Following a wee while of being away from the office and in the training room, I am back with a vengeance on the blog today…. In recent times, and as I have spent more time working within the field of hypnosis, I get asked about self-hypnosis as it forms such an integral part of my own work.
As I continue to finish writing my new book on the subject of clinical self-hypnosis, I thought I’d attempt to shine some light on the subject of self-hypnosis here as it tends to be a bit misunderstood and incorrectly presented.
Following on from the first real definition of hypnosis that they put together, an executive committee of the American Psychological Association altered the APA definition of hypnosis to include the much used clinical technique of self-hypnosis, which they describe as “the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one’s own.” (Green et al. 2005).
Many people refute this and stand firm with the notion that any hypnosis must involve two people; a hypnotist and a subject. Therefore, they offer little credence or acceptance of the existence of the phenomenon of self-hypnosis. As far as they see it, with self-hypnosis there is no hypnotist present, so there cannot be actual hypnosis when using self-hypnosis. My own subjective perspective (i.e. Non evidence based) is that the subject becomes the hypnotist.
At one level, we can say that this firm stance and refutation makes no sense, because as many academics, hypnotherapists, researchers and hypnosis professionals believe; the idea that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. They believe and suggest that although a hypnotist can conduct a hypnotic induction and give suggestions for a variety of experiences, it is actually the subject who has to engage in the process; without that engagement and participation by the subject, without their imagination, absorption, thought and feeling, no hypnosis occurs.
All that said, comparisons of self-hypnosis with more widely known ‘hetero-hypnosis’ show that they absolutely do have an important relationship that we self-hypnosis proponents cannot ignore and a number of studies have gone in to exploring that relationship which I’ll be referring to here. (Shor and Easton, 1973; Orne and McConkey, 1981; L.S Johnson et al 1983).
Many refute self-hypnosis on the grounds of it not being identical to hetero hypnosis when it comes to responsiveness to suggestions. It is very likely to prove challenging to give yourself a suggestion for amnesia when you are the one reminding yourself what it is that you are forgetting. Likewise, it is likely to be more challenging to hallucinate something there in front of you in real-life terms using self-hypnosis when you are the one suggesting you hallucinate it (hallucination infers it is not really there and you know that when suggesting to yourself) rather than an external source helping you to believe it is the case. These are not impossible with self-hypnosis, but more challenging.
These are certainly not grounds for dismissing self-hypnosis and there is a great deal of cross-over between the two despite them being different in so many other ways.
Is All Hypnosis Self-Hypnosis?
There are still numerous hypnosis professionals, hypnotists and hypnotherapists out there who seem a bit ego-maniacal and believe that they wield hypnosis upon their clients and subjects. They believe hypnosis is something that their hypnotic subjects must surrender to. These professionals do not tend to like the argument that evidence and studies available to us today (beyond subjective reports given by said disputing hypnosis professionals) is that the hypnotist actually does not have as much impact about what goes on in hypnosis, because virtually all the action is in the mind of the subject. That is, as I wrote earlier, it is actually the subject who has to engage in the process; without that engagement and participation by the subject, without their imagination, absorption, thought and feeling, no hypnosis occurs.
Several people in the field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy, continue to offer up the notion that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. They believe that the power is with the client. The person who is guided into hypnosis.
In fact, in 2006, the National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) even stated in print that the hypnotist will “induct a client into a self-hypnotic state.” Several other hypnosis associations have followed in a similar vein.
In a 1985 book by Lynn and Garske entitled Contemporary Psychotherapies, in a chapter titled hypnosuggestive procedures as catalysts for psychotherapies, Theodor Barber stated that the vast majority of hypnotic procedures can be accurately defined as self-hypnosis. Additionally, work by Orne and McConkey in 1981 (Toward convergent inquiry into self-hypnosis, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis) and Sanders in 1991 (Clinical Self-Hypnosis: The Power of Words and Images) state the same.
Parts therapy and regression proponent Roy Hunter and his mentor Charles Tebbetts stated the same – that hypnosis is self-hypnosis. In fact, in Roy Hunters book The Art Of Hypnotherapy, he states that Tebbetts, whilst still alive, began every hypnosis session with the statement “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.”
The founder of the American Board of Hypnotherapy held that same opinion as stated in The Wizard Within by Krasner in 1990 (published by ABH Press).
In 1995, in Essentials of Hypnosis, Michael Yapko suggested that whatever power the hypnotherapist has, is acquired from the client and of course, can be terminated by the client.
As far back as 1965, in Hypnosis Induction Technics, Tietelbaum stated that if a hypnotist attempts to be too powerful, then the client may lose rapport and reject the suggestions delivered in a session. Further suggestion that a sense of self-efficacy with hypnosis aids it.
Really, it is the guys in the 19th century, born out of Mesmerism and the dark ages, that created the notions of hypnosis ‘being done to’ another individual. Imagine if that were the case? How comfortable would you be about hypnotists being set loose on the world? Surely they’d take over, wouldn’t they? Well, the less scrupulous ones at any rate.
Ultimately, many believe the person being hypnotised is responsible for generating the suggestion inside their own mind, the relevant imagery to go with it, and combine with it all their own experience and behaviours in response.
(I think I have made that point enough times now and will move on to other points.)
Data available regarding the use of self-hypnosis in the therapeutic and clinical setting suggests that of the psychologists and medical practitioners who use hypnosis within their work, the majority teach their patients and clients self-hypnosis (Sheehan & McConkey, 1979) and one study also shows that self-hypnosis is used in the majority of smoking cessation programmes (Holroyd, 1980).
Self- hypnosis experienced a widespread acceptance as an integral part of therapeutic intervention as far back as the 1970s (Sheehan & McConkey, 1979). The growing trend since then may well be related to the fact that the use of self-hypnosis gives individuals the chance of contributing to their own development within therapy and to enjoy a feeling of being more in control of themselves.
So if we are working with a client for overcoming or lowering chronic pain, for example, using self-hypnosis they get to discover that they can take control of a problem that may well have seemed out of control before – many individuals initially believe they are passive recipients of their ailments. This belief that they are capable of affecting change themselves, often leads to other impressive benefits within therapy too; an advanced self-image, belief in their own ability to cope, and an increase in positive expectation (deemed vital by many prominent hypnotherapists).
Many authors and trainers I have encountered believe that this does more than just advance the progress a client makes, but that it is actually beneficially therapeutic in its own right.
One of the benefits of the theory and approach to hypnosis that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, is that it does lend itself wonderfully well to the hypnotherapy client subsequently using hypnosis techniques at home and can be taught a number of techniques to add to those done in the hypnotherapy session and then built upon. This is made difficult if the person being hypnotised believes that they can only enter hypnosis if the hypnotist needs to be around to induce it.
This way of explaining hypnosis to hypnotherapy clients is also very useful because it helps to alleviate and overcome resistance and fear associated with the notion of being under the control of another person. It is certainly a myth and misconception that many of my clients turn up to my office believing to be true.
Practicing self-hypnosis, the client can enhance the collaborative nature of successful therapy. They become an active (i.e. non-passive) component of the therapeutic process. The hypnotherapist can be a facilitator rather than a dictator too. Of course, there are as many theories on this as there are hypnotists and hypnotherapists. I think for therapists in particular, it important to at least consider the notion that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis because it empowers the hypnotherapy client, allays fears, puts them in control, creates a collaborative approach and seems to many to be more client-centred.
I am not suggesting that this is the only consideration, let me explain…
On one hand, we see that the role of the hypnotist is actually relatively minor, as compared with an individual’s hypnotic aptitude, all hypnosis can be conceived of as self-hypnosis (e.g. Agreed upon by Coue, 1922, Barber 1985, and many others). On the other hand, the majority of self-hypnosis is actually taught in the context of a two-way relationship with the hypnotist or therapist in the therapy room, and so it can also rightly be claimed that self- hypnosis is actually a variant of hetero-hypnosis (e.g., Weitzenhoffer, 1957) or reaccessing of previous hetero-hypnosis experiences.
There are a number of other really good arguments, theoretical inferences and notions of contrasting nature that arise from exploring the field of self-hypnosis.
For example, some do not fully support the above notions, instead opting for a separation of self-hypnosis and hetero hypnosis – suggesting that they are both entirely separate entities to be treated as such and though they correlate, the existence of one is not dependent on the other. I have used this notion to diffuse many a heated forum debate in the past.
We definitely require more exploration and further studies to make any hard and fast claims to understanding self-hypnosis absolutely (will we ever really?).
Historical Context of Self-Hypnosis:
The English term “hypnotism” was introduced in 1841 by the Scottish physician and surgeon James Braid.
Braid (1846, 1855, cited in Robertson, 2008) was the first investigator to systematically explore the phenomenon of self-hypnosis. Braid (1846, cited in Robertson, 2008) used self-hypnosis to aid in his own health issues and was absolutely convinced that;
inasmuch as patients can throw themselves into the nervous sleep, and manifest all the usual phenomena of mesmerism, through their own unaided efforts … it is obvious that there is no need for an exotic influence to produce the phenomena of mesmerism
As I’ll discuss later, Coué later also demonstrated Braid’s stance and both supported that stance by conducting a number of demonstrations of individuals experiencing hypnosis and displaying hypnotic phenomena without any direct involvement or intervention of another person (see Braid, 1855, cited in Robertson, 2008).
Within Braid’s writings, he states that he started using “self-hypnotism” a couple of years after discovering hypnotism. He initially taught it it to his clients, then began using it himself.
My first experiments on this point [i.e., self-hypnosis] were instituted in the presence of some friends on the 1st May, 1843, and following days. I believe they were the first experiments of the kind which had ever been tried, and they have succeeded in every case in which I have so operated.
In a later work, Observations on Trance or Human Hybernation (1850), Braid provides what is seen by most as the earliest account of self-hypnosis use. He gave an account of how he used self-hypnosis to deal with the pain of a rheumatism attack. He followed all the protocols and instructions he gave his hypnosis patients and experienced much success.
He went on to be free of his rheumatism for six years. I continue to find it really difficult to refute the existence of self-hypnosis when the very man who coined the term, essentially creating the field that we (hypnosis professionals) work in used it and wrote about it.
The next major historical proponent of self-hypnosis that I wish to mention here is Émile Coué. Coué is seen by many as one of the most influential figures in the development of self-hypnosis.
Coué’s system became a globally recognised self-help methodology at the beginning of the 20th century. His method of “conscious autosuggestion” was massive half a century before millions of people started doing TM, for example.
As I mentioned earlier, Coué developed so-called ‘hypnotic phenomena’ by simply teaching his clients and students to engage the imagination and affirm with a depth of meaning and real volition.
As well as using his system to get individuals engaged in phenomena such as the hand clasp, hand stick and being stuck in chair, Coué documented the pen-drop technique (used famously today by James Tripp attributed to David Calof) back in 1922 ( in Autosuggestion and 1923 in My Method). Using self-suggestion and imagination within self-hypnosis sessions, people achieved hypnotic phenomena. (Please note, there is no phenomena exclusive to the field of hypnosis that cannot be achieved with suggestion alone, but I refer to the kind of hypnotic phenomena that is used by many hypnosis professionals to indicate hypnosis and be used as convincers)
Coué would tell people to repeat self-suggestions such as the famous “day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” He advised and taught that people state this (and similar) autosuggestions;
… with confidence, with faith, with the certainty of obtaining what you want. The greater the conviction, the greater and the more rapid will be the results obtained.
Additionally, his sytem taught individuals that if discomfort or problems were to arise during the day or night, you would simply find a quiet space, close your eyes, suggest to yourself and mouth the words “it is going, it is going” for as long as was required, with meaning and belief but not using any unnecessary effort. Coué taught that if you practiced this repeatedly, issues would pass in a matter of seconds – which I suppose could be seen by many as a hypnotic suggestion in and of itself.
In the early 1900s, Coué stopped using classic hypnosis methodology, instead focusing on his own system of autosuggestion. The reasons he gave for this were that he found a number of clients/patients people did not “sleep” when instructed to do so and also he wanted to demonstrate what he considered to be two important misconceptions about traditional hypnotism of the day:
1. The client is normally conscious and not asleep, unconscious, or in a “trance”.
2. The client is not under the hypnotist’s control or power but responds primarily because he voluntarily accepts suggestions in the form of autosuggestion.
Two of the basic theoretical principles of Coué’s system are as follows,
1. All suggestion is autosuggestion.
2.Internal conflict occurs between the will and imagination, but the imagination is always stronger. (Coué, 1923: 19)
These notions are prervalent in how self-hypnosis is taught clinically and have also been adopted by many of the hetero-hypnosis fraternity as central to their work. Additionally, Coué offered up a number of famous laws of autosuggestion, in particular the law of concentrated attention and the law of reversed effect.
The law of concentrated attention really stated that any ideas that receive our ongoing attention and focus become enhanced and magnified. That is, they effect us more when we keep thinking those ideas. This paved the way for many authors in following years, but also gave a great illustration of how our day-to-day thoughts can be considered autosuggestion as a result of their effects upon on our well-being. Latterly self-hypnosis is often used to combat any such negative effects and is often combined in the modern day with thought disputation and restructuring methods.
The law of reversed effort refers to the fact that the harder you try to do something, the more difficult it becomes to succeed. It is doomed to failure. With the use of imagination, being relaxed and believing in the self-suggestions ensures that accepting the suggestion is far easier. Coué taught individuals to always bear in mind the idea that, where will and imagination conflict, imagination always wins!
For example when a self-hypnotist wishes to create analgesia in their hand for example, like a localised anaesthesia; rather than suggesting to themselves “my hand is going numb” and them trying to accept that idea consciously, it may well be better to suggest and imagine as vividly as possible putting the hand into a bucket of iced, freezing cold water.
Even as I wrote that I could tell the difference.
The key was (and still is today with effective teaching) that too much conscious effort presupposes that there is some kind of resistance needed to be overcome.
Still today, within my own teaching of self-hypnosis and the work of other respected therapists and hypnosis professionals, the effort error, as influenced by Emile Coué is considered a major barrier for successful self-hypnosis. Too much physical or mental effort (as well as anxiety of failure) are considered the biggest contributor to self-hypnosis failing or becoming more challenging.
Throughout this article, I make reference to a number of important contributions to the field of self-hypnosis and a number of pieces of evidence. The body of work produced by Erika Fromm and Stephen Kahn in the 1980s in particular is something I want to refer to later on. Really though, the only other isolated contribution to the history of self-hypnosis I want to refer to is the contribution of Andrew Salter.
Many believe that Salters 1941 academic journal article on self-hypnosis, Three techniques of autohypnosis was the first of it’s kind.
Salter’s story is an impressive one as he persisted to get his paper published despite running up against some opposition. The previously mentioned Three techniques of autohypnosis article basically described the processes of self-hypnosis.
Thankfully, Professor Clark Leonard Hull, of Yale’s Psychology Department at the time chose to publish to journal article in the Journal of General Psychology, of which he was an editor. Hull is the author of an important work entitled Hypnosis & Suggestibility, (of which I have a tattered old copy) and has been considered by many to be the world’s greatest authority in the field of hypnosis, so it is encouraging (to me) that he supported the publication of this journal article on self-hypnosis.
Salter’s technique was applied to over 200 subjects while it was being developed over a period of a couple of years. Within the afore mentioned paper, Salter offered up his methods of teaching self-hypnosis to individuals by,
1. Autohypnosis by post-hypnotic suggestion.
2. Autohypnosis by memorised trance instructions. (Scripted suggestions.)
3. Fractional autohypnosis. (Part learning.)
It is believed that Salter’s behavioural approach went on to influence the Carleton Skills Training Programme developed by Nicholas Spanos, in the 1980s as well as influencing other similar skills models designed at enhancing responsiveness to hypnosis.
One of the four parts of the Carleton Skills Training Programme was designed to enhance hypnotisability primarily and was to practice the hypnotic strategies regularly. The inherent thought is that self-hypnosis is possible and practicing helps enhance hypnotisability and responsiveness.
Other studies have also indicated, in a similar vein to the Carleton Skills Training Programme, as well as actual responsiveness and skill developing from practicing self-hypnosis, an individual’s confidence in their ability to use self-hypnosis is increased with practice (Fromm et al., 1981).
Research Into Self-Hypnosis:
Over the years, there has been a lot of empirical exploration and study of hetero-hypnosis, however, the same kind of exploration has not been paralleled in the field of self-hypnosis, although there have been some key studies that I will refer to shortly.
Firstly, I’ll say this… I have bias.
The very title of this article here on my blog suggests my bias “In Support Of Self-Hypnosis” – I am presenting information with some consideration of opposing sides of debate and argument, but my goal is to show self-hypnosis in a progressive light and most of my writing on the subject offers my personal idea of what self-hypnosis is and how it should be done.
This is commonplace. Most researchers and authors tend to approach the subject matter of self-hypnosis in terms of their personal understanding and theory of what self-hypnosis is and how it is best done and this is often reflected in their research. The approaches of modern authors on the topic tends to reveal a wide range of definitions that have been applied during the exploration of self-hypnosis.
Here, with relation to the wide range of approaches to self-hypnosis, I want to state that no one approach can be considered to be the correct method and none of the major authors tend to suggest as much or push that it is so. There is some contrast in the research approaches, for example, such as the amount of time or level of instruction that an individual receives when asked to practice self-hypnosis.
Due to the nature of the studies, much of the research conducted by Fromm et al. (1981) used subjects who had rated high on the standard scales of hetero- hypnosis and many believe that this kind of previous experience set the way they then went on to use self-hypnosis within the research. It is often stated within literature that having learned self-hypnosis after having had a clinical hetero-hypnosis experience is highly likely to influence the way an individual relates to and uses self-hypnosis (Gardner, 1981; Sacerdote, 1981).
In contrast to this, some researchers have only worked with people who have had no previous clinical experience of hypnosis, and some have given their subjects minimal instructions on what to do to engage in and use self-hypnosis (see Ruch, 1975). In other studies, subjects have been asked to read and follow a full induction procedure to themselves (see Shor & Easton, 1973) which some have said is nearly the same as listening to an audio recording.
There have been key studies that have looked at comparing self-hypnosis and hetero hypnosis. There have been indications from such studies that in both self-hypnosis and hetero-hypnosis, individuals experience a high level of absorption as well as a lessening in their connection to reality (Fromm et al., 1981).
There are ways in which they appear to be different too though. Individuals seem to experience more vivid imagery when using self-hypnosis (Fromm et al., 1981) though individuals state that they are more cognitively active and self- controlling when in self-hypnosis (Johnson, 1981). So although the overall behavioural responses and experiences of subjects using self- hypnosis and hetero-hypnosis are indeed correlated, some individuals do respond in different ways to self- hypnosis than they do to hetero-hypnosis (Fromm et al., 1981; Johnson, 1979, 1981).
The Benefits of Self-Hypnosis
I have seen and heard self-hypnosis described in a wide variety of ways. Overall though, it seems to be described by most who use it and teach it as something which results in beneficial outcomes for the self-hypnotist. Some are going to read that as a non-evidence based piece of bias I realise, but I think it is the truth.
Although not all strictly empirically evidence based, let me attempt to illustrate my reasons…
There are studies that suggest that when an individual receives instruction from a therapist, self-hypnosis is an effective way to successfully treat anxiety (Benson, Frankel, Apfel, Daniels, Schniewind, Nemiah, Sifneos, Crassweller, Greenwood, Kotch, Arm, & Rosner, 1978).
Anbar (2003) describes a means of successfully teaching a client self-hypnosis to help overcome anxiety and deal with her asthma.
Many authors suggest self-hypnosis used within smoking cessation treatments, dealing with weight reduction and other kinds of presenting issues as a means of enhancing efficacy of the overall therapeutic treatment.
Many books have been written on the subject, some poor, some excellent, but those authors and many of the readers go on to successfully employ self-hypnosis methods and techniques. For those wishing to explore further, read Self-Hypnosis The Chicago Paradigm by Fromm and Kahn, Teaching Self-Hypnosis by David Soskis and Clinical Self-Hypnosis by Shirley Sanders.
An entire special edition of the International Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis was dedicated to the subject in 1981 and I hope another such edition is published in the future. I recommend anyone with an interest in self-hypnosis be sure to read that 1981 edition.
In 2008, a man named Alex Lenkei used self-hypnosis and refused anaesthesia, to have a walnut sized lump of bone and gristle removed from his hand – his account included him hearing cracking and crunching of bones.
In 1986 Victor Rausch – Canadian dental surgeon, used self-hypnosis to have his gall bladder removed. He charted it and made notes at the same time. He did not feel a thing.
Then there is my own friend and former student, Gareth Lee Morgan who had his teeth removed using only self-hypnosis.
Hundreds of women each year use self-hypnosis skills giving birth within and outside of specific hypnobirthing protocols.
This is the tip of the iceberg with regards to what I have seen and experienced.
Self-hypnosis. It exists and it’s here to stay. Flick through the pages of this blog to find myriad of ways to use it…
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Benson, H, et al. (1978) Treatment of anxiety: A comparison of the usefulness of self- hypnosis and a meditational relaxation technique – an overview. Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic, 30: 229-242.
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