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What Is Hypnosis?
It is difficult to give an exact definition of what hypnosis is, much like with many other concepts related to consciousness or the mind.
Webster’s dictionary says that it is “a trance-like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject”, or also “any of various conditions that resemble sleep.”
These definitions are by no means incorrect, but they do not provide a complete picture of what hypnosis really is.
People have debated whether hypnosis should be considered as an altogether altered state of mind, or just as a different aspect of our ordinary state of awareness.
Here are a few more definitions that reflect this diversion in people’s understandings of hypnosis:
- “Hypnosis is not a ‘state,’ but rather a ‘descriptive abstraction’ referring to a number of interrelated and overlapping processes.” –from Kroger’s “Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis”.
- “Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. It is characterized by an increased ability to produce desirable changes in habit patterns, motivations, self-image and life style. Alterations may be produced in physiological functions, such as pain, that are usually inaccessible to psychological influence.” – from Crasilneck and Hall’s “Clinical Hypnosis Principles and Applications”.
And to be more precise one would have to mention that the hypnotic state does not always look like sleep; there are also conversational and waking hypnosis, for example. Most people imagine that one goes to sleep or loses consciousness entirely while under hypnosis.
Although it is possible for people under hypnosis to reach a very deep trance state where they seems to be sleeping, but this is not the norm, and in a lot of cases someone under hypnosis is, quite to the contrary, more aware, more focused, and better able to concentrate than they normally are.
The very word hypnosis misleadingly suggests sleep, coming from “hypnos”, the Greek word for sleep.
James Braid, who originally coined the term from the Greek word like this, later on decided that it wasn’t accurate and tried to change it to “monoideism”, which means something more like focusing on a single (mono) idea.
Unfortunately it was too late, and the original term had already caught on. But we can still see Braid’s second term (single-idea-ism) in some of the modern definitions of hypnosis as well:
- Hypnosis is “a dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events that are taking place.” – from Weitzenhoffer and Weitzenhoffer’s “Personality and Hypnotic Susceptibility,” (American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis).
- Hypnosis is “an increase in focal attention to one aspect of the total situation and a concomitant constriction of peripheral awareness of other aspects.” – from Spiegel and Spiegel’s “Trance and Treatment: Clinical Uses of Hypnosis”.
- “Hypnosis: A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.” – The Society of Psychological Hypnosis.
As in any field of research, there is no universal agreement about how to best define the nature of hypnosis.
However the more scientific definitions above should still serve to provide a more informed understanding of what hypnosis is than the usual picture of it we get from television and stage hypnotists, as well as some sources to look to in order to broaden one’s understanding even further.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress seek the expertise of a professional hypnotherapist for expert advice and treatment.
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