• Jane Stewart

Tell me what's true!

Debunking some hypnosis myths - what's true and what isn't

The office chair rolled relentlessly backwards towards the edge of the roof terrace. Strapped to the chair, the man felt panic welling up as he listened to the woman nearby describe a beautiful seaside scene to the cop who pulled the chair. Cue dramatic music.

“He wants to go swimming, look at the inviting water” she droned, as the cop continued dragging, oblivious to both the gun in her hand and to the fact that it was just a very big drop into darkness beyond the edge of the roof, “Go on, take him to the edge of the water and let go of him, he really wants to swim!” ….

…and so it went on, tension rising (da da daaaah), the inky blackness a backdrop to other characters pleading for the cop to stop, to see sense, to snap out of the trance placed on him by the evil villainess, so that she could frame a cop for the murder she wanted to commit. Ugh.

I’d come across an old episode of ‘The Mentalist’ and here was yet another silly Hollywood depiction of hypnosis as mind control, the victim/subject helpless under the power of a sinister mastermind.

It reminded me of the movie, ‘Hypnotic,’ another creepy and daft portrayal of hypnosis, its release on Netflix timed to coincide with Hallowe’en last year.

Dear me, hypnosis does get a bad rap on the screen. Maybe that's because the reality of hypnosis is a lot more laid back and well....normal.

Some of the things I’m asked

I'm often asked questions about hypnosis - people want to know what's true and what isn't. Some people think there's a mystical element to it when in fact it's a totally natural experience and part of our everyday lives. The main problem is that it's often occurring in ways that aren't helpful to us. I'm asked things like:

“Is it mind control?”

“Will I give away my deepest secrets?”

“Can you make me do things I don't want to do?”

“Does it even work?"

“It’s expensive, isn’t it?”

“How can it possibly work online?”

“But surely it won’t work for groups?”

There are so many myths about hypnosis, so I wanted to address some of them. The first thing I need to say is that hypnosis isn't mind control or brainwashing. It's a totally natural experience and part of our everyday lives. Whenever we really focus on something, when we become engrossed in something, like a book or a hobby, that’s a hypnotic-like experience.

The main problem is that it's often happening in ways that aren't helpful to us, like when we repeatedly cycle round unhelpful thoughts, or feel triggered into unwanted behaviours even though a part of us knows it’s not what we want to do.

But there are other times when it can be really useful - for example if you're trying to change negative thought patterns or behaviours, or even tap into inner resources to solve problems. Learning how to harness this experience is almost an essential skill, and one you can make use of to achieve goals.

Is it a mystical experience?

Some people think there's a mystical element to it. Hypnosis has been around a very long time and every major civilization has utilised the benefits (the Egyptians even had sleep temples where people could access hypnosis) and because the scientific reasons for the benefits have not been clear until recently, it has remained shrouded in mystery.

Recently though, in studies of hypnotised subjects’ brains, MRI scans show that clearly defined areas of the brain have altered activity and connectivity during hypnosis. Dr David Spiegel MD, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioural science at Stanford University is quoted as saying, “Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.”

Who can be hypnotised?

The simple answer is anyone can be hypnotised. Some take longer to settle into it but unless your mind is impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a severe learning difficulty then it’s possible for you to do. If you have a good imagination, then it becomes even easier to access.

Hypnosis is often a natural state of deep relaxation, (though it also occurs in a state of heightened senses – think of the ‘red mist’ associated with anger!) and as such it's only normal. We go into a trance-like state when we sleep or when we daydream or meditate or when we feel so involved in an activity that we forget everything else around us. Some people say they've been 'hypnotised' by a certain TV show, film, book, or song. It's said to be hypnosis because it's drawing them into the content of the film and narrowing their focus, claiming all their attention, and making them forget their surroundings for a while.

It also happens at times without our knowledge - often when we're driving home from work and suddenly recall that we were on autopilot the whole way home - this is called highway hypnosis because it typically happens on long stretches of roads with no distractions - but it can equally happen anywhere.

However, most people will only ever experience these states without being aware they're happening, and never know what deliberate hypnosis feels like. That doesn't mean they don't often enjoy the benefits of going into a relaxed state though!

How do I access hypnosis to see for myself?

For those who want to actively explore what it feels like to be hypnotised, they can come to a hypnotherapist like me to experience a session of hypnosis, either on a 1:1 basis or in a group. Nearly everyone finds themselves naturally relaxing within minutes of starting the session. Once introductions have been made and they are reassured that it feels different for everyone – there is no right or wrong way to experience hypnosis – then it’s simply a chance to join in as I guide them through the process. For some, it takes a little longer to let go, but simply having the reassurance of a comfortable, safe environment lets the mind open up to the experience. Each time you do it gets easier, too. Practice makes perfect!

So, what is true and what’s a myth?

It's mind control!

No, it most definitely is not. Hypnosis can't make you do something you don't want to do; you'll always have control over your thoughts and actions and unconsciously you will simply reject any suggestion that goes against your ideals or core values.

Hypnosis has been used for many years by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other medical professionals as an effective therapeutic tool for all sorts of physical and psychological problems. It's also used by stage hypnotists for entertainment purposes (and just for clarification, volunteers at a stage hypnosis show have already tacitly agreed to cluck like a chicken before they set foot on stage: they WANT to do silly/funny things and not have the responsibility of it afterwards).

You’ll make me tell you my secrets!

You won't give away any secrets during hypnosis – again, there is no mind control! You are no more likely to tell a hypnotherapist anything you want to keep secret than you are to anyone else you meet. Your secrets are safe.

Hypnosis is expensive!

Or is it? What is the cost to staying the way you are now and how much value do you put on the idea of being free of your problem? Anyhow, there are always options - you might attend groups or join a hypnosis membership club (see below).

Some other myths exploded:

Can you be hypnotised online?

Yes, of course! Online sessions work just as well, if not better, than in person. I run mine on Zoom. You get to avoid the hassle of travel and of having to adjust to being in someone else’s space.

Another thing to consider is that nowadays, most of a hypnotherapist’s ongoing training after qualification is done online, because it allows us to access learning from experts all over the globe and we always do practical work during these training sessions – lots of fun and it brings even more value to our clients.

Can you be hypnotised in a group setting?

I LOVE group hypnosis and regular group sessions online are fantastic because they have an energy that’s difficult to describe. As the group members get to know each other, one person’s success seems to spread to others and there’s also a sense of support as a spirit of goodwill is shared throughout the group. Obviously, it isn’t possible to go into the same depth of detail with each person as in a 1:1 session but in my opinion, the benefits outweigh this time and time again.


It's time for hypnosis to come out from under the murky cloud of the screenwriter’s imagination and into the sunlight, though I'm the first to admit that watching people having a nice time making positive changes isn't going to sell many movies!!

More and more scientific evidence points to the validity and value of hypnosis, it’s easy to learn and there’s access to it on any budget. If you choose to go down the route of group sessions or a hypnosis club, whether for a specific goal or a more general reason, then it’s also a great way to meet like-minded people, make friends and form a community where you can all cheer each other on, no matter where you live. An hour or so of time out that's cheaper than many a bottle of wine and it won’t make a dent in your units for the week!

Jane Stewart is a qualified hypnotherapist, registered with the GHR and CNHC in the UK

T: 07801 357461



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