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Hypnosis: Statehood at Last a

Deirdre Barrett a

Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA Published online: 07 Apr 2015.

Click for updates To cite this article: Deirdre Barrett (2015) Hypnosis: Statehood at Last, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 57:4, 456-458, DOI: 10.1080/00029157.2015.1011502 To link to this article:

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American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 57: 456–458, 2015 Copyright © American Society of Clinical Hypnosis ISSN: 0002-9157 print / 2160-0562 online DOI: 10.1080/00029157.2015.1011502

Hypnosis: Statehood at Last Deirdre Barrett

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Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

I applaud the 2014 APA Division 30 definition of hypnosis (Elkins, Barabasz, Council, & Spiegel, 2015). First and foremost, it is a refreshing breath of common sense to open by referring to hypnosis as a “state of consciousness.” Standard dictionaries have always employed this term as the clearest descriptor (Oxford English Dictionary, 2013; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 2005). At the time of the 1993 and 2003 definitions (Green, Barabasz, Barrett, & Montgomery, 2005; Kirsch, 1994), the phrase was peculiarly controversial among professionals in our field. My understanding of why members on both previous committees vetoed the terms “state” and “state of consciousness” was a sense that it might somehow diminish the importance of research on social demand or personality traits influencing response to hypnosis. I think this was always a false dichotomy. When any hypnosis researcher really stopped and thought about it, we all endorsed that interpersonal situations, subjective experience, and brain function were all aspects of hypnosis, just as they are aspects of any human experience. I hope the current definition represents a genuine change from that dichotomous thinking and conflict. The other key phrases in the main definition—“focused attention,” “reduced peripheral awareness,” and “an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion”—are excellent, straightforward terms for the main characteristics of hypnosis as represented in scales measuring them. A definition’s raison d’être is to explain a word or phrase in a manner that is understandable and useful to those seeking out the definition (Seargeant, 2011). This one certainly does so. If a reader did not know what the term “hypnosis” means, it explains the basics. It also potentially dispels common fallacies about hypnosis involving being weak-willed or asleep. “A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion” is pretty much perfect. I do not see as much merit in two of the three auxiliary definitions—those for hypnotic induction and hypnotherapy. In classic lexography, one of the major types of “fallacies of definition” (Cedarbloom & Paulsen, 1986) or “failed definitions” (Seargeant, 2011) is that of the “circular definition,” which consists of employing any version of any part Address correspondence to Deirdre Barrett, Harvard Medical School, 352 Harvard Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. E-mail: [email protected]

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of the term to be defined (Cedarbloom & Paulsen, 1986, p. 184). Defining “hypnotic induction” as “a procedure designed to induce hypnosis” manages to use not just one, but both, of the words in the phrase being defined (Elkins et al., 2015, p. 6). Only an elementary school student unclear on how the noun and verb form of words relate to each other would find it useful. The 2014 definitions fortunately do not quite define “hypnotherapy” with the equivalent, “The use of hypnosis for therapy,” but its definition does open with “The use of hypnosis.” It is unlikely that the rest of its phrasing, “in the treatment of a medical or psychological disorder or concern,” tells anyone much that they did not understand from “therapy” (Elkins et al., 2015, p. 7). The 1993 definition stated that during hypnosis, “a health professional or researcher suggests that a client, patient, or subject experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior” (Kirsch, 1994), and the 2003 definition described the hypnotic induction as “an extended initial suggestion for using one’s imagination” (Green et al., 2005, p. 262). Neither of these may have been as precise as desirable, but the 2014 versions backslide from even that level of new information or usefulness. The third auxiliary definition, “hypnotizability,” may have the most impact simply by its choice of which term to define. It is an excellent decision to focus on this term with “ability” embedded in it rather than on “hypnotic susceptibility” with its implication of weakness—perhaps a poor psychic immune system—and hypnosis as something one should fend off. I hope the choice of the term “hypnotizability” as the one to define will cement its usage. The definition’s phrasing of “ability to experience suggested alterations in physiology, sensations, emotions, thoughts, or behavior during hypnosis,” is less circular than the other two auxiliary definitions and captures the relevant responses well (Elkins et al., 2015, p. 6). Beyond the definitions per se, the other point which struck me in Elkins et al.’s (2015) discussion is the very last sentence’s reference to “mechanisms that may underlie hypnosis, whether these are social, cognitive, neurobiological, interpersonal, a combination of these, or some as yet undiscovered factors” (p. 7). This sounds disquietingly like the vagueness in the service of not offending anyone of the last two Division 30 iterations. None of our colleagues would actually argue that mechanisms underlying hypnosis are only social or only neurobiological. Surely we all agree that it is “a combination of these” with “as yet undiscovered factors” in the running or not, depending on how broadly one defines the other categories. I suspect that the bland circularity of the induction and hypnotherapy definitions is related to this same impulse not to offend. I hope over the next decade we can further defuse the theoretical turf wars and focus on clearer language that would actually help a new researcher or a forensic witness identify what is or is not a hypnotic induction. The most important aspect of the 2014 Division 30 committee’s work, however, is the definition of hypnosis itself. This is an unqualified success. If praise from myself and other colleagues were not enough, the definition has received the ultimate recognition for our era: the Wikipedia entry for “hypnosis,” which already contained language about



“state” and “state of conscious,” was amended immediately after the Elkins et al. (2015) article was published to open with the 2014 Division 30 definition (Wikipedia, 2015).

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References Cedarbloom, J., & Paulsen, D. (1986). Critical reasoning: Understanding and criticizing arguments and theories. New York, NY: Cengage Learning. Elkins, G. R., Barabasz, A. F., Council, J. R., & Spiegel, D. (2015). Advancing research and practice: The revised APA Division 30 definition of hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 63, 1–9. doi:10.1080/00207144.2014.961870 Green, J. P., Barabasz, A. F., Barrett, D., & Montgomery, G. H. (2005). Forging ahead: The 2003 APA Division 30 definition of hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 53, 259–264. doi:10.1080/00207140590961321 Kirsch, I. (1994). Defining hypnosis: A core of agreement in the apple of discord. Contemporary Hypnosis, 11, 160–162. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). (2005). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. Oxford English Dictionary. (2013). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Seargeant, P. (2011). Lexicography as a philosophy of language. Language Sciences, 33, 1–10. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.06.002 Wikipedia. (2015). Hypnosis: Revision history. Retrieved from Hypnosis&action=history

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