Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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The New Center for Counseling and Psychotherapy, LLC, is located at 675 Route 72 E, Manahawkin, NJ 08050,
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Sunday, April 28, 2019

How Does Hypnosis REALLY Work?

A Suggestion is an Induction.
                                                                              -- Ernest. R. Hilgard

Everybody seems to be looking for the fastest and most powerful hypnotic induction, but hypnosis doesn't work that way!

Let's perform a thought experiment. Imagine that I am giving the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Suggestibility (Shor & Orne,1962), which is the most widely known scientific measure of   individual horhypnotic responsiveness, to a class of introductory psychology students in a politically sensitive part of the world, when someone dressed in a police uniform bursts into the room, shouting that there is an active shooter on campus and orders everybody to take immediate cover under their desks and await further instructions. Everyone, including the instructor, promptly cowers under their desks in a high state of emotion for an indeterminate time, until it gradually becomes clear that this was a hoax, i.e., a cleverly designed suggestion on the part of a dissident student group in order to disrupt the smooth operation of the school. 

What happened to the individual differences in suggestibility that the test was supposed to measure, and what happened to the individual differences in hypnotic depth that had been achieved? They disappeared! In other words, under the right conditions everybody is totally suggestible, and in practically no time at all.

How, then, does hypnosis really work? Here is Steve Lynn's excellent summary of our induction chapter in the American Psychological Association's Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis:

. . .how clients respond to suggestions depends less on the nature and success of a particular induction than on the following variables: (a) clients' prehypnotic attitudes, beliefs, intentions, and expectations about hypnosis; (b) their ability to think, fantasize, and absorb themselves in suggestions; (c) their ability to form a trusting relationship with the hypnotist; (d) their ability to interpret suggestions appropriately and view their responses as successful; (e) their ability to discern task demands and cues; (f) their ongoing interaction with the hypnotist; and (g) the appropriateness of the therapeutic methods and suggestions to treating the presenting problem. . . . Accordingly, clinicians should devise inductions and suggestions with these variables in mind and tailor their approach to the unique personal characteristics and agenda of each client they encounter" (Gibbons & Lynn, 2010, p. 289).


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.

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

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