Ask the average person on the street about hallucinations and they may equate them with drugs such as LSD and ‘magic mushrooms’. They may also see hallucinations as something experienced by those incarcerated in a mental institution. However, the role of hypnosis in the production of hallucinations has been explored for more than a century with Dr. Boris Sidis’ 1905 publication ‘Are There Hypnotic Hallucinations’ still being an oft quoted text. The purpose of hypnotic hallucinations in therapy are to help people deal with their current problems by allowing them to experience situations and encounter scenarios that they may otherwise not get the opportunity to deal with.
Not everyone agrees with the notion that hallucinations occur under hypnosis. David Rowley argues in his book Hypnosis & hypnotherapy, that real hallucinations have two major qualities. The first being that they are perceptions that occur without any existing stimuli. The other quality of hallucinations in his opinion is that the individual experiencing them genuinely believes they are real. Rowley doubts that those under hypnosis truly hear or feel the things the hypnotist suggests. For example, does a person under hypnosis really believe that waves are caressing their feet? For Rowley, simply hearing the sound or sensing the image is not enough. He suggests that most people could play a famous sports or movie scene through their mind yet this is no hallucination.
It is common for hypnotherapists to ask their clients to take a journey through time back into their past. As already mentioned, the purpose of this is to experience something they would never otherwise get the chance to. For example, you may have had issues with one of your parents and never got the chance to tell them how you really felt. A hypnotherapist claims to help you take that journey and confront your mother or father. Many clients who have experienced such a hypnotic hallucination find catharsis in it.
Hypnotherapists understand how powerful hypnosis is when it is used to create hallucinatory type experiences during a therapy session. Indeed, the hypnotherapist does not have to work very hard to get the client to hallucinate. Hypnotherapists state that they have had clients explain that their arms were either floating or felt extremely heavy when nothing had actually been done to their arms. Direct suggestion is another method which is extremely effective when it comes to eliciting hallucinations.
Hypnotherapists usually try and deliver these direct suggestions in a positive way to ensure that their client enjoys a positive hallucination. However, it is also possible to do this in a negative way in order to prevent the client from doing something foolhardy in the future. For example, a hypnotherapist can take a client into the future where something has gone terribly wrong and scare them into avoiding that course of action.
Despite the mystique of hallucinations, most hypnotherapists would suggest that they are common occurrences in hypnotism and any semi-skilled practitioner of hypnotherapy will easily make their patients believe they are experiencing some form of hallucination.