What do the movies Get Out, Carrie and Donnie Darko have in common? For one, they all fall under the genre of horror/suspense. Additionally, all three feature iconic (and chilling) hypnosis scenes.
Perhaps because of movies like these, I previously bought into the idea that hypnosis was an eerie and almost supernatural practice. Yet my beliefs were shaken at the most recent Holistic Professional’s Group workshop, where we discussed the uses of hypnosis in healing, therapeutic practices. What was the truth about hypnosis? Was it scary, or soothing?
I set out to do a little research, armed with three primary questions. Why does the movie industry depict hypnosis as a dark, mysterious medium? What is hypnosis really? How might it be helpful therapeutically?
What is Hypnosis?
True, movies often make some outlandish assumptions, but they do touch on a key aspect of hypnosis. It is all about being in a heightened state of awareness, which explains why the hypnotized characters in film are more likely to notice small (in their case, scary) occurrences. Whether you are in a mindfully looking out the window on the train recalling your day, slowly chewing while eating a delicious dessert to really experience the taste, or tuning into your body’s sensations while doing yoga, you are frequently coming in and out of your own form of hypnosis.
How does Hypnosis relate to Therapy?
One of the many valuable adjuncts for psychotherapy is hypnosis. When properly utilized, hypnosis techniques may quiet exterior distractions, allowing for a unique level of focus on specific thoughts or questions asked of by the therapist. By achieving this level of engagement in a therapy session, the client and therapist may notice nuanced thoughts or behaviors, promoting movement within treatment.
A few behavioral symptoms commonly treated with hypnosis include:
A study involving spiritual-hypnosis, a culturally-sensitive therapeutic approach, demonstrates a symptom specific approach. Spiritual-hypnosis assisted therapy was conducted on children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Results found that the children who were given the spiritual-hypnosis assisted therapy demonstrated considerably lower PTSD symptoms than the group that did not receive treatment.
How is Hypnosis Helpful to the Practitioner?
As an adjunct to psychotherapy, hypnosis may aid a practitioner in unlocking the unconscious thoughts or feelings of their client. This valuable access to the human unconscious is used specifically to help patients pinpoint physical and/or emotional pain and to help relieve it.
Monica Marusceac, founder and director of Nova Hypnosis and Wellness, states that hypnosis is useful for gaining access and awareness to one’s intuition, or a deeper understanding of the right and wrong answers for their mind and spirit. This insight allows the practitioner to dig in and help the client make big shifts, particularly in terms of chronic pain.
“Specifically, people who are experiencing repressed emotions such as sadness, rage or anger, and guilt are more likely than others to experience chronic pain. By helping people release those negative emotions, as well as giving them the mental skills to shift focus away from what they do not want to experience (pain) and towards what they do want to experience (comfort), hypnosis trains the mind to ignore pain or to give it different meaning . This work cannot be done cognitively. It must be done using the imagination and the creative subconscious.”
Studies confirm that hypnosis also has the potential to significantly aid in the alleviation of physical pain. For instance, researchers found that by combining hypnotic suggestive therapy and relaxation techniques, clients reported significant improvement of cervical headaches.
Do Patients Have Control Over What they are Doing During Hypnosis?
Yes, they do. A common misunderstanding with hypnosis is that the patient loses control of their actions. Movies like Get Out, Carrie and Donnie Darko paint a grim picture of losing control while undergoing hypnosis. However, these are films that dramatize the hypnosis process to achieve a dramatic end. In reality, patients are fully in control during hypnosis treatment. Hypnosis simply helps patients access the root of their negative emotions quickly and mitigate or and eliminate them through a combination of therapeutic techniques that utilize the subconscious and conscious mind.
So why do movies depict hypnosis as spooky mysticism?
Well, for ratings of course. In reality, hypnosis is an effective tool that therapists can use to help clients tap into their subconscious. No magic, no evil agenda. Just good therapy.