|"Help! m a student in Dr. Gibbons' Psychology class!"|
"No," I replied with a smile, "That's for stage hypnotists." But I did once. And this experience has taught me more about the true nature of hypnosis than I have learned from any other single source!
Several years previously, when I was discussing the topic of hypnosis in an Introductory psychology class, I asked a student who had previously shown herself to be adept at hypnosis if she would be willing to help me illustrate how easy it was to turn a hypnotized person into a chicken. She readily agreed (perhaps because I was pointedly looking in her direction when I asked the question!).
"You will always be able to hear and respond to my voice," I continued, "and I will return you to your normal state in a few minutes, before I bring you out of hypnosis. But until I do, you will experience the world exactly as if you had been turned into a chicken. You will remember everything I have said, and it will be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Okay?"
She nodded in agreement, and I counted slowly backwards from ten to one, providing suggestions along the way that she could feel herself changing into a chicken; and at the count of one, I announced that she had become a chicken. "Would you like to open your eyes and walk around a bit?" I asked. She did so, walking slowly as I took hold of her elbow. "Why are you walking like that?" I asked.
"I'm a chicken," she answered in a high, cackly voice, much to the amusement of the class.
I guided her back to her desk, counted from one to ten to restore her usual perceptions, and then concluded the hypnotic demonstration. I then asked her if she had really felt like she was a chicken, and she thoughtfully nodded in agreement.
We could talk about a "hidden observer" that always knows what's going on and maintains control, no how matter deeply a person is hypnotized, as Hilgard (1974) did. We could talk about "trance logic," which is similar to the logic which is found in dreams, as Martin Orne (1959) did. But why should we infer the presence of extra mental processes such as these when they are not needed?
What she had actually believed and responded to was the narrative of what had taken place (Sarbin & de Rivera, 1998). She knew that she was a student in my class, and she knew that she had consented for me to hypnotize her. She was what Hilgard often referred to as a "hypnotic virtuoso." She still had the kind of "Alice-in-Wonderland" imagination which we all have as children, but most of us lose access to as we become adults. Therefore, she was able to act, think, and feel as if she were a chicken for the purpose of my demonstration when she volunteered to do so.
The demonstration was undertaken in the spirit of fun, and everyone understood that. But the transformational effects of believed-in imaginings can be powerful indeed if they are meaningful enough to alter the ongoing narrative of a person's life story., as illustrated by the changed lives of many Fundamentalists who report an experience of having been "saved" (Gibbons & deJarnette, 1972).
Richard Nongard was right when he said that the future of hypnosis was so bright that he needed shades. And I would like to respectfully suggest that perhaps he could aso use some sunscreen!
Gibbons, D. E., & Woods, K. T. (2016). Virtual reality hypnosis: Explorations in the Multiverse. Amazon Books
Orne, M. T, (1959), The nature of hypnosis: Artifact and essence. Journal of abnormal and social psychology, psychnet.apa.org.
Sarbin, T. R., & De Rivera, J. (1998), Believed-in imaginings: The Narrative Construction of Reality (Memory, Trauma, Dissociation, and Hypnosis) . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.