What is Hypnosis?

Young girl in front of blackboard with equations written in chalk eyes looking up in deep thought

It seems like a simple question. What is hypnosis? The answer is quite complicated and people, including experts in the field, cannot agree on a definition. Hypnosis involves a shift in the thinking patternTo my patients I define hypnosis as “using your imagination to help yourself.”  However, that describes what we can do with hypnosis, rather than what it is. 

Hypnosis involves a state of focused attentionThus, learning how to focus your attention on a swinging watch, or by imagining a favorite place, or staring at a spot on the wall can all lead someone into a hypnotic state. 

In the state of hypnosis people are more receptive to suggestionsThis occurs because the conscious mind is focused on a task, and therefore is less likely to interfere with incoming suggestions by expressing doubt or resistance to change. 

Hypnosis also has been described as a trance state, in which people are half-conscious, and experience more difficulty with acting voluntarily than in a usual state. 

 

An Official Definition 

In 2014, the American Psychological Association (APA) convened a panel of experts to provide a concise definition of hypnosis.  They ended up offering four associated definitions: 

 

The Magic Show Experience 

The concise definitions of hypnosis provided by the APA panel give us a good framework from which to understand hypnosis as clearly as possible. Contrast this definition with what might be implied at a magic show demonstration of hypnosis. 

First of all, the magician might say, “I will now perform some hypnosis,” which blurs the line between a state of hypnosis and the act of inducing hypnosis. 

The magician will say, “When I clap my hands you will fall into a deep sleep.”  This implies that the magician will exert some control over the volunteers in the show Note that the magician always selects volunteers who appear gifted in hypnosis (as some people are more hypnotizable than others.)  Such highly hypnotizable people accept suggestions very easily, which is why they might appear to fall asleep when it is suggested they do so. However, it is important to underscore that people can be in control of whether to accept suggestions. Thus, the magician does not have control over them! 

Finally, remember that the magician is interested in the entertainment value of hypnosis, rather than the well-being of the volunteer. I think that leaving the impression in a volunteer that he or she can be controlled by a magician is not good from a psychological perspective, because the volunteer might conclude that he or she is weak-willed or has little power over their lifeTo be perfectly clear:  This is not true. 

 

Take Home Message 

In contrast to the magic show experience, one of the wonderful features of hypnotherapy is that patients can be taught to induce a state of hypnosis in themselves, which is termed self-hypnosis. Thus, patients can learn to harness many powers of their minds using hypnosisThe knowledge of how to do this can be dramatically empowering. 

 

About Center Point Medicine 

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For medical professionals looking to open their own Center Point Medicine office providing pediatric counseling and hypnosis services to your local community, please follow this LINK to learn more about our franchising opportunities. 

 

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Author
Profile Photo or Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP Ran D. Anbar, MD Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP, is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California, and Syracuse, New York. Dr. Anbar is also a fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Anbar is a leader in clinical hypnosis, and his 20 years of experience have allowed him to successfully treat over 5,000 children. He also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, for 21 years.

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