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How to Put Away Common Fears about Hypnosis

20 Jun

A therapist asks what is the best way to address people’s misconceptions and fears about hypnosis…


What is the best way to address people''s misconceptions about hypnosis? I often tell my clients that we will do a "relaxation exercise" or a "guided meditation", both of which are true statements, but each contains elements of hypnosis. And sometimes, there is no real difference. They are so closely related that I tend to lump them together in my mind anyway.

Unfortunately, there are many people who are afraid of hypnosis because of dramatized and untrue things they''ve seen on TV. I''d like to reassure clients about hypnosis but the only way I''ve come up with it is not to call it hypnosis!

Any thoughts?


Dear Ken,

I agree that not calling it hypnosis seems like a perfectly reasonable and legitimate thing to do, being as how it''s also correct to call this a "guided meditation" or a "relaxation exercise".

hypnosis It''s too bad that hypnosis has such a negative or scary connotation to some people - I agree that it’s likely that they viewed too many nightclub acts, New Yorker cartoons or caricatures of the process on TV, where people were disrespected or treated comically. So I don''t think there''s anything wrong with calling it "guided meditation" if that allows someone to open their mind to the method and benefit from it.

But if you''re a purist and insist on calling a spade a spade, you could address the most commonplace fears about hypnosis, which usually are threefold. People worry that:
  1. It''s a weird and extraordinary state of mind;
  2. You lose control of yourself & your normal brain function;
  3. The person doing the hypnotizing gains control over you.

The fact is, you can reassure them that:

  1. It''s not an extraordinary state of mind at all; we slip in and out of hypnotic trance states all day long - when we''re waking up or falling asleep; when we''re concentrating really hard on something; and when we zone out on the highway and drive past our exit... I think it''s fair to say that whenever we lose track of time, we''re in some form of trance.

  2. You do not lose control of yourself. Indeed, during a deep, hypnotic session, if somebody were to yell "Fire!", you''d book right out of there, just as speedily and strategically as everybody else. All your normal awarenesses and perceptions are still doing their job on the periphery, and they step up to the fore when their services are required.

  3. Likewise, the hypnotherapist cannot make you do anything that is not congruent with your values, or manipulate you into going against anything or anyone you hold dear. That''s an overused, Grade B movie conceit.

In fact, hypnosis is essentially an empowering process, that allows us to use more of our own internal resources in a focused, efficient way. It’s a great tool, under our control.

I hope this helps.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award