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Hypnosis in Psychology
Throughout the history of this country, hypnosis has been dismissed
as a form of gimmickry. Contrary to this, for centuries numerous cultures have
used hypnosis as a means of mental and spiritual healing. Hypnosis is defined
as an induced trance-like state in which one is highly susceptible to
suggestions, or commands. There are three commonly known methods of hypnosis.
Two of which, the authoritarian and standardized approaches, are generally
considered non-beneficial towards the subject. Meanwhile the utilization
approach, primarily developed by Dr. Milton H. Erickson, is the most widely used
amongst psychologists today. The authoritarian approach focuses primarily on the
power of the hypnotist over his/her subject. The out-dated though still used,
standardized approach, is rather limited due to the fact that it considers a
person either hypnotizable or not. In contrast to the authoritarian and
standardized approaches, the utilization approach, stresses the interaction
nature of the hypnotic relationship. These approaches have many dissimilarities
and thus are utilized for different practices.
The authoritarian approach emphasizes the power of the hypnotist.
This approach, spawned by Mesmer and others, is still widely exploited by stage
hypnotists and is consequently often the conceptualization held by the uniformed
lay person. Even many trained physicians implicitly adhere to this view, which
in it’s extreme form involves some powerful and charismatic hypnotist exercising
some strange power over a hapless and weak-willed subject. In essence, the
hypnotist gets the subject to do something he or she wouldn’t ordinarily do such
as stop smoking or bark like a dog. This approach generally assumes that the
unconscious is some passive vehicle into which suggestions are placed. This
approach is one which is viewed as limited in value. It is also believed that
the unconscious is mistreated or abused. Because of its authoritative manner,
this approach is considered ineffective.
Many people realized these limitations and subsequently developed
what might be called the standardized approach. The standardized approach
generally assumes that hypnotic responsiveness is determined by some inherent
trait or ability of the subject. There is nothing inherently worn with this
approach, especially in a research setting, where sometimes it is required.
However it doesn’t work very well for allot of subjects, especially those
displaying abnormal behavior.
The utilization approach assumes that each person is unique in
terms of strategies used to create his/her trance and, consequently the
hypnotist’s effectiveness depends upon how well he/she is able to adapt his/her
basic strategies to those of a given subject. Thus standardized methods are not
used. The approach further assumes that unconscious processes can operate in an
intelligent and creative fashion and that people have stored in their
unconscious all the resources necessary to attain this “trance”.
The question thus becomes: How does the hypnotist bring the subject
under trance? Instead of standardized techniques, he/she has to use general
principles to guide his/her efforts. There are three defined parts of the
utilization approach: 1) accept and utilize the clients reality, 2) pace and
lead the subject’s behavior and 3) interpret “resistance” as lack of pacing.
The first principle-accept and utilize-was stressed again and again
by Erickson and is the essential theme of Erickson and Rossi’sHypnotherapy
(1979). Briefly stated, accepting means assuming and communicating to the
subject that “what you’re doing at this point in time is exactly what I’d like
you to be doing. It’s fine; it’s perfect.” Utilizing means assuming and
communicating the attitude that “what you’re doing right now is exactly that
which will allow you to do X.” The process of accepting and utilizing is one
communicating that what the subject is doing is fine and it will allow him/her
to do something else (like enter a trance). Bander and Grinder (1975) discussed
these principles in the more process-oriented terms of pacing and leading the
Pacing communications essentially feed back the subject’s
experience; they add nothing new. The major intent is too gain trust from the
subject, as well as attention. This enables the subject to be more trustful and
cooperative and the hypnotist to be more understanding. Once trust has been
gained the hypnotist can lead by introducing behaviors that are different from,
but consistent with, the subject’s present state and slightly closer to the
desired state (e.g.,trance). According to the principle of Ericksonian
teachings, the effective hypnotist assumes all experience is valid and
utilizable and paces and leads to the desired state. The on thing the hypnotist
must remember is that everything the patient is doing, the hypnotist wants him
to do. There is no resistance, the hypnotist must adapt to the subject’s state
of mind, actions and reactions.
The three approaches to hypnosis differ in many ways. There is the
authoritarian approach, which is used by stage performers and beginners. Also
there is the standardized approach which although slightly advanced, still seems
to be prejudice towards subjects that are harder to bring into trance. Then Dr.
Milton Erickson pioneered the hypnosis of the future. A form of hypnosis that
would adapt to everyone. Erickson’s approach was far harder on the hypnotist,
because it is not learned as a pragmatic routine, it is learned as a a style
that each hypnotist develops within himself. This is good and bad in some ways.
It is good in that it calls upon the hypnotist’s creativity, which is the key to
discovering new techniques and approaches. It is bad for the hypnotist who has
very little creativity. The standardized approach would be better for
hypnotists with little creativity, while the utilization approach would be
better for hypnotists with a great deal of creativity. As a society we have
looked lowly upon hypnotism as a treatment, and its effects are being lost to
stage performers. In my opinion hypnosis offers us a direct path to the
unconscious mind; and in the unconscious mind anything is possible.
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