11 August 2023

Hypnosis Fiction

Welcome back. In a recent journal commentary, the authors both applauded and criticized a review paper that promoted the role of hypnotherapy for psychiatrists.

The commentary’s authors, affiliated with King's College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and Binghamton University’s Department of Psychology, commended the review of the psychiatric use of hypnosis to increase its use and make it more accessible to patients.

But the commentary focused on the review paper’s long-discredited myths about hypnosis. They note that, while it’s usually members of the media who exaggerate, misinterpret or sensationalize features of hypnosis, many misconceptions and myths continue to be spread by clinicians and hypnosis educators.

Suffice it for me to summarize some of the most common myths.

Hypnotism in popular culture (from www.pinterest.com/pin/420875527650769879/).

Hypnotized people can’t resist suggestions
Contrary to the notion that hypnosis can be used to control someone, people can resist and even oppose hypnotic suggestions. Control during hypnosis depends on the participant’s intentions and expectations. It’s been shown that more than half of participants are equally or less suggestible following a hypnotic induction.

Hypnosis is a “special state”
Hypnosis is often labeled a “special state” where defense mechanisms are reduced and a unique state of physical relaxation allows us to enter our subconscious depths. In fact, there is no robust neurophysiological evidence to demonstrate that hypnosis is a special or unique state; relaxation is not necessary to experience or use hypnosis.

During hypnosis, even the most highly suggestible individuals remain fully conscious and cognizant of their surroundings. It is more accurate to consider hypnosis as a set of procedures in which verbal suggestions are used to modulate awareness, perception and cognition, rather than to invoke special states.

People either are or are not hypnotizable
It is inaccurate to assume that people are either hypnotizable or not. People vary greatly in their responsiveness and often respond to some suggestions but not others. Most people are sufficiently hypnotizable to reap substantial benefits from therapeutic suggestions.

Responsiveness to suggestions reflects nothing more than compliance or faking
Neuroimaging studies reveal that the effects of hypnotic suggestions activate brain regions (e.g., visual processing) consistent with suggested events (e.g., hallucinating an object).These findings provide convincing evidence that hypnotic effects are represented at the neurophysiological level consistent with what people report.

Hypnotic methods require great skill to administer
Administering a hypnotic induction and specific suggestions require no special skills beyond those required for basic social interactions and administration of experimental or clinical procedures. Nevertheless, hypnosis should be practiced only by professionals trained in its use.

Hypnotic age regression can retrieve accurate memories from the distant past
When the accuracy of memories of people who are “age regressed” to an earlier time is checked, the information is almost invariably found to be incorrect. What people report is mostly consistent with information that experimenters provide regarding their supposed past life experiences and identities. These findings imply that “recall” reflects participants’ expectancies, fantasies and beliefs regarding personal characteristics and events during a given historical period.

Wrap Up
The commentary emphasizes that there is a major difference between how hypnosis is portrayed in popular culture and how it is used in clinical settings and understood in contemporary scientific research.

Spreading misinformation about hypnosis drives non-scientific and inaccurate beliefs, pushing the field away from the evidence base. Doing so can have potential detrimental consequences regarding how clinicians apply hypnosis.

As someone whose only view of hypnosis was through popular culture, I was enlightened by the commentary. Maybe you were, too. Thanks for stopping by. 

Hypnosis through history (from www.topdoctors.co.uk/medical-articles/hypnosis-through-history).
Commentary on hypnosis in BJPsych Advances journal: www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bjpsych-advances/article/abs/reconciling-myths-and-misconceptions-about-hypnosis-with-scientific-evidence/051A63FBE5C377754668EE35E1DD9609
Paper in BJPsych Advances addressed in commentary: www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bjpsych-advances/article/abs/update-on-hypnotherapy-for-psychiatrists/F8BCC7AABAEDCD28D625DBC48D51CBE1
Article on commentary on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/994437

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