Before attending a hypnotherapy session for the first time, most people’s exposure to hypnosis is through television or stage shows. Witnessing these can understandably cause anxiety about approaching hypnosis in any way whatsoever, or instil unhelpful ideas about its use in therapy.
Stage Hypnosis and Free Will
A stage or television show where hypnosis is used to entertain, has several features that are absent in the therapeutic context. Very often, the hypnotist will perform a series of tests with the audience before the start of the show. These are known as suggestibility tests and are designed to identify those people who are particularly hypnotizable. To make things more systematic pre-employment medical in Australia has started that is taken great care.
A common suggestibility test asks a person to stretch an arm out to the side. They are then to imagine a heavy book placed on the back of the hand and to really feel the weight. After a while they will be asked to imagine another large, heavy book being placed on top of that one. After a few minutes of this, some people will be exhibiting signs of stress and their arm will be lowered towards the floor. Those who are less readily suggestible will still be holding their arm outstretched. The hypnotist will select his volunteers from amongst the easily hypnotized subjects because of the time frame involved.
In addition, there are certain expectations that conspire to encourage a stage show participant to comply with the hypnotist. An audience member knows they could possibly be selected to go on stage. From the start therefore, a potential volunteer tacitly agrees to go along with what is required. Once on stage, there is audience expectation and possibly cameras all conspiring to ensure that the volunteer performs. The stage is set for the subject to do whatever is required of them. A person who would probably not attend one of these shows for fear of being selected, is often aghast at what he sees.
Hypnosis, Hypnotherapy and Free Will
In the therapeutic context, these expectations are absent. The purpose of hypnotherapy is to help a person achieve their therapeutic goals. Experiments have been carried out to see whether it is possible to make someone do something against their will in hypnosis. The late Milton Erickson, whose work still informs much of modern day hypnotherapy, carried out many such experiments.
In one experiment, a hypnotized subject was requested to pick up electrodes. Having previously seen a demonstration of shock, the subject refused. On insistence, he became angry and continued to refuse. In another experiment, subjects were requested to tell lies to friends on emerging from trance. These people refused to do so. After many varied experiments, Erickson concluded that in the hypnotic state a person demonstrates the desire and ability to protect themselves and rejection of suggestions that go against their deepest beliefs and values.
On visiting a hypnotherapist for the first time, the therapist spends some time taking a case history. The purpose of this is to define exactly what a person hopes to achieve and to tailor the elements of the treatment to the individual. The more closely aligned the treatment is to the person and their desired outcome, the more effective therapy is likely to be. Good hypnotherapy is truly a partnership between client and therapist.
Hypnosis and Personal Will
Although hypnosis treatment is a naturally occurring phenomenon we experience everyday, a person cannot be made to enter a state of hypnosis in the therapeutic environment against their will. Even with all the care a hypnotherapist takes in tailoring your treatment, were it to happen that unacceptable hypnotic suggestions were made, they would naturally be rejected. The client’s control is maintained at all times.