Question: What are the differences between relaxation and hypnosis? How is guided relaxation different from hypnosis?
Answer: I did some research to see what I could find regarding the differences between relaxation and hypnosis, and found that they can be similar; however, there are some important differences.
Hypnosis can be used for different purposes and be framed in different ways, but essentially whether hypnosis is used for entertainment, therapy, or crime, the premise is the same. The subject enters a trance state and is then more vulnerable to suggestions.
Types of Hypnosis
- Stage hypnosis: Have you ever seen people who are hypnotized to forget their address, or think they won the lottery, or do other things just for the purpose of entertainment? This is stage hypnosis. It probably is not beneficial. People say that this hypnosis is not dangerous, but I would not be confident that it has no harmful effects (I would think it would be unsettling to be confused like that!).
- Crime: Some people use hypnosis techniques to confuse and then rob people in the street. Fortunately this is not common, but this use does show the darker side of hypnosis.
- Manipulation: Some attempt to use hypnosis to manipulate people. A quick internet search on hypnosis will bring up numerous sources that claim you can make someone fall in love with you, hire you, or otherwise do what you want. This again shows a dark side of hypnosis.
- Hypnotherapy: Usually, when people talk about hypnosis, they are referring to hypnotherapy – using hypnosis for therapeutic purposes. Stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy may both use induction techniques (getting into a state of hypnosis) that resemble relaxation, or they may use relaxation techniques as part of the hypnosis process.
Relaxation and hypnosis (hypnotherapy) have some similarities:
- Both can be used to calm the mind and relax the body.
- Both can involve suggestions for relaxation, wellbeing, making positive changes, etc.
Relaxation and hypnosis differ in that:
- Hypnosis aims specifically to make suggestions to the unconscious mind.
- Relaxation aims to provide a guided process that the listener can choose to follow, whereas hypnosis intends to induce a trance state and then introduce suggestions.
- Control and manipulation are not a part of relaxation, and while not intended to be a part of hypnotherapy, are certainly part of some types of hypnosis.
- Some hypnosis involves relaxation, but the purpose is to relax a person so the person will more readily enter a trance state.
- Hypnosis often uses confusion to cause the person to enter a trance state.
In hypnosis, the subject enters a trance state that causes the person to be more suggestible (they respond more readily to suggestions). Then the goal of hypnotherapy can then be achieved – the person being hypnotized is given suggestions, and is more likely to follow them.
I am not comfortable with the idea of trance states experienced during hypnosis because I think this could leave a person vulnerable to unwanted suggestions. Also, as a Christian, I believe that trance states experienced as part of hypnosis are a way of opening oneself to things other than God.
Kinds of suggestions used in relaxation:
Relaxation uses suggestions, but they are offered in a clear, open manner that the listener can choose to follow or not. The types of suggestions include:
- Relax the muscles
- Feel pleasant and calm
- Imagine a peaceful place
- Feel safe and comfortable
- Change a habit
- Change a thought pattern
The research I have done on whether hypnosis allows another person to control your mind suggests that people in hypnotic states remain in control and can choose to come out of the trance state at will. I, myself, would not feel comfortable allowing another person to lead me into a hypnotic state and make suggestions that would alter my behavior. To me this would feel as if another person had too much control.
I was trained as a hypnotherapist in the past, but this is something I no longer practice. For me personally, I decided that pursuing hypnotherapy was not compatible with my Christian faith. I chose to eliminate things in my life that could be dishonoring to God in any way, and I felt that hypnotherapy was putting trust in something or someone other than God.
A study by Oakley and Gandhi indicates that participants who go through a hypnotic induction “produced a modest increase in suggestibility when it was called ‘relaxation,’ but a very significant increase if it was labelled ‘hypnosis.’” This shows that relaxation and hypnosis are different even in just the way subjects view them. People expecting to be hypnotized are more suggestible than people who are not planning to be hypnotized.
If you want to do relaxation, but want to ensure that you maintain complete control over your mind, here are some things you can do:
- Review the relaxation scripts you plan to use (either by reviewing the written script or listening to the audio without following the directions), and confirm that you are comfortable with the content before you listen to them to follow the instructions for relaxing.
- Record relaxation scripts in your own voice, and listen to those rather than another person.
- If you are not comfortable with hypnotic scripts that are intended to induce trance states, you may want to avoid “hypnosis” or “hypnotherapy” or scripts that contain these types of techniques. The scripts on my site are relaxation scripts, and are not hypnosis.
- Only use relaxation audio scripts if you have checked out and trust their source. Don’t use relaxation scripts that come from a source you’re not comfortable with.