This was a frustrating read. But then again, I kind of knew better than to embark upon it.
Hypnosis is an area of passionate interest for me. One of the main reasons I got into psychology was that my deep interest in the self-help movement had led me to become particularly interested in hypnosis and other naturally altered states of consciousness.
I’ve been voraciously reading books and articles on hypnosis for years, and I use hypnotic techniques every day in my clinical practice.
I’m positive I probably came about this book in a bargain bin somewhere and scooped it up because it was cheap and relevant to my interests.
In it, Dr. Goldberg— a dentist, who also has graduate training in counseling and form training in hypnosis— lays out his view of the fundamentals of hypnosis, and how learning the skill of hypnotizing yourself can be of practical use in your personal development efforts.
I strongly agree with his basic thesis. Hypnosis is a natural phenomenon that is easily induced— it’s induced quite often by advertisements, politicians, religious leaders, and psychotherapists— and learning how to purposefully enter into trance states can absolutely positively impact our lives.
For that matter, Dr. Goldberg goes on to make some important, accurate points. Hypnosis is, generally speaking, quite safe, as far as interventions go.
He points out that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis— i.e., it’s very hard to hypnotize someone without their consent, and basically impossible to make them do something against their will.
He touches upon the fact that hypnosis works mostly by teaching your brain to intentionally slow down its brainwave activity and enter into the “alpha state,” in which it is easier to learn and alter beliefs and thoughts.
He points out that an important part of hypnosis is to distract the analytical, conscious mind, so it doesn’t rip apart the suggestions and programming you’re attempting to install in your unconscious mind.
All fine and good.
Beyond this, most of the book is comprised of self-hypnotic scripts that Dr. Goldberg offers as templates for you to record and use on yourself. His scripts are pretty standard, as far as hypnosis inductions go. There’s a lot of progressive relaxation— the systematic tensing and relaxing of muscles— and a lot of visualization of stairs and the like.
Still good, for the most part.
Then…come his suggestions.
As Dr. Goldberg gets into the suggestions, or instructions, he suggests repeating after you’ve used the induction (relaxation and focusing) techniques, his book descends into…kind of silliness.
It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the suggestions he offers, I suppose. In fact, they’re all pretty boilerplate.
Which is kind of the problem.
Any experienced hypnotherapist will tell you that the challenge with most hypnosis isn’t getting the person to relax, or coming up with clever, unique induction procedures.
Rather, the challenge with most hypnosis is framing suggestions in such a way as they are not too directive, not too broad nor too specific, and— most importantly— that they don’t do more harm than good.
This is where Dr. Goldberg’s methods kind of fall apart.
The reason why you don’t want to be too directive in your hypnotic suggestions is pretty simple. Your brain doesn’t like commands. It just doesn’t.
This is especially true if you’re struggling with a habit of behavior (as, presumably, you are, if you’re attempting to use self-hypnosis as a tool). If you give your brain a command as direct as Dr. Goldman recommends, your brain is likely to respond with a curt, “No. Don’t tell me what to do.”
Furthermore, one of the quickest ways to bring someone OUT of a state of hypnosis— i.e., to wake up their conscious mind and to invite it to tear apart what you’re doing— is to give the brain a particularly direct command.
Even if your conscious mind has been lulled into complacency by a competent hypnotic induction, if you start giving it commands, like Dr. Goldberg recommends, your conscious mind is going to wake up in a hurry…and likely receive it as an act of self-protection to start ripping apart the overly directive “suggestions” your ham-handed hypnotist is trying to impart.
Needless to say, this gets in the way of the whole thing working.
So, part of my beef with this book is that I don’t think his scripts are, in the end, terribly effective, mostly because they’re so directive with the suggestions, too much do-this-don’t-do-that.
(That’s another problem I have with his suggestions, by the way— “don’t do that” doesn’t work in hypnotic contexts. Neuropsychological research suggests the brain doesn’t process “don’t” or “no” or “not” particularly well— meaning a command such as “you don’t want to smoke” can easily become “you want to smoke” in your unconscious mind.)
But the other problem I have with his methods is the age and past-life regressions.
It’s not just that the research either hasn’t been done or hasn’t particularly supported the notion of age regression in hypnosis. To be honest, I’m not terribly familiar with what the science says about our ability to regress, age-wise, under hypnosis— though I’m highly skeptical of Dr. Goldberg’s claim that every single thing that has ever happened to us exists as a perfect recording in our unconscious minds.
(In fact, I know for a fact that’s not how memory works— at least normal, non-posttrauamtic memory.)
It’s more that when you induce a potentially dissociative state in yourself such as hypnosis, and then you start inviting yourself to become a version of you younger than you are…woof. This can be problematic, for a number of reasons.
I’ll refrain here from going into a spiral about how trauma, traumatic memory, and dissociation all work, but it will suffice to say: if you have a traumatic past, I strongly recommend you do NOT use self-hypnotic techniques to “regress” yourself to a previous age and try to “process” any kind of trauma on your own. Please, please, PLEASE do this with the support and supervision of a trained professional.
The other stuff— Dr. Goldberg’s latter chapters about exploring past and future lives through hypnosis, contacting your “higher self” through hypnosis, and/or literally growing younger or increasing your actual IQ through hypnosis— it will suffice to say, even as a strong proponent of and believer in the power of hypnotic techniques, I am highly skeptical about whether research exists to support these possibilities.
Dr. Goldberg’s book is frustrating to me because he starts out with a good idea. It’s very good to learn how to naturally alter our state of consciousness. The more we can live and work and exist in the alpha state, the better. I am all for learning to relax and let our conscious minds mellow. I am all for using affirmations to program ourselves to feel better, think better, and behave better.
It’s BECAUSE all of this is a good things that Dr. Goldberg’s overstatements, broad generalizations, overly directive suggestions, and metaphysical speculation make my kind of shake my head and sigh.
Learn all you can about hypnosis and self-hypnosis, absolutely.
But maybe learn it from a different book.