By now you've probably heard the conspiracy theory flying around that Obama uses "Ericksonian hypnosis" techniques in his speeches to brainwash listeners into blindly absorbing his "propaganda". Well, according to a piece in today's NY Times that's not really possible. Despite the "evidence" of a thousand movies and swinging watches, hypnosis is not exactly the sinister force it's cracked up to be.According to Jane Brody, hypnosis is not a deep trance or a sleeplike daze that you don't remember — but rather, "a deeply relaxed state that renders the mind highly focused and ready to accept suggestions to help you accomplish your goals." In fact, apparently a lot of people who are expecting "you-are-getting-sleepy" drama feel ripped off after what feels almost like a standard therapy session — even if they find they've actually quit smoking or overcome a fear of flying. In fact, contrary to nonsense like the Obama theory, you can't even practice hypnosis on an unwilling subject; it can't make you do anything you don't want to do - like vote. As one psychologist tells the Times, “The power of hypnosis actually resides in the patient and not in the doctor.” It's really a question of telling your body things it already knows.
"In effect, hypnosis is the epitome of mind-body medicine. It can enable the mind to tell the body how to react, and modify the messages that the body sends to the mind. It has been used to counter the nausea of pregnancy and chemotherapy; dental and test-taking anxiety; pain associated with surgery, root canal treatment and childbirth; fear of flying and public speaking; compulsive hair-pulling; and intractable hiccups, among many other troublesome health problems."
Hiccups? Dental surgery? This is hardly the stuff of Spellbound and Vegas magicians. However, if true, the possibilities for medical use are apparently much greater than people knew — or than doctors are prepared to accept. If anything, it seems like the swinging-watch stigma probably doesn't help hypnotism's case in that regard — and does feed into paranoid fantasies such as Obama-as-illustionist. But even if, hypothetically, Obama was knowingly employing "hypnosis techniques" in, say, his thirty minute network commercial, every single viewer would need to be in a voluntary state of total relaxation and openness in order for the messages to penetrate. Is Obama a highly effective speaker? Sure — and undoubtedly the same qualities that make a voice soothing and reassuring are useful in facilitating the relaxation of hypnosis; good public speaking by definition includes an element of unconscious manipulation. And hey, if at worst hypnosis can help you do something you already want, there are certainly more damning smears! The Possibilities in Hypnosis, Where the Patient Has the Power [New York Times]