Hypnosis refers to a state or condition in which the subject 
becomes highly responsive to suggestions. The hypnotized 
individual seems to follow instructions in an uncritical, 
automatic fashion and attends closely only to those aspects of the 
environment made relevant by the hypnotist. If the subject is 
profoundly responsive, he or she hears, sees, feels, smells, and 
tastes in accordance with the suggestions given, even though these 
may be in direct contradiction to the actual stimuli that impinge 
upon the subject. Furthermore, memory and awareness of self can be 
altered by suggestions. All of these effects may be extended 
posthypnotically into the individual's subsequent waking activity. 
It is as if suggestions given during hypnosis come to define the 
individual's perception of the real world. In this sense the 
phenomenon has been described as a "believed-in fantasy." 


What typically occurs when a responsive individual is 
hypnotized can be described as follows. The subject is asked to 
relax and focus his or her attention, usually on some object. It 
is suggested, in a quiet but compelling tone, that relaxation will 
increase and that the eyes will become tired. Soon the eyes show 
exaggerated signs of fatigue, and it is suggested that they will 
close. The subject's eyes do shut, and he or she begins to show 
signs of profound relaxation, with quiet, regular breathing, 
superficially resembling sleep. It may now be suggested that the 
subject's eyes are so heavy that he or she does not care to open 
them and that he or she could not do so even if that were 
attempted. When invited to try, the subject finds, often to his 
or her surprise, that the eyes will not open. Through analogous 
suggestions, the subject's experience may be altered in virtually 
every sensory modality. The memory for ongoing events may be 
interrupted, but the apparent reliving of events that transpired 
in the individual's past may be facilitated; that is, age 
regression can be induced by suggesting that the subject is 
growing younger and younger. Gradually, the subject will begin to 
respond in the manner of a child and may describe events, people, 
rooms, and feelings as if he or she were currently reliving an 
episode in his or her past life. The subject's descriptions and 
total behavior may take on characteristics seemingly appropriate 
to the age to which the subject has regressed. 

Response to posthypnotic suggestion may be demonstrated by 
telling the hypnotized subject to forget what has occurred and, 
further, that after the individual is awake, he or she will carry 
out a specific action at a particular time or in response to a 
prearranged signal. When awakened and asked what has happened, the 
subject will be unable to describe the events that have just 
transpired. The bulk of these memories can, however, easily be 
recovered by suggesting that the subject will remember all that 
has occurred. 

While the responsive subject will carry out the posthypnotic 
response suggested during hypnosis at a prearranged signal without 
being aware of the reasons for such actions, he or she will do so 
only as long as they are not truly unacceptable. Stage hypnotists 
capitalize on the fact that posthypnotic suggestions may include 
apparently embarrassing actions. However, the actions of 
volunteers for stage hypnosis are less bizarre or embarrassing 
than those elicited without hypnosis from volunteers for 
television game-show programs. 

The Hypnotic State

The hypnotic state is a response of normal individuals, but 
there are wide individual differences in the ability to respond. 
The capacity to be hypnotized resides in the individual rather 
than in the hypnotist's technique and is one of the many basic 
psychological characteristics of normal individuals. This capacity 
does not seem directly related to a particular personality type, 
although it is closely related to the ease with which an 
individual can become totally absorbed in fantasy while, for the 
moment, ignoring the real world. However, despite the relative 
ease with which hypnosis may be induced in an individual who has 
the skill of responding, it is not possible to hypnotize a person 
against his or her wishes. 

Although the hypnotized individual may at times appear 
superficially asleep and his or her responses may initially appear 
slow and trancelike, resembling those of the spontaneous 
sleepwalker, the individual is physiologically awake at all times. 
In contrast to the true sleepwalkers, the subject's brain waves 
are those of a waking individual. Similarly, although the 
hypnotized subject may be instructed to ignore surrounding events 
and will apparently be unaware of their existence, such material 
does register and can be shown to exert an effect on the subject. 

Even deeply hypnotized, an individual will not only refuse to 
act against strongly held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, 
but can, if he or she chooses to do so, resist responding to any 
specific suggestion. For example, despite suggestions to tell the 
truth, it is possible for him to purposively lie with little more 
effort than in his normal waking state. Further, although age 
regression is useful in psychotherapeutic treatment, the memories 
called forth may validly reflect the individual's feelings about 
past events; the events that are relived, however, may or may not 
be historically accurate. Although compelling, both to the subject 
and to the observer, these memories often are in fact a 
combination of many events, not only from the same epoch but also 
confounded by later experiences, a matter of concern if historical 
accuracy is important, as in legal matters. 


Hypnosis is not an independent science or art; rather, it is a 
technique useful in the context of medical, psychological, or 
dental treatment. It is used to control acute and chronic pain as 
in childbirth, skin transplants, dental procedures, and the 
treatment of burns. There are many other medical applications 
including the treatment of some skin disorders, allergies, and 
intractable insomnia. In legal use, most states in the United 
States permit the introduction of hypnotically induced evidence. 
The problem of induced false memories has become a matter of 
increasing controversy in recent years, however, and courts in 
several jurisdictions now bar such testimony or impose procedural 
safeguards on its use. 

In psychiatric or psychological therapy, hypnosis may be used 
to facilitate recall of traumatic events that have been pushed out 
of mind and to help the patient deal with neurotic symptoms. 
Hypnosis, particularly as it is used in treatment, is a 
cooperative enterprise that depends upon the patient's ability to 
respond, and it is important for him or her to understand this 
fact. From this perspective it has been used with varying degrees 
of success in such disorders of self-control as obesity and 
addictions. It is particularly useful in the treatment of phobias 
and functional disorders of memory. Hypnosis and relaxation 
exercises have been integrated into many behavioral as well as 
psychodynamic treatment approaches. The use of hypnosis to suggest 
away symptoms has a more limited application than is generally 

The technique of inducing hypnosis is easily learned, but even 
extensive experience in induction does not provide the necessary 
knowledge to use hypnosis appropriately in treatment. Health 
professionals employ hypnosis in their area of competence and are 
equipped to use this method as well as a variety of other 
treatments so that they can choose the one most appropriate for a 
particular patient. Generally, codes of ethics prevent health 
professionals from advertising themselves as hypnotists. 
Therefore, those who do advertise are unlikely to have the 
necessary training to appropriately treat medical or psychological 
problems. Broad diagnostic and therapeutic skills are 
indispensable in avoiding inappropriate and potentially dangerous 
uses of hypnosis in treatment. 

Bibliography: Connery, Donald S., The Inner Source (1982); 
Crasilneck, Harold B., and Hall, James, Clinical Hypnosis (1975); 
Ellenberger, Henri E., The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970); 
Frankel, Fred, Hypnosis: Trance as a Coping Mechanism (1976); 
Fromm, Erika, and Shor, Ronald, eds., Hypnosis: Research 
Developments and Perspectives, rev. ed. (1978); Gill, Merton M., 
and Brenman, Margaret, Hypnosis and Related States (1959); 
Hilgard, Ernest R., Hypnotic Susceptibility (1965) and Hypnosis in 
the Relief of Pain (1975); Kroger, William S., Clinical and 
Experimental Hypnosis in Medicine, Dentistry, and Psychology, 2d 
ed. (1977); Moss, Claude S., The Hypnotic Investigation of 
Dreams (1967); Tinterow, Maurice M., Foundations of Hypnosis, From 
Mesmer to Freud (1970); Waxman, D., et al., eds., Modern Trends 
in Hypnosis (1984); Wolberg, L. R., Hypnosis (1982).