Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Monday, October 23, 2017

HYPNOSIS Does Not Exist -- but SUGGESTION DOES!

But O! Beamish nephew, beware of the day
If your Snark be a Boojum! for then
You will softly and silently vanish away
And never be met with again.
--Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

The Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form A (Shor & Orne, 1962) is modeled after the experimental approach originally begun by Clark Hull (1933). It contains a script consisting of a light hypnotic induction, followed by a list of twelve suggestions in increasing order of difficulty, from "easy" ones which almost anyone can pass, to more difficult items such as the inability to shake one's head "no" when challenged, or amnesia for most of the test items until after a prearranged signal has been given. Since its initial publication in 1962, the test has been used in studies all over the world, in order to give us a greater understanding of individual differences in suggestibility.

In a typical administration, in a class setting of about thirty people, there are from one to three high responders who obtain a perfect score of twelve on the test, one or two people at the low end who are just sitting there with their eyes open, looking around the room with a mixture of curiosity and boredom, and the rest manifesting varying degrees of responsiveness in between. Data of this type have yielded a great deal of useful information about differences between high and low responders over the years. For example, I found that highly hypnotizable people convincingly reported having undergone a Fundamentalist experience of "Salvation," while low scorers did not (Gibbons & DeJarnette, 1972).

Now let's perform a thought experiment. Im
agine, if you will, that the Harvard Group Scale is being given to a class of introductory psychology students, when a person dressed in a police uniform bursts into the room and says in a loud, commanding voice, "There is an active shooter in the building. Everybody get under your desk and await further instructions!!"

Even if such an announcement is a hoax (i.e., a cleverly-designed suggestion) thought up by a disgruntled student to disrupt the orderly running of campus activities, if it were to be conducted in a sufficiently convincing manner, everyone in the class -- including the instructor -- would probably cower under their desks in a high state of emotion. What happened to the individual differences in suggestibility which the Harvard Group Scale was supposed to measure? They simply vanished, as everyone scrambled for shelter.


A high degree of responsiveness to the impostor's suggestions would occur regardless of how an individual student might have scored on the suggestibility test which was currently underway. Notice also that the subjects would probably have been totally involved in the content of the impostor's suggestions: trembling, feeling frightened, weeping, crying out in alarm, and so on.

Even though many useful applications have been found, suggestibility only appears to be a trait of personality, because our experiments are designed and carried out in a standardized group setting such as a classroom. But if a suggestion is believable enough, or if you modify the setting in which it is measured, as in the hypothetical example just mentioned, individual differences in responsiveness change dramatically or even disappear.

Many practicing hypnotists will assure you that in clinical settings, these measured differences are less than reliable. Once their doubts and fears have been eliminated by an appropriate pre-hypnotic talk, some people respond to hypnosis poorly, most people respond to some extent, and a few others respond extremely well. A number of techniques have been developed to "hypnotize the un-hypnotizable" by convincing the low-responders that they too have been hypnotized.When this is done, they not only respond better on suggestibility tests then those who have not accepted this idea, but they also respond better in therapy (Lynn & Kirsch, 2006).

You're hypnotized if you think you are!! I use hypnotic inductions every day in order to facilitate the acceptance of subsequent suggestions, which are then accepted more easily because they have become more credible.I
f the enabling suggestion d oes not come from accepting the belief that you have been hypnotized, it can come from the fact that the suggestions of a performer such as Kreskin have been made sufficiently credible through his reputation as a successful entertainer, thereby enabling him to specifically repudiate the use of hypnosis,, as illustrated in the video below:



But why do we need inductions, or the assurances of a charismatic entertainer, before we can make the fullest use of our imaginative abilities? The answer is easy. Evolution dfd not come to a screeching halt with the first furless biped who could definitively be labeled homo sapiens was born. We have been developing our imagination in new and exciting ways ever since. But the imaginatively gifted among us usually need an "enabler" to allow us to use these emerging imaginative abilities with confidence, because they re so different from the ways in which we customarily think. Kreskin is an "enabler," just as a hypnotic induction is an "enabler." it's as simple as that. 
Since I don't have the kind of stage presence that would enable me to do without them, and since i need to use suggestion for more than falling into or jumping out of chairs, as Kreskin does, I use hypnotic inductions in my psychology practice almost every day and use the term as casually as anyone else (Gibbbons & Lynn, 2008), even though there is as yet no reliable, generally-accepted evidence that hypnosis is a separate physiological state of the organism, in the way that sleep, fainting, coma, and shock are separate states. 
The "snark" of hypnosis may indeed be a "boojum" of the active imagination, as the history of hypnosis will also dramatically show.. But far from "vanishing away," mental health professionals who employ hypnosis have an ever-growing number of clients and are continually finding new applications for it. Once our clients have accepted the suggestion that their consciousness is functioning differently, as long as they call it hypnosis, we can provide them with a wide array of additional suggestions to enhance the ongoimg narrative of their daily lives (de Rivera & Sarbin, 1998).

References
de Rivera, J., & Sarbin, T. R. (eds.) (1998). Believed-in imaginings: The narrative construction of reality (memory, trauma, dissociation, and hypnosis). Washington, DC: American Psychological association.

Gibbons, D., & DeJarnette, J. (1972). Hypnotic susceptibility and religious experience. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 11, 152‑166.

Gibbons, D. E., & Lynn, S. J. (2008). Hypnotic inductions: A primer. In Ruhe, J. W., Lynn, S. J., & Kirsch, I. (Eds.) Handbook of clinical hypnosis, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Assn.

Hull, C. (1933). Hypnosis and Suggestibility. New York: Appleton-Century.


Shor, R, E., & Orne, E. C. (1962). Harvard group scale of hypnotic susceptibility, Form A.  Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Lynn, S. J., & Kirsch, I. (2006).Essentials of clinical hypnosis: An evidence-based approach.Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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