Red Bank Psychological Services Blog
Our thoughts on mental health therapy, neuropsychology, and more.
When you think about hypnosis, maybe you recall the film, Good Will Hunting (1997), where the main character, Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon), undergoes attempted hypnotherapy, poking fun at the process by producing ridiculous answers to the therapist's (Robin Williams) questions. Or maybe you think of the more recent movie, Get Out (2017), where the Armitages transplant brains; hypnosis is used to transport the conscious mind of the host into "the sunken place" where they are conscious but powerless. Most tv shows, stage shows, and movies exaggerate or twist the idea of hypnosis, but in reality, hypnosis is a well-researched and effective form of supplemental treatment for a range of issues including fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety, and distress. Let's clear things up about hypnosis:
What is hypnosis? Hypnosis is an agreement between the client and therapist to provide suggestions for how to use your mind to control any emotional distress or fatigue you might experience. Hypnosis is like focused attention or concentration. Most people describe it as a pleasant, relaxing experience, sort of like being so lost in a book, music, or movie that you lose track of what's going on around you. Hypnosis involves learning how to use your mind to help you feel better. There is no one right way to experience hypnosis; the client simply needs to be open and listen to the sound of the therapist's voice. Hypnosis is NOT a magic spell.
Does hypnosis work? Yes, research as shown that up to 89% of clients who try hypnosis benefit from it. And, even those who don't respond immediately to it can become more responsive to hypnosis with practice. It's a non-invasive, brief (15 minutes a session) technique that is worth a try. Eventually, you can do it to yourself at home, saving you both time and money. Health care providers have been using hypnosis to benefit patients for over 200 years.
Am I the type of person who can be "hypnotized"? Hypnosis is not a yes or no, all or nothing kind of thing. Instead, hypnosis works at different levels for different people. Most of us are in the middle, but some of us will be lower or very high, in terms of its effect. And, with practice, you can become more hypnotizable over time.
Do I have to give up control for hypnosis to work? No! Stage shows, tv, and books typically present inaccurate, frightening, and misleading depictions of hypnosis. You will not be under the therapist's control. You will not be asked to do anything embarrassing. You do not have to do anything that you don't feel comfortable doing. You will neither be asked anything about past-lives nor traumatic memories. The focus is only on reducing emotional distress and fatigue.
I'm pretty strong-willed and skeptical, so do I have a chance at this working? Yes! Some people mistakenly believe that only gullible, weak, or "new-agey" people are hypnotizable, but that is a myth. Hypnotic suggestibility is actually not associated with any personality trait in particular. You can be strong-minded and still benefit from hypnosis. Benefitting from hypnosis has more to do with how open you are to trying it, how well you expect it to work, and how willing you are to let yourself become absorbed in the experience. In fact, a strong mind and mental control can actually be very helpful in focusing and concentrating on hypnotic suggestions.
What if I become "out of it" and get in a trance? Hypnosis is nothing like the feeling of taking a powerful tranquilizing drug. There is no spell, no sleep, no trance, and you are not under anyone else's control. You would be no more "out of it" than you would be during yoga, imagery, or other mind-body therapy.
What if I attempted hypnosis before somewhere else for a different problem and it didn't work? The effectiveness of hypnosis depends on the problem you are trying to minimize, the setting, your mindset, and the training of the therapist. The past is not a good predictor of the future in this case. Trying it again would not be a bad idea.
I'm not good at relaxing or meditation so will hypnosis work? Hypnosis does NOT require deep relaxation. It's more like drifting or daydreaming. In fact, research has shown that people can be hypnotized even when they are actively riding an exercise bike. Hypnosis and relaxation are not the same phenomena. Being anxious or hyper could mean that you are actually really motivated to benefit from hypnosis and have the most room to grow.
Hypnosis is just one tool within comprehensive mental health therapy. The choice is yours, both in the decision to try hypnosis, and then what actually happens during hypnosis.
Dayna Stein, MST, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Hypnosis for Fatigue (CBTH). CBTH is an evidence based behavioral health intervention developed by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Integrative Behavioral Medicine Program. Dayna earned degrees from Boston University, New School University, and Monmouth University, and prior to private practice in Red Bank, NJ, she specialized in trauma therapy at Catholic Charities and New Hope Integrated Behavioral Health Care, both in Monmouth County.