“Who can be hypnotized?
Can I be hypnotized?
What happens if I don’t ‘go under’?”
The frequency with which I get these questions belies a common understanding, or perhaps misunderstanding, of the nature of clinical hypnosis, which I’m going to address here. But first, let’s back up a little bit and define our terms.
“Hypnosis” has multiple overlapping and diverging definitions. It could be compared to art, in that way. We know art when we see it. There are some principles that can be used to identify and categorize it; there are guidelines. Still, not everyone will agree upon the definition of art, or the distinction between art and craft, or respond to a specific piece of art in the same way. It is possible for an artist break the rules of art in a way that other people will agree that their art is still art.
We can define hypnosis by what it looks like (that guy has a big grin on his face because I told him he just won the lottery) or we can define it by the outcome (my client successfully quit smoking.) Most people use both definitions interchangeably, but maybe that’s how we’re getting confused.
What is hypnotizability?
Let’s define hypnotizability as the ability to experience hypnotic phenomena. To be clear, some people do experience hypnotic phenomena more easily than others. Some examples of hypnotic phenomena include catalepsy, smell and taste changes, analgesia, “losing numbers,” and unlikely post-hypnotic suggestions (“bark like a dog”). And the ability to experience hypnotic phenomena can be improved with practice.
Here’s the kicker…
According to my experience as a hypnotist, and also according to the most reliable information I can get my hands on: The ability to experience hypnotic phenomena is weakly related, or unrelated, to the results of the session.
“Studies have not found significant associations between hypnotizability and any outcome measure. (Jensen et al 2005, Jensen et al, 2005, Jensen, Barber, Romano, Hanley, et al., 2009; Jensen, Barber, Romano, Molton, et al., 2009) Moreover, the strength of the associations found between hypnotizability and outcome in populations tend to be weak, with hypnotizability never accounting for more than 23% of the variance in outcome and often accounting for much less. Importantly, the results also indicate that some individuals who score low on existing measures of hypnotizability will benefit from hypnotic treatments (and also that some individuals who score high on these measures are not guaranteed positive outcomes). Thus, the existing measures of hypnotizability should NOT be used to screen patients into or out of hypnotic treatment for chronic pain”
<or anything else for that matter, adds Marian>
Or, as I like to put it:
“hypnotizability isn’t a thing.“
For clinical hypnosis, anyway.
I’ve had so-called “high responders” need additional followup work to resolve an issue, and I’ve had “low-responders” surprise us both by achieving total resolution in one session. It used to drive me nuts until I finally came to a deep-rooted and hard-earned place of totally and completely trusting in the process no matter what it happens to look like in the moment. It’s not about me, it’s about my client’s inner wisdom working in its own mysterious way. Like a farmer trusts that in general, seeds planted at the right time in the right way in the right place will grow, but they are still autonomous processes in an environment of external conditions that have to be allowed for.
To put it another way, I patently reject the idea that some “hypnotizable” people are able to choose to make changes to themselves and their lives and other “unhypnotizable” people aren’t. It doesn’t check out with my observations of the world, and it doesn’t check out with my experience. SHOW me the person who has never changed in any way. SHOW me the person who is unable to be influenced by anyone or anything, even when they want to be.
I’m not writing off the bells-and-whistles that we call “hypnotic phenomena” as completely unimportant to hypnosis. Yikes, that would be silly! Yes of course, a good stage hypnotist selects from the audience the people who are ready to play right now. Of course of course. And utilizing hypnotic phenomena in a clinical session can be a GREAT “convincer,” which can powerfully support a change. And while it’s important to acknowledge the value of employing all the tactics at our disposal, including the “wow” factor, it’s also important, for both clients and hypnotists, to keep at the forefront of our minds that therapeutic hypnosis is primarily about results…
…which are poorly predicted by the experience of hypnotic phenomena. So perhaps the frustrating but also liberating answer to “Can I be hypnotized?” is, “Does it really matter?”