- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Clyde Hines travels in his mind. When the Southeast resident feels physical pain, he hypnotizes himself and imagines he is on vacation or playing softball. His problems started in 1993 at his job as a glass worker, when a large piece of metal fell on his head. Since then, Mr. Hines, 52, has had intense pain from ruptured and herniated discs in his back. At times, he says, the pain is unbearable.
To combat the discomfort, he usually allows himself to go into a trance state about six times a day.
"I sit down and relax," Mr. Hines says. "It helps me with the pain. I feel good about myself. I'm in a place where I don't want to come back. When I come back, the pain is there, but I feel better about my situation. When I come out, I try to maintain the good feeling. Sometimes the pain depresses me. When I come out, I'm not depressed."
Although the average person may associate hypnosis with a stage show, some medical professionals use the process as a tool to help their patients attain certain goals, such as managing pain, quitting smoking, controlling anxiety and losing weight. The procedure is not without its skeptics, however, many of whom claim it's a hoax.
Philip R. Appel, director of psychology at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Northwest, says he helps many of his patients, including Mr. Hines, through hypnosis. Mr. Appel, who holds a doctorate in psychology, says it is not hypnosis itself that treats individuals. Instead, he says, the state of high concentration achieved through the process allows him to influence his patients' thinking in positive ways.
When individuals are in a trance state, he says, they are more likely to internalize his suggestions, which he hopes will change their mind-sets and solve their problems.
"Hypnosis teaches people to focus their mind in more exquisite ways than they might come upon naturally," he says. "The health care practitioner teaches someone how to focus their mind in particular ways and give themselves suggestions toward a self-goal."
For instance, Vicki Boyle of Kensington, who is a patient of Mr. Appel's, visualizes certain images, such as a thunderstorm, during hypnosis. In her mind, she sees the lightning grounded, which is symbolic of how she would like her physical pain to end. She was in an automobile accident in 1982 that caused chronic pain syndrome. She then fell from a ladder in November 2000, which exacerbated the problem.
To envision her pain, she imagines her hand is in a pot of scalding water. She then mentally pours ice cubes or cold water into the pot to reduce the temperature. She says the sensation of focusing on the transformation actually reduces her level of discomfort. She says the process gives her calm and clarity.
"It's a tool for being in the present. When I'm in distress, where I'm in unfamiliar terrain, where something is unexpected " Ms. Boyle says. "It's a tool for being mindful."
Contrary to popular belief, hypnosis is not the same as sleeping, says Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist and special lecturer at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City. He says hypnosis is controlled imagination, while sleeping is when the body rests.
Further, he believes one person cannot hypnotize another. He says all hypnosis is self-hypnosis and that he simply instructs his patients on techniques for entering an altered state of mind. Many opponents of hypnosis, however, emphasize that hypnotists guide their patients throughout the activity.
"A hypnotist does not project this on the person," Dr. Spiegel says. "He identifies the capacity the person has or does not have and shows them how to use it."
About 80 percent of the population has hypnotic capability, and about 10 percent are extremely hypnotizable, Dr. Spiegel says. He says this is a genetic endowment that can be identified through the "eye-roll sign," which means that individuals have the ability to look upward while closing their eyelids. The farther one can look up with the eyelids closed, the more hypnotizable one is, Dr. Spiegel says.
Those people who can be hypnotized with ease shouldn't be concerned that the procedure is a form of brainwashing, he says. Dr. Spiegel says persons in a trance state maintain control over what they are doing in all circumstances.
"Hypnosis can be mind control if you choose to give yourself those instructions," he says. "You accept the suggestion and comply with it until you realize the absurdity of it. If it's too much against your grain, you come out of the trance state."
Martin Bobgan of Santa Barbara, Calif., author of "Hypnosis: Medical, Scientific or Occultic," disagrees. Mr. Bobgan, who holds a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Colorado, says he believes a person's will can be violated during hypnosis. He says even supporters of the procedure should warn of its unethical applications.
"If someone under hypnosis was told that someone was going to fire a gun at him and the person under hypnosis was given a gun, they might fire it back in defense," he says. "You can deceive a person into committing an act that they would never really do. You can create fear in a person. The trance propagator could make almost anything plausible and desirable."
Hypnosis is a game that works for those who choose to believe in it, says Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the State University of New York at Upstate Medical University Hospital in Syracuse. He is especially skeptical because no one can explain why or how hypnosis works.
"One person says, 'You're going to feel better,'" Dr. Szasz says. "And the other says, 'Yes, you're right. I'm going to feel better.' It works for things that aren't diseases. Of course it helps you stop smoking; just stopping smoking also works. It's the only thing that works."
The procedure more appropriately belongs in the category of "magic," not health care, Dr. Szasz says.
Modern hypnosis in Europe and the United States can be traced to the practice of German physician Franz Anton Mesmer, who developed mesmerism in 1773. Mesmer believed the human body contains an invisible "fluid" that is affected by the planets and stars or magnets. Blockage of the fluid was thought to cause many diseases. He argued that he could release the fluid through a trance state.
"Hypnosis is the most ridiculous thing," Dr. Szasz says. "This is what I call the myth of mental illness."
Despite criticism, Marc Oster, president elect of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis in Chicago, believes hypnosis is effective. In 1958, the American Medical Association in Chicago accepted clinical hypnosis as an adjunct to standard medical care. The American Psychiatric Association in Northwest also has approved hypnotherapy for use by professionals.
"If I could control your mind, I wouldn't be working as a therapist; I would be working on Wall Street, where I could really make a difference," says Mr. Oster, who holds a doctorate in psychology. "When you go to see a doctor because you have an infection, they have their favorite medicines. We have favorite techniques."
When people relax, a good psychotherapist is able to help them, says Robert A. Baker, author of "They Call It Hypnosis." He believes that is the basis for the entire process. Mr. Baker, who holds a doctorate in psychology, is professor emeritus from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
"Everybody is hypnotizable if you want to be," he says. "Nobody is if you don't want to be."

In 1958, the American Medical Association in Chicago accepted clinical hypnosis as an adjunct to standard medical care.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide