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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

subject’s behavior.

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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