Please Explain: Hypnosis

Friday, February 28, 2014

On this week's Please Explain. Dr. Philip Muskin, MD is the Chief of Consultation-Liaison for Psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry, described how hypnosis works and whether it can be used it to change or control behavior.

We may think of being hypnotized as zoning out, but in fact, Dr. Muskin says, we’re “in a very focused state of concentration.” That’s because “in hypnosis, you focus yourself to do one thing.”

“Hypnosis is not an abnormal state. It is a completely normal state. We are in trances – every single one of us – every single day.” If you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming in a boring lecture or a long meeting, you’ve put yourself in a kind of trance.

Soldiers in the middle of a firefight can naturally go into a trance to protect themselves and feel less pain.

People vary in their ability to be hypnotized. It’s a bell curve with most of us be in the middle. And, Dr. Muskin notes, “many athletes are much more hypnotizable than they realize.”

Dr. Muskin said that transcendental meditation and other similar kinds of meditation and activities are trance states. “You’re pulling your awareness in, you’re disconnecting…you’re doing this one thing with all of your mental ability.” And there are all sorts of physiologic changes that come along with those states that make us feel pretty good.


Dr. Philip Muskin

Comments [16]


The notion that brainwaves have anything to do with hypnosis or altered states is completely wrong. Repeating false information over and over again does not make it right. The truth is, somebody can be in very deep hypnosis with the brainwaves in theta or even delta. But that has nothing to do with hypnosis but with the level of relaxation that person is experiencing. If somebody goes into a hypnotic regression and revivifies a traumatic experience in their past, e.g. being in combat or being raped, the EEG will be off the scale. Certainly beta, most likely gamma. And still that person is in a very deep state of hypnosis. No way they'll be in theta or delta while reliving that trauma. Really, forget it. Brainwaves have nothing to do with hypnosis. So if the brainwaves measured during TM are different from those measured in other hypnotic states (yes, meditation is a way of doing self hypnosis) it means just that: It's another hypnotic state.

Mar. 16 2014 06:01 PM

The EEG found in hypnotic states and the EEG found during TM are quite different. For an "expert" to say otherwise is to show that the "expert" didn't even bother to read a few publicly available studies before he started shooting his mouth off.

Anyone can go to the US government's pubmed database of published medical research ( ) and search for

hypnosis EEG

and compare the studies to the studies found by searching for

"Transcendental Meditation" EEG

That the so-called expert opened his mouth before doing this fundamental homework is typical of experts who like to appear in the media: usually, no matter what their credentials, they know nothing once they step outside their official field of expertise.

Mar. 03 2014 01:59 PM
Julietta Appleton from Mount Kisco, NY

Hi Leonard and Listeners,

I'm the hypnotist who called in at the end of the show. If anyone wants to reach me, feel free to connect via

Loved this Please Explain! Very well explained, Dr. Muskin!

Feb. 28 2014 04:56 PM

wow this comments board sounds like a "found"
short story!

Feb. 28 2014 02:00 PM

Can you explain the mind body connection perpetuated by Herbert Benson where under hypnosis you can form a blister if you are told you're being burned, but actually aren't.

Feb. 28 2014 01:55 PM
jersey jim from Brick, NJ

Are some people less able to be hypnotized? I've heard it likened to judo, those most resistant, go under, and someone willing isn't.

Feb. 28 2014 01:49 PM
Barbara from Bronxville

I want to use hypnosis for insomnia. How can I find a reliable hypnotherapist?

Feb. 28 2014 01:49 PM
Frank Meegan from Brooklyn

As an ethnomusicologist who has studied musical trance rituals for years, specifically in Caribbean and West African contexts, I fully agree that "we are all trancing all of us every day." Of course, there are different contexts and different activities and methods for sure. This is such an important message for a medical doctor to discuss since psychiatry and psychology have a long history of pathologizing trance. People assume these things are completely foreign to their rational Western existence. Your guest is also explaining the neuroscience of it in a very interesting and simple way. Great segment.

Feb. 28 2014 01:46 PM
Jeffrey Limes from New York

Have you found hypnotherapy to be effective in helping people who never want to touch alcohol again because of a history of alcohol abuse but find it extremely difficult to achieve, perhaps due to the social acceptance of drinking which is no longer present for cigarette smokers?

Feb. 28 2014 01:44 PM

What makes someone more hypnotizable?

I tried it a few times, all unsuccessful

Feb. 28 2014 01:40 PM
Meg from NJ

My motivation for getting hypnotized on stage was because I knew that 20 minutes of hypnosis was worth several hours of sleep. I was a sleep-deprived college student. It certainly worked! Afterward I felt totally rested.

Feb. 28 2014 01:40 PM
Joan Friedman from United States

How does hypnosis differ from guided meditation? It sounds quite similar.

Feb. 28 2014 01:36 PM
Marcy from UES

Hi Leonard,

I've been debating hypnotherapy for self confidence issues and motivation surrounding my professional life. I've heard that business people seek therapy for these types of issues. I would love to know just how effective it is for the things like this?

Thanks so much.

Feb. 28 2014 01:32 PM

Are there individuals that just cannot be hypnotized?

Feb. 28 2014 01:32 PM

Can hypnosis help to get rid of suicidal thoughts?

Feb. 28 2014 12:38 PM
Joey from Astoria

I have been hypnotized for stage fright and was really worth the investment. I now have the confidence to speak in front of groups.

I was wondering if you're guest could explain how one becomes qualified to hypnotize people at parties and casual events.

Feb. 28 2014 12:02 PM

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