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Hypnotism is popularly supposed to be a mysterious psychological
process by which susceptible subjects are brought under the influence
of a person possessing some marvelous power over others' minds and
wills. According to this supposition, during the periods in which the
subjects are under this influence, they either have some new source of
energy transferred to them from the operator's strong personality, or
else they share to some extent in the will power possessed by him. In
the midst of the sub-consciousness which characterizes the hypnotic
condition, then, they are in some way endowed with new strength, which
enables them to overcome obstacles to physical or mental health, some
of which seemed at least quite insurmountable under their normal

As a matter of fact, hypnotism is much simpler than this, consisting
merely of a state of mental absorption in which all distracting
thoughts are for the moment warded off, and only such thoughts as are
suggested by the hypnotist reach the consciousness of the patient. The
essence of hypnotism is the concentration of mind on one idea or only
a few ideas dictated by the hypnotist. This mental concentration
produces the effect of greater strength, whether apparent or real, to
carry out the purposes connected with those thoughts. It is usually
considered that hypnotism involves sleep, and in some cases it does.
This is often undesirable. True, therapeutic hypnosis leaves at least
certain senses of the subject open to perceive such things as are
presented by the hypnotist's suggestion though these senses may be,
and usually are, quite closed to all other perceptions. In a great
many cases, though there is a real hypnotic condition, a state
resembling true sleep does not occur. There is only a more or less
complete concentration of attention on the suggestions of the
operator, and a complete cessation of all spontaneous thought, or of
all suggestions that might come in ordinary ways from the subject's
own senses.

Effects of Hypnotism.--Most people have a very erroneous notion with
regard to the effects of hypnotism. Some expect that the hypnotic
sleep will work miracles. Nothing is more common in the experience of
one who is known to employ hypnotism, even occasionally, than to have
a patient who is addicted to some habit, alcoholic, drug, or sexual,
ask, "Do you hypnotize?" If an affirmative answer is given, the
patient proceeds to say that he has heard that one can be hypnotized,
and then all the tendency to fall back into the old habit is
immediately lost, and he has no further bother from it. This supposed
miraculous effect of hypnotism in supplanting the necessity for using
the human will has been cultivated very sedulously in the public mind
by quacks and charlatans of various kinds and even exploiters of
hypnotism who belong to the medical profession. But there is nothing
in it. Hypnotism will not change character unless it be for the worse,
since the habit of it sometimes leads to dependence on suggestion
rather than spontaneous motives. Hypnotism cannot be substituted for
weakness of will. The suggestions given in the hypnotic state are
practically no stronger than those given in the waking state, if the
patient would only equally concentrate his mind to receive them, and
would be as ready in response. It is the readiness of response which
comes in cumulative fashion, in the midst of the utter abstraction
from other thoughts, that characterizes the hypnotic condition.

This is, of course, quite a different valuation of hypnotism from the
very strong expressions, with regard to the power of hypnotists to
influence the human will, which have at various times been made. These
exaggerated claims have been no stronger than those often made for
remedies of various kinds that have been long since discredited. I
have heard a serious though young professor of psychology declare that
he was not sure whether he was justified in using all the power that
he possessed by hypnotism to influence men's wills to keep them from
indulging in liquor to excess, because after all men had a right to
their free will, even in a matter of this kind, and it would be wrong
to take it away from them. He added very philosophically that no human
being had the right to play the role of Providence in directing
others' actions even for good, unless they themselves were perfectly
satisfied. If there was any such force in hypnotism as is thus
suggested, the reformation of the world, or still more its
deformation, at the hands of some of the strong-minded practicers of
hypnotism, would be a comparatively easy process. As a matter of fact,
however, the hypnotizer has, except as regards abnormally suggestible
people, only as much influence over the person hypnotized as the
subject permits, and the subject retains all his personality as an
individual with all his weaknesses. After he has been helped away from
his weaknesses by hypnotism, he is just as likely as ever to yield to
them again, unless, during the interval of conquest, he has succeeded
in bracing up his will to resist them.

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