Fallacy 1: Hypnosis is a state that is induced in one person by another
It is commonly believed that you can only be hypnotized by another person. This implies that the hypnotist induces such a state in the subject; that the hypnotist does something to the subject. It can even suggest, as in the case of Svengali and Trilby, that something passes from the hypnotist to the person being hypnotized. None of this is in fact true. Fundamentally, the only person who can create the state of hypnosis is the person being hypnotized. Put another way, all hypnosis is fundamentally self-hypnosis.
Fallacy 2: Hypnosis must be caused by the power and will of the hypnotist
A common fallacy is that the hypnotist has power over the person being hypnotized. That the person being hypnotized surrenders their will to that of the hypnotist and does whatever they tell them to do. So strong is this idea that many people who come to be hypnotized are worried that they will do something or say something that they do not wish to. In other words, they consider that they will do whatever the hypnotist tells them to do: that they will have no will to resist. But it is a completely false impression of what hypnosis is and what the role of the hypnotist is in bringing about the trance state.
Fallacy 3: Only weak willed individuals can by hypnotized
Related to the previous fallacy is the view that a person who goes into a trance must be weak willed. It is because they are weak willed which leads the will of the hypnotist to dominate. This view in fact involves a number of fallacies and not just one. First and foremost, the hypnotic state can only be brought about if the individual wants it to. It is a matter of whether you direct your will to go along with the process or to oppose it. Second, going into a trance far from being gullible (weak willed), requires an intelligent approach were you follow the instructions carefully and to the best of your ability. You need to be able to concentrate, focus and be imaginative. These traits should not be interpreted as being weak willed or gullible. The more you can concentrate, focus and use your imagination the more likely you are to be a good hypnotic subject. Therefore the more intelligent you are the more hypnotisable you will be. When seeing a client for the first time and inquire if they know anything about hypnosis they may say, “No.” Or they may say, “I know very little, only what I have seen on the TV.” They then say, “I don’t think I can be hypnotized.” Now these statements can be said to be inconsistent. If they know so little about hypnosis, how can they know whether they will go into a trance! The implied view underlying this is that they believe hypnosis is a battle of wills and they do not want to reveal that their will is not as strong as that of the hypnotist’s. What they want to say is something like, “I can’t be hypnotized because I think my will is stronger than yours.” But the fallacy here is about how the trance state is brought about. It is not a battle of wills, but rather a cooperative act.
Fallacy 4: The hypnotist must be charismatic and awe inspiring
The obvious fallacy here is that the person bringing about the trance state is not the hypnotist but rather the person being hypnotized. So technically, the personality of the hypnotist is not relevant. This is not quite right. The reputation or importance of the hypnotist can have a beneficial impact on the induction of hypnosis. This is because inducing heterohypnosis involves expectation. If you consider the hypnotist an expert in his or her field, then you are more likely to comply; if you consider the hypnotist has a reputation of success, then again you are more likely to comply. In other words, you have a greater expectation of success and expectations have a tendency to be self-fulfilling.
Fallacy 5: Not everyone can be hypnotized
The common view here is that some people can be hypnotized and some individuals cannot. Part of the fallacy is that hypnosis is an artificially induced state, and only some individuals can achieve this artificial state. But hypnosis is not an artificially induced state. We know this because we pass through it everyday of our lives: once when dropping off to sleep at night (hypnopompic) and then again when waking up (hypnogogic). It is because it is a natural state of our nervous system that we can create it. Going into hypnosis is simply creating the right conditions for this state to occur. It follows, therefore, that almost everyone can be hypnotized. The only real exceptions are very young children (say below the ages of four) and imbeciles, who cannot keep their focus of concentration long enough to allow the state to be achieved.
Fallacy 6: Hypnosis is a form of sleep
A common fallacy is that hypnosis is a form of sleep, and like sleep, you loose consciousness. This fallacy is not surprising when we realise that ‘hypnosis’ is from the Greek ‘hypnos’ meaning sleep. Certainly, many films and TV shows involving hypnosis will show the hypnotist saying, “Go to sleep.” The person who is hypnotized is not asleep. They are in a state of focused relaxation, usually with their eyes closed. When in a state of hypnosis, you are conscious and you can hear everything going on around you. If you had lost consciousness, then you would not hear what the hypnotist was saying and would not comply.
Fallacy 7: Hypnosis is harmful to your health
Since hypnosis is not an artificially induced state but rather a natural state of the nervous system, then it cannot be harmful to your health. One should liken it to saying that a hammer is harmful to your health. A hammer in and of itself is not harmful. Who wheels it and how it is used may, of course, be harmful. If a hammer is thrown at someone, then it could do a lot of harm. But the harm arises from the person throwing the hammer, and not the hammer itself. The same can be said of hypnosis. Hypnosis is not harmful, but it can become so if used incorrectly.
Fallacy 8: You can be made to do something against your will
Again films instil fallacies of this nature, the most striking being The Manchurian Candidate. In this movie a number of prisoners in Korea are brainwashed and sent back to the United States where, later, they will be ‘activated’ to kill. In part this is a further extension of the idea that the subject is under the control of the hypnotist. We have already pointed out that this is not so. The person being hypnotized is in a state of cooperation. If they do not wish to do something, then they cannot be made to do it. If a suggestion is against their moral code then they will either come out of the trance or simply not comply.
Fallacy 9: One can become stuck in a trance
This is more of a worry than a fallacy. Suppose someone was hypnotizing you and they were called out of the room on an emergency. Would you sit there in a trance state until they returned? More worrying still, is suppose the hypnotist had a heart attack and left you in a state of hypnosis, would you be stuck in this state forever? It is not surprising that such thoughts would lead to worry and concern about being hypnotized. But the answer to both questions is, ‘No’. The brain simply cannot maintain a constant state indefinitely. It is like falling a sleep in front of the TV. You would not remain asleep forever! Eventually you would wake up. The same applies to the hypnotic state. If you were left unattended while in a state of hypnosis, then you would simply come out of it, in just the same way that you awaken from a snooze in front of the TV. The brain would be registering no activity on the part of the hypnotist, and very soon would bring about a change of state – namely, to awaken from the trance state.
Fallacy 10: It is necessary to relax and close the eyes to go into a trance
This fallacy partly arises from the fact that modern hypnosis relies on creating a relaxed state in the subject and that this is more easily accomplished if the eyes are closed. Neither relaxation nor having the eyes closed is necessary for the creation of a state of hypnosis. Although it is common to describe hypnosis as focused relaxation, this is purely a description of the most typical state to create. Focused attention is certainly important, and this can be achieved with the eyes open. Absorption in a novel or film does this. It is quite common for someone absorbed in a novel not to hear someone speaking to him or her. Their whole concentration and attention is on the story. Although neither being relaxed nor having the eyes closed is necessary for hypnosis, it does undoubtedly aid the process and is typically used in most induction routines. This is simply good practice and it should not be considered as absolutely necessary.
Fallacy 11: Hypnosis is a therapy
Hypnosis is merely a tool to aid a therapist but it is not a therapy itself. The combination of hypnosis and therapy is used when one refers to a hypnotherapist, meaning a person who carries out therapy and uses hypnosis in the process. This is important for anyone wishing to learn self-hypnosis. Being able to hypnotize oneself is a very useful tool to have. But to engage in therapy, even on oneself, is totally different and requires a different training.
Fallacy 12: Hypnosis can be used to recall everything that has happened to you
The belief here is that everything that happens to you, every experience you have ever had, is stored away in your memory banks. Hypnosis is considered a means of unlocking these memories. Again the movies and novels put across such a view. Individuals can be given ‘false memories’, i.e., memories of incidents that in fact did not take place. We do not fully understand how a memory is stored in the nervous system to be able to say that all memories can be recalled under hypnosis. What is undoubtedly true is that when relaxed it is easier to bring into consciousness items that have been stored in long-term memory. But this is not the same as saying that when you are in hypnosis you can recall everything that has happened to you.