in psychotherapy?  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6, 79-83
  • Lynn, S. J., Martin, D., & Frauman, D. C. (1996). Does hypnosis pose special risks for negative effects?  International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 44, 7-19
  • Lynn, S. J. & Nash, M. R. (1994). Truth in Memory: Ramifications for psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36, 194-208
  • Lynn, S. J., Neufeld, V. & Maré, C. (1993). Direct versus indirect suggestions: a conceptual and methodological review. International Journal for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 41: 124–152.
  • Lynne S. J., Rhue J. W., & Weekes. J. R. (1990). Hypnotic involuntariness: A social-cognitive analysis. Psychological Review, 97, 169-184
  • McConkey, K. M. (1986). Opinions about hypnosis and self-hypnosis before and after hypnotic testing.  International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 34, 311-319
  • Nash, M. R. (1987). What if anything is regressed about age regression?  A review of the empirical literature. Psychological Bulletin, 102, 42-52.
  • Simon, M. J. & Salzberg, H. C. (1985). The effect of manipulated expectancies on post-hypnotic amnesia. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 33, 40-51
  • Spanos, N. P. (1991). A sociocognitive approach to hypnosis. In S. J. Lynn and J. W. Rhue (Eds), Theories of hypnosis: Current models and perspectives (pp. 324-361). New York. Guildford Press

About the author | Mark R. Davis

Principal and Director of The UK College of Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist – with practices in Central and North London. Personal website at www.inspiredhypnosis.co.uk