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Name: Ngan Yu Kuen
Subject: English 118
Instructor: Lynn Fendler
Date: April 29, 1999
Final Paper Final Draft
Treatment by hypnosis: Is it a reliable tool?
“Now, close your eyes and relax…Relax”.
“You are now becoming very sleepy, very sleepy…”
As these suggestions go on, the candidate will gradually enter into a trance state. In this state, people are easy to accept and follow suggestions told by the hypnotists. “Now, lift up your arm.” The candidate will then raise his arm immediately.

Doesn’t it sound like magic? Actually, it is not magic; it is a kind of hypnosis. Hypnosis is still regarded as a mystery and is often underestimated by many people because there are not enough scientific evidence to support it. Some people, especially children, have the impression that hypnosis is only used to control the activities of other people, which is always shown in the television programs. However, people began to investigate the use of hypnosis long before. According to Harary (1992), about 30 years ago, psychologist Ernest Hilgard has set up a Laboratory of Hypnosis Research at Stanford University. After that, many other psychologists also started to do research on hypnosis. Nowadays, hypnosis is carried out in many medical and surgical areas, including helping people to quit bad habits, relieve pain and recover repressed memories. Hypnosis works very successfully in many medical areas like pain relieving, smoke quitting, wart curing, cancer curing, phobia alleviating, stress releasing, but not in memory recovering, since false memory are always induced during the process.

What exactly is hypnosis? According to Barber (1997), it is stated that: Hypnosis is a condition in which a person’s imagination creates vivid reality from suggestions offered either by someone else, by suggestions initiated by the person himself or herself. In this circumstance, the person is unusually able to alter perception, memory and physiological processes not ordinarily susceptible to conscious control (p. 305).

When a person is undergoing hypnosis, he or she is brought into a trance state. In this state, the brain does not go to sleep. Instead, specific brain areas become activated. It is stated that this can help increasing a person’s receptivity to suggestion and his power of imagination, memory and perception (Winsor, 1993). Thus, during trance state, people will become easier to alter sensation. Due to these psychological changes, hypnosis becomes useful in many medical areas.

First, hypnosis is used to help people to quit smoking. According to Harary (1992), this is done by “allowing direct access to the unconscious, thereby overcoming any conscious resistance to alleviating addiction” (p. 56). For example, an addicted smoker may be told to associate the smell of cigarettes with that of garbage to discourage them from smoking. Hypnotists may also use suggestions to make the smokers feel unpleasant when they smoke or make them feel irritate when they light up a cigarette. Thus, making smokers to have a strong sense of distaste of having cigarettes.

Second, hypnosis is performed to help people to lose weight. This is done by influencing the client’s mind and encouraging them to take vegetables. The client will then have a desire to eat vegetable rather than other kinds of food. In this way, hypnosis can help them to lose weight.

Third, hypnosis is used to assist people in alleviating phobias. Hypnosis can help people to overcome phobias such as fear of flying and other psychological syndromes. According to Winsor (1993), it is stated that hypnosis can help those people “to learn something about the shift in functioning that is involved in causing and in controlling his own psychopathological manifestations” (p. 603). This can be achieved by using suggestions. For example, the client maybe told to imagine that he is sitting on a bus while he is on the plane, thus helping him to overcome his fear of height.

Besides, hypnosis is accomplished to help people to cure some kind of diseases. According to Harary(1992), hypnosis is successful in the treatment of wart. For those people who have undergo hypnosis, they are simply told that their warts will disappear, and amazingly, their warts really disappeared gradually, without taking in any medicine. Besides, it is stated by Larkin (1999) that “hypnosis facilitates a sense of control and self-efficacy in patients with cancer” (p. 386). It is suggested that hypnosis is a valuable tool in a cancer cure center.

Moreover, hypnosis can also aid people to release stress. According to Winsor (1993), it is done by “getting clients to focus on their breathing or on calming thoughts or imagery” (p. 603). A case example of this is about a 28-year-old teacher Joan, who seeks help because of anxiety. She was brought to undergo hypnosis. In the trance state, she was told to imagine that she is in a dark forest with many wild animals, but was told that those animals will not harm her. Then, she was suggested that the animals share their secret with her. This provides her a sense of security. After several hypnosis experiments, Joan was able to relieve anxiety.

Most importantly, hypnosis is used in surgical areas to assist people to relieve pain. Hypnosis is sometimes used to replace anesthesia to help people in relieving pain, especially in burn centers which large morphine doses may not be enough in relieving pain. According to Callahan (1997), a 28-year-old factory worker had burned his leg by slipping into 1750Degree Celcius molten aluminium. He is then hypnotized and is told to feel “cool and comfortable,” and the man indeed feels that his leg is not hurting. Besides, after surgical treatment, his burned skin recovered in a good pace and it does not cause any infection. Another example is about Ontario, a young dentist from Waterloo, who undergoes hypnosis to aid him to reduce pain when his gallbladder is being removed. He is brought into a trance state before performing an operation. During the operation, he maintains steady blood pressure and pulse rate. He insisted that he did not feel any pain. After the operation, he can even stood up and took the elevator to his room by himself. Moreover, according to Callahan (1997), there is a man named Robert Jackson, who had difficulty in swallowing because his esophagus was badly hurt. Then, he learned to self-hypnotize himself and as a result, his pain was greatly reduced and he could be able to eat food properly.

All these examples provide evidence that hypnosis is useful in medical areas. It is proved that when a person is during hypnosis, specific brain areas become activated. It is shown by mapping brain waves and measuring cerebral blood flow that, when a person is in a trance state, the brain’s frontal region will become activated, thus helps to restrict sensory information, that is why the patients stop feeling painful when he is undergoing hypnosis (Callahan, 1997). It is also shown that during hypnosis, there is a surge of theta waves, this explain why patients accept suggestions so easily when they are undergoing hypnosis (Callahan, 1997). Therefore, trance state contributes a lot in various medical areas.

Besides medical research, hypnosis is also used by therapists to help people recover lost memories. The first experiment of using hypnosis to recall lost memories is done in 1932 by Stalnaker and Riddle. They discovered that memory can be improved by hypnosis. However, after further investigation, it is found that memory recovered by hypnosis are not always accurate.

Memories recalled by using hypnosis might be distorted. According to Barber (1997), Dywan and Bowers found that hypnosis is not reliable in recalling memory. It is pointed out that memory is often distorted by hypnotic experience. Besides, Laurence and Perry also proved that hypnosis can produce totally false memory. According to Barber (1997), “false memories are constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others. During the process, individuals may forget the source of the information” (p.305). It is stated by Bernet (1998), that hypnosis “may create false memories by increasing the demand to remember events, encouraging memory integration and construction, and decreasing careful reality monitoring” (p. 329). Besides, false memories may be created by the client’s imagination and thought which makes them believe to be memories but are not.

There is much evidence showing that imagination or past experiences can lead to the development of false memories. When a person is undergoing hypnosis, he cannot be able to distinguish between reality and imagination (Winsor, 1993). As a result, he believes what he imagines to be true, thus creating false memories. According to Bernet (1997), there are many patients who have not experienced child abuse but claims that they have been abused in the past. It is simply because their memories are being influenced by painful childhood experiences. Besides, Garry et al. demonstrated that imagining an event can lead a person to believe that the event actually occurred (Barber, 1997). Besides, there are also many cases showing that clients report false memories. M. Orne, Whitehouse, Dinges, and E. Orne reported a number of cases that shows people who undergo hypnosis testify that they see an event which they could not have seen (Barber, 1997). Moreover, Farrants (1998) also mentioned some examples of unlikely memories recovered from therapy. For example, they mentioned that there is a woman who recalls that she has given birth to a baby when she is eight years old. Another example is about a person who recalls memory of his life in the womb, which is almost impossible. Statistics also show that hypnosis can develop false memories. A study is done at Ohio State University’s Lima campus to prove this. There, participates are divided into two groups. Before undergoing hypnosis, one group was told that hypnosis may develop false memories, while the other group was not told. Results show that for the group that is being warned before, 28% of the participants who undergo hypnosis develop false memories of recent events. On the other hand, 44% of students that are not warned develop false memories after undergoing hypnosis (“Despite warnings”, 1998).

Besides, failure of hypnotists to correlate with the patients may also lead the patients to induce false memories. According to Pendergrast (1995), it is stated that hypnotists can influence the patients to develop false memories. The tone, the word, or the gesture used by the hypnotists can have a great impact on the patients. Psychological terms like “inadvertent cuing” may occur which influence the answer given by the patients. Moreover, the misleading suggestions questioned by the therapists may also implant false memories. There is a study showing that false memories can implanted into a person even without hypnosis. Five people were told a fictitious story that they have been lost in a shopping mall while they are children. Then, they were later asked about the events and they all treated this fictitious story as a real one (Kandel & Kandel, 1994) With hypnosis, false memories are surely easier to implant.

Furthermore, the trust of the patients of the hypnotists may also led to the development of false memories. The client tends to believe what she said during the treatment to be true. According to Winsor (1993), it is mentioned a patient Murray-Jobsis, who said that: “I feel like I’ve put strong defensive barriers between myself and the rest of the world. I’m afraid to lower these barriers and be seen. To be seen is to be rejected. During hypnosis I don’t have a sense of lowering the barriers. Rather I feel as if I’m still behind them and am simply allowing you behind them also. This way I feel safer and can talk about things more easily.” (p. 603) This shows that clients have a high level of trust towards the hypnotists and the process of hypnosis. Besides, there is a woman who undergoes therapy and told that she is abused by a man, while the man is later found to be out of town at that time. Then, she said that she must be abused by another man (Farrants, 1998). This example shows that the client alters her comments in order to fit into what she was told before.

Hypnosis – a mystery in many people’s mind, is proved to be very useful in many medical areas, including pain relieving, smoke quitting, wart curing, cancer curing, phobia alleviating and stress releasing. With hypnosis, patients don’t have to relay on some harsh methods to relieve pain or to quit bad habits. It is extremely useful in surgical procedures to relieve pain. It can be used to replace anesthesia – which may have side effects on patients. Hypnosis is useful in these areas because the trance state provides a good psychological effect on the body to aid the change of sensation. Besides, it is an inexpensive method and it does not create any side effect. However, hypnosis is not a good method in helping people to recover lost memory since false memories are always created during the process of hypnosis, either by the influences of imagination, past experiences or by the hypnotists. Therefore, hypnosis is reliable in medical research but not in memory recovery.


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