Myths About Hypnosis: What’s True? with Dr. Jeffrey Zeig

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

There are many misconceptions when it comes to hypnosis. Often the word itself invokes mental images of movie villains forcing innocents to carry out some diabolical plan against their will. But is this level of suggestion scientifically possible? Is it merely a sham? Or can it actually help people? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are again joined by Dr. Jeffrey Zeig to shine some scientific light on some of the common myths surrounding hypnosis.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imagining to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're here with Dr. Jeffery Zeig and we're talking about Milton Erickson and hypnosis-
Tana Amen: So interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: In this podcast we're going to talk about some of the the myths and misconceptions about it. So I learned it when I was a second year medical student at Oral Roberts University. So for people who don't know, Oral Roberts is evangelical Christian university and the chief of psychiatry taught it to us, in fact put all of us in a trance, I'm like, "Wow, this is so interesting," and I actually took a month elective with Don Schaefer at UC Irvine when I was a senior medical student and I have just been in love with it, but at ORU, there were... people said, "Oh, you shouldn't do that. It's opening people's minds to the devil and demonic forces."
Growing up, my dad's favorite word, we've talked about this, is bullshit and my second favorite word was no, and having been hypnotizing people for 40 years, it's complete nonsense that you're opening someone's mind to the devil. I mean, I suppose if you're a Satan worshiper, then whatever you do is harmful.
Tana Amen: Yeah, there's probably some personal responsibility for the person being hypnotized to go to someone they trust.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But I was always curious about that.
Tana Amen: Yeah, me too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Roman Catholic Church approved hypnosis as a medical treatment in 1954, the year I was born, and the American Medical Association I think it was 1956 or '57 approved it as a standard medical treatment.
Tana Amen: You know one could argue that the Catholic Church actually uses some of what they do to induce some kind of... it's like the beads, focusing meditation on the beads is a meditation type inducing state. Some of the chanting and the beads and... my family was Catholic growing up, I never sort of got it. But anyway... but just last week, because I do study NLP and I really like it, it's a great way to coach people because it just induces this change quickly, we mentioned in the last episode.
Last week, I read an article about it. I'm like why do people feel like NLP and hypnosis, which are often, people use them together because people who like NLP often like hypnosis, which I do too. This woman talked about NLP and hypnosis in this article being of the devil and how you are opening your mind and how truly evil it is. This is last week. Now I'm Christian, so I'm a little confused by this. So I meditate, I pray.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's let Jeff answer.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Jeffery Zeig: We're all suspicious of undue influence and we'll all susceptible to undue influence, and probably the greatest purveyors of undue influence right now are either marketers or the movies, because the techniques that movie makers use, the techniques that marketers use influence you in subterranean ways and-
Tana Amen: They're savvy.
Jeffery Zeig: This is part of our evolutionary biology that we respond to signals without cognitively processing. We don't need to cognitively process, we respond to signals, and this is part of our evolution and we built our verbal communication on top of that. Now, we reject the idea that we are being influenced outside of our awareness and yet, we know from thousands of studies in academic psychology, in social psychology, that we are consistently influenced by factors that are contextual that we don't even realize.
We know that if you paint a restaurant wall red in the United States, people will spend more money. We know that if the waitress in a restaurant repeats your order with a smile, you'll tip her more. We know that people are subject and biologically designed to respond to things but somehow they're similarly designed to resist influence. If you push on somebody's head, they're going to resist, even if they're inviting you to push on their head. We have a natural tendency to honor our autonomy. We try to think that we're the captain of our fate and the master of our soul and that we do that out of our own design, when the automaticity of every day life shows us through myriad studies that we are subject to influences that we can't consciously be aware of.
Now hypnosis uses that but so do movies, because for example, in a regular movie you see one cut every 7.8 seconds but you leave that movie never even realizing that you saw a cut and you won't realize that the editor of that movie is making the cut when he wants you to blink.
Tana Amen: Exactly.
Jeffery Zeig: The movie maker is trying to get you to attune to the movie because a cut is a discontinuous movement and if you move your head discontinuously you have to blink, and great editors will be influencing you through directors. There's the music, there's the design, so we tend to believe that we are autonomous creatures but we're really not and modern neuroscience shows us that we respond without necessarily realizing response or the cue that led to the response.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's get to the miss and misconceptions about hypnosis, and one of them is you can make me do things I don't want to do.
Jeffery Zeig: Exactly. So there's two myths about hypnosis.
Tana Amen: You keep trying to do that with me and it hasn't worked yet.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, except you're married to me and you said the only way you're running is if you're chasing me.
Tana Amen: Yeah, you did get me to do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I completely used it.
Tana Amen: Oh my gosh. You are an evil person.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, back to Jeff.
Tana Amen: Do you see that? He did. He got what he wanted.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I got what I wanted, which was you in my life forever.
Jeffery Zeig: He used hypnotic like technique but not with the necessity of a formal trance.
Tana Amen: Dear lord.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you said there are two things, Jeff.
Jeffery Zeig: Two myths, control and control.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Jeffery Zeig: So people believe that if they go into trance they can have incredible control or they believe that if they go into a trance they'll lose control, they'll do something embarrassing, they'll be forced to do something against their moral spine. We know from social psychology studies that people can be induced to do things that involve moral disengagement and you don't need to have hypnosis in order to cause people to morally disengage.
Tana Amen: Give them Prozac.
Jeffery Zeig: The social pressures are enough to create moral disengagement, but people are certainly afraid of hypnosis because of the press that hypnosis has gotten about the loss of control or the gain of unreasonable control. Maybe if I go into a trance I'll remember everything that I've ever read in my entire life. Doctor, can you please hypnotize me so I can find the diamond ring that I lost 10 years ago? I know it must be in my mind and if you just hypnotize me, we'll get that information out of my mind. People come to me with all kinds of distorted myths about what hypnosis can do and like Tana was saying, that hypnosis is a state of focused attention, it's a state of focused concentration and we all have resources, mentally, physically, biology that we don't necessarily recognize, so the paradox of hypnosis is that it's a way of waking people up, not putting people to sleep. You're waking people up to resources, potentials that they have that they hadn't realized.
Tana Amen: What's funny to me is you touched on something really interesting about how people are afraid of losing control and going against their own moral fiber, and yet people all around us, even really good people, go out and engage in drugs and alcohol every weekend which completely eradicates their free will and causes them to do things that they wish they hadn't done, right? That's intentional.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But I like what you said, hypnosis is a state of focus, and the imaging work on hypnotic states shows that the brain actually increases in activity, that it doesn't decrease in activity, especially the front part of the brain which is the ultimate state in being human, it's having good frontal lobe function so you're focused and you have more forethought and control.
Tana Amen: But you have this tool that you can purposefully use to increase, heighten your awareness, to utilize more tools and people, as you stated just a few minutes ago, do things everyday that affect how suggestible they are in essence and like I just said, chemicals, taking pills, medications, and they do that willingly. It's just hilarious to me that they can't see, the people don't see the discrepancy there.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's talk about some of the uses over the years. What have you found hypnosis to be the most helpful for?
Jeffery Zeig: Hypnosis has been used in every facet of medicine and psychotherapy. Hypnosis has been used with severely disturbed psychiatric patients, hypnosis has been used gynecologically, hypnosis has been used dermatologically, it's been used obstetrically to help women deal with childbirth. The literature on hypnosis and the way in which it's been used is massive. If you think about a wart, a virus that you might have on some part of your body, and the fact that somebody could use some suggestive therapy like hypnosis and they could use some mental event that changes a virus that's growing on their skin, if somebody could think of the mechanism that's involved in that, figure out the mechanism, you'd probably be able to win a Nobel Prize.
We know that hypnosis can change gastric motility. There's some protocols that are being used right now for people who have irritable bowel syndrome. It's a very difficult thing for GI doctors to treat, but there's protocols that can be used with hypnosis where you go through a series of sessions and you can have adequate control because we know that even gastric motility can respond to suggestion.
Tana Amen: You know it's really interesting, you know Rabbi G with Kids Kicking Cancer... I have a friend, Rabbi G, and he's a black belt as well and he started a nonprofit called Kids Kicking Cancer after his little girl died from leukemia and she was in severe pain, so he was in the hospital and seeing these kids scream in pain and being tied down and he just didn't like it and he started this nonprofit that's now all over the world and they go in, now they don't call it hypnosis, right, but he uses, essentially uses, what we... techniques we use in karate. Breathing, visualization, and he gets these kids to quiet themselves down, take deep breaths, breathe in the light, breathe out the pain, and he does this over and over. Breathe in the light, breathe out the pain, and he visualizes themselves being warriors and going through this process with strength and doesn't call it hypnosis, but essentially that's what you're doing is getting the kids-
Jeffery Zeig: It's a suggestive therapy.
Tana Amen: Exactly.
Jeffery Zeig: Yeah, and maybe better not to call it hypnosis because when you call something hypnosis, you activate those two myths about control and control.
Tana Amen: Right.
Jeffery Zeig: And you activate more resistance.
Tana Amen: But these kids end up not needing to be tied down, they end up feeling good about their... they wake up and they're like, "Wait, is it done?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well and guided imagery is often a part of hypnosis, so when I think of the stages, it's often focused attention, so I'll have someone focus on a spot on the wall above their eye level, learned that from Dr. Erickson. Get their eyes to naturally be tired and when you suggest they are tired that sort of works, that helps, so focus on a spot, progressive relaxation, something he called deepening techniques, and then guided imagery and I know you've worked with a lot of experts. Martin Rosse is also an expert in guided imagery if I remember right and imagery is so important, but some of the hallmarks of hypnosis is time becomes distorted. I actually use that. A minute here in the office will seem like an hour in the park or the mountains or wherever you use the imagery.
Lessening pain is another one that I've... I used it a lot in medical procedures and my favorite, when I was an intern at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Hal Wayne was one of my teachers and we used it... I remember my first professional paper, I had a Parkinsonian patient, his name was Fritz Perls, who was actually a World War 2 hero and wrote a book called The Forefront War, about how he helped Jewish people escape the Nazis, but he had terrible Parkinson's and I'm on the neurology service and unlike my neurology colleagues as a psychiatry intern, I liked talking to my patients.
So I actually have a very good relationship with Mr. Perls and all of my patients when I was an intern wanted me to give them sleeping pills and I'm like, "Yeah, the hospital is a hard place to sleep, but would you mind if I hypnotize you first?" He thought that was just a wonderful idea and he has this terrible tremor and when I start to hypnotize him, his tremor goes away before he went to sleep, and the little four-year-old in me is jumping up and down like, "Oh my god, the tremor went away before he went to sleep."
So next morning on grand rounds I told my attending, his name was Dr. Jabbari, and he rolled his eyes at me like I can't believe I have to deal with these idiot psychiatric interns, and like I said, my dad's favorite word was bullshit and I'm like, "No. Watch." So in front of eight of my other colleagues, residents, and inters, I hypnotized him and he's fully awake and in a trance, his tremor went away. Dr. Jabbari started paying attention and then we did a qEEG or not a qEEG, a regular EEG, resting, and then when he was in a trance and we video taped it and it became my first paper. It's so powerful if you can get a person into a trance and then direct their mind in healing ways.
Tana Amen: It's wild.
Jeffery Zeig: Absolutely, and the same thing you reminded me of a stuttering patient and you couldn't make much sense of what he was trying to speak about, but in a trance he was speaking fluently, like sometimes stuttering patients will sing and be able to sing fluidly, so we all have hidden potentials and the purpose of the trance is to awaken people to the potentials that have previously been dormant.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, and it's not stage hypnosis, which is very different than... stage hypnosis often is about entertaining and control. This medical hypnosis, psychological hypnosis is really about teaching patients about their own personal power.
Tana Amen: Right, it's empowering.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And control.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That you can control things like pain to decrease the amount of medication you have or sleep. When I was on the cardiology ward as an intern, it was an ICU cardiology ward. I was freaked out the whole time because people were dying and I never wanted to be responsible for anybody dying and so I couldn't sleep, and then one night I'm like, "I can't sleep. I'm so anxious." I'm like, "Well, what do you do with your patients when they want a sleeping pill?" Because obviously I was on call, I couldn't take a sleeping pill. I'm like, "Oh, you put them in a trance," and I became so good I could put myself to sleep in under two minutes just by directing my attention not to the worries, but to the things that helped me sleep.
Tana Amen: That's one of the things that helped me when I was going through all my medical treatments was doing self hypnosis with guided imagery to go to sleep.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So when we come back, we're going to talk about more of the clinical uses of hypnosis, how you can use this in your life to be healthier, happier, more empowered, and whatever you've learned from this podcast, write it down, post it and then send us a copy. We would love to hear from you.
Tana Amen: Even if you have... if you still have concerns about it or controversial thoughts, send them to us. We'd love to address them, so [crosstalk 00:19:00].
Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us. We'll be right back.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode, and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
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