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Beyond the Common Myths of Hypnosis

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"I shall use hypnosis to turn you into my slave!" roared Dr. Drake, as a bolt of lightening split the sinister sky behind him, to his defenseless victim who curled into a quivering ball at his fearful threat. This is a common theme in many horror movies involving hypnosis. Not only is "Dr. Drake" over-exaggerating on his statement, his declaration is simply ridiculous in the reality of hypnosis! It is essential to wipe out those common misconceptions of hypnosis encouraged by those fictional tales, and get down to the truth of hypnosis, its real power, its techniques, its role in the medical field, and its relationship with hypnotherapy.

Sadly, an average person's knowledge of hypnosis generally turns out to be common misconceptions promoted by the Medias and fictional books. One of the most popular misconceptions of hypnosis suggested that a hypnotized person naturally falls under the control of the hypnotist, which is completely false for he can only be hypnotized if he agrees to be. In some supernatural films, a hypnotized person is even portrayed to possess supernatural power under hypnosis. Once again, it holds no truth; hypnosis does not play a role in increasing or decreasing physical strength at all. As for those who have seen an adult subject remembering the details of his childhood toy, memory is not at all more accurate under hypnosis. The same guy who may be describing his childhood toy is still completely capable of lying to his hypnotist. Although he may be "reliving" his childhood while under hypnosis, most often the patient tends to go beyond the childhood stage and into their past life making it impossible to select a specific age in their stage of youth (Franzoi184). These are the most common misleading pieces of information on the abilities of hypnosis on its patient.

Before going in depth on the true abilities of hypnosis, the origin of hypnosis must be unraveled. Going back almost 4000 years ago, hypnosis first originated in China, India, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other ancient civilizations (Chaves 212). However, modern hypnosis traces more directly back to Franz Anton Mesmer, a German physician of 18th Century who "rediscovered and popularized hypnosis" (Smith 173). He believed that there was a "subtle fluid" that made up the universe including the human body. He concluded that when a person fell ill, whether emotionally or physically, it was due to the ents by rebalancing their "subtle fluid", which became known as Mesmerism. He seemed to have cured many llnesses by simply exposing "his patients to magnetic objects and fluids to restore their bodies to a 'magnetic balance'". A Portuguese priest later discovered that Mesmerism was not related to magnetic chances but to suggestions. Mesmerism soon led to the word "hypnosis", which was taken from the Greek God of Sleep - Hypno - by a Scottish surgeon James (Smith 173). Due to the mystifying power of hypnosis, it is now used widely throughout the world.

Although hypnotizing a patient is broadly viewed as putting him to sleep, this is actually another popular false belief. It is actually a state of relaxation in which the subject displays "heightened suggestibility and distortions of perception or memory" (Smith 174). The term commonly used for applying hypnosis on a subject is known as hypnotic induction - "the procedure used to induce hypnosis in a responsive person" (Franzoi 183). When under the hypnotic induction, the patient is not considered to be asleep but instead in a state of daydreaming or a sense of "losing oneself"; he would still be fully conscious but tune out most of the stimuli around him except for the voice of the hypnotist. As a result, it makes him super attentive to the suggestions given by the hypnotist due to his selective attention (Harris 2). There are two major elements of hypnosis - deep relaxation and imagery - in which the patient will experience while under induction. According to George Mitchell and Richard Lunndy, the combination of relaxation and imagery produced the best hypnotic induction while imagery alone is not as effective as relaxation alone (Smith 174). When the patient's sense of imagery increases, his imagination and "enriched fantasy" also amplifies; this encourages him to imagine situations "dissociated from reality" (Franzoi 237). Since the patient becomes very relaxed during the induction, he does not like to initiate activity and would rather wait for the hypnotist to suggest an action for him (Franzoi 236). Consequently, he is willing to accept anything the hypnotist suggests as the truth without the urge to confirm its validity. Thus, to hypnotize a subject merely means that his attention and alertness are increased, and his concentration becomes more selective than usual forcing him to obey his therapist's suggestions more than usual.

While hypnosis induction may appear easy, amateurs are strongly urged not to conduct it due to the vulnerability of the subject's emotions under hypnosis. Particularly during the deepest stage of hypnosis, "the hypnotist's words can be as destructive as they can be helpful" (Heap 1). This is due to the fact that the patient regards suggestions of the hypnotist as reality (Harris 1). When a hypnotist tells the patient he is eating an ice-cream, the patient would regard it as a truth and can taste the ice-cream as though it is there. The patient is aware that all these suggestions are merely imagery but goes along with it, which is often compared to a child who is "playing pretending" (Harris 2). The patient can also be instructed quite easily to forget the hypnotic session by the hypnotist, which is regarded as posthypnotic amnesia (Franzoi 237). Therefore take in mind that under the process of hypnosis, a patient's selective attention can easily cause him to be emotionally upset if not treated properly.

Knowing that a patient can become super attentive under hypnotic induction, it becomes necessary to understand what methods and techniques a hypnotist uses to achieve that result. It is essential to understand that the only kind of subject that can be hypnotized is the one that is willing and cooperative before any kind of hypnotic methods can be applied onto the subject. A conventional way of putting a subject under the hypnotic trance is to ask him to focus on a small target while gradually becoming relaxed, such as the classic example of swaying a chain-watch back and forth in front of the patient's eyes. This procedure is similar to putting a patient to sleep but in this case he is only relaxed (Atkinson 235, 236). Another method is to request that the patient close his eyes while the hypnotist slowly counts the numbers and

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