Psychology and Hypnosis
Psychology and Hypnosis sit together very uneasily. Everything that hypnotists do is based on a theory of how the mind works. Some of this theory is very old and based on therapy room experience. Some of it can barely be counted as theory since it is based on notions of cosmic influence which cannot be tested. And some of it is based on laboratory-based psychology studies.
The theory which is based on public psychology is thought to be more reliable than the other parts. There is a great deal of criticism of hypnosis and hypnotherapy simply because there is no concrete explanation of how and why it works. So wherever possible hypnotherapists build on findings from University psychology studies in order to validate what they are doing.
Psychology and Hypnosis bias
All academic studies and social science are subject to bias and error and psychology has come in for increasing criticism in the last few years. Most published psychology studies only feature positive results. Psychology studies which failed I just ignored, and do not get published.
This is known as publication bias. Another common bias is to do the studies on your own students. Something like 80% of public psychology articles are actually based on surveying first and second year students. These are definitely not representative of the whole population.
However, recently a much more worrying criticism has emerged. Two of the most famous psychology experiments have been found to be deeply flawed and possibly fraudulent. One is the famous Stanford prison experiment. In this experiment students were randomly allocated to act as warders or prisoners. As the experiment progressed warders got more and more cruel, and prisoners got more and more desperate to get out.
The lesson from the experiment was that giving people a role influences how they behave. It now turns out, 40 years later, that some of the prisoners and guards are admitting that they were acting. They were pretending to the emotions that they displayed. In fact, the students have admitted to doing what they thought the researchers wanted them to do.
A new psychology paradigm?
As a student study this really doesn't seem too surprising or too important. However, this experiment has influenced two generations of psychologists and has generated much follow-up research. The other famous research, Milgram's electrocution experiment has come in for similar criticism. Later researchers have claimed that the students delivering the electric shocks were encouraged to go on beyond the point that they wanted to.
The point is not that these experiments were deliberately fraudulent. They were not. The point is that for almost 50 years there have been accepted as examples of good practice. The reality is that these and many other psychological experiments have later been found to be defective. They just do not stand up to scrutiny and practice.
Maybe there is something to be said for basing your therapy room practice on your own practical experience, rather than try to incorporate something that may or may not be valid?
Should hypnosis be theory based? Leave a comment below.
He is highly regarded in the hypnotherapy community. He is Vice President of the New Zealand Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (NZAPH).
He is regularly consulted for advice by other hypnotherapists around the world. He is known for the quality of his published scripts. He presents at international conferences and has published on hypnosis and advanced hypnotherapy.
He lives in Wellington New Zealand with his wife Trish and a cat called Parsnip.
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