People’s first introduction to hypnosis is often through a move, TV show, or a stage hypnosis show. This leads to many understandings of what hypnosis is – and what it isn’t. Here are some of the more common misconceptions about hypnosis – and what it really is.

There are many different definitions of hypnosis (which could be a whole other article), but let’s start with a common definition of hypnosis so we can start to clear up the fallacies below. One way to define hypnosis is “a state of focused attention where you are following along with suggestions.”

“A person under hypnosis is unconscious or asleep.”

A person under hypnosis is unconscious or asleep

This is a really common misunderstanding about hypnosis. You are not asleep. Instead, you are awake and aware and will hear every word. Your attention is focused on the suggestions, which you could not do if you were asleep.

Hypnotherapy is a form of hypnosis used for therapeutic purposes. When people come in for something like hypnosis for anxiety reduction, the hypnotherapist will give suggestions for relaxation. So a person may appear to be asleep, but they are indeed awake and following along with the suggestions.

Relaxation is not necessary for a person to be hypnotized. I have friends who do stage and street hypnosis, and they hypnotize people while they are standing up!

Some of the confusion may come from the word “hypnosis.” Dr. James Braid was a surgeon and considered the “Father of Modern Hypnotism.” In order to distance the therapeutic profession from the more controversial figures of the day, he coined the term “hypnosis,” which comes from the greek work for sleep – “hypnos.”

After more research, he realized that is not a form of sleep. So he later changed the name to “monoideism” to more accurately describe it as a state of focused attention. “Mono” means one and “idea” is the subject of the intense focus. The term “hypnosis” had stuck by then, so that is what we use today.

“Hypnosis has a certain feeling.”

While I mentioned above that in hypnotherapy, relaxation is used as tool to help the client, one does not have to be relaxed to go into hypnosis.

Think of hypnosis like you might if you were watching a movie. Sometimes you get so engrossed in the story that you lose track of time or what is happening around you. That is what hypnosis is like – that state of focused attention.

Some movies are scary, some are action-adventure, some are romantic comedies. You can go through a variety of different emotions during a movie. There is no particular feeling of a movie.

There is also no particular feeling of being hypnotized.

“A person doesn’t remember anything that happens while under hypnosis.”

There are really two myths here.

One, there is no such thing as being “under hypnosis.” That would imply that you are under a spell. As you will see below, you cannot be hypnotized against your will. If you attend a hypnotherapy session, you have to cooperate with the hypnotist for your healing. So in the business, we do not say “under hypnosis.” We say “in hypnosis.”

The second one is about memory and amnesia. In hypnosis, you will be aware of what is happening. You will hear every word the hypnotist says, and you will remember about as much as you would from any normal conversation.

Sometimes the hypnotist will deliberately induce amnesia for some of the suggestions given so that the conscious mind does not interfere with the process after the client is emerged out of hypnosis.

Often people report having a floaty or dreamy feeling during the session that feels different from a normal waking state.

As with any experience, some of the details in your conscious mind will fade over time. And the goal is for your unconscious mind to remember the rest.

“A person can be hypnotized against their will. When a person is hypnotized they cannot resist it.”

This myth often is born from people watching TV or movie plots where a person is hypnotized to do something against their will. By the way, it unfortunately is almost never an altruistic thing they are hypnotized to do in the movie.

The myth may also come from stage shows where people do things they appear to not normally want to do.

What happens in a stage show is more akin to what happens in a magic show. The magician does not actually saw a woman in half, nor does he actually turn a handkerchief into a rabbit. Those are just illusions. Likewise, a stage hypnotist creates the illusion of making people do things under his control. It is just a carefully choreographed elicitation of cooperation from the participants – those who start by choosing to be on stage in the first place.

“A person surrenders their will once they go into hypnosis, and can be made to do things they do not want to do.”

A person surrenders their will once they go into hypnosis

You never surrender your will. In a session, you are there for a reason. The hypnotherapist is there to be your guide to take you out of your problem and into the solution.

Dr. Milton Erickson, considered by many to be the greatest hypnotherapist of the last century, believed that his patients had all of the skills, abilities, and resources inside themselves to solve their problem. His job was to guide his clients to their own solutions.

In a therapeutic hypnosis session, you will need to cooperate with the hypnotherapist for your own healing. Rather than losing control during the session, think of it as regaining control of an area of your life that you had lost some control over. Once the session starts, you are in control and can emerge from hypnosis any time if you choose to.

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“Not everyone can be hypnotized.”

Hypnosis is another word for a trance state. We all naturally go in and out of trance states. If you have ever been driving along on the freeway, thinking intently about something, or engrossed in a song on the radio, and missed your exit – you were in a trance state. You were hypnotized at that moment.

Since trance (hypnotic) states occur naturally, it means anyone can be hypnotized. So it’s not a matter of whether you can be hypnotized, but whether you’ll allow yourself to be hypnotized in order to be helped.

Once all of the myths about hypnosis have been busted, a client will usually go easily into hypnosis. It often only takes a few minutes to enter hypnosis when guided by a skillful practitioner.

You are already naturally entering into hypnotic states during your day. A hypnotherapist will allow you to do it deliberately for your benefit.

There are different levels of hypnotic depth – and everyone can be hypnotized to a sufficient level of depth to accomplish most therapeutic goals. Hypnosis can be a learned skill, so the more often you deliberately go into it, the easier it can be to go in again in the future, and a greater level of depth may be achieved. That is why some hypnotherapists provide self-hypnosis audios. It builds your skill of going into hypnosis, and it provides repetition of the suggestions related to your goal.

“Being hypnotized means you are gullible or weak-minded.”

Being hypnotized requires you to be open to suggestion. It means being open to learning new things. These characteristics are more likely to be found in people who are more successful – since that requires taking in new information.

Suggestibility – the capability to take in new information, whether consciously or unconsciously, is a prerequisite for being hypnotized.  It is not related to submissiveness, gullibility, or weak-mindedness. Instead, studies suggest that people of above average intelligence are more likely capable of concentrating – and who usually make the best hypnotic subjects.

By contrast, it is people who have an IQ of below 70 that are not usually good candidates for hypnosis.

“A person has to relax deeply to be in a state of hypnosis.”

Your level of physical relaxation does not necessarily impact the effectiveness of suggestions given during the session. There are methods of hypnosis that don’t even rely on physical relaxation.

Most people who are concerned about their ability to relax physically during hypnosis are very pleasantly surprised after a much needed mental rest.

Relaxation may also not be the state of mind that is needed for theraputic success. A skilled hypnotherapist may invite you to elicit other emotional states that are more appropriate for your success. These may be states of confidence, happiness, joy, love, or peace.

“A person under hypnosis might reveal secrets they don’t want to reveal.”

Hypnosis is not like a Ouija Board scene in some old movie where all the sudden some otherworldly presence takes over and starts speaking for the person.

In many hypnotherapy sessions, you may not say a word once you go into hypnosis. In other sessions, you may be asked to give a yes/no answer, or provide other basic information. You do not have to reveal anything unless you want to. You are always in control.

“Hypnosis can be used to accurately recall everything that has happened to you”

Hypnosis can be used to accurately recall everything that has happened to you

Hypnosis can be very effective for reclaiming lost memories. There is a whole sub-field called Forensic Hypnosis that is dedicated to remembering things from the past – whether it is trying to find a lost item, or recalling the details of a crime that was witnessed.

However, our memory is imperfect. We naturally distort, delete, and generalize details of memories. Hypnosis can be used to get around some of that, but we naturally filter our experiences. Sometimes hypnosis can help you to revivify memories very well, and other times not so much. Sometimes, people can even have false memories.

“You can never lie in hypnosis”

People can lie to themselves or others in or out of hypnosis.

Rather than looking at it as lying, think of it as having internal conflicts. For example, consciously, the client truly believes they are ready to lose weight. However, unconsciously that person may not be ready to give up the afternoon snack because it provides comfort, or a break from the office routine. It may seem like a lie that they want to lose weight, but they are actually just conflicted. Hypnosis can be used to re-educate the unconscious mind to resolve the internal conflict make a better choice.

“A person can get stuck in a trance and not come out.”

Nobody has been unable to come out of hypnosis. Hypnosis is a natural state that we enter and exit all of the time. The worst that usually happens is that the person enjoys the relaxation they feel in a hypnotherapy session and takes a few more minutes to come out of trance. There is nobody sitting in a hypnotherapist’s chair over the weekend after everyone has gone home.

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