Welcome to a new week! After a rainy, but marvellously relaxing weekend spent eating and drinking too much at the Cricket test match and then gardening and being with my wife, I have to get on with my marathon training and up to speed with my work and the stark contrast we experience in life illustrates the theme of today’s blog entry as we look at the difference between hypnosis and relaxation.
Many people in the field of professional hypnosis and hypnotherapy get worried, concerned, and sometimes even frustrated by the seeming similarity between hypnosis and relaxation. I say ‘frustrated’ because some people assert that hypnosis and relaxation are totally different and how dare anyone suggest they are similar.
There are however a very large number of studies out there, (in particular for the 1981 and 1991 work of Edmonston; Hypnosis and relaxation: Modern verification of an old equation and Theories of Hypnosis pp.127-240 edited by S.J. Lynn and J.W. Rhue) that state that relaxed clients in the therapeutic environment are just as responsive to suggestions as clients who are hypnotised and given suggestions. Like I said, there are many studies that bear out this notion and can be found online at Google scholar or in many good academic books on the subject.
With this in mind, it is understandable then why many professional therapists are worried that they many have been hypnotising their clients without the client or therapist knowing about it, and of course, the flip side whereby some hypnotherapists have hypnotised their client and neither are sure if it was actually hypnosis that the client experienced, or if they were just deeply relaxed.
In therapy terms, of course hypnosis and relaxation can sometimes be similar, but they are most certainly not the same. Relaxation can be used to induce hypnosis as well as deepen hypnosis, but people can have hypnosis induced and deepened in ways that lead them to remain alert, focused and absorbed and not be relaxed at all… Here is a picture of someone being very alert anyway…
In fact, on pages 564-598 of the afore mentioned book Theories of hypnosis: Current models and perspectives, Banyai writes about and builds upon his earlier work (A comparison of active-alert hypnotic induction with traditional relaxation induction, 1976) with Ernest Hilgard, whereby he showed that by having a client exercise vigorously for a period of time prior to a hypnosis session, the client could still be hypnotised, but would not be at all relaxed. In fact, they would be alert and focused and have a heart rate and pulse that was very active and alive! A client undergoing relaxation training in any form of psychotherapy would not gain the benefits of the relaxation in the same way, making the two quite different.
As often seems to be the case, many people wrongly suppose that hypnosis is simply relaxing and many people perpetuate the myth and it comes to be thought of as having relaxation inherent within it. This is not the case. What’s more, many hypnotherapists seem to be equipped with little more than relaxation oriented inductions and deepeners and stick to those in a way that makes them central to their therapeutic work.
So part of effective hypnotherapy is educating the client about what hypnosis is and is not and creating the right kind of expectations. Though as I have written about before, often the simple use of the word ‘hypnosis’ means that the client responds and reacts in ways that they would not do ordinarily. Likewise, the simple fact that something is considered to hypnosis means that the hypnosis professional can also behave in ways that would not seem usual in other forms of therapy – I mean, the way hypnotists often speak and the way they repeat words sometimes and even the use of hypnotic language patterns may all seem out of place if they were not framed as hypnosis.
To answer today’s blog title then; no, hypnosis and relaxation are not the same and there is much evidence to support that. However, while we aim to educate our clients on the true nature of hypnosis, we can also ride on some of the frames that hypnosis provides us with to enhance therapeutic results for our clients.
I’m not sure, Eason. I’ve read Edmonston, and his thesis that hypnotic relaxation (which he calls anesis, an attempt to distinguish it from Don Gibbons’s alert hypnosis, or hyperempiria) is essentially identical, certainly in physiological metrics, with ‘just relaxing’, is pretty compelling. His original work is now more than thirty years old, but that doesn’t mean out of date, as you know.
It’s all beginning to sound like this: Relax, using verbal (or any other, such as somatic) suggestions, then introduce suggestions for whatever effect you want to produce.
Edmonston’s stuff is particularly valuable, though, in reintroducing notions entertained even by Braid, viz. that it might be useful to view ‘hypnotic work’ as two separable exercises, with different intentions: (1) as a strategy for creating ‘neutral hypnosis’ – deep,physiological relaxation, with no other object; (2) as an exercise in creating a state of mind (absorption, disocciation, etc.) that facilitates suggestions for habit-change, skill-enhancement, and so on.
Continuing research will throw light on the fantastically thorny subject of hypnosis, of course, but I admire your scholarship and your open-mindedness about the whole thing.