Truths And Lies About Clinical Hypnosis
Clinical hypnosis, as some media outlets have reported, has not only been shown to be effective in treating psychological disorders such as anxiety or stress but also for intervention on more biomedical problems, so-called psychophysiological disorders such as headaches, chronic pain, cancer pain, etc. The University of the Basque Country has developed a workshop on clinical hypnosis within its summer school. In this workshop, Xavier Pellicer, clinical psychologist specializing in RTT treatment for phobias, has commented on the benefits of this intervention procedure, stressing the importance of disseminating what clinical hypnosis is, and its areas of application where it has scientifically demonstrated its effectiveness, as well as eradicating many of the erroneous myths or beliefs associated with this intervention procedure.
Clinical hypnosis, as defined by the American Psychological Association and the British Psychological Society, is an intervention procedure based on suggestion techniques. Thus, it is the hypnotist, using different types of suggestions, that helps the patient to generate in their imagination the problem experienced, as well as to detect emotions, thoughts, physiological reactions, etc., associated with the said experience to influence perception, feelings, ideas, and behaviours and facilitating change.
Thus, as the specialist Antonio Capafons (1998) argues, it could be said that hypnosis constitutes an adjuvant procedure that allows enhancing the effectiveness of techniques of psychological intervention within the cognitive-behavioural paradigm. Moreover, in a recent review conducted by Mendoza and Capafons (2009) not only has hypnosis proven to be a useful technique for the treatment of typically psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, smoking, post-traumatic stress disorder, but also in psychophysiological type disorders such as pain management, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes or asthma, among others, as well as scientifically proven the benefits of its use in different medical contexts (preparation for surgery, oncology, obstetrics, paediatrics, dentistry, etc.)
However, it is also true that there are many myths and erroneous beliefs about the virtues of clinical hypnosis, encouraged mainly by the media, corrupt practices, or the relationship with environments of an esoteric nature, which tarnish the procedure and cause unwillingness to use it. Thus, among the most relevant myths stand out the following:
Myth 1: Hypnosis does not belong in the field of scientific psychology. Those who practice it are usually charlatans, healers, or showmen. The people who get better with it are gullible, ignorant, and “dependent.”
This is false because multiple personalities of psychology have used and studied it, worth example, Wundt, James, Paulov, or Eysenck, as well as is endorsed by different scientific societies and taught at many universities worldwide.
Myth 2: Hypnosis can leave the person “hooked” in a trance, so that, by not being able to “get out of the hypnotic state”, they would be diminished in volition or even become insane. Empirical evidence has shown that this belief is not true (Hilgard, 1991; Kirsch, 1993; Sarbin & Coe, 1972; Spanos & Barber, 1976), although some people may indeed have more difficulty than others to get out of the state of hypnosis, it is more similar to what is found concerning other techniques such as relaxation (Lynn, Martin & Frauman, 1996).
Myth 3: Hypnosis can explain or aggravate the person’s “latent” psychopathologies. It can even develop psychic alterations in healthy individuals. Individuals with psychopathological problems may get worse with hypnosis. There is no observational proof that demonstrates that hypnosis causes adverse side effects.
Myth 4: Hypnosis causes a “sleep-like” state”, in which the person shows special characteristics. If such characteristics are not reached, the person is not hypnotized. You can only be in that unique situation if a method of hypnotic induction has been received. Another myth – in reality, nothing really “special” or “spectacular” has to happen in the reaction of a hypnotized person. In any case, all this depends on the person himself, his expectations, and beliefs about hypnosis.
Myth 5: Hypnosis eliminates and overrides a person’s voluntary control. He becomes an automaton in the hands of the hypnotist, so he can commit criminal, antisocial, immoral, or social ridicule acts. While it is true that under hypnosis a person may respond automatically, this does not mean that she is operating in an “uncontrolled” or involuntary way. In reality, the person never loses her ability to decide or choose.
Myth 6: Hypnosis causes unusual, exceptional, and quasi-magical reactions in people. This is false. What happens is that people may experience different types of responses – motor, sensory-physiological and cognitive-perceptive – although again, these responses are related to automatism, it is also true that its activation and termination corresponds to the will of the person.
Myth 7: Hypnosis is a highly useful, fast, and effective therapy (hypnotherapy), that requires no effort on the part of the client to change behaviour. Only very susceptible people, however, can benefit from it. First, hypnosis is not a psychological therapy, but an adjuvant technique to other interventions enhancing its effectiveness, but this does not mean that the person does not have to endeavour to change.