There are many definitions of hypnosis, but all characterize the hypnotized state as one of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention. I like the metaphor that compares hypnosis to using a magnifying glass
to focus the rays of the sun and make them more powerful. When our minds are concentrated and focused, we can access more of our innate potential. Current research indicates that this facilitation occurs due to changes
in physiological and neurological functioning brought upon by the work of hypnosis.
The state of hypnosis is achieved by the use of imagination, especially mental imagery. Our minds use imagery
to help us make the changes we want to make. For example, a patient with chronic headaches may be asked to imagine the color and texture of the headache. If he imagines it as being black with a sharp, jagged feel, the patient may be encouraged in hypnosis (and in self-hypnosis) to imagine this image changing to softer, soothing one. A state of relaxation can be attained by imagining oneself in a calm place; for many, this is the beach.
Sometimes the hypnotist may offer ideas or suggestions to the patient. In a state of focused attention, ideas and suggestions that are in line with the patient’s goals seem to have a more powerful impact on the mind.
Hypnosis may be used for exploration of unconscious motivations that contribute to the problem at hand. Hypnosis can help us bypass the critical censor that is part of our consciousness, and allow us to consider possibilities that would not occur to us otherwise.
It is very important to know that some individuals are more easily hypnotized than others. As is the case for
any kind of treatment, some people will benefit more from hypnosis than others,
Would hypnosis work for you?
Several factors contribute to the success of hypnosis in any given treatment. First, hypnosis works the best when the patient is deeply motivated to overcome a problem. Another factor is the patient’s inborn capacity to be hypnotized. And of course, the skill of the hypnotherapist is central.
When hypnosis is used to treat a behavioral issue or habit, it is important to keep in mind that the motivation behind most behaviors is complex. If you think about it, we hold some degree of ambivalence about almost everything we do. For this reason, it is also important for the practitioner to be a skilled psychotherapist who
can help to address this ambivalence to further the effectiveness of the hypnosis and the treatment as a whole.
For more information and answers to frequently asked questions, consult the website for the American Society of
For an in-depth discussion of hypnosis, watch this NPR podcast of the Leonard Lopate Show with Dr. Philip Muskin: