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An Introduction to Hypnosis
Society of Psychological Hypnosis
Division 30 – American Psychological Association
An Introduction to Hypnosis
What is Hypnosis ?
Common Myths about Hypnosis
Theories of Hypnotic Responding
IV.Key Theoretical Controversies in Hypnosis
IV.Hypnotic Suggestibility
Hypnosis as a Clinical Tool
I. What is Hypnosis ?
A. Defining Hypnosis
B. Components of a Hypnotic Procedure
A. Defining Hypnosis
Hypnosis is a procedure involving cognitive processes
(like imagination) in which a subject is guided by a
hypnotist to respond to suggestions for changes in
sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and
Sometimes, people are trained in self-hypnosis, in which
they learn to guide themselves through a hypnotic
Psychologists hold a wide variety of opinions on how to
define hypnosis and on how hypnosis works.
B. Two Components of a Hypnotic
It is useful to think of a hypnotic
procedure as consisting of two phases or
Hypnotic Induction
Hypnotic Suggestions
What is a Hypnotic Induction ?
An introduction to hypnosis in which the subject is guided
through suggestion to relax, concentrate, and/or to focus
his or her attention on some particular thing.
Some hypnotists believe the purpose of the induction is to
induce an altered state of consciousness.
Other hypnotists believe the induction is a social cue that
prompts the subject to engage in hypnotic behaviors.
What is a Hypnotic Suggestion ?
The subject is guided to undergo changes in experience.
Types of Hypnotic Suggestions:
• Ideomotor Suggestions – experience a motor movement.
• Challenge Suggestions – subject is told he or she will not be
able to do some particular thing and then is asked to
perform the prohibited behavior.
• Cognitive Suggestions – experience changes in sensations,
perceptions, thoughts or feelings.
II. Common Myths about Hypnosis
People in hypnosis lose control and can be made to say or do
whatever the hypnotist wants.
People may not be able to come out of hypnosis.
Hypnosis only affects weak-willed or gullible people.
Hypnosis reliably enhances the accuracy of memory.
Hypnosis enables people to re-experience a past life.
Hypnosis depends primarily on the skill of the hypnotist.
III. Important Theories of
Hypnotic Responding
Psychoanalytic Approach
Neodissociation Approach
Socio-Cognitive Approach
Transpersonal Approach
A. Psychoanalytic Approach: Freud’s
Model of Hypnosis
Freud initially utilized hypnosis to help remove psychosomatic symptoms
from patients who suffered from what we would now call a somatoform
disorder. These patients suffered from medical complaints like seizures,
muscular spasms, and paralysis of their limbs that was transient and/or
was not thought to be the entirely the result of a general medical
Freud learned that he could temporarily or permanently reduce many of
these symptoms using direct hypnotic suggestions for the symptoms to
be reversed. (e.g.,: “Your arm is calm again and will no longer spasm.”)
Freud also believed that Hypnosis allowed him access to memories
within the patient’s unconscious mind which had been previously
Eventually, Freud began using free association instead of hypnosis as a
way of accessing the unconscious.
B. The Neodissociation Approach
A more recent psychoanalytically-oriented theory.
Developed by Ernest Hilgard.
Under hypnosis, part of the mind enters an altered state of
A second dissociated part of the mind, later designated as
the “Hidden Observer”, remains aware of what is going on
during a hypnotic session.
The part of the mind in an altered state of consciousness
is very open to hypnotic suggestions.
B. Neodissociation
• The Hidden Observer Experiments
• Discovered in highly hypnotizable subjects
during dissociative tasks such as hypnotic
deafness and hypnotic pain analgesia.
• If queried, some subjects could nevertheless
give realistic accounts of the dissociated
experience as if a hidden observer was
present within the person.
B. Neodissociation
• Hilgard’s Neodissociation theory
• These dissociations were evidence of
separate cognitive subsystems that were
operating during the experiment.
• “The concept of a totally unified
consciousness is an attractive one, but does
not hold up under examination.”
• Ernest R. Hilgard (1994)
A Sociocognitive take on
The hidden observer is created and enacted by
the subject in response to the hypnotic
instructions given by the experimenter. (Spanos &
Burgess, 1994)
The self or “identity is constructed, rolegoverned, and performed” (Lynn et al., 1994) as a
kind of “narrative process” in which we come to
construct our experience as that identity as a
“believed-in imagining” (Sarbin, 1998).
C. The Sociocognitive Approach
Contends that the principles of social psychology explain behavior
during hypnosis.
Not a single theory, but a group of theories.
• Role Theory – people naturally adopt the role behaviors of a
hypnotized person.
• Response Expectancy Theory – hypnotic suggestions alter
expectations for nonvolitional outcomes (e.g., pain). Such
expectations , in turn, then contribute to the experience of those
outcomes (Kirsch, 1990).
D. A Transpersonal Approach
• Many of humanity’s earliest views of
hypnotic phenomena are described by
various religious and spiritual traditions
in the world. (Krippner, 2005).
• Shamanistic Healing Rituals
• Exorcism and Demonology
• Advanced meditative practices to
achieve Mind/Body Unity within
Mystical Christianity, Tibetan
Buddhism, Native American, Islamic
Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, and Hindu
• This is an important diversity issue since
many people around the world hold these
Class Demonstration
Chevreul Pendulum
IV. Two Key Theoretical
Controversies in Hypnosis
The State Controversy
The Trait Controversy
A. The State Controversy
Do people enter an altered state of
consciousness during hypnosis ?
The essence of the dispute between the
Neodissociation and Sociocognitive
This remains a hotly debated issue.
B. The Trait Controversy
Is there a trait that accounts for how much or how
little people respond to hypnosis ?
One’s position on the Trait Controversy is
unrelated to one’s position on the State
Controversy. They are NOT opposite poles of a
single dimension or question.
The research evidence strongly suggests that
there is a trait that explains how much people
respond to hypnosis.
V. Hypnotic Suggestibility – The
Individual Difference Variable
Hypnotic suggestibility is the general tendency to respond to
hypnotic suggestions.
It can be measured with scales typically consisting of a hypnotic
induction and a series of behavioral test suggestions.
The number of test suggestions that an individual responds to or
passes indicates the person’s level of suggestibility.
It is a trait-like, individual difference variable – people differ in terms
of how high or low they fall on suggestibility. Scores in the population
are arrayed in a bell-shaped curve.
Suggestibility tends to be very stable over time – some researchers
found that scores taken 25 years apart were correlated at r = .71.
VII. Hypnosis as a Clinical Tool
Hypnosis is generally used in two ways as
a clinical tool:
A. Making Direct Suggestions for Symptom
B. Using hypnosis as an adjunct to other
forms of psychotherapy (e.g., CBT).
A. Making Direct Suggestions for
Symptom Reduction
• Example – A hypnotist suggests to a patient
undergoing a painful medical procedure (e.g.,
surgery, a lumbar puncture, spinal tap) that the
affected body part (i.e., the back) is numb and
insensitive to pain.
This is a classic use of hypnosis.
Example: Hypnotic Analgesia
Hypnosis can alter and eliminate the
psychological experience of pain and also the
brain’s neurophysiological processing of pain.
Data indicates that the sensory aspect of pain is
diminished at the somatosensory cortex.
The meaning or suffering component of pain is
diminished at the anterior cingulate cortex.
B. Presenting Cognitive-Behavioral
Therapy plus Hypnosis
Research suggests that using a combination of hypnosis and CBT improves
outcomes for about 70% of patients relative to using CBT alone (Kirsch et al.,
Additionally, standard CBT techniques can be presented in a hypnotic
context by preceding the CBT technique with a hypnotic induction, delivered
with the unique tone and cadence of hypnosis, and described as being
hypnotic in nature.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation becomes hypnotic relaxation.
Guided Imagery becomes hypnotic imagery.
Systematic Desensitization becomes hypnotic desensitization.
Coping self-statements become coping self-suggestions.
Some Clinical Problems Thought to Be
Responsive to Hypnosis
• Acute and Chronic Pain
• Phobias
• Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Acute Stress Disorder
• Performance Anxiety
• Depression
• Eating Disorders
• Dissociative Identity Disorder
• Smoking
• Obesity
Once associated with fringe psychology and the
supernatural, hypnosis is now accepted as the valid
subject of scientific research and as a useful clinical tool.
Psychologists hold a wide variety of opinions on how to
define hypnosis and on how hypnosis works.
Research strongly suggests that hypnotic suggestibility
is a trait that accounts for a portion of how much or how
little people respond to hypnosis. However, research
strongly indicates that the vast majority of people can
benefit from hypnosis interventions.
Research indicates that hypnosis is very effective for
treating a wide range of clinical problems and symptoms,
including pain, anxiety, depression, obesity, and smoking.27
Instructions for Chevreul Pendulum
Obtain scissors, string, and ½ inch washers at a hardware store.
At the beginning of the presentation, distribute these materials to the
class. Have students cut a 6-inch length of string and tie it to the washer.
Explain that you will be doing a demonstration in which students will have
an opportunity to experience an imaginative suggestion.
Have students place their right elbow on their right thigh and hold the
string between their right thumb and index finger so the washer is
suspended beneath.
Have students hold their hand as still as possible.
Ask students to imagine that the washer is beginning to move from left to
right. Continue repeating the suggestion until some washers begin to
move. There will be a range of responses. Some students will show no
response at all. Others will find that their washer moves quite a bit.
Cancel the suggestion by telling students their hands are back to normal.
Ask students what this has to do with what you were just discussing.
This should lead naturally to the next topic – hypnotic suggestibility.