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A temporary narrowing of conscious awareness.

Practiced since ancient times, hypnosis or hypnotism remains difficult to define accurately and completely. Although the word hypnosis comes from the Greek word hypnos, for sleep, hypnosis is actually an intense state of concentration.

There are three degrees of hypnosis. Under light hypnosis, the subject becomes sleepy and follows simple directions; under deep hypnosis, the person experiences dulling of sensory perception, similar to that of anesthesia. Under deep hypnosis, the subject can move about, open his or her eyes, and can even undergo medical procedures with no additional anesthetic. Magicians and illusionists use deep hypnosis to make a subject behave in unusual ways, such as to suspend the subject's body between two chairs in a posture that is completely stiff. The magician suggests that the subject's body become stiff and rigid, and the result is muscle tension powerful enough to support the body completely. Many researchers contend that the key factor in hypnosis is the subject's willingness to cooperate with the hypnotist, combined with the subject's belief that hypnosis works. People who are easily hypnotized are described as "suggestible"; in fact, if the subject expects to be successfully hypnotized, it is much more likely that he or she will.

Hypnotic induction is the process by which hypnosis is accomplished. In most situations, an individual performs the induction on a willing subject. Classical hypnotic induction involves a series of steps. First, sensory input to the subject is restricted, and the subject is instructed to stop moving. Second, the subject's focus of attention is narrowed. This may be accomplished by asking him or her to focus on a specific point of light or a spot on the wall. Finally, the hypnotist begins a pattern of monotonous repetition. The hypnotist may repeatedly tell the subject to relax, to breathe slowly and deeply, and to focus attention on a fixed point. It is estimated that about 70 percent of all people can be hypnotized at some level. Within that group, an estimated 30 percent are in the low range, 60 percent in the middle, and 10 percent are highly hypnotizable using the classical approach to hypnotic induction. The claim that a person could be hypnotized against his or her will is controversial in the scientific community. Many scientists feel that an unwilling subject would be difficult to hypnotize, and most scientists raise ethical questions about any attempts to do so.

While in an hypnotic trance, some subjects are able to recall forgotten experiences. This can be useful in treating amnesia or milder forms of memory loss. Interestingly,

Myth Scientific response
Hypnosis places the subject in someone else's control. Magicians and other entertainers use the illusion of power to control their subjects' behavior. In reality, people who act silly or respond to instructions to do foolish things do so because they want to. The hypnotist creates a setting where the subject will follow suggestions—but the subject must be willing to cooperate.
A subject can become "stuck" in a trance. Subjects can come out of a hypnotic state any time they wish. The subject has control of the process of hypnosis, with the hypnotist simply guiding him or her.
The hypnotist can plant a suggestion in the subject's mind—even for something to be done in the future. It is impossible for anyone to be implanted with suggestions to do anything against his or her will.
Hypnosis may be used to improve accuracy of the subject's memory. Memories recovered under hypnosis are no more reliable than others.

many subjects do not recall anything that happened while they were in the hypnotic trance; the hypnotist may direct the person to perform some act or engage in a specific behavior after the trance state has ended. This is termed post-hypnotic trance or post-hypnotic suggestion, and it is successful in only a small percentage of people who are able to be hypnotized. The post-hypnotic suggestion only works for behaviors that the subject is willing and able to perform; an unscrupulous hypnotist could not enlist an unwilling subject in criminal activity, for example, by post-hypnotic suggestion. Ending the trance is usually accomplished by a preset signal given by the hypnotist. On occasion, the subject may wake from the trance without the signal being given. It is unusual for a hypnotist to have difficulty ending the induced trance. Some people are able to hypnotize themselves in a process called autohypnosis or self-hypnosis.

Doctors also employ hypnosis as a method of pain management for chronic headaches, backaches, severe burns, and during childbirth. In cancer treatment, hypnosis is used to control the side effects of chemotherapy and as a self-healing adjunct to chemotherapy. Hypnosis is also used for autoimmune diseases, sleep disorders, and skin ailments, including warts and rashes. Some surgeons use hypnosis in the operating room, not only to reduce the amount of anesthesia patients need, but also to lessen anxiety and postoperative swelling and bleeding. A patient in an hypnotic trance can remain immobile for extended periods of time, avoiding aggravation of the injury. Victims under a state of shock are also more responsive to hypnotic induction. Dentists use hypnosis to complete dental work on a relaxed patient without the need for anesthesia. Some psychotherapists employ hypnotic induction to treat phobias, sexual dysfunction, stress, eating disorders, selfdestructive habits (such as smoking and other addictions) and to improve progress on positive behavioral changes. Hypnosis is a primary tool to gain access to memories, a controversial issue in the mental health field. In working with children, psychotherapists use hypnosis for enuresis, thumb-sucking, behavioral problems and improving academic performance, among others. Psychiatrists and psychologists may also use hypnosis to learn more about the human mind, and to help patients understand their own emotional and personality development. This application of hypnosis is termed hypnotherapy. In law enforcement, victims of and witnesses to crimes are sometimes hypnotized to help them remember important clues.

Patients who are responsive to being hypnotized must, first of all, be willing participants in the hypnosis process. One psychiatrist, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, developed the Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP) to determine whether an individual is a good prospect for hypnosis. When the subject rolls his or her eyes back into the head, Dr. Spiegel suggests that person is likely to be successfully hypnotized if a great deal of white is visible on the eyeball. Other qualities included in Dr. Spiegel's profile include a trusting personality, preference for emotional rather than rational thinking, high empathy for others, and an intense capacity for concentration. Other researchers have studied the hypnotic situation and theorize that creating a setting where the subject is more likely to believe that hypnosis will work is a key to successful hypnosis. These scientists contend that the situation, combined with the subject's motivation, has greater influence than any personality trait or physical characteristic.

A number of professional organizations offer training and advanced training in hypnosis. Among these are the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the American Board of Medical Hypnosis, the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis, the American Board of Hypnosis in Dentistry and the American Hypnosis Board for Clinical Social Work. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Dental Association have all endorsed the technique. Mental health professionals have used hypnosis to treat sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, smoking and other addictions, enuresis and thumb-sucking.

Further Reading

Hammond, D. Corydon. Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

Manfred, Erica. "The New Uses of Hypnosis." Cosmopolitan (February 1996): 104+.

Rossi, E. L. The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

Further Information

American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. 2200 East Devon Avenue, Suite 291, Des Plaines, Illinois 60018, (847) 297–3317.

Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 3905 Vincennes Road, Suite 304, Indianapolis, Indiana 46268,(800) 214–1738.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography