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Hypnosis for entertainment cloaks serious uses

March 19, 2006|By Julie E. Greene

The swaying gold watch, the calming voice counting backward, the deep peering gaze, normally calm people doing crazy things ... these are traits frequently associated with hypnosis.

It's a problematic and unnecessary association, says Melvin Gravitz, a clinical psychologist and past president of American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

"The mythology of hypnosis is the biggest burden we have," Gravitz says. People come to expect these things as part of the hypnotic process because of popular literature, television and movies.

There are many methods for hypnotizing someone - gold watch not required - and many reasons for doing so, Gravitz says.

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The Student Government Association at Hagers-town Community College is sponsoring a hypnosis show at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday on campus.

The show is for entertainment, although Sandesh P. Naik-Bengali says he also might hypnotize students to help them with studying skills and dealing with stress. Naik-Bengali studied hypnosis in earning his doctorate in biomedical research from King Edward Memorial Hospital in India.

Hypnosis has many medical and psychological purposes, and has been used to aide law enforcement officials by helping witnesses remember details, says Gravitz, who is a clinical professor at George Washington University's School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Some things hypnotic therapy is used for are:

To reduce the perception of pain, including during childbirth and dental work. It changes the way the brain processes pain signals so the person feels less pain, says David Spiegel, professor and associate chairman of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.

To help people quit smoking by changing their point of view. This can be done by getting a person to think of his or her body as a baby's body. You wouldn't put smoke in a baby's body, Spiegel says.

To reduce anxiety by separating the physical response from the psychological one so the body doesn't get uptight, Spiegel says.

To retrieve or enlarge details of memories, Gravitz says. He practices this kind of forensic hypnosis to help witnesses for law enforcement agencies.

To explore the unconscious memory and uncover why someone has an irrational fear, Gravitz says.

Hypnosis also is used for entertainment, of which Spiegel does not approve.

"Because people are suspending critical judgment," he says. While they are less likely to do something in a hypnotic state that they wouldn't ordinarily do, it's not impossible for them to do something out of character, he says.

In a hypnotic state, people might not be thinking of the consequences of their actions or the motivation of the person asking them to do something, Spiegel says. They could regret their actions later.

SGA President Lexi Shingleton was part of a group of about 20 people who volunteered to be hypnotized at last year's show.

"I remember dancing to Michael Jackson music. It's like being in another state of mind," Shingleton says.

Afterward, some people said they felt exhausted or energized.

"I felt like I had more energy, like I was awake," says Shingleton, 21, of Clear Spring.

Naik-Bengali says he focuses on hypnotizing the volunteers who seem more susceptible to hypnosis.

He has them focus their gaze, internally with eyes shut or externally; has them take deep rhythmic breaths so they can focus on his voice; and sometimes has them stretch.

Not everyone can be hypnotized, experts say. It's not known why someone can or cannot be, Spiegel says.

If you go ...

WHAT: Hypnosis show

WHEN: 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 22

WHERE: Hilltop Grill in the College Center, Hagerstown Community College off Robinwood Drive, east of Hagerstown. As you enter the campus, the College Center is on the left, behind the Learning Resource Center and at the top of the hill.

COST: Free

MORE: For more information, call 301-790-2800, ext. 225. The public is invited.

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