Hypnosis Myths and Misconceptions
What is Truth and what is Marketing Hype?
Looking at media there are plenty of Hypnosis Myths and Misconceptions. As a Psychologist and Hypnotherapist, I am now very grounded in the real and proven application of Hypnotherapy as shown with legitimate scientific studies. It was not always this way, I learnt hypnosis first and only later went to University to get qualified in Psychology, because I was getting tired of psychologist telling me that what I was claiming and how I said it worked was just plain wrong. In addition ‘they’ used big words, and complicated explanations which just seemed too difficult to not only understand but also to explain to clients.
The fact was, that in the first year with the first paper (psych 101) much of what I was told and taught with regards to Hypnosis was plainly wrong. What was even more disheartening was that this information was not a secret, it is available in any first year textbook, yet sadly it seems that not only do Hypnotherapy schools like to play up the magical qualities of Hypnosis & the Sub Conscious mind; but most Hypnotherapist are never interested in verifying if what they believe is true.
Following then, are a few of the more common myths about the Sub Conscious mind and Hypnosis, and the actual reality. If you are considering using a Hypnotic product or seeing a therapist, I would strongly suggest you question them on some of the following myths before spending your money. After all, there is no question the evidence for hypnosis as a method of change is a powerful approach and works, but would you trust a mechanic to fix your car if they believed that flying elephants made the car work? Why would you trust your mind, your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors to someone with just as silly reasons about the potential of your ability to change?
7 Myths about Hypnosis and the Subconscious Mind
1) The Sub Conscious Mind records everything perfectly like a video
This idea has been around for a very long time. At the beginning the comparison was to a tape recorder, than then a video recorder and now the latest version is a video. Using this untrue myth, it is claimed that you can remember anything perfectly from your past (and sometimes your past life), from where you left your key’s, to names or faces of people involved in a crime, well almost anything you once saw, heard.
REALITY: that as early as 1932, Barlett showed that memories are encoded into individual and unique impressions based on schema. A Schema is a structured cluster of pre-conceived ideas and mental structure that represents some aspect of the world. (Wiki link for Schema) Additionally it was shown that memories are recalled affected by schema as well. So your memory of any event, is changed to fit into what you already believe to be true about the world. Almost NO memory, and particularly memories longer than a week, or ones that have been reflected on or worried about will represent the exact (or sometimes close) reality.
This is why, 10 eye witnesses to a crime will have 10 different versions of events. This is why you argue with someone about what he said, she said at a conversation you were both in. The human memory and the unconscious mind does not record everything perfectly; far from it. Our memories are scattered bits and pieces that are remade to fit what we already know. Anyone who has had to study for a test knows that it can take several attempts to learn information, or watching a movie a few years after the first time and noticing differences.
In addition, Elizabeth Loftus (wiki link) has made her career out of consistently showing how memory can be changed by providing misinformation and how easy it is to create false memories that people will swear are true and they lived the experience. In fact Hypnosis to a certain extent is used to create false memories to create specific and desired results.
(Bartlett, F.C. (1932), Remembering: An Experimental and Social Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
2) We only use 10% of our brain/mind or capacity
This myth started in the 1940’s when a reporter asked a psychic the question “why are you different”? The answer was a variation of we as humans only use 10% of our brain and they are accessing either part of or all of the rest (depending on which source it was re-reported in. This myth was repeated and used by anyone attempting to explain why they were more ‘special’ or ‘gifted’ than others and repeated so often it became an accepted truth in many areas.
The myth is used in addition to explaining why someone else is better than you, to allow you to think that the product or process they are using works by tapping into your own ability to be more. From psychic powers, to meditation to Hypnosis, to Subliminal MP3s to you name it, everyone has heard how you can use untapped potential you are now using to become better without any effort. They myth has changed over the years from using only 10 percent of your brain to now your capacity.
REALITY: we use almost all of our brain at various points in time. Brain scans show clearly that many areas of the brain are used during various tasks. There are specific areas related to memory, vision, hearing, thinking, dreaming – but brain scans show all of these areas are inter-connected and used in conjunction with each other. While it is a nice idea to think that humans (or yourself) has so much untapped potential that if you only practiced you could use more of. It appears from Neuro plasticity studies (Wiki Link) that only small amounts of the brain is used for major changes in abilities after brain damage.
Ask anyone who has had a loved one have a stroke, where as little as one blood vessel in the brain clots (maybe 1/10,000th of the brain area) if we only use 10% of our brains capacity. Anyone who truly believes that we only use a limited amount of our potential might be genuine in their claim – but reflect an understanding of the brain and mind akin to saying the world is flat.
3) The Sub Conscious Mind can listen and learn while you Sleep: Hypnopaedia
Many self help products and therapists will advertise that by using their product you can learn or change while sleeping. Based on the myth that we only use 10% of our brain, and the Sub Conscious is a doorway to metaphysical properties, and is aware at all times, able to learn subliminally. These claims appeal to our human nature to take the easy road, but are just plain wrong.
REALITY: that some early studies claimed to get a positive result through Sleep learning, but since 1956 Charles W. Simon and William H. Emmons showed with EEG recordings that it is improbable that anything can be learned when the brain is in a sleep mode. They suggested any results would have come from hearing the material before the subjects were asleep. What we do know about the brain when we sleep is that it’s function is most likely the changes in brain connections. So in a sense we are learning, the brain is deciding and processing what was important to pass onto memory and what experiences can be sent to the trash bin.
Studies in Subliminal communication have demonstrated that if your conscious waking mind is not able to perceive a message, then the Sub conscious will not either. So when your asleep your brain and it’s hearing pathways are put into hibernate mode. Certain noises will wake you, but this is a lower brain function, which will cause confusion as you wake and not a perceived awareness by the conscious or unconscious mind.
(Emmons William H., Simon Charles W. The Non-Recall of Material Presented During Sleep. American Journal of Psychology. 1956 Mar;69(1):76-81)
4) Hypnosis is Mind Control and Dangerous
The idea that Hypnosis was a dangerous form of mind control come very loosely from similarities with brainwashing methods used by cults and governments alike; and more so with a lack of knowledge from religious influenced thought. The idea is further enhanced as a plot line for stories, movies and story telling. While hypnosis can and is used as part of the brainwashing process, it is a co-operative effort by both the subject and the therapist, and without the sleep and food deprivation and other aspects of brainwashing has very little effect.
REALITY: even with the co-operation of the person being hypnotized it can take several attempts/sessions to get a significant change in the desired result. While in Hypnosis, you are aware of everything that is being said and totally able to disagree and ignore it. Also see the following Myth for further details why it is not Dangerous.
5) Hypnosis is a ‘Special State’ or Mystical
For many years, the reality is there was no consensus of a theory for exactly what hypnosis was. The most common used explanation heard by clients of a hypnotherapist was the Paraprofessional account , which used terms like trance state and communication to the subconscious mind. As most paraprofessional hypnotists usually also had an interest and influence in new age spirituality, the idea of hypnosis being a special or mystical state soon developed.
REALITY: that it is now thought hypnosis is a combination of normal brain functions and activities all of which can be entered into without the formal induction of hypnosis and brain scans have shown to be normal brain functions. It is true that in the form of hypnotherapy many of these normal functions become enhanced, combined and accessed at a faster and more effective rate than when activated or attempted to use alone. But brain scans have not shown anything unusual or new in the function of the brain, and since it can be explained in the normal patterns of brain function does not require the use of mystical to explain an unknown.
6) The Sub Conscious Mind & Hypnosis can make you psychic
Related mainly to the question above, much of the use of hypnosis as a form of therapy was and still is being done by practitioners who hold certain spiritual views on how the world works. Since almost every human being has a pre-disposition to only really be interested or look for evidence or information that supports an already held belief; not many practitioner with a spiritual leaning ever tried to look for other explanations. It was only natural then, when you believe in psychic powers, and held onto the idea that hypnosis made you more open to your higher self (rather than merely increased suggestibility) the application of hypnosis and trance were used in psychic development. Further an early form of the evolution of psychic powers started off with the ‘Trance medium’ or later referred to as channeling.
REALITY: … Psychic powers and abilities is one of those personal beliefs that only requires personal experience and the anecdotal stories of others for people to believe There has never been any real evidence that withstood the scrutiny of scientific investigation. And given contradictory evidence or explanations those who wish to believe will find what they believe to be a plausible explanation for it. For example The James Randi Foundation tests each week someone claiming to have psychic powers of some sort for a Million dollar prize if anyone can prove that they can do what they claim. The major names have denied taking the challenge with excuses such as “there is no money” (there is, you can see the bank statement at the JREF website); or that they don’t do this for money (despite many charging over $500 for 20 minutes of personal readings or the idea of giving the money to a charity) or that they can not perform in a negative environment (when in fact they help create the testing procedure AND the JREF has stated on many occasions if someone can prove psychic powers it is worth the Million Dollars. http://www.randi.org/site/
7) “Secrets” about Hypnosis & the Sub Conscious are revealed online
Type “Secrets of Hypnosis revealed” into Google and you will get almost 140,000 results, for claims that you can hypnotized someone without them known, or telepathically, or to seduce women, – all manner of hidden secrets that a whistle-blower will reveal (for a price)
REALITY: …. This is marketing hype, or downright exploitation of a consumers lack of knowledge. There are no secrets that have only been revealed to a few ‘special or advanced’. The knowledge base of hypnosis is easily available and well researched. Like any new discovery, if it was legitimate the person who discovered the method would proved it worked, offer it for research and gain acclaim within the Hypnotherapy community. They would not promise to reveal this secret to a selected few who want to seduce women or grow a super brain.