Monday, January 12, 2015

Controversy and yet more adventures in Hypno-Land

Though I've written many more emails to people (besides poor Geo), they don't have much to do with mad science, warping minds, or pictures of my back side, and thus would be out of place on this blog. Facebook, on the other hand, has some material I could use, although being a social media spot, it comes in bits and pieces.
` That can only mean one thing -- I must put some time into editing posts for this blog. Not only that, but getting onto the internet so that I can do research and check facts. I did none of that for my last post, Adventures in Hypno-Land which was an email I wrote almost a year ago.
` Though I've learned a lot since then, I'm still going to need to learn more in order to continue writing about hypnosis, and pretty much anything else that interests me.

As for this post, this is actually late in coming because my first draft got deleted. So, I shall do what I can to put forth even less effort than my last attempt -- by using Facebook material that I saved on WordPad from the last time I connected my computer to the internet.

I have noticed that hypnosis is one of those little-understood topics on which people in the skeptical community have a wide range of opinions, and occasionally I wind up with pieces of this on Facebook.
` Some skeptics are stage hypnotists while others have told me that stage hypnotism is nothing but fakery. Some are hypnotherapists, and some, like the California Skeptics, kicked a hypnotherapist off their Facebook page for not "admitting" that he's a fraud.

As for me, I have an unusual angle on hypnosis in that I've experienced a lot of it, have been dramatically changed by some of it, although have studied a lot more practical methodology than the actual science involved.
` At the bare minimum, hypnosis involves establishing contact with someone, a first suggestion, penetrating through the critical faculties, and producing phenomena that the subject commonly feels are involuntarily.
` It could involve what is informally called "trance", or could be done during what looks like a normal conversation.

Case in point, my podcasting co-host "Dr. Hypno" was once at a bar where he met someone who thought that hypnotherapy was interesting. This guy wanted to quit smoking but didn't think that he could be hypnotized.
` After a hypnotic conversation that started with "I don't think I can hypnotize you, so lets just talk about it", the guy went out for a smoke and couldn't even get the cigarette to his face. He started laughing and said "no way, what the f!"
` He was so shocked that he was afraid to talk to Dr. Hypno ever again. Such is the curse of that level of effectiveness.

Indeed, Dr. Hypno is one of those people who can walk up to a complete stranger on the sidewalk and hypnotize them in seconds without using the word 'hypnosis' or 'trance'. Just as quickly, he can stick a person's hand to a table using conversational hypnosis.
` Unsettlingly, he has even installed an instant induction shortcut on me, and then hypnotized me to forget what this shortcut is. As far as I know, he didn't use it until six months later, and when he did, I could only see multi-colored stars when he activated it.
` It still worked last summer at a workshop by Rintu Basu, before Dr. Hypno handed me off to another hypnotist for further phenomena, some of which worked and some which did not.

You may think it's tremendously creepazoidal to know that some mysterious hypnotic 'induction switch' has been installed in your own psyche. I agree, and would add that my mind contains several other post-hypnotic suggestions, just waiting to be unleashed at the right time. All I can do is to warn others not to trigger them.

Even more creepazoidally, I used to know a hypnotist who would orgasm in response to anyone snapping their fingers. Why she chose such a non-specific cue for a bedroom-related suggestion, I'll never know, but I've seen what it does to her first hand, in public, and found it to be hilarious.

Let's just say, after this incident, she was sent a YouTube link to the Addams Family theme song in appreciation.

This same hypnotist has also been to a lot of hypnosis seminars that were recorded, and thus appears on many training DVDs. One of them is a stage hypnosis course, and when the teacher snaps his fingers and makes an off-color joke, you can hear a burst of laughter from her.
` Later, in a segment when she is sitting up on stage, he snaps his fingers several times and you can see the look of terror on her face as she squirms in her chair and tries to play it cool. I rolled with laughter at this, thinking about how nobody else there had a clue about what was happening.

I am no expert in hypnosis, but I am acquainted with hypnotists who test whether the books match the street. It's an evolving art form and every year they discard more obsolete models, such as the trance model, and the conscious/unconscious model.
` And, I would argue, that although psychology-oriented academics who are not specialized in hypnosis may know a lot about it, they are also not experts. So, imagine my surprise when I ran into two of these on Facebook, both of which are prominent in Skepticdom.

I shall refer to them as "A" and "B", without revealing who they are. Here is some of the text from the comment thread:

  • Also, post-hypnotic suggestions rarely work (which is why hypnosis is not usually effective in fighting addiction), so the idea that you can make someone forget what happened is basically bunk. During hypnosis, people don't "forget" numbers, etc. They have a difficult time focusing on the task of retrieving the information because they are vulnerable to the suggestion that they can't do it. It's not a memory issue, but an attention issue.

  • Aaaand B brings us to the old debate of memory permanence and whether forgetting is an encoding or retrieval issue. 
    But yes, B is totally right. You can't make someone forget what happened with hypnosis. If they could, I think a lot of people who have experienced trauma might be interested in some hypnosis.

I didn't mention it, but the reason I really got into hypnosis was to re-frame and re-color my traumatic memories in order to change their meaning to me so that they no longer control my life.

It was the beginning of my more or less complete recovery from 30 years of PTSD and 9 years of conversion disorder. In fact, I have been able to control the numbness of the conversion disorder to the extent that I can actually block out pain when I need to, as I've described in previous posts.

I certainly don't want to forget what happened to me, and no longer feel that my memories are unbearable to recall or live with.

I responded to this by mentioning that I have experienced a bit of amnesia for an event that happened while I was hypnotized.
` While it was difficult to load up any web pages from my slow iPhone connection while riding in my car, I hit the 'paste' button, and this link just happened to have been on the clipboard from pasting it into a message for someone else:

  • Synthesis of a body of scientific research by Googling. Cool?
    Not sure what you want to say. I'm not reading that whole wikipedia article in order to guess.

  • B You know, Spoony, we can all Google and link to Wikipedia, but some of us have studied and even taught the stuff.

  • Spoony Quine I've studied hypnosis and have hypnotized people.

    And when I was supposed to have forgotten the number 3 I didn't actually forget it but couldn't say it or conceptualize it.

  • Ben Radford Spoony, I'm curious: How do you know that you've hypnotized someone? Is there some way to be sure, some clear sign that distinguishes it from non-hypnosis, or do you just trust what the person tells you?

  • Spoony Quine When you hypnotize the person in front of you using conversational hypnosis and the person behind you gets sucked in unintentionally, it's a sign that the person you weren't trying to hypnotize is hypnotized -- I've done that!

    That's a good question, though. I think that when you can put a fifty dollar bill in front of someone and suggest that they can't reach it because their feet are stuck to the floor, and they can't lift their feet up, that's another sign. Otherwise, why wouldn't they take the money?

  • Ben Radford So you're suggesting that a person not bending over to pick up a $50 bill is evidence that they are in a hypnotic state?

  • B "conversational hypnosis"? Sorry, I've gotta call bullshit.

  • Spoony Quine No such thing as a hypnotic state.
    •  No, but they could have had the money and apparently believed that they couldn't get it. It's a common trick but very subtle to pull off. 
    • Ok, Ben, remarkable involuntary reactions. Like pain tolerance to surgery. How about a person who has smoked all their life and now gets sick if they pick up a cigarette, and simply can't smoke anymore. And they tried to quit before and apparently couldn't.
    How do I test whether or not a person is hypnotized? Make people move involuntarily, hand stick, not be able to open their eyes. It's not proof, though.

    Ericksonian hypnosis, works on damn near everybody, unless they put up their guard. ... You just create the longest sentence ever, the more you say, the more their defense mechanisms go offline, until they are so focused on what you're saying that they lose track of what you said earlier and their locus of control becomes increasingly towards you, and what's interesting about that, as you listen to the sounds in the room around you, is that it even can work in text form, so while you are reading this, you can get drawn into a focus state where you become aware of the sounds..

  • A No, just the fact that they accept the suggestions doesn't necessarily mean they were hypnotized. What then about the studies showing same effects with suggestion in absence of hypnosis?
  • Spoony Quine A, I think you are confused -- Hypnosis is a process to get people to accept suggestions and is a suggestion in itself.

    Posthypnotic amnesia is retrievable. I still cannot remember the event that I was instructed to forget, but it is entirely retrievable.

  • B Spoony, A isn't confused, you are. I realize that you have no idea what her background is, but your comment is actually funny.

  • A 

  • Spoony Quine A, I take it you are a hypnotist?

  • B Oh, jesus christ. *facepalm*

  • A No, I'm a cognitive psychologist with specific expertise in memory.

  • B And you've contradicted yourself at least twice. How can something be "retrievable" if you still can't remember it?
  • This conversation has become ridiculous.

  •  For the record, I taught psychology (including introductory which includes hypnosis, cognitive, and other courses, mostly upper-division) for about 10 years. I'm telling you that if you really want to understand this stuff, you need to stop Googling and go back to school.

  • Spoony Quine I don't google any of this stuff, I learn it from hypnotists!!

  • What makes you think there has to be induction for there to be hypnosis?

    Great, A, how many people have you hypnotized?

    I haven't tried to retrieve the memory!

    Ridiculous is not an argument.

  • A How many people have I hypnotized? Classrooms at a time when I've done it as a teaching demo? This is pointless. Goodnight!
  • B" What makes you think there has to be induction for there to be hypnosis? "

    What does that mean? Do you understand what is meant by "induction"?

  •  Yeah, it is pointless. I'm done, too. Goodnight.

  • Spoony Quine "It's pointless " is not an argument, it's a put-down.

    An induction is an alleged formal process to "begin" the hypnotic process, even though the process has already begun. It's basically non-falsifiable.

    A, how do you know if your students are hypnotized?

  • Spoony, the literature is clear and I have read enough of it to know what the hell I'm talking about. Half of what you're saying is just words. Its not important to me whether I convince you of anything. I don't even know what you're disagreeing with. No one has said that hypnosis isn't possible or real.

  • Spoony Quine I believe I was saying that hypnosis is just a formal type of suggestion process, there's nothing special about it. People go in and out of degrees of suggestibility all the time, and all a hypnotist does is leverage that fact.

    "Half of what you're saying is just words" is a put-down, as is "it's not important to me whether I convince you of anything." Of course, being a psychologist you would know that.
  • Hypnosis is a specialized subject, most psychologists don't know jack about it, and most hypnotists don't know much either. That's because once they learn hypnosis from one "expert" they stop learning. It's like getting a black belt in karate and then getting your ass kicked because you don't know how to fight, you're just beginning, you need to cross-train.
    Hypnosis is a very deep and subtle art form. You can teach card tricks but that doesn't make you a magician.

    Also there is no such thing as susceptibility to hypnosis because everyone is partly hypnotized all the time, in a sense. Different techniques work in different situations on different people in different contexts, just like martial arts.

    A lot of university studies on hypnosis involve non-hypnotists reading a script. Yet, in the real world, hypnotists have to do it differently each time for it to work effectively. That's why the hypnotizeability scale and 'levels of trance' has been debunked.

    Do you know what the automatic imagination model is? It cuts out the hypnotic "induction" completely.

  • B Spoony, you seem to be confused about what a cognitive psychologist is and perhaps what psychologists do in general (they don't analyze language for hidden meaning). 

    It is apparent from how little sense much of what you've said here makes that you don't have a full understanding of what hypnosis is/is not -- at least not what the scientific evidence says about it -- nor should you. It's not an easy thing to fully grasp without a background in brain function, memory, attention, and the fundamentals of states of consciousness (all taught to various depths in undergraduate psych courses). 

    There is nothing wrong with not knowing this stuff. What's wrong is chattering on as if you're an expert.
  • Your comments are pseudoscience, Spoony. Classic, in fact.

  • Spoony Quine Pseudoscientific in what way? Please form an argument!

    That comment was a pretty big argument from authority, from the person who doesn't even know what conversational hypnosis is. Erickson? Watch his technique:

    You haven't made a single claim, you're just saying you're an expert and I'm not, therefore I must be wrong.
    Neither of you have made any arguments.

    Milton Erickson, live demonstration, 1977, in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • B It's not possible to form an argument criticizing nonsense, Spoony.

  • Spoony Quine Nice ad hominem. Really vicious, too. And who said anything about analyzing language for hidden meaning? Red herring much?

  • B Jesus, this is a waste of time. Believe what you want to believe about yourself and what you know. To anyone else reading this thread, I'd ask that you pick up a textbook written in the last decade on the matter -- a real textbook -- or maybe go to the academic literature. I'm done here.

  • Spoony Quine I'm staring at an entire bookshelf covering this subject at the moment.

    Way to dominate the thread and speak for others, and dismiss me like a child. NPD much? Where are you exactly in the dark triad?


  • A Omg now she's going to explain NPD to B. You couldn't write better comedy.

  • Spoony Quine So, you're baiting me by making up another mind-reading ad hominem attack.

    Again, not an argument.

    Sophistry 101.

Sure, I may need to do more research about hypnosis, but that doesn't mean I'm always wrong when academics say so. It also doesn't entitle skeptics to be jerks to people they think are crackpots. Shortly thereafter, I messaged someone else who 'liked' my comments, and he had this to say:
I thought you were cool and correct in identifying the fallacious reasoning thrown your way.... I am a research psych person with some study of hypnosis but would never claim to be an expert or that we have all the answers. I have seen some of the things you describe, and am familiar with Ericksonian ideas. I have my ideas and biases about that, but thought B and A were just not interested in dialogue. Of course FB doesn't lend itself to great discussion.....and some of us skeptics...sometimes....are just dicks lol. 
I think you could certainly find examples of people not able or willing to question what they implicitly assume. I think key, is whether aim is to understand perspectives/situation of another, or to debunk, or to promote a view,etc. Skeptics get tired or frustrated too easily with trying to understand/sympathize/educate and so they go to arrogant/authority stance. Spelling out our assumptions and biases (e.g. Their reliance on narrow psych research, and Your reliance on personal experiences and social ties?) are all key steps. Good investigators have to watch out for that. Another issue for me is that FB seldom offers a good context for clarification and authentic give and take. Too much posturing is promoted. I am a social psychologist, so it is all about the social setting and social conformity lol. Yeah, who was it in skeptical community that did the skeptics as dick speech? Work up something, illustrate, and suggest help for us all..send it to BenRadford for SI hee hee.
You know, besides writing an article for Skeptic, I should also write an article for Skeptical Inquirer. That's been my goal, besides creating content for this blog. I even have a rough idea of what this article would be about:

No matter what else I am wrong about, I will most likely stand by my assertion that hypnosis, including hypnotherapy, is an art form, just like psychotherapy. I think this partly explains why psychotherapy is usually worthless -- some forms of talk therapy do work, but it depends on the practitioner.
` In my experience, the abuse and rejection I got from dozens of 'therapists' and other 'mental health professionals' made my problems worse, but even in the absence of abuse it was not worth my time.

I was finally able to find a cognitive behavioral therapist who was specialized in treating PTSD, and who was anything but abusive. Yet, he failed to inform me that I was being abused in my own home (thus shutting down my ability to cognitate), and even more importantly, his entire practice was based on a fallacy:
` The problem lies in the words 'treating' and 'PTSD' -- post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn't until I discovered hypnotherapy, reframing and denominalization that I learned that PTSD is not a disorder and thus it cannot be 'treated' as illnesses can.
` Indeed, PTSD is a process, not a 'thing'. It doesn't have a size, weight or color; it is a verb, an action. It may be controlled involuntarily for the most part, but once you become aware of the automatic processes, it is possible to change them consciously, just like any other habit.

In other words, you can unhypnotize yourself from creating self-destructive habits. The role of hypnotic suggestion comes into this process mostly to reinforce new habits over the old ones, including the suggestion that this is even possible to do, which of course it is.
` With the suggestions operating at an involuntary level, it is not necessary to spend a lot of brainpower just 'thinking' your mind into a new frame. Instead, it largely seems to happen by itself, which is handy when you live in an abusive situation and can't use your frontal lobes very much.

Many people don't want to accept that they can control "their PTSD", and tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about and have never suffered like them. Of course, when I tell them my own tales of horror, they usually curl up into the fetal position and urinate on themselves.

The truth is, if your brain can be so profoundly changed by trauma, it can be changed just as profoundly, if not more, in order to reverse that process.

The PTSD process arises when someone is traumatized and is unable to deal with the after-effects. It's like an injury -- for example, when you break a bone, it is because the bone was unable to withstand the stress and it shatters.
` When someone's mind is unable to take the trauma, the mind shatters. Some people are able to recover fairly well, while others, like me, who have been traumatized repeatedly and abused continually for decades, may well develop an unhealthy strategy for dealing with it.

As an analogy, it is like limping on a broken foot. Limping is a strategy to deal with an injury, but it makes no sense to limp once the injury is healed -- you're only hobbling yourself. Of course, it isn't quite that simple.
` I actually do rehabilitation exercises to help undo the damage done by limping on a foot that broke 18 years ago and never healed right, thanks to medical neglect. (Yes, this is related to the glute-oriented humor on this blog.)
` My entire body is affected by this and it has been a real challenge to be able to sit up, stand, and walk straight -- I must get my muscles and tendons into such condition that they can work properly in order to really control them.
` Not only does being able to move properly affect my body, but it heavily affects my inner states, bringing me a feeling of power rather than helplessness and fear. Unsurprisingly, my mind must undergo an analogous type of rehabilitation process:
` I must work on stretching, exercising, and better controlling my mental processes in order to stop myself from PTSD-ing. That way, people who ought to be in prison and other jerks are not the ones in control of my mind -- I am.

The traumatic recollections, the triggers, the paralyzing anxiety and overwhelming terror -- and also the numbness caused by the 'conversion disorder' -- I discovered that I was doing all of that to myself. Once I became aware of the mechanisms, I was able to control the symptoms, and can even use them to my advantage.
` Although hypnotherapists are not legally permitted to 'treat' PTSD, mine simply helped me to 'manage my thoughts, feelings and behaviors' surrounding it until my experience of the symptoms disappeared. Legally, I still 'have' PTSD, yet this is the first time in my life that I can remember not suffering from it.

So, not only is hypnotherapy an art form, but it can be used in deprogramming people from this idea that they "have" a "mental illness". Probably most forms of "depression" and "anxiety" are the same way. How you think, and how you respond to those thoughts, is ultimately how to control so-called "mood disorders".
` Why are these emotional/thought processes inappropriately diagnosed by psychiatrists? Because without a diagnosis, the psychiatrist cannot prescribe medication in order to "treat" the "disorder". Some have told me that because having a diagnosis allows you to be treated in our medical system, that means we should continue diagnosing people with "mental illnesses".

Yet, I think that to insist that people think about their problem in an inaccurate and counterproductive way, just so that a doctor can prescribe a medication or talk therapy, is completely backwards and unscientific. It is insisting that bureaucracy is more important than actually helping people to understand how to fix their own mental health issues.
` I'm not the only one who thinks this way. It just so happens that a psychiatrist I am somewhat acquainted with agrees as well. He would have lost his job teaching this stuff at Central Washington University if he had tried to speak out about it, but now that he is retired, he has nothing to fear.
` I will tell him to write a book about it next chance I get.

For now, I shall follow my ambitions in deprogramming people from very wrong ideas they have about their own minds. Sure, I must learn a lot more before I can do this, but that's never stopped me from moving forward.
` And if I should say anything too controversial for some people's tastes, I hope they remember this...


  1. I was hypnotized by a therapist many years ago. I remember nothing that happened while I was under hypnosis. After the session the therapist gave me an audio tape of what took place. All I can say about the experience is "Wow!"

  2. I'm curious to know, how is having an experience you don't remember Wow?


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