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Health > Mental Health >Hypnosis


Hypnosis used to be a popular stage entertainment, but today it may be used by hospitals as an aid to pain relief and by psychologists as a means of relieving certain psychologically based disorders.

Hypnosis is now generally regarded as no more than a state of great suggestibility, yet its value as an aid to modifying behaviour or reducing pain makes it far more important than a mere variety act in the theatre where it used to flourish.

The word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep, since it was originally though to be a form artificial sleep. Nowadays, however, it is known that this is incorrect, for the brainwave pattern of a hypnotised person is the same as that of someone who is fully awake. Nevertheless, a hypnotic state seems a very different one from that of waking life.


People under hypnosis seem more open to suggestion than they normally are – indeed, they often show annoyance if the hypnotist tells them to plan some activity of their own while hypnotised. Their attention focuses almost entirely on the hypnotist, even when no command has been given to do so. They seem able to fantasize easily and to believe the impossible – for example, that an animal is talking to them.

They also have a greater ability to take on particular roles; for instance, acting out situations in which they are drunk, are a member of the opposite sex or have returned to their childhood.

Finally, there is the unexpected ability of hypnotized people to block sensations of pain on command. Hypnosis is, in fact, sometimes used to anaesthetize a patient before certain medical procedures or minor operations in case where a chemical anesthetic is thought to be undesirable.


A hypnotist who is an entertainer may fix the person to be hypnotized (the subject) with a piercing stare while making various hand movements, this elaborate technique is unnecessary, although it can work quite well.

Another, and preferred, technique requires the subject to sit comfortably on a chair or lie on a couch. He or she is then encouraged to relax completely and asked to follow carefully what the hypnotist is saying: this would be a request to pay attention to the sensations coming from, say the left hand, which should be reported to the hypnotist. As soon as the subject feels any movement in the thumb or any of the fingers the hypnotist will issue an instruction to raise it.

Slight movement occurs eventually and the person lifts the fingers. The hypnotist then suggests that the hand and arm are getting lighter and will rise steadily to touch the subject’s forehead and that, as it rises, the subject will become sleepier. When the hand touches the forehead, some degree of hypnotic trance will have been induced.


For a start, only those who are willing and co-operative can be hypnotized. It is virtually impossible to hypnotize people against their will. It is also a mistake to think that only the ‘weak-willed’ make good subjects.

Some people are unable to be hypnotized even with their cooperation over hundreds of trials. About five per cent of the population can be placed in a deep hypnotic trance without any difficulty: many others can reach a deep trance after a number of sessions and the majority of people will pass into a light trance under favourable circumstances.

There is also evidence that susceptibility to hypnosis tends partly to run in families. At the same time, those with a fondness for reading, music, nature or an involvement in religion make especially good subjects.


Hypnotism is practiced nowadays for two basic reason—for entertainment and as a therapeutic technique. Hypnotism as a stage or club act is, however, falling into disuse, partly because in many countries there are laws forbidding or restriction its use as a form of entertainment due to the dangers that can arise, and partly because it seems to be forward upon by the theatrical profession itself.

In the wrong hands, there are two kinds of dangers associated with hypnosis. There can be a lack of competence in the hypnotist which can lead to difficulties in controlling or ending the hypnotic state induced in a subject. And there can be ethical difficulties. While it is not easy to make someone do something under hypnosis that they would not do in their normal state, it is possible to made a hypnotized person believe that he or she is in a situation where normally undesirable behaviour is allowable. Hence the decline of hypnotism as an ‘act’.

In the therapeutic situation, however, hypnotism can be used not only to reduce or eliminate pain under given circumstances but also to help discover the nature of buried conflicts and problems, or to help the recall of forgotten experience which might be emotionally important.

It can also be used to modify such habits as smoking or eliminate undesirable speech mannerisms. Another use is to achieve the deep relation necessary for curing phobias, fears and compulsions by behaviour therapy

Certain physical ailments which are thought to have psychological causes—such as some forms of asthma, stomach upsets or limb paralysis—can also be relieved as the result of hypnotic suggestion.


Feelings during and after hypnosis vary according to the depth and purposes of the hypnosis. People who have gone into deep trance report almost mystical experiences such as ‘feeling at one with the universe’ or ‘gaining wisdom beyond words’. Others remember nothing. In lighter trances, most people report afterwards a feeling of well-being and relaxation, even when what has taken place under hypnosis has involved considerable emotional upheaval.

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