You are getting sleepy. Verrrryyyyy sleeeeepy. Follow the sound of my voice. You are completely relaxed and under my control. Now … quack like a duck!
When you think about hypnotism, you might picture a scenario like this one. Your perception has likely been impacted by hokey television shows or melodramatic stage hypnotists at parties. But this isn’t what real hypnotherapy looks like. Hypnosis is used by real people for a number of reasons, even to help with language learning. But before we get into that, we need to define the practice and how it works.
What Is Hypnosis, Really?
The American Psychological Association defines hypnosis as “a therapeutic technique in which clinicians make suggestions to individuals who have undergone a procedure designed to relax them and focus their minds.”
In other words, you’re put into a state in which you’re more susceptible to suggestions for change. Clinical hypnotherapy is said to be able to help with a variety of challenges, including quitting smoking, losing weight and reducing stress.
Here’s how it generally works: according to this Stanford University study, hypnosis causes changes in areas of the brain associated with evaluating contexts, separating thoughts from feelings, and regulating self-consciousness. People who are hypnotized can more easily suspend judgment and feel less self-conscious about their actions in certain situations, allowing the hypnotherapist to suggest behavioral changes that the patient is willing to try.
The study’s senior author, David Spiegel, says hypnosis is not about losing control. Instead, it’s “a way of teaching people to enhance control over their brains and bodies.”
But Can You Be Hypnotized Into Learning A Language?
Not exactly. You can’t get hypnotized while listening to a foreign language and then all of a sudden know how to speak it, but hypnosis can help in other, less mysterious ways.
Steve G. Jones, a Los Angeles-based clinical hypnotherapist and president of the American Alliance of Hypnotists, explains the difference between the myth and the reality: “It’s not the [self-proclaimed psychic] Edgar Cayce thing, where he believed you could sleep on a book and get the knowledge from the book, or anything like that. In the real world, you have to put in the time and you have to actually learn it.”
In Jones’ view, hypnosis can improve the way people learn, rather than magically implanting the knowledge into their heads.
“I think a lot of the challenges with any kind of learning have to do with being calm when you’re putting it in, the entry process, and then having … a procedure that will access the mechanism for recall,” Jones said.
Put more simply, hypnosis can make sure you’re in the right state of mind to receive information effectively and recall it later.
Jones recommends seeing a hypnotherapist for an in-person session before you begin learning, then listening to a hypnosis audio recording every night for the first three weeks of the learning process.
Jessica Boston, a cognitive hypnotherapist based in Barcelona, has similar advice. Boston says the first step should be coming in for an assessment to determine the internal obstacles that are holding the client back from learning.
“It’s about understanding what are the thoughts at the back of their mind that are getting in their way,” Boston explains.
Once the source of the blockage has been identified, Boston recommends listening to a hypnosis recording, like one of these, for the next 10 to 20 days.
She says they had no trouble learning the language, but when it came time to speak in a real-world context, they panicked. That’s when Boston decided to become a hypnotherapist.
For Boston, the focus is on eliminating the negative thoughts that are hindering the client’s ability to learn a language. Before pursuing hypnotherapy, Boston taught English and often saw these thoughts in her students. She says they had no trouble learning the language, but when it came time to speak in a real-world context, they panicked. That’s when Boston decided to become a hypnotherapist.
“It seemed like a really interesting transition to be able to combine these two worlds,” Boston said.
Hypnosis can be a catalyst for change, allowing these negative thoughts to be altered and loosening their grip on the mind. Once the client sees they can move past the hurdles in their head, they gain the confidence to continue to make positive changes.
Though individual cases require varied treatments, Boston said a typical hypnotherapy session would involve a “hypnotic intervention.” Essentially, the client is put into a trance-like state, asked to think about the thoughts that are preventing them from progressing, and then led through exercises to relax their mind and their stress response.
The goal? Not to learn French by the next morning. It’s more subtle than that.
“You’re really reprogramming a way of thinking that’s getting in the way of you fulfilling your potential,” Boston says.