When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering "Yes, master," the subject does the hypnotist's evil bidding.
The main theorist who pioneered the influential role-taking theory of hypnotism was Theodore Sarbin. Sarbin argued that hypnotic responses were motivated attempts to fulfill the socially constructed roles of hypnotic subjects. This has led to the misconception that hypnotic subjects are simply "faking". However, Sarbin emphasised the difference between faking, in which there is little subjective identification with the role in question, and role-taking, in which the subject not only acts externally in accord with the role but also subjectively identifies with it to some degree, acting, thinking, and feeling "as if" they are hypnotised. Sarbin drew analogies between role-taking in hypnosis and role-taking in other areas such as method acting, mental illness, and shamanic possession, etc. This interpretation of hypnosis is particularly relevant to understanding stage hypnosis, in which there is clearly strong peer pressure to comply with a socially constructed role by performing accordingly on a theatrical stage.
Sometimes those shoulds and shouldn'ts seem to only take us so far, before we reach a seemingly insurmountable hurdle that even the strongest willpower just can't quite conquer. This is because we're trying to address these issues on a purely conscious level, which is similar to applying a bandaid over an internal wound. Sooner or later, we need to deal with the root cause.
The weird thing is I was a really shy kid, and would never act like a moron or do embarrassing stuff (like he has us do) in front of my whole school - WILLINGLY! But I DID! I remember feeling really calm, and confident and WANTED to put on a fun show for the school. It felt like the audience was cloudy and obscured by a fog and I just felt so calm and zen like in a trance - but totally aware and intentionally playing along. The last thing he has us do at the end of the event was ask for a signature from anyone we met, believing they were a celebrity (we were instructed to have them sign our hands). I remember people's expressions, they thought we were insane, but i felt empowered by being able to convince others that I was hypnotized - like they were being laughed at not me.
In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. But most psychiatrists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
The practice of many relaxation techniques is poorly regulated, and standards of practice and training are variable. This situation is unsatisfactory, but given that many relaxation techniques are relatively benign, the problem with this variation in standards is more in ensuring effective treatment and good professional conduct than in avoiding adverse effects. By selecting a license mental health professional (psychologist or social worker), patients are more likely to receive treatment from individuals who are well trained in the appropriate use of behavioral techniques.
Hypnotherapy is guided hypnosis, or a trance-like state of focus and concentration achieved with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist. This trance-like state is similar to being completely absorbed in a book, movie, music, or even one's own thoughts or meditations. In this state, clients can turn their attention completely inward to find and utilize the natural resources deep within themselves that can help them make changes or regain control in certain areas of their life.
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