Hypnotism has been defined as "a sleeplike state that nevertheless permits a wide range of behavioral responses to stimulation. The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist. Even memory and awareness
of self may be altered by suggestion and the effects of that suggestion may be extended [hypnotically] into subsequent waking activity" ,
Josh McDowell in
Understanding the Occult.
Today, hypnosis is something that is accepted in the medical world as a valuable aid to treatments especially in psychiatry and psychotherapy. This has been a topic of serious discussions and debate in medical, governmental as well as Christian circles
as it was perceived to have roots in occultism. But today its connection with occultic practices is ruled out by the therapists and has been accepted ‘as the function of nerve system and a legitimate therapeutic tool’ . Despite these
affirmations, there remains an aura of mystery around the use of hypnotism in medicine as it involves unknown areas of consciousness.
Hypnosis comes from the Greek word hypnos (sleep). According to Greek mythology, Hypnos was the god of sleep . Hypnosis therefore refers to a sleep-like state. Likewise, to hypnotize is to induce an altered state of consciousness characterized
by deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility . The term was originally coined by James Braid in 1842 to describe a phenomenon previously known as mesmerism. Hypnosis, hypnotic state, hypnotic trance and hypnotism are often used interchangeably
to refer to the phenomenon of hypnotism .
Hypnosis is nothing new. It has been used for thousands of years by witchdoctors and shaman spirit mediums alike. But the development of hypnosis as a field of study in the context of medicine and psychology dates from the claims of Fredrich Anton Mesmer (1733 - 1815), a Austrian doctor who performed many therapeutic healings induced by magnets. He is considered to be the Father of Hypnotism. According to him,
“Disease was the result of imbalance in the patient’s animal magnetism” . Later the theories of Mesmer were discredited by French Investigating Commission. His healings were attributed to the power of suggestion. In
spite of the serious flaws in the claims of Mesmer, his theories and practices opened doors to further examination of the nature and effect of hypnotism. By the turn of the 20th century, there was slight stagnancy in the growth of hypnotism. But after
the world wars, this field was revived and integrated inextricably into the field of medicine. In 1956, the American Medical Association pronounced that Hypnosis was
‘a valuable therapeutic adjunct’ . Then other professional associations also gave similar recognition to the validity of hypnosis.
Environment for hypnotism
In the process of hypnosis, the place that is used plays a major role. David G. Berner lists the following things as necessity for having the desired environment for hypnosis :
- The restriction of sensory input through the removal of distracting stimuli (A Quiet relaxing situation)
- The narrowing of attention to an external object (May be a spot, a cross etc)
- Talking in a quiet monotonous repetition (Which leads to deep hypnotic state)
- Suggestion of internal images for increased sense of attention
Myths about hypnotism
Fear of Induction: The process of induction or getting into a hypnotic state requires the consent of the subject in most cases. It is very clear that most of the time hypnotic treatments are done with voluntary acceptance . But
‘you can never be hypnotized against your will’ is only a half truth. Though the personal cooperation of the individual is necessary, it is possible to hypnotize a person without his/her knowledge. It can be induced through the stimuli
of the external objects and non-verbal behavior of the hypnotist. But state of trance can’t be maintained without the actual awareness of the person involved .
Fear of Control By Hypnotist: There is always a fear what one would do under the power of hypnosis. This fear is mostly caused by Medias and Fictions. Yet this is given ample attention. The nature of hypnosis is that those in trance
may readily accept and respond to suggestions given uncritically. If improperly and unprofessionally employed, it is potentially dangerous. This point resulted in the moves of legislation in regard to the use of hypnosis. But extensive studies in
the field say if the given suggestion contradicts the ethics of the person, he tends to avoid or get awake from the hypnotic state .
Fear of Getting stuck: There has been a fear expressed that one may get stuck in hypnotic state and not able to come back to alert stage. But till now no such cases are documented. The truth is one is capable of alerting in any moment.
Failure will result either in spontaneous arousal or a conversion into natural sleep from which the person will get up later as usual .
Uses of hypnotism
An Aid in Treatment: The most celebrated use of hypnosis is that it remains as a treatment tool. When hypnosis is used for treatment of psychiatric disorders, it is called hypnotherapy and is quite useful in conditions like conversion
Disorders, Dissociative Disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety Disorders and Eating Disorders. It is extensively used in child psychiatry, Anxiety Syndromes and Trauma Related Disorders. It is also used to discuss trauma memories
and diffuse its impact. Hypnosis is also useful in rehabilitation after accidents and stroke, as well as with psychogenic symptoms. In diabetes, cancer, heart disease, renal failure, orthopedics, the use of hypnotic interventions has been associated
with better symptom management. Hypnosis is also being used to control gynecological pains. There are case reports of delivering babies under hypnosis. Physicians hypnotize :
- To induce analgesia (Decreased perception of pain) and anesthesia (absence of pain other sensation)
- To allay apprehension and anxiety
- To repress or suggest away symptoms
- As an adjunctive technique in the treatment of psychiatric deceases.
An Aid in Performance Improvement : Some people, mostly athletes look to hypnotism to improve physical, academic, professional or artistic performance. But evidences shows that if motivation is increased in other ways, the same person
can exceed in performance .
An investigation Tool : As a tool of Investigation, hypnosis has serious limitation. Hypnotized objects may confess the crimes they actually committed and the crimes they fantasy having committed. So the usage of hypnosis cannot
be conclusive as an investigation tool .
In Research : Hypnosis has proper uses in psychological and medical (including psychiatric) research .
Evaluation from a Christian perspective
The Secular Point of View towards Hypnotism can be summarized with this statement:
“The value of hypnosis is that it provides a means of achieving a special state in which a person can go beyond the controls of usual rational thinking to affect both mental and physical process” . Often it is referred as
a potential resource of great benefit. Some Christians also have positive attitude toward the usage of hypnosis in the field medicine. Some well-known professing Christians (e.g., the late Walter Martin of CRI, and Josh McDowell & John Stewart in
their book Understanding the Occult) allege that hypnosis can be helpful if practiced by medical doctors whose intent is good rather than evil.^[
citation\ needed]^ Benner summarizing the Liberal Christian View says “
Today hypnosis is understood as the function of nerve system. And scripture confirms that we are vulnerable to suggestion (Ex: Gen3, Eve was deceived by the suggestion of the evil one which caused the fall). God created us with the capacity to experience shift in the consciousness. The informed use of hypnosis can help the Christians expose and shed false and damaging beliefs in order to become more open and receptive to the true and redemptive word of God. When properly used as any other force of nature, hypnosis can be of great benefit and can help us become more like Christ”
On the other hand, some Conservative Christians oppose the use of Hypnotism in any form bluntly as occultic and demonic. Some of the responses of conservatives are found below:
\1. Putting oneself in a hypnotic state is yielding oneself to a vulnerable position. Four ways to get in touch with the spiritual realm quickly is by hypnosis, drugs, meditation, and visualization (hallucinations). Anytime we interfere and change the
normal brain pattern we bring ourselves into an altered state of consciousness, and if radical enough in touch with the spiritual realm. The fact is no one knows exactly how hypnosis actually “works,” and though they may have intentions
of using it for good, it is still an unexplored area that affects the mind.
\2. Just because hypnotists use scientific terminology does not mean their abilities are mental or from natural phenomena. Most hypnotists do not believe in the occult and are neither open to considering this phenomena being from a spiritual (demonic)
source. As one surrenders himself to a doorway into the occult under the disguise of “science” or “medicine”, he opens himself to the powers outside himself, and to probable deception.
\3. We are warned by God not to practice sorcery, divination, or enchantment. We are not to follow after mediums, wizards, enchanters, charmers, and those who have a familiar spirit (Deut. 18:9-14). Hypnosis, as it is practiced today, may be related to
what is identified in the Old Testament as “enchantment” (Lev. 19:26). Christian Hypnosis Counseling services sounds good on the surface by promising to help you lose weight, quit smoking, release your stress, etc. Yet we can't Christianize
what God has forbidden.
Today the Seventh Day Adventist church, excepting some individuals in various churches, is the only Christian denomination that does not have any support of hypnosis. In recent years, the Seventh-Day Adventists have lessened their resistance by using
relaxation and suggestion therapy. Christian Science also does not support hypnosis. The Catholic church does not have a problem with hypnotherapy and the Pope has issued statements that it's okay.^[
Occult experts Wilson & Weldon write in their book,
Occult Shock, the reasons for distrusting, the use of hypnosis involve :
\1. Its possible similarity to the forbidden Biblical practice of charming.
\2. Its historic origin to the occult in both the East (yoga) and West (Spiritist Movement).
\3. The fact that a wide variety of occult powers can be developed from hypnosis.
\4. Often past lives “popup” during standard hypnotic regression, even when there is no expectation or searching for them.
\5. Cases of possession that have resulted.
\6. The will must be surrendered to another person
\7. A similarity to mediumistic trance states
A conservative response towards hypnotism can be summarized as follows:
“As far as being a Christian and becoming involved in this practice, it is to be avoided at all costs; your spiritual welfare may be at stake. This is just like 'charming' forbidden in Deut.18:10-12. If you traffic in the occult you may soon pay the consequences of overstepping the boundary God has clearly made. It has the potential to open an individual to spiritual experiences and spirit oppression” .
Whether you are a rigid conservative or outright liberal doesn’t matter as we deal with the questions pertinent to hypnotism. It obviously carries some element of mystery as none is actually sure of ‘how it works’ and there may be
many obvious hidden dangers lurking in the darkness to victimize the innocent participants as people defenselessly expose themselves to the world beyond their control. None knows when the line will be crossed and led into the danger zone. Extra care
must be exercised with the use of hypnosis. If there is any compelling necessity to undergo a hypnotic treatment also, it would be better to figure out other options and solutions instead of taking a chance with our highly vulnerable spiritual well-being.
\1. Josh McDowell & Don Stewart. Understanding the Occult (California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1989) P.128.
\2. Peter C. Hill (Ed), Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling (Michigan: Baker Books, 1991), P.597.
\3. Michael D. Harkavy (Ch. Ed.,), New Webster’s International Encyclopedia (Florida: Trident Press International, 1991), P. 523.
\4. E. Hilgard and J. Hilgard, Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (Michigan: Baker Books, 1984), P. 86.
\5. Hysenck H.J. Encyclopedia of Psychology Vol II (London: Search press Ltd, 1972), P. 87.
\6. George A. Mather and Carry A. Nicholas, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), P. 184.
\7. David G. Benner, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), P. 543
\8. Peter C. Hill (Ed), Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, P.544f.
\9. Ibid., P.545
\10. Encyclopedia of Britannica Vol 11 (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1995), P.995
\11. George A. Mather and Carry A. Nicholas, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, P.185
\12. Ibid., P. 186
\13. Rosen Harold, The Encyclopedia of Americana Vol.14 (Danbury: Americana Corporation, 1980), P. 681ff.
\14. Ibid., P.69.
\15. Ibid., P. 69 - 70
\16. Ibid., P. 70f.
\17. George A. Mather , Dictionary of cults, Sects, Religions and the occult, P. 88
\18. David G. Benner, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, P.597.
\19. Wilson & Weldon, Occult Shock, P.121.
\20. Ibid., P.121ff
- Benner, David G. Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology. Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985.
- George A. Mather and Carry A. Nicholas.
Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.
- Harold, Rosen. The Encyclopedia of Americana Vol.14. Danbury: Americana Corporation, 1980.
- Hilgard E. and J. Hilgard. Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain. Michigan: Baker Books, 1984.
- Hill, Peter C (Ed).
Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling. Michigan: Baker Books, 1991.
- Hysenck, H.J. Encyclopedia of Psychology Vol II. London: Search press Ltd, 1972.
- McDowell, Josh & Don Stewart. Understanding the Occult. California: Here’s Life Publishers, 1989.
- Michael, D. Harkavy (Ch. Ed.,),
New Webster’s International Encyclopedia. Florida: Trident Press International, 1991.
- Wilson, Clifford, and John Weldon,
Occult Shock and Psychic Forces (San Diego: Master Books, 1980)
- Encyclopedia of Britannica Vol. 11. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1995.