Most people seem to think so; in a recent unpublished survey, psychologist Joseph Green of Ohio State University at Lima and his colleagues found that 77 percent of college students agreed that hypnosis is a distinctly altered state of consciousness. This issue is of more than academic importance. If hypnosis differs in kind rather than in degree from ordinary consciousness, it could imply that hypnotized people can take actions that are impossible to perform in the waking state.
And of course James was interested in the implications of hypnosis for our understanding of consciousness. For James, based on his introspections, the idea of unconscious thought was almost an oxymoron. Still, he was persuaded by Janet's observations, and his own, that in hypnosis things could be (unconsciously) felt but not (consciously) perceived, and that mental activity could be divided into multiple streams, only one of which was accessible to phenomenal awareness at any given time.
"While hypnosis does not enhance the reliability of memory, there is some evidence that hypnosis leads to increased confidence in memories," said Green.
The author attributes the finding to what he called the myths surrounding hypnosis. In one of his previous studies, Green found that nearly nine out of 10 people in four countries thought hypnosis could help people recover lost memories.
"It's widely believed that hypnosis somehow acts as a truth serum, that it unlocks memory and permits people to perform mental operations that they otherwise couldn't do," said Green.
The key to understanding the ability of hypnosis to improve memory is found in how our memory works in the first place. Memory is actually a complicated system that remains not fully understood. There are the very short term memories (like recalling a phone number) which last a few seconds. The long term memory works in a two stage process.
A number of objections may be voiced against hypnosis as an aid to psychoanalysis. The first objection has to do with the matter of hypnotizability. Hypnoanalysis requires a deep and preferably somnambulistic trance. Not all patients can achieve somnambulism. This was the chief reason why Freud, many years ago, abandoned hypnosis as an avenue to the unconscious.
The most common question I hear is 'can everyone get hypnotized?' Some people think that it is a sign of weakness to be hypnotized, not true at all. You cannot be hypnotized against your will, nobody can take over your mind and make you a robot. However, everyone can enjoy entering a trance if they want to do it.
Under hypnosis, you're more open than usual to suggestions, and this can be used to modify your perceptions, behavior, sensations and emotions. Therapeutic hypnosis is used to improve your health and well-being and is different from so-called stage hypnosis used by entertainers. Although you're more open to suggestion during therapeutic hypnosis, your free will remains intact and you don't lose control over your behavior.
The only relief comes from learning coping techniques which are less about problem-solving and more about letting-go. Of the letting-go approaches, hypnosis ranks at the top.
The positive reputation of hypnosis for infertility is spreading. Many patients are seeking out this service from a licensed, hypnotically trained mental health professional or are learning self-hypnosis.
Transformation of the brain through some mysterious process defines only the hypnosis of pseudoscientists. Hypnosis should be considered a time intensive program requiring considerable effort. The only people who claim hypnosis is easy, simple, and quick are those trying to sell people on their program. The dearth of findings for men and studies with subjects matched on relevant characteristics limits the generalizability of the positive findings.
"If you watch hypnosis on TV, the subject always ends up clucking like a chicken, being naked or assassinating a president," says Eric Willmarth, PhD, founder of Michigan Behavioral Consultants and past president of APA Div. 30 (Society of Psychological Hypnosis).
Even though stage hypnotists and TV shows have damaged the public image of hypnosis, a growing body of scientific research supports its benefits in treating a wide range of conditions, including pain, depression, anxiety and phobias.