What is medical hypnosis?

By Jeffrey Lazarus, MD, FAAP

First of all, it is NOT “Hollywood Hypnosis” or “Stage Hypnosis!” No one can ever control anyone else’s mind!

Hypnosis is simply a highly focused state of mind.

First, though, let me explain this further. The way “Stage Hypnosis” works is that the stage hypnotist asks for a volunteer. Then, let’s say 8 people come onstage. The hypnotist asks them a few questions, then determines who will be the most highly suggestible, and therefore, who will be the best subjects. Notice, I say subjects, and not patients. Remember, this is for entertainment, not to help people.

The hypnotist will then send 5 people back to the audience, telling them that she couldn’t work with everyone. As those people are leaving the stage, the hypnotist turns to the other 3 and tells them, “I couldn’t work with them. They’re not smart enough!”

So, those 3 are reinforced, thinking, “I’m smart. I can do this!” Remember, these people already volunteered to be subjects, knowing full well what that would probably mean.

Then the hypnotist goes through his patter, of “Bark like a dog,” or “Cluck like a chicken,” and those 3 subjects do so for reasons that we may not understand. Perhaps they are exhibitionists. Perhaps they wanted extra attention. Maybe they wanted to humiliate themselves.

Perhaps they simply wanted the experience.  Then, afterwards, they might say, “I can’t believe I did that!  I’m so embarrassed!” But, at some level, they were willing to do this.

Now, if the hypnotist says, ““Bark like a dog,” or “Cluck like a chicken,” and they may do so, that’s fine.  But if the hypnotist then says, “Okay.  Here is a gun.  I want you to take it, go down the street, rob the bank, and then bring me the money,” they will never do this.  Because no one would ever do anything in the state of hypnosis that they wouldn’t do in their usual state of mind! That’s right, there is no such thing as mind control.  I can’t control your mind any more than you could control mine.

Have you ever daydreamed?  Or been in the zone playing your sport or musical instrument?  Or been absorbed in a good book?  Or gone to the movies, and 2 hours went by, and it seemed like only 20 minutes?  Or called your children for dinner while they were playing video games and they didn’t even answer? 

They were not being rude; they were simply in that highly focused state.

There is also something we call “Highway Hypnosis.”  We’ve all had the experience of driving in the car and missing our turnoff.  We were not asleep, of course.  We were just focusing on something else.

With medical hypnosis, patients choose a specific therapeutic goal, such as, “I want to be dry at night.”  Then, we help them to create an empowering experience, in their minds, that allows them to realize that they are able to do things that they previously were not aware that they could do.”

And, it’s a skill that needs to be learned and practiced.  Just like kicking a soccer ball, or playing the piano:

The more you practice it, the easier it gets.

The more you practice it, the better you get at it.

And, the more you practice it, the faster you get at it.