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Home / Experts define hypnosis / Hypnosis Fact and Fiction

There are undoubtedly many misconceptions around hypnosis and hypnotherapy; public opinion has been shaped by ideas of it as ‘brainwashing' or amnesia-inducing, or even as something dangerous. It is therefore necessary to debunk these misapprehensions, and reinforce the notion of it as an extremely effective and evidence-based therapeutic practice.

The following are some of the most commonly held misconceptions about hypnosis.

Hypnosis is dangerous

Hypnosis is no more dangerous than meditation or relaxation, which it resembles.  There no credible reports of anyone ever being harmed by hypnosis.  Several experiments have been conducted in this area and have failed to provide evidence for the notion that hypnosis is dangerous.

Hypnosis isn't real

Hypnosis has been the object of scientific study since its origin and some of the most influential figures in the history of psychology, such as Clark L. Hull and Hans Eysenck, have studied it experimentally.  There is now no doubt that hypnosis is a real phenomenon, although there is still some disagreement over its precise nature and function.

There's no evidence supporting the reality of hypnosis

There are over ten thousand published research studies relating to hypnosis.  Several major journals dedicated to hypnosis have been continually publishing research for over half a century.  Numerous systematic reviews of existing research have concluded that the effects of hypnosis are scientifically supported.

There's no evidence for the effectiveness of hypnotherapy

There are hundreds of research studies demonstrating the effects of hypnotherapy.  Research supporting hypnotherapy in the treatment of anxiety, pain, and psychosomatic illness is particularly consistent.  The American Psychological Association (APA) have recognised hypnotherapy as being empirically-supported for the treatment of obesity.  The influential NICE guidance in the UK has recognised hypnotherapy as an evidence-based treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  Many other systematic reviews have found support for hypnotherapy in the treatment of other conditions.

Hypnosis isn't recognised by any authorities in psychology or medicine

The reality of hypnosis and benefits of hypnotherapy have been recognised in reports by the British Medical Association (BMA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Psychological Association (APA), and British Psychological Society (BPS).

Only certain people can be hypnotised

Some people respond more quickly and easily than others to hypnosis.  However, only around 5% of people are particularly unresponsive to hypnosis, and most of these appear to be able to learn to respond at least moderately well with practice, advice, and reassurance.  In other words, research indicates that virtually everyone can be hypnotised to some extent.

People can be hypnotised to commit crimes

This is false.  There is no credible evidence of anyone ever having been successfully hypnotised to commit a crime.  Several experiments have been conducted which contradict this assumption.  This claim tends to be based on the notion that hypnosis is a form of brainwashing (see below) but, in fact, hypnosis is normally assumed to require the conscious and voluntary compliance of the subject, making it impossible to hypnotise someone against their will.

Hypnosis is like brainwashing or mind control

This is a fundamental misconception.  When Braid introduced hypnotism he defined it as a state of focused conscious attention, which obviously requires voluntary participation on the part of the subject.  Modern research also tends to find that hypnotic subjects remain in control of their actions in the sense that they can reject suggestions which they find objectionable or “snap out of it” if something is said or done which alarms them.

Hypnosis is a state of unconsciousness/amnesia/sleep

This is the most common misconception about hypnosis.  When Braid coined the term “hypnotism” he intended it as an abbreviation for “neuro-hypnotism” meaning “nervous sleep”, i.e., relaxation or inhibition of the nervous system.  Braid also defined hypnotism in terms of the state of consciously focused attention of the subject and their expectation of some response.  He complained at the time of having to correct the misconception that hypnosis required the subject to be asleep or unconscious, or to have no recollection of what had happened. These misconceptions have been fostered to some extent for dramatic effect by stage hypnotists, authors of works of fiction, and popular films.

There are no professional standards for hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy has had a common set of National Occupational Standards (NOS) since 2002.  These are currently voluntary guidelines but a good hypnotherapy training course should be externally quality-assured as to meet these standards.  The hypnotherapy field also has several independent professional bodies which set training standards for accredited courses.  External accreditation is currently voluntary but we strongly recommend that you avoid training courses which are not accredited by one of the main independent professional bodies. Our hypnotherapy training course is externally accredited by the NCH, GHR, REBHP and NCFE.