Having talked to several people who are psychotherapists, the conclusion I have come to is that stage hypnotism is total bunk. You cannot make people do silly things while under “hypnosis”; you cannot tell them they will not remember what happened, or that when they hear a bell, they will cluck like a chicken for days after the experience. Movie hypnosis is also bunk. Nobody under hypnosis will commit a crime for the hypnotist.
However, as a alternate state of consciousness that can be induced by a trained and practiced person, it is what the word means-- a sort of half-sleep. “Hypnos” is Greek for “sleep.” As such, the person “under” hypnosis is slightly more suggestible than usual, and very vulnerable, and someone who, in therapy, is having trouble relaxing enough to function in the therapeutic situation, may benefit from hypnosis. They feel relaxed they way you do right before you fall asleep, and learn to associate that with the therapist, the room where the therapy takes place, the talking with the therapist, and little by little, the therapist can wean them off hypnosis. The same thing could be accomplished with an anti-anxiety drug, but some people don’t like to use drugs.
During hypnosis, the therapist has to be very careful not to ask questions that are too leading, because the person is highly suggestible, and it’s a prime situation for creating false memories, especially because the person may remember things discussed during hypnosis as heightened reality, similar to dreaming, which is much easier to confuse with actual memories than suggestions made to someone fully awake.
I know two people who tried a lot of things to quit smoking, and finally went to a therapist who induced hypnosis, and they claimed that after a session of hypnosis, they didn’t want to smoke anymore, although it “wore off” after a few days, and they needed to go back, but after four or five sessions, they could induce a hyper-relaxed state without the therapist, and would do so when they started to feel overwhelmed with either a cigarette craving, or the kind of stress that usually made them want a cigarette. Once they had been off cigarettes for several months, they no longer needed hypnosis (I guess they were detoxed from nicotine). One person additionally needed a substitute oral “fix” in the form of sugarless gun, and was going through about two packs a day, but it was harmless to everything but his wallet, and at least was a lot cheaper than cigarettes.
I don’t know what the therapist said during the non-smoking hypnotic sessions. Probably just something like “You can relax without a cigarette,” and “You are in control, not the cigarettes.” The same kinds of things you can get from affirmation tapes, but when a person is in a highly suggestible state, they may be more effective, and less repetition is needed.
At any rate, it does work for some people. It has a bad rap because of stage hypnotists and movies, but they have as little to do with real hypnosis as the movie Hackers does with real computer programming.
It’s not really mysterious. It’s possible to use drugs to induce a half-sleep state that makes a person relaxed very suggestible, and accomplish the same thing in less time than it takes to induce hypnosis. But again, some people just don’t want to use drugs. So they are willing to spend the time it takes to let someone induce hypnosis. It actually takes work and time. A person has to learn how to relax, and it takes a practitioner who knows what she (or he) is doing.
Some people meditate. It’s sort of like hypnosis for a lot of them. I know someone who plays affirmations while meditating, because she says she is more “open” when she is meditating. I understand “open” to mean “suggestible.”
That’s it. So I personally “believe” in hypnosis, but all I really believe it that it is possible to become very relaxed so that you are nearly, but not quite asleep, and in that state, your defenses and down. I don’t believe anything state hypnotists do.