Show Notes - Episode 46
Hypnotherapy – Is It Real?
What Hypnosis is
To answer the question of what hypnosis is, I will refer to directly to the experts. Professionals from sources like the Mayo Clinic and Psychology Today all agree that it is a real thing. The question isn't whether or not it's real. The question is whether or not it's real in specific contexts and whether or not it is being used ethically.
Hypnosis is used in professional, clinical settings in specific ways to combat everything from post traumatic stress to chronic pain. It has been shown to be a legitimate and effective therapy in these and other areas, particularly in areas like weight loss, smoking cessation, and PTSD.
From Psychology Today:
“hypnosis is a state of highly focused attention or concentration, often associated with relaxation, and heightened suggestibility. While under hypnosis (i.e., in a hypnotic trance), it seems many people are much more open to helpful suggestions than they usually are.”
Hypnosis was used on me for both anger management and weight loss.
Time Magazine – Is Hypnosis Real? Here's What Science Says; 8/29/18
“In some ways, hypnosis can be compared to guided meditation or mindfulness; the idea is to set aside normal judgments and sensory reactions, and to enter a deeper state of concentration and receptiveness.”
They cite hypnosis as an effective supplemental treatment for CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy), as does the Mayo Clinic:
“While hypnosis can be effective in helping people cope with pain, stress and anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the first line treatment for these conditions. Hypnosis may also be used as part of a comprehensive program for quitting smoking or losing weight.”
What Hypnosis Isn't
Hypnosis is not something that happens on a stage. You cannot plant suggestions in someone's head that make them start dancing to “YMCA” when they hear the word “sandwich.” We've been to one such show (Stephen Christopher) and it was OBVIOUS that the people on the stage were just going along with it. And some had a hard time following directions. But just like when Benny Hinn waves his coat and two hundred people get “slain” in the spirit at once, no one on that stage wanted to be the one on whom it didn't “work.”
Hypnosis is not about theatrics and it isn't about making people do stupid shit for an audience. It's about teaching your brain to think in a more organized way, even in short bursts, so that certain thought processes can be more closely examined and new avenues of thought established. The goal of hypnosis is to provide the client with the necessary mental tools to work toward a specific goal or purpose. Hypnosis isn't designed to provide solutions. It's designed to set the wheels in motion so it's easier to make better decisions about things like what we really need to be angry about or if we we really need to steer into that drive-thru. When McDonald's was my drug of choice I flat out couldn't resist the urge for it. One hypnotherapy session later and I haven't eaten that stuff in almost 8 years.
My early days in therapy – guided meditations
Our weight loss experience
The “crazy lady”
Evangelicals deny or decry hypnosis on its face
Many Christians are against hypnosis for a variety of reasons, none of them sound
To them, it demonstrates a lack of self control. This coming from a religion that wants to make you an ecclesiastical meat puppet. But then anything that anyone does as a means of getting help that isn't Jesus-based demonstrates a lack of self-control. Christians know where their help comes from and they are painfully reminded of this whenever they stray out of the confines of christian doctrine in search of avenues of self-improvement. They cite Galatians 5:22 and 23 as one reason to shun any kind of secular therapy:
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
They also say that hypnosis defers the responsibility of God to work out our problems with us in favor of finding answers in other people. They cite Romans 6:12,13
They suggest that getting help from any tangible source is somehow sinful. “We can let sin control us, or we can let God control us.” Why does ANYONE or ANYTHING have to control us?
Getting unbound from things like PTSD, smoking, or weight loss are bad, BUT self-enslavement to a fictional deity? That's just ducky!
“16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves unto anyone as obedient slaves,3 you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
I love how basically this entire chapter encourages us to view ourselves as slaves. I was a slave to overeating. I was a slave to anger. I was a slave to things that were so self-destructive that if I decided to deal with any of it by way of prayer and supplication, or worse – christian counseling – I would still be 400 pounds (or possibly dead) and there is a very strong likelihood that I would be divorced and separated from my family permanently. I never once found any peace in those things. Why? Because God is imaginary and sound clinical therapies are real. If god is so much better at helping us through these things (as long as we remain slaves to him), why didn't I get any better without therapy?
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Since concepts like sin and the devil only exist inside our own heads (and are simply catch-all concepts that are used to dismiss any sense of emotional unrest and self-deprecation), this verse is yet another example of the concept of denying yourself. And when dealing with the things that cause unrest inside our heads, without the right help, resistance is futile. Like I said in our episode on Christian counseling, these people don't want you to be well. They want you to be submissive and they want you to be afraid of things that can help you. Mental focus is a primary adversary of all things Christian. The focus that is achieved through hypnosis is a direct threat to their ability to control the individual. THAT is the real problem here, not that hypnosis is sinful, but that it is, in legit clinical settings, effective.
“Hypnosis leads to an altered state of consciousness in which the mind is very susceptible to outside suggestion. That susceptibility is what the hypnotist needs in order to modify the behavior of his subject. However, the word susceptible should concern us. Scripture says to be watchful and “self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The hypnotist is not the only one who wants to modify our behavior; Satan also wants to do some modifying, and we should be wary of giving him any opportunity to make his suggestions.”
Satanic panic over hypnosis. Make it stop...
So many of these “reasons” why hypnosis is bad for the believer just restate the same concept over and over: no one should be controlling you except God and Jesus is the answer to everything. Wrong on both counts. What makes it more wrong is the notion that you somehow aren't in control.
Any licensed clinician will tell you (and I was told this very thing when I went in for weight loss) that the only way hypnosis works is if you surrender your will to it and allow the practitioner to speak freely to your subconscious. I was in control of what I allowed to happen to my brain. I made the conscious choice to surrender my will. Why? Because my will wasn't working out for me while I was sitting in the drive-thru. I needed new ways to think about that drive thru and what that food was doing to my body.
Yes, there was a degree of trust involved since I didn't know precisely what suggestions were being put in there, but did I really have any reason to worry? I saw no news stories about people going off on killing sprees or jumping off the south end bridge because they were hypnotized by this person for weight loss. What I did see were a lot of pictures of real people who went from being huge to being a reasonable weight for their body types. There was no reason not to submit to it that was anything but paranoid and religiously-fueled in nature. Couple that with the fact that hypnosis does not HIJACK your will. You can't be made to think things that aren't true. You cannot be influenced under hypnosis to abandon your sense of morals or ethics and start doing things that defy your personality, demeanor, or sense of right and wrong. Hypnosis is not about the practitioner controlling you. It's about you being given the tools to control areas of your thought life that you've had a hard time getting under wraps.
As a final Hail Mary, the author of this article (who is unnamed as far as I can tell – it's ghost-written copy, nothing more) links hypnosis to “mystical, philosophical, and religious systems, including the occult.” And yes, things like guided meditation and TM do have their roots in spiritism, but I'll say it again: there are few evangelicals out there who have the first clue what “the occult” is. The occult and Satanism are not even closely related.
What really impresses upon be about this is that they actually do the same thing they tell you is evil wherein you are surrendering your will to the process but being made to do so by means of manipulation. In a typical church service, worship leaders in particular, but pastor and preachers and other spiritual leaders do this all the time. They deliver an emotionally-charged sermon that puts you in the headspace of suggestion. Then, they tell you to do things like close your eyes and focus on a specific idea, whether it's salvation, holy spirit baptism, rededication, or something else.
The instant you're told to bow your head and close your eyes, you are being told to focus your attention and let your brain do what it would do during a hypnosis session. There are two distinct reasons why “every head bowed, every eye closed, nobody looking around” is a thing in evangelical settings. It sets people at ease about being watched, thereby allowing them to focus on themselves while not becoming too self-conscious. They're thinking about themselves and not what other people are thinking about them. The other is to start planting suggestions.
My ministry calling experience and speaking in tongues
The sinister part of all of this is the way they manipulate you into giving your will to the process. Remember, this is a vital element to the success of hypnosis. By telling people that it's God who wants to deal with them, the idea of submission is built in. But is it a true submission of will when it is given under false or manipulative pretenses? Of course it isn't.
Just like with Christian counseling, the objection to hypnosis isn't in the concept, it's in the delivery. As long as it's God who wants people to surrender their will and open themselves up to suggestion, it's ok, forgiving the fact that it's still people controlling the environment. But also like Christian counseling, a secular alternative to this kind of mind control runs the risk of handing over control of one's life to the individual which ostensibly takes that control away from the people masquerading as agents of a higher power.
Reasons to seek hypnotherapy:
You have a specific problem or issue that needs dealing with
Other therapies and medications have failed to provide you with relief or lasting relief
You are comfortable with the idea of letting someone else steer your thoughts for a little while so you can feel better or ditch bad thought processes and habits going forward
You have trouble concentrating during therapy sessions or keeping up with proscribed therapies
Advice on hypnotherapy
Properly vet any practitioner you choose to work with – demand hard data and observable results
If you are in therapy now, work with your therapist to find a trustworthy practitioner. Do not go out on your own seeking hypnotherapy solutions without keeping your therapist in the loop
Do this when you are ready, especially in instances of things like weight loss or smoking cessation. If you aren't emotionally ready to start the journey, no amount of hypnosis will “put” you there. It won't work and you will be throwing good money after bad.
My goal here is not to convince you to try hypnotherapy. That suggestion and recommendation should come from your therapist. But if you are a former evangelical, you probably have a few baseless apprehensions built in that could keep you from trying it regardless of who suggests it. Remember, please, that these tactics and mind-access exercises have been used on you in church from day one. The difference between “every head bowed and every eye closed” and competent clinical hypnotherapy lies only in the intent of the person delivering the suggestions.
Also remember that apprehension will greatly diminish the effectiveness of hypnotherapy. Do it when you're ready. I do hope that we have been able to set your mind at ease, but do all the research to need to be able to enter into it with a properly-centered attitude toward it. Check out the clinical sources in the show note and go out searching for more. Look at good sources. No blogs, no entertainment-based resources.
Finally, keep in mind that apprehension toward any trusted clinical therapy is the result of religious trauma. You have been successfully programmed to fear any kind of treatment that is not faith-based. The only real cure for fear is knowledge. Learn what you need to about hypnotherapy and make an informed decision about it. Thinking rationally and with the intent of learning the truth can at least push the fear far enough back to allow you to try it and reap the benefits of it. Once you see that positive changes are happening, that fear will ostensibly vanish. That's the thing about fear – it is based largely on concepts like uncertainty or a sense of danger and most evangelical pastors and christian counselors use these tactics to keep you from exploring anything they consider sinful or ungodly.
Just purpose to do what we suggest constantly around here: seek the truth wherever it leads. You might lose some weight, quit smoking, or find some relief from other mental or physical issues as a result. And with a clearer head, a healthier mind, and a healthier body comes a more focused sense of self and having a focused sense of self virtually guarantees that you will continue moving toward getting and staying unbound.