Hypnosis - Part 1: More than Heightened Suggestibility

Put simply, hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, in its sum and substance, is a condition of super-suggestibility, where the mind accepts suggestions given by the therapist.

At the same time, it may also be defined as a state of heightened suggestibility.

It is a condition that can be induced by a combination of elements--viz., a fixation of a point, most commonly a ceiling fan, rhythmic monotonous instructions, and/or the use of a graduated series of suggestions. For example, "the left arm will rise" from the subject's side, including relaxation and slowed respiration, through which s/he is advised to concentrate on an object the therapist would construe as appropriate.

Hypnotic Trance

As the subject relaxes, s/he yields control of oneself in many ways. Gradually, s/he enters a trance-like state, where s/he feels or acts in the exact manner as defined by the therapist. Subjects, for instance, have been told that alcohol consumption will nauseate them; that they will not feel pain at the dentist's, or during labor; or, that they will do better in their academic and/or professional careers. These "suggestive" effects are, nevertheless, experienced without the subject knowing why s/he feels or acts as s/he does.

Interestingly, hypnosis has sometimes been referred to erroneously as "sleep," which isn't quite correct, because the subject is able to comprehend just almost everything s/he would have in the wakeful situation. That such a condition, is in no way connected with sleep, has also been quite ively demonstrated by electronic brain wave pattern recording studies and research.

Hypnotic Response

Certain reactions are characteristic of the hypnotic state:

  • Age regression, where the person returns to the world of an earlier period, and acts accordingly.
  • Amnesia, where the subject is not able to recall what transpired during the trance.
  • Time distortion, where a brief period feels like a long period of time
  • Analgesia, where the subject may not be sensitive to normally painful stimuli.

This is not all. Some of the classical indications of the more deepening hypnotic state are: stillness, change of breathing, pale/waxen complexion, postural slumping, REM-type (Rapid-Eye-Movement) of eye movements, eyelids fluttering, increased lachrymation (tearing), redness around the eyes, swallowing/gulping, and so on.

You guessed it right--hypnosis is also a subjective experience. Moreover, although there are many common elements to it, much will be unique to each individual. This also explains why hypnosis may be used, with benefit, as an aid in deep muscle relaxation--more so, in the treatment of anxiety. The modus operandi: after the subject has closed his/her eyes and is completely relaxed, the therapist instructs him/her to visualize various anxiety-producing situations, starting from the mildest, and then moving onto the most distressing of conditions.

Acceptability

Willingness to follow unconventional instructions is called hypnotic susceptibility. While children between seven and fourteen are the most susceptible, most people can be hypnotized to some extent. While subjects often report that they knew they had been hypnotized, and were aware of their surroundings, some often talk of a special, almost mystical state.

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