Hypnotism, hypnotherapy, hypnosis…words we’re all familiar with mainly due to performances on TV and stage by entertainers such as Paul Mckenna, Derren Brown and the like. They appear to work some kind of magic, seemingly able to make people do ridiculous things just by clicking their fingers. This is all very entertaining but how does it actually work? Derren Brown himself admits that he’s not sure how it works and he feels that maybe some members of the audience who get up on stage to participate are very eager to please the performer and so may subconsciously go along with the act, convinced that they are in fact hypnotised.
So what of hypnosis on a more practical level? Not so long ago hypnotherapy was seen as some kind of voodoo and practitioners were treated with suspicion, but these days it is broadly accepted as a valid branch of medicine, especially when it comes to treating patients who are trying to beat addictions or phobias. It has had varied levels of success as a treatment, seeming to work wonders for some people but doing nothing of any significance for others. This does appear to be down to the personality of the patient. Someone who believes it will work and is keen for success will invariably gain better results than a stubborn skeptic.
One area where hypnotherapy does seem to have a favourable rate of success is helping people to quit smoking. About 25% of people give up the weed after a single session, and of those who take a series of sessions the figure rises to around 65%, which is impressive when you compare these figures to people who try to quit using gum or nicotine patches (around 25% each) or people who try to quit on their own with no help (2.5%).
One of the most common misconceptions about hypnotism is that when someone is “under”, they have been induced into a deep sleep. The reality is more or less the opposite – while the patient is indeed in what may be described as a trance, they are in fact in a heightened state of awareness and are able to focus exclusively on the suggestions their therapist is giving them. Hypnotising someone isn’t as hard as you might think, with a little training and the right environment it’s relatively easy to put a willing participant into the hypnotic state. The same applies to self – hypnosis. Have you ever driven to work or walked to the shops and on arriving, realised you can’t remember anything about the journey? That’s because you were in a semi-hypnotic state, and you achieved it without even trying!
So, how come a stage hypnotist can apparently put people under their spell by clicking their fingers or mentioning a certain word? Well, the subjects are actually hypnotised beforehand, off camera or off stage, and the hypnotist conditions them to go under when he uses a certain signal. This method adds to the mysticism of the act and it also helps to avoid lawsuits from people who claim to have been hypnotised while watching the show at home on TV.
One thing most people agree on though, is that the subject has to be willing to be hypnotised or it just won’t work for them, and once under, it is impossible to make them do something they know is not right. So if you’re thinking of becoming a hypnotist to make people rob banks for you, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed!