Frequently asked questions
What is hypnosis?
Opinions vary on the exact definition of this natural state of mind. First of all, contrary to what is commonly believed by many, hypnosis is NOT a "sleep" state even though a person in hypnosis may appear to be sleeping. I prefer the way my late mentor, Charles Tablets, defined hypnosis, so let me quote his exact words as written in MIRACLES ON DEMAND (which is, unfortunately, no longer in print): "There is no legal definition of hypnosis. Webster's dictionary describes it incorrectly as an artificially induced sleep, but it is actually a natural state of mind and induced normally in everyday living much more often than it is induced artificially. Every time we become engrossed in a novel or a motion picture, we are in a natural hypnotic trance (p. 211-212)."
I totally agree with the theory Charles Tablets taught:
ALL HYPNOSIS IS SELF-HYPNOSIS, AND THE POWER IS IN THE MIND OF THE PERSON BEING HYPNOTIZED. So, in reality, the Hypnotherapist is more like a guide who facilitates the hypnotic process. Myron Teitelbaum, M.D., author of HYPNOSIS INDUCTION TECHNIQUES, came to the same conclusion--as is evidenced by what he wrote in the last two pages of Chapter 3: "The hypnotist is merely the guide who directs and leads the subject into the trance (page 18)."
Additionally, the common belief evidenced by research is that a person experiencing hypnosis slows down his or her brain waves from BETA into ALPHA--although some people believe that we may actually enter THETA during deep trance states. (THETA is normally the "dream" state we pass through on the way to and from DELTA--or deep sleep.) Be aware that since we must all pass through ALPHA on the way to and from sleep, we could easily say that all of us experience hypnosis at least twice daily. But in working with clients, I keep the explanation as simple as possible.
To me, the most accurate way of defining hypnosis is to simply call it "guided meditation." Since many of us enter a meditative or "trance" state while listening to music, watching TV, listening to a good speaker or a good sermon at church, or even while reading, you could say that the hypnotist does not even have to be a live person. So if hypnosis were ever outlawed, it would be virtually impossible to enforce, because we would have to stop the freedom of speech and freedom of the press!
On the other hand, if all hypnosis is--as Charles Tebbetts firmly believed--really Guided self-hypnosis, then that truly makes the hypnotist an artist! This is why I chose THE ART OF HYPNOSIS as the title for the first volume of my major work based on the teachings of my late mentor.
Does a hypnotized person give up control?
Do we give up control of our minds during a movie? When is the last time you got so involved during a movie or TV show that you actually felt emotion? You were literally in a hypnotic trance, although you still have the power to emerge from that state if desired. Your mind may be guided by a movie, TV show, self-hypnosis tape, or Hypnotherapist, but YOU still have the power to resist. Even though there are some people who seem to at least partially give up control of their minds, that is because of misunderstanding who has the power. Certainly, one can be TRICKED into believing that he/she has "given up control" in some forms of stage hypnosis or other experiments--but does that make it right? I am part of the
NEW ETHICS of hypnotherapy, perpetuating what my mentor taught me to disclose: "
ALL HYPNOSIS IS SELF-HYPNOSIS." Once people really understand this fact, they may enter deep states of hypnosis while still retaining the power to resist unwanted suggestions.
I proved this myself several years ago during a profoundly deep trance when the hypnotist suggested that I shave my beard. I brought myself right out of hypnosis and gave her a lecture on ethics that hopefully she will always remember.
Let's start informing people where the real power is--within THEIR OWN MINDS! And we can begin by no longer referring to people in hypnosis as "subjects." My own students are asked to use the following definitions for people in hypnosis
CLIENTS = People hypnotized for self-improvement, etc.
PARTICIPANTS = People hypnotized for practice, demonstration, stage hypnosis, etc.
PATIENTS = People hypnotized for medical applications of hypnosis.
SUBJECTS = Those who are the subjects of someone experimenting with hypnosis (whether for scientific research, or parlor games are done by untrained hypnotists). Please AVOID using this word to refer to clients or clients experiencing hypnosis for a beneficial purpose! In my opinion, the very fact that the scientific community has used the word "subject" for so many decades is part of the reason why people still fear hypnosis today. This very word implies giving up control... and while there are those who wish to still use "disempowerment" hypnotic methods by tricking people into giving up control, I believe it's time to teach the truth about where the power is!
How does hypnosis feel?
Since hypnosis is a natural state of mind, clients are often surprised that they hear every word. Unless one enters a deeper state or at least a medium state, he or she may not "feel" any different than when relaxing in the favorite easy chair with a good book. One may feel quite mellow, and may feel light (or weightless), or very heavy as if sinking into the chair. If one enters a really deep state, the feeling may be euphoric for some, or almost like being intoxicated without the side effects. In a light state, it is entirely possible for a client to believe that he or she was not hypnotized; so it is important for a Hypnotherapist to know how to competently handle the pre-induction discussion as well as the discussion after hypnosis.There are certain abilities which are enhanced during the actual hypnotic process itself: (a) the ability to IMAGINE, (b) the ability to REMEMBER, (c) the CREATIVE abilities, and (d) RESPONSIVENESS TO SUGGESTIONS. Naturally, it is this last ability which creates the appeal of hypnosis to some and the fear of hypnosis to others. And before you go experimenting with hypnosis, be advised to seek competent "hands-on" training--or at the very least, invest in a quality Home Study course! Simply reading is not enough if you plan on facilitating hypnosis.
How do we induce hypnosis?
My late mentor believed that virtually all techniques of hypnotic induction could be categorized into six main induction categories, which he called INDUCTION TYPES. Once understood, a competent hypnotist can use them as building blocks for creating almost limitless induction techniques. They are summarized below:
Eye fixation (or "fixed gaze" methods) were primarily used during the 1800's, and are the ones usually used by Hollywood. Many people (including myself) do not respond to eye fixation inductions; thus, people who might respond quite well to other induction types could easily be mislabeled as "insusceptible" by a hypnotist employing only this type of induction. Several of my clients who have successfully responded to other induction types were erroneously told by an M.D. or psychologist that they could not be hypnotized after failing to respond to a fixed gaze induction.
Progressive relaxation (and imagery) methods are frequently used on self-hypnosis tapes, as well as by some who facilitate meditation. Facilitators often use a relaxation induction (or guided imagery) to have someone imagine being in a safe or peaceful place and then awaken to full consciousness. Often those who actually use hypnosis inductions of this type will deny their use of hypnosis--and some facilitators of such meditations have even told me that they don't believe in hypnosis! A trance is a trance -- is a trance -- is a trance -- and is a form of hypnosis -- regardless of what name it is called.
Mental confusion methods are designed to confuse the conscious mind so that it simply becomes easier to just relax and "let go" into hypnosis. Do not attempt this type of induction until you understand it, and know what to do when a client enters hypnosis.
Mental misdirection methods employ the active use of the imagination, coupled with the response, to hypnotize through responding to suggestions.
Loss of equilibrium: most of us seem to have an inherited desire to be gently rocked, as is evidenced by the millions of rocking chairs available. How many mothers "hypnotize" their babies to sleep by rocking them at night?
Shock to the nervous system: the paternal "rapid" inductions frequently used by stage hypnotists are examples of this induction type, employing a sudden emphatic command given in a surprising manner. The participant or client will experience a "moment of passivity" during which he or she will either resist the trance or "let go" and drop quickly into hypnosis. Although I very rarely use this induction type, there seems to be a time and place for it once in a while.
When you understand these induction types, you may combine two or more as "building blocks" for techniques which are as limitless as your imagination. For more detailed explanations of these basic induction types, as well as sample techniques, order my book
THE ART OF HYPNOSIS from The National Guild of Hypnotists by calling
1-(603) 429-9438. It is the first volume of a 500-page major work based on the teachings of Charles Tebbetts. The second volume,
THE ART OF HYPNOTHERAPY, may be ordered from Kendall/Hunt Publishing at
How may I learn self-hypnosis?
The best way to learn self-hypnosis is by asking a qualified Hypnotherapist to teach you, and to give you post-hypnotic suggestions to reinforce what you learn. Additionally, you may find it helpful to read a good book on the subject. The one I like best is: SELF-HYPNOSIS AND OTHER MIND-EXPANDING TECHNIQUES by Charles Tebbetts (Westwood Publishing). A former member of British Parliament told me that, in his opinion, the above book was one of the two best books ever written on self-hypnosis. He also recommended my own self-hypnosis book to his students, which I've re-written and re-titled SELF-HYPNOSIS FOR EMPOWERMENT (originally published as "Success Through Mind Power" in 1987 by Westwood Publishing). It is available from me on-line for $7.00 (US$); e-mail me if interested.
Also, SELF-HYPNOTISM by Leslie LeCron is very good, as well as HYPNOTISM & MEDITATION by Ormond McGill (Westwood Publishing). I personally enjoyed CREATIVE VISUALIZATION by Shakti Gawain (Publisher: New World Library). Additionally, there are many good self-help books on visualization that are really recommending self-hypnosis techniques even when the author does not disclose that the techniques are forms of self-hypnosis.
What is the difference between hypnosis and hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis for self-improvement and/or the release of problems. All hypnotherapy employs hypnosis; but not all hypnosis is hypnotherapy. Additionally, mastering the art of hypnosis does not necessarily mean one is qualified as a Hypnotherapist. Contrary to what many might believe, there is more to helping someone overcome an unwanted habit than simply giving hypnotic suggestions. If a person's subconscious resists positive suggestions for goal achievement, the competently trained Hypnotherapist is far more likely to be of service than those with minimal training in hypnosis, or who are simply self-taught. And a background in counseling is NOT a substitute for adequate training in hypnotherapy when hypnosis is used to help people.
What books and/or other sources can you recommend?
When I studied hypnosis back in 1983, Charles Tebbetts required all his students to read HYPNOTISM TODAY by LeCron & Bordeaux (Wilshire Book Co.). Although it was written almost a half-century ago, it stood for many years as the leading book recommended by my mentor, along with another book entitled HYPNOTHERAPY by Dave Elman (Westwood Publishing), which I strongly recommend that any serious student of hypnosis purchase and read, as well as John Hugh's HYPNOSIS: THE INDUCTION OF CONVICTION (available from the National Guild of Hypnotists).
My own two-volume major work based on the teachings of my late mentor is already resulting in many praises from my peers: THE ART OF HYPNOSIS (National Guild of Hypnotists) and THE ART OF HYPNOTHERAPY (Kendall/Hunt Publishing). You may order the latter by calling 1 (800) 228-0810.
An OUTSTANDING resource list was compiled by Paul Bunnell, which deserves to become a permanent part of this FAQ. It appears in "FAQ 4 of 4" after the answer to Question 15, along with a partial list I of other books highly recommended by my peers. To avoid duplication, my list (which previously appeared here) now appears in the RESOURCE GUIDE section of this FAQ, along with Paul Bunnell's list of books and other valuable resources.
What makes hypnotherapy different than cognitive therapy?
Cognitive counseling deals with issues at a cognitive level; and many of life's problems require just that. When someone has to make difficult cognitive decisions, competent professional help is absolutely essential! For example, hypnotherapy is not a substitute for marriage counseling. But when it comes to changing habits or behaviors regulated by the subconscious, there is nothing faster than competent hypnotherapy to facilitate subconscious change. However, hypnosis is NOT A PANACEA for all life's problems, and it should not be advertised as such.
It's also important to realize that a competent Hypnotherapist recognizes that he or she is NOT licensed to diagnose (unless trained and licensed to do so). While a physician, psychologist, or licensed mental health practitioner may be qualified to diagnose or "label" the cause of someone's problem, it is advisable for the Hypnotherapist to avoid doing so. Additionally, in my opinion, even when a licensed mental health practitioner uses hypnosis, it is VITALLY important to avoid projecting the preconceived opinion into the hypnotherapy session. If that opinion is incorrect, it may taint the trance--making it difficult to differentiate between repressed memories and false memories.
A diagnostician formulates a professional opinion on the cause of a problem. A competent Hypnotherapist asks the client's subconscious mind to disclose the cause, and then either proceeds or refers accordingly, based on the information disclosed.
Here's a good analogy: psychologists and mental health counselors could be compared to the "hardware" experts, whereas Hypnotherapists are only trained to improve the software.
How can hypnosis be used to quit smoking or manage weight?
There are many roads leading from San Francisco to New York; likewise there are many ways to successfully help someone quit smoking. But the KEY is simple: THE CLIENT MUST CHOOSE TO CHANGE. If this is not so, long-term success is very unlikely.
I use a positive approach, based on the client identifying the benefits of change. Hypnosis is used to sell the benefits to the subconscious before any suggestions are given to quit smoking or reduce.
Some people use substitutes for old smoking triggers, and some do not. I recommend one deep breath, as it has no calories and no side effects. It is far better for the CONSCIOUS mind to choose the substitute than for the subconscious, as one addiction might be traded for another. Furthermore, if there is still pleasure associated with smoking, the client needs to make a conscious decision to choose another way of having some pleasure in a healthy manner, or there is greater risk of backsliding. Some Hypnotherapists unnecessarily use regression back to the first smoke, based on the premise that the original cause must be removed. But with smoking, more recent causes usually far overshadow the original cause, which has often faded with time.
With weight reduction, I also start with the benefits approach. Often there is more work to be done, however, as people may overeat as an adjunctive response to another unresolved issue. Depending on the cause disclosed by the subconscious mind, I may or may not be qualified to help the client resolve the issue.
If there is subconscious resistance to the more positive approach for ANY type of goal, a client-centered approach would be to ask the subconscious to reveal what the cause is so that it may be released. (Without release from the cause, the problem may return.) And before you do this, you are well-advised to have received competent supervised training in such techniques!
Can hypnosis be used to reduce pain and/or suffering from illness?
Pain is a warning that something is wrong with the body, and it needs to be diagnosed by someone qualified to do so. Any competent hypnotherapy instructor emphasizes to his or her students the importance of requiring a written referral from an examining physician before ever using hypnosis to reduce pain or other physical symptoms. The exception (for those who are not licensed to practice medicine) is if the examining physician is physically present and/or is supervising the hypnotic process. Since the time of a Hypnotherapist is not nearly as expensive as the time of a physician, hopefully there will be greater cooperation between the medical profession and the hypnotherapy profession in the future. A competently trained Hypnotherapist should know, even with a medical referral, when to simply use hypnosis for symptom removal, and when and how to use hypnosis to search for subconscious causes of the symptom's). Hypnosis can make a difference even with major disease! You might be interested in reading LOVE, MEDICINE & MIRACLES by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D. (Publisher: Harper & Row), and/or ANSWER CANCER by Steve Parkhill.
Is hypnosis dangerous?
According to my late mentor, hypnosis of and by itself is not dangerous. If it were, we would all be in jeopardy every time we get engrossed in a good book, movie, or TV show. But unwise use of suggestion may create the opposite of the desired results if the person using hypnosis does not understand the disciplines of suggestion structure. For example, a suggestion such as "You don't like candy" will cause someone to imagine candy, and imagination is the language of the subconscious!
What we say and how we say it creates images in the subconscious, which does not know the difference between fact and fantasy. (If you don't believe that last statement, hold your arms out in front of you and close your eyes. Then imagine a bucket in one hand and 100 helium balloons in the other. Imagine SEEING water pour into the bucket. HEAR it splashing, and FEEL the bucket getting heavy. After several seconds of deep breathing, open your eyes and notice where your arms are. Most people will notice a difference!) An untrained hypnotist often talks about the problems to be avoided; whereas most competent Hypnotherapists focus on results -- whether they use direct or indirect suggestions, or both.
There are some areas of concern which I believe need to be addressed here:
AVERSION SUGGESTION: In my opinion, the gross aversion suggestion given in many group hypnosis seminars is very risky. If a person
VIVIDLY IMAGINES major disease as a result of smoking, and convinces himself or herself that the disease will come if the smoking habit persists, then how can we be sure whether the negative subconscious belief had anything to do with creating the onset of the disease??? Suggestions must be kept
POSITIVE, affirming the desired results. Yet there are books written by people with doctorate degrees which advocate the use of aversion suggestion when dealing with tobacco and other addictions.
One of my former clients, desperate to lose weight, bought a suggestion given by her psychiatrist to get sick whenever she tasted or desired pizza; and she did so twice weekly whenever her husband called for pizza delivery. After suffering for over a year, she saw me to have the aversion suggestion removed. I am 99% opposed to most uses of aversion suggestion, except very temporary and mild ones in rare cases when all other techniques are resisted.
REGRESSIONS AND FALSE MEMORIES: First of all, let's consider the fact that a
COMPETENTLY trained Hypnotherapist might, in some cases, choose to hypnotize a client with a hypnotic regression being one of the objectives to achieving therapeutic results! This is perfectly acceptable if the Hypnotherapist is trained in the effective handling of client abreactions, understands the risk of false memories, AND is also working within his or her field of competency. But if you have not had "hands on" training in regression therapy, or if you do not understand the difference between "leading" and "guiding" questions or suggestions, you are advised to avoid causing hypnotic regressions. Because of the increased ability to fantasize, it is all to easy for a compliant client to fantasize a suggested sexual molestation that never took place!!! Some mental health professionals have found themselves on the wrong end of lawsuits because of this very problem. This is a glaring example of the dangers of projecting your own pre-conceived opinions into the trance state created by your clients; so until you know how to competently facilitate a hypnotic regression, DON'T -- even if you are an experienced counselor.
PAIN MANAGEMENT: Since pain is a warning that something is wrong with the body, the cause should be discovered by someone who is licensed to diagnose. See my comments for Question #13.
ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOR: No ethical Hypnotherapist would even consider trying to use hypnosis to induce criminal or anti-social behavior, nor trying to deceive someone into doing such. Furthermore, research seems to indicate that a person would not knowingly accept suggestions to break the law unless he/she is already inclined to do so.
FORENSIC HYPNOSIS: If you plan on using forensic hypnosis, perhaps you should read
TRANCE ON TRIAL (Scheflin and Shapiro) and then decide whether you wish to seek additional training in that field first. And, unless you have a legal background or background in law enforcement, make certain that the training you receive is specialized and adequate. Even with all my years of experience in hypnotherapy, I still avoid the use of forensic hypnosis.
DEPENDENCE: The dependence issue should not be a concern with any client of a Hypnotherapist who seeks to help a client become self-empowered. And client-centered techniques are designed to help clients use the power of their own minds to change, while the Hypnotherapist is simply the guide or facilitator of such change. And since I'm a firm believer in the benefits of self-hypnosis, perhaps you could say that I've become dependent on self-hypnosis because it works! Furthermore, I'll put myself on the receiving end of hypnotherapy whenever I require it. Self-hypnosis is like lifting a chair; but when I'm moving a piano in my subconscious, it's much easier with someone on the other end helping to lift.
Who is the leading authority on hypnosis?
This is a difficult question to answer. There are some who hold themselves up as such, but the longer I'm in this profession the more I realize there is to learn about the art of hypnosis.
Who is the leading authority on music? Music is an art. Would you consider Barbra Streisand the leading authority on music? Of course not... but she is a master artist! Would you consider a music professor at Juliard a leading authority? In classical music? In popular music? In country Western? And is there a difference between an artist and an expert who is an "authority" on any one area of music? It's only a matter of opinion. Whose opinion? And is the "authority" also a good artist?
Hypnosis can be used to reduce pain. Hypnosis can be used to quit smoking. Hypnosis can be used for weight reduction. Hypnosis can be used to overcome phobias. Hypnosis can be used to reduce stress or anxiety. Hypnosis can be used for entertainment. Can any one person be an expert in all areas? It's only a matter of opinion. Whose opinion?
I personally recognize the late Dave Elman as a leading 20th Century pioneer of widespread acceptance of hypnosis by physicians. I personally recognize LeCron & Bordeaux as 20th Century pioneers as well. I personally recognize the late Milton Erickson, M.D., as the Grandfather of modern hypnotherapy. I personally recognize the late Charles Tebbetts as the leading authority on diversified client-centered hypnosis. I personally recognize Arthur Winkler, PhD (still living), as the leading authority on spiritual uses of hypnosis. I personally recognize Ormond McGill (still living) as the world expert on stage hypnosis. Since medical applications of hypnosis is not my area of expertise, I am not qualified to give my opinion on the leading authority of medical applications of hypnosis.
There are some who give public seminars for smoking cessation and/or weight reduction who represent themselves as "authority" within the hypnotherapy profession; and the negative aversion suggestions and/or disempowerment approach indicate to me their lack of training. They frequently make promises of outrageous "success rates" which are as unbelievable as they sound. If they knew half of what they say they know about hypnotherapy, they would inform their audiences how to wisely choose a Hypnotherapist for the needed private follow-up sessions. Success in marketing does not qualify that person as an "authority" in hypnosis.
There are some who feel they are so much more qualified than others that they would like to have total control over all who practice hypnotherapy. There is already an uphill battle because certain psychologists would like to outlaw hypnotherapy by defining it as part of the practice of psychology. Also, according to information received from the O.P.E.I.U., there have already been attempts made in at least two states to legally require Hypnotherapists to belong to the A.C.H.E. in order to practice hypnotherapy. In my opinion, NO ONE GROUP nor anyone hypnosis association should have total control over hypnotherapy in this country. Be loyal to principles, and give your loyalty in degrees to those who earn it--not those who demand it. Let him or her who is considered a "leading authority" be so designated by others and not by himself or herself.