Hypnosis: an Ordinary or Altered State of Consciousness?
Martin and Deidre Bobgan

In our book Hypnosis: Medical, Scientific, or Occultic? we describe hypnosis, hypnotic induction, hypnotic memory, deep hypnosis, and the origins of hypnosis. We also discuss whether or not it is a natural experience and whether or not the will can be violated. We draw our information and conclusions from both the Bible and scientific research and warn Christians about its dangers.

In spite of the research we present and in spite of Biblical admonitions about involvement in the occult, numerous Christians use hypnosis in various settings. There are Christian hypnotherapists, medical doctors, and dentists who practice hypnosis on their clients. Some believe that hypnosis is perfectly harmless, especially in the hands of medical and psychological professionals. We give evidence in our book that hypnosis is a discrete altered state of mind, different from regular consciousness, and that, depending upon the suggestibility of the client and the depth of the trance, the will can be violated through information given during the trance.

However, we recently read an article1 and book2 authored by Scott Lilienfeld, Professor of Psychology at Emory University, and others, in which they contend that hypnosis is not an altered state of mind, discretely different from other forms of consciousness, and that during hypnosis people remain in full control of what they are doing and saying, and, thereby, that the will cannot be violated. Therefore, we revisited these questions: Is hypnosis an altered state or simply an aspect of ordinary consciousness? Where does one draw the line between ordinary consciousness and occult trance states that are forbidden in Scripture?

Lilienfeld et al, in their book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, declare that the idea that "hypnosis is a unique ‘trance’ state that differs in kind from wakefulness" is a myth.3 They contend that research indicates that "No trance or discrete state unique to hypnosis is at work" and that the "feeling of an altered state is merely one of the many subjective effects of suggestion."4

Scientific Evidence

Lilienfeld’s assertions concerned us because we want to be accurate about scientific evidence that we present in our books and articles. Therefore we contacted Dr. David Spiegel, distinguished professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, who is one of the many researchers we quote in our book on hypnosis. In our chapter titled "Can the Will Be Violated?" we quote Spiegel as saying:

The common idea that you would never do anything in hypnosis that you would not ordinarily do is not in fact true. You are more vulnerable and more at risk in a trance state because you are more focused in your attention and you are not as likely to think about peripheral considerations like is this a good idea to do this or what am I really doing? (emphasis in original).5

When we told him about the book by Lilienfeld et al and about their conclusions regarding hypnosis, Spiegel gave the following answer:

Lilienfeld is outdated and wrong in regard to hypnosis. His most recent reference is a decade old. There is plenty of evidence from neuroimaging research of activation of specific brain regions, including the anterior cingulated cortex and prefrontal cortex during hypnotic trance in ways that are significantly different from nontrance states.6

Spiegel further says in his email to us, "Hypnotic alteration of perception changes brain activity in specific sensory regions that reflect altered perception, not just altered reaction to perception."7 Spiegel presents additional evidence from research regarding altered perception during hypnosis by saying: "Furthermore, large randomized clinical trials show an effect of hypnosis in pain and anxiety reduction that is significantly greater than that found with non-hypnotic psychological support."8

Regarding some of the research cited by Lilienfeld, Spiegel says:

Three independent studies have disconfirmed the report of Dixon & Laurence (1992) cited by Lilienfeld and have shown that hypnotized individuals can reduce Stroop9 interference.10 Classical psychophysiology would suggest that such reduction of the color/lexical interference in this task is not possible, but it has been demonstrated with hypnosis. Attacking Milton Erickson’s misconceptions and stage hypnotists is a cheap shot and has nothing to do with current clinical and scientific knowledge regarding hypnosis. Thus Dr. Lilienfeld is long on opinion but short on evidence.11

Therefore the most recent scientific research opposes Lilienfeld’s assertions, confirms prior research presented in our book, and supports our conclusion that the hypnotic trance is an altered state of consciousness. Moreover, we contend that the hypnotic trance is an occult practice.

Biblical Evidence

In our book Hypnosis: Medical, Scientific, or Occultic? we provide a great deal of research information. However, we do not limit our evaluation to science alone, but more by the Word of God. Throughout the ages, an induced trance state has been associated with the occult, as pagan religious priests, shamans, witchdoctors, sorcerers, and yogis have entered into altered states of consciousness in their attempt to gain occult power, knowledge, and healing. We demonstrate in our book that hypnosis is occultic even when practiced by professionals. We quote John Weldon and Zola Levitt saying that even "a strictly scientific approach toward occult phenomena is insufficient protection against demonism. The judgment of God does not distinguish between scientific and nonscientific involvement with powers alien to Him."12

Scripture forbids all occult involvement, including trance states brought about by enchanters, witches, charmers, and wizards. They are "an abomination unto the Lord" because they draw people away from the Lord and into the satanic realm.

There shall not be found among you … an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, … or a wizard…. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee (Deut. 18:10-12).

The words from the Old Testament which are translated charmers and enchanters seem to indicate the same kinds of persons whom we now call hypnotherapists. Dave Hunt, author of The Cult Explosion13 and Occult Invasion14 and researcher in the area of the occult as well as the cults, says:

From the Biblical standpoint, I believe that in such places as Deuteronomy 18, when it speaks of "charmers" and "enchanters," the practice involved anciently was exactly what has recently become acceptable in medicine and psychiatry as hypnosis. I believe this both from the ancient usage of this word and from occult traditions.15

A Watchman Fellowship "Profile" says the following:

The Bible … is replete with clear admonitions against involvement with the occult (Leviticus 19:26; 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 47:9-13; Acts 8:9-11)…. There is general agreement that hypnotized individuals are somewhat vulnerable to uncritically accepting as true any suggestion given by the hypnotist. This factor alone creates the potential for misuse and deception. Some Christian researchers go a step further warning that it is possible for hypnotized subjects to be influenced by voices other than that of the hypnotist. They believe that in a trance state one is more susceptible to demonic oppression or even possession—especially if the subject has a history of occult experimentation.16

Watch Out for Hypnosis

Because of the occult nature of hypnosis (which is more obvious in the deeper stages) and because hypnosis is practiced by many who involve themselves in other areas of the occult, Christians would be wise to avoid hypnosis. In the final chapter of our book we also warn about the use of hypnosis in unexpected places, such as regressive therapy, inner healing, guided imagery, certain forms of guided meditation, certain relaxation techniques, hypnotic repetition (as in repetitive sounds as in certain forms of music and drumming), and in certain church services that may even unintentionally use hypnotic inductive techniques for setting the mood, particularly where thinking is set aside and a kind of mystical expectation is encouraged.

We encourage you to investigate further by accessing Hypnosis: Medical, Scientific, or Occultic? as a free ebook on our web site: www.psychoheresy-aware.org.


1 Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, "Altered States: Is hypnosis a distinct form of consciousness?" Scientific American Mind, Vol. 19., No. 6, p. 80.

2 Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

3 Ibid., p. 100.

4 Ibid., pp. 103-104.

5 David Spiegel, "Hypnosis: New Research for Self Control." Mind and Supermind lecture series, Santa Barbara City College, January 20, 1987.

6 David Spiegel, personal email, Dec. 20, 2009. Here he cites the following research: Cojan Y, Waber L, Schwartz S, et al: The brain under self-control: modulation of inhibitory and monitoring cortical networks during hypnotic paralysis. Neuron 62:862-75, 2009; Oakley DA, Halligan PW: Hypnotic suggestion and cognitive neuroscience. Trends Cogn Sci 13:264-70, 2009; Raij TT, Numminen J, Narvanen S, et al: Brain correlates of subjective reality of physically and psychologically induced pain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102:2147-51, 2005; Raij TT, Numminen J, Narvanen S, et al: Strength of prefrontal activation predicts intensity of suggestion-induced pain. Hum Brain Mapp 30:2890-7, 2009; Raz A, Fan J, Posner MI: Hypnotic suggestion reduces conflict in the human brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102:9978-83, 2005; Vanhaudenhuyse A, Boly M, Balteau E, et al: Pain and non-pain processing during hypnosis: a thulium-YAG event-related fMRI study. Neuroimage 47:1047-54, 2009

7 Spiegel, ibid., herein citing following research: Spiegel D, Bierre P, Rootenberg J: Hypnotic alteration of somatosensory perception. Am J Psychiatry 146:749-54, 1989; Kosslyn SM, Thompson WL, Costantini-Ferrando MF, et al: Hypnotic visual illusion alters color processing in the brain. American Journal of Psychiatry 157:1279-1284, 2000; Rainville P, Duncan GH, Price DD, et al: Pain affect encoded in human anterior cingulate but not somatosensory cortex. Science 277:968-71, 1997; Rainville P, Hofbauer RK, Paus T, et al: Cerebral mechanisms of hypnotic induction and suggestion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 11:110-25, 1999; Rainville P, Hofbauer RK, Bushnell MC, et al: Hypnosis modulates activity in brain structures involved in the regulation of consciousness. J Cogn Neurosci 14:887-901, 2002.

8 Spiegel ibid., herein citing following research: Lang EV, Berbaum KS, Faintuch S, et al: Adjunctive self-hypnotic relaxation for outpatient medical procedures: a prospective randomized trial with women undergoing large core breast biopsy. Pain 126:155-64, 2006; Lang EV, Benotsch EG, Fick LJ, et al: Adjunctive non-pharmacological analgesia for invasive medical procedures: a randomised trial. Lancet 355:1486-90, 2000.

9 Stroop interference tests the capacity to direct attention. In this instance there was color/lexical interference.

10 Spiegel, op. cit., herein citing following research: Nordby H, Hugdahl K, Jasiukaitis P, et al: Effects of hypnotizability on performance of a Stroop task and event-related potentials. Perceptual & Motor Skills 88:819-30, 1999; Raz A, Shapiro T, Fan J, et al: Hypnotic suggestion and the modulation of stroop interference. Arch Gen Psychiatry 59:1155-61, 2002; Sheehan PW, Donovan P, MacLeod CM: Strategy manipulation and the Stroop effect in hypnosis. Journal of abnormal psychology 97:455-460, 1988.

11 Spiegel, ibid.

12 John Weldon and Zola Levitt. Psychic Healing. Chicago: Moody Press,1982, p. 10.

13 Dave Hunt. The Cult Explosion. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1980.

14 Dave Hunt. Occult Invasion. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1998.

15 Dave Hunt, personal letter to Walter Martin, January 13, 1982, p. 5.

16 "Hypnosis." Profiles. Arlington, TX: Watchman Fellowship, 1998.

(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2010, Vol. 18, No. 6)

Article Topics | Titles | Top

PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries
4137 Primavera Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93110