Hypnotizabilityand Clinical Populations

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Hypnotizability, that is the individual's capacity to experience hypnosis, is generally described and conceptualized as a stable trait which is relatively resistant to modification (Hilgard, 1975). An opposing view (Spanos, Cross, Menary & Smith, 1988) indicates that cognitive skill training aimed at inculcating positive attitudes and appropriate interpretational sets towards hypnotic responding can produce significant and very substantial enhancement in susceptibility. However, reanalysis of this study using analysis of covariance instead of analysis of variance (Frischolz, 1997) showed that the trait or personal effect accounted for 50% of the variance while the situational effect (type of induction ceremony) accounted for only 17% of the variance, disproving Spanos's claims and confirming that hypnotizability was a trait relatively resistant to modification.

Although hypnotizability has been described as an ability within the repertoire of normal cognitive functioning it appears that individuals manifesting certain psychiatric disorders may be hypnotizable to different degrees. Frankel (1974) was the first to report elevated hypnotizability scores in phobic patients in comparison to different reference groups. This finding was replicated by researchers in mixed clinical populations (Foenander, Burrows, Gerschman & Horne, 1980; Gerschman et al., 1979, 1987; Gerschman & Burrows, 1989; John, Hollander & Perry, 1983; Kelly, 1984). However, Frischolz, Spiegel et al. (1982) and Owens, Bliss, Koester & Jeppsen (1989) failed to replicate these findings (Table 21.1).

There are further disorders which are characterized by high levels of hypnotiz-ability. These include hysteria, multiple personality, post-traumatic stress disorder and some categories of eating disorders such as bulimia (Coman, 1992). Such high hypnotizable groups stand in contrast to schizophrenics (Spiegel et al., 1982), obsessive compulsives and anorexics (Coman, 1992) who have been found to possess lower levels of hypnotizability.

Table 21.1. Studies evaluating the relationship between hypnotizability and phobic disorders


Rating scale

Confirmation Non-confirmation

Frankel (1974); Frankel & Orne (1976)

Gerschman et al.

Foenander et al.

John, Hollander & Perry (1983)

Kelly (1984)

Frischholz et al. (1982)

Gerschman, Burrows & Reade (1987)

Mixed, clinical Harvard Group

Scale (HGSH:A)

Dental phobic, clinical

Diagnostic Rating Procedure (DRP)

Mixed including Harvard Group dental phobics, Scale (HGSH:A) clinical

Mixed, clinical Mixed, clinical

Mixed, clinical

Dental phobic, clinical

Owens et al. (1989) Mixed, solicited

Harvard Group Scale (HGSH:A)

Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP) Stanford Hypnotic Clinical Scale (SHCS)

Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP)

Diagnostic Rating Procedure (DRP)

Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS C)


Confirmation Confirmation

Confirmation Confirmation




It is now generally considered that most psychiatric populations have lower hypnotizability levels than non-psychiatric populations and the more severe the disorder the lower is the level of hypnotizability. The discrepancies in hypnotizability levels amongst groups of psychiatric patients have, however, not been clearly understood.

Although some investigators have reported a relationship between high hypnotiz-ability and good outcome with hypnotic treatment the results have not been uniform among all disorders. Hypnotizability has been related positively to the degree of improvement in chronic pain problems, psychosomatic conditions such as asthma, and various dermatological conditions (Hilgard, 1975) and dental phobic disorders (Gerschman, Burrows & Reade, 1987).

These results are contrasted to evaluation of hypnotic treatment for addictive disorders such as obesity, cigarette smoking and alcoholism where hypnotizability levels appear unrelated to outcome (Perry et al., 1979).

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Hypnotism and Self Hypnosis v2

Hypnotism and Self Hypnosis v2

HYPNOTISM is by no means a new art. True, it has been developed into a science in comparatively recent years. But the principles of thought control have been used for thousands of years in India, ancient Egypt, among the Persians, Chinese and in many other ancient lands. Learn more within this guide.

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