Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Experience as an Art Form: Alternative Paradigm for Hypnosis?

(An earlier version of this posting was presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association,San Francisco, CA: August, 1999).

I would like to propose an alternative paradigm for hypnosis and related phenomena, moving from primary reliance upon a medical/counseling model to a concurrent view of suggestion as a tool for the creative artist, and experience itself as an artistic medium.

We have all the mastery we need right now to knock the socks off of Hollywood! We can not only guide our participants through an experience of being Harry Potter jousting on his broom, or Indiana Jones in pursuit of hidden treasure, or Juliet on her balcony, or anything else they would care to live out we can also tell them how it will feel, how it will be remembered, and how much they will enjoy (and want to repeat) this kind of event. And, just as a little child needs to be cautioned, as I was at that age, “It’s only a movie,” so that they don’t become too frightened or otherwise emotionally involved.

 Many writers and investigators have envisioned the types of innovation which those who choose to adopt such an alternative paradigm will almost immediately be able to provide. Aldous Huxley, in his book, Brave New World (1958, p. 23), predicted that motion picture technology would develop to a point where it would involve not only the sense of vision, but all of the other senses as well, in a totally absorbing entertainment medium which he referred to as the "Feelies." Followers of the Star Trek series are familiar with the use of "Holodeck" programs -- three-dimensional holographic images, with which the participants are able to interact as if the computer-generated images were actual people and events (Okuda, Okuda, & Mirek, 1994, p. 128).

But we don't have to wait for the development of virtual reality programs to reach this level of sophistication. Those who are familiar with the phenomena of hypnosis will immediately recognize that all of the aforementioned experiences can be undergone by sufficiently willing and able hypnotic subjects with relative ease -- in most cases, if the subject is experientially gifted, merely by suggesting that they are to take place. But the degree of involvement which is possible by means of hypnosis is much greater than it might be with the fictional Holodeck. The focus in hypnosis is upon the experiential dimensions of the whole person, "inside and out," rather than upon the external physical dimensions of the environment -- and therefore there is no possibility of such experiences getting out of control, as in the foregoing Holodeck fight scene.

Just as a painter works with brush upon canvas, and a sculptor works with chisel upon stone, psychologists who choose to adopt this new paradigm will be able to with suggestion as a new art form, and human experience as a new medium. As with any other art form, experiences based upon the new paradigm will have as their purpose the facilitation of personal growth, the ennoblement of the human spirit, and the enrichment of human existence.

Of course, since suggestibility is normally distributed in the general population (Hilgard, 1970; Hull, 1939), the number of people who may be able to benefit from the use of this alternative paradigm is necessarily limited, at least at present. But this should not deter us from making use of this approach for those who are able to respond to it. With an appropriately trained professional guide, individuals may learn to respond to suggested experiences under hypnosis with a considerably greater degree of personal involvement than is usually obtained when one is reading a novel, or watching a motion picture, or a play -- and with much greater protection against the possibility of deleterious consequences than is available to individuals who are exposed virtually at random to the excesses of contemporary media.

In order to provide an opportunity for spontaneous innovation to enhance the quality of the situation, hypnotically directed experiences should probably not be scripted in complete detail ahead of time -- particularly if the hypnotist/director is to remain present to guide and interpret the experience as it unfolds. Nevertheless, the theme, intention, and many of the major details of each directed experience should be thoroughly discussed with the participant beforehand, so that he or she has a clear understanding of what is about to take place. Such planning will help to insure the participant's wholehearted cooperation and to tailor the experience to the participant's own personal tastes and preferences, in order to maximize the pleasure and personal fulfillment which is to be derived from the experience itself (Gibbons, 2000, 2001).

It should not be difficult to find sources for application of the foregoing technique from contemporary media. For example, it should be relatively simple to utilize "Best Me" suggestions (Gibbons, 2001) to create a directed experience in which one is clinging to a piece of floating wreckage and watching the sinking Titanic, much more vividly than one is able to imagine merely by watching a motion picture -- experiencing the intensity of the scene almost as intensely if one were really there, while at the same time emotionally dissociating oneself from the full pain and horror of the situation, much as we have all learned to do through years of exposure to the mass media. The therapeutic potential of the experience, of course, is manifested in the heroine's subsequent promise to never give up no matter what life may bring in the future. Utilizing our therapeutic license as hypnotist/director, the experience can be modified so that this promise need not necessarily be made to a lover who is rapidly expiring of hypothermia, but perhaps to God, to the memory of a loved one, or to one's own best self.

See also: 

How to Start Your Own Hypnosis Cult

Here is a partial list of some of the applications of hyperempiria, or suggestion-enhanced experience. This Blog can show you how to:
The Blog contains many other examples of experience as an art form, for the enhancement of human potential, the ennoblement of the human spirit, and the fulfillment of human existence.


Gibbons, D. E. (2001). Experience as an art form. .New York, NY: Authors Choice Press.

Gibbons, D. E. (2000). Applied hypnosis and hyperempiria. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press (originally published 1979 by Plenum Press).

Gibbons, D. E., & Lynn, S. J. (2010). Hypnotic inductions: A primer. in S. J. Lynn, J. W. Rhue, & I. Kirsch (Eds.) Handbook of clinical hypnosis, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 267-291. 

References for This Article

Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford.

Gibbons, D. E. (2000). Applied hypnosis and hyperempiria. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press (originally published 1979 by Plenum Press).

Gibbons, D. E. (2001). Experience as an art form: Hypnosis, hyperempiria, and the Best Me technique. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press.

Hilgard, E. R. (1965). Hypnotic susceptibility. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Hull, C. L. (1933). Hypnosis and suggestibility: An experimental approach. New York: Appleton-Century.

Huxley, A. (1958). Brave New World. New York: Bantam.

Lazarus, A. A. (1989). The practice of multimodal therapy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Okuda, M., Okuda, D., & Mirek, D. (1994). The Star Trek encyclopedia: A reference guide to the future. New York: Pocket Books.