Can Connectionist Models Be Applied to Hypnosis

Can Connectionist Models Be Applied to Hypnosis

 

I would not be writing this article if I thought the answer was ‘no’. Connectionist models of the mind explain how language gives rise to consciousness. It shows how external stimulus can activate certain brain patterns, somewhat randomly, which are then given meaning in a linguistical output. The nodes which are activated are dependent upon both the input, and subsequent feedback given regarding the linguistical output. For example, if I see an animal with wings, two legs, and a beak, a series of neural networks are activated until and my output will be “bird”. This is either confirmed or contradicted by my experience, or feedback from others. If it is confirmed, the networks that were stimulated to achieve the output of “bird” are strengthened, and that network continues to grow until it is associated with other qualities, such as the animal flies, has feathers, eats worms, etc. Because this network is developed, if I were to see a penguin, I would come to the conclusion that this animal with wings, two legs, and a beak is a bird, and therefore must fly. This would be incorrect, and the feedback I get that this bird does not fly, but instead swims, would adjust the weights of the nodes so that sometimes when I see a bird, I might have an output of “swims” rather than “flies”. I would also develop more specific ideas of birds, less prototypical, as I develop concepts of sparrows, penguins, canaries, etc.

 

So what does this have to do with hypnosis? As our realities are shaped by our language, and our language (and thus meanings) are shaped by the statistical activation of our neural networks, hypnosis must work within this system to accomplish change. I believe hypnosis comes into play in three ways. The first is through the feedback mechanism. When a client, say a smoker, has a trigger which activates a neural network for the need to smoke, that need is reaffirmed through the quenching of the craving and the physiological response which signifies that the smoking output was correct. Hypnosis needs to change that feedback to make it incorrect. It needs to tell the system that given the same inputs, it needs to find a different output to be correct. The weights in the system need to change so that a healthy output is achieved, and that healthy output needs the proper feedback to reinforce the network system. In a sense it turns our notion of “bird” into “penguin” with a strong feedback loop. With the proper methods, hypnosis can provide a strong enough feedback mechanism to drastically change the statistical weights of the nodal system.

The second way in which hypnosis works in a connectionist framework is that it reshapes the input to begin with. Instead of a certain reality activating a specific set of input nodes, it begins by activating a different set of initial nodes altogether, thereby altering the subsequent network of nodes which are activated. To use the example above, instead of activating the nodes of “animal, wings, two legs, beak” to get the output of “bird” hypnosis can change the focus to instead activate a different set of nodes, such as “small, tail feathers, sings” for example. This has two effects. The most important is that it activates an entirely different neural network, which is not well-entrenched and well-developed. It may or may not lead to the same output of “bird”, but being an infantile neural network it is malleable with feedback as opposed to the original well-established one in which feedback will play only a small role. Secondly, as mentioned, the output may or may not change. It is possible that with the new set of input nodes that the same output of “bird” could be achieved, but more likely the output itself will change to something such as “robin”. Both of these effects can have profound impacts to accomplish the goals you are trying to achieve. In smoking for example, the attention on the triggers which cause the smoking behavior can be altered so that the triggers themselves activate a different neural network which is malleable and could have a different output. Instead of focusing on needing to finish a meal with a cigarette, the client would instead notice how much energy the meal gave them, which will lead to the need to take a walk to complete the meal rather than a cigarette.   Should a cigarette still be the output, the network which gets there is weaker and open to feedback which can easily change it.

Hypnosis is further effective in connectionist frameworks in that it can alter the statitistical weights within the network through suggestion. So while the input nodes may be the same, they end up producing a different output than they normally would.

Is Hypnotherapy Ethical?

Is Hypnotherapy Ethical?

The generally accepted basis of an ethical approach is to respect beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, and autonomy of an individual.  Beneficence refers to simply acting in an individual’s best interest and offering them a benefit and along a similar vein, non-maleficence refers to doing no harm or not using hypnosis for evil.  To satisfy justice, one must use hypnosis in a non-discriminatory fashion, and spread the risks and benefits equally.  The autonomy of the individual is what allows a person to exercise free will and have their choices respected.  Hypnotherapy is an unique field, but I assert that it meets all of the criteria for an ethical practice.

Hypnosis is an effective means of producing desirable change through relaxation and focused attention to improve underlying mental scripts.  In this sense it is clear that hypnotherapy respects beneficence as the hypnotist and the client work together to produce desired changes that benefit the client, whether it be to achieve one’s highest potential or change habits that improve health.  It is clear that hypnosis meets the criteria of beneficence as it has been demonstrated to be an effective means of positive change.  There are cases where hypnosis has not been effective, such as in cases of an inexperienced practitioner, or a client who is resistant for various reasons.  But despite the efficacy in these rare cases, the intent of a hypnotherapist is to provide a benefit to the client and in this it exceeds expectations.

In terms of non-maleficence, hypnotherapy succeeds as well as there is little risk to hypnosis.  Generally, if a hypnotherapy session is unsuccessful, there are no repercussions and the client would simply fall asleep and wake up later.  While a session could be inefficacious, this does not in itself prove to be harmful.  It is possible that a suggestion could be made during hypnosis for which a client did not respond well and this could result in harm being done.  This is unlikely to happen with a trained hypnotherapist as hypnotists are well aware of the power of their suggestions.  Further, a client, even while in deep trance, will not respond to a suggestion that they do not agree with.  This is why hypnosis is a procedure in which both the hypnotherapist and the client work together to establish the goals of the session ahead of time.  It is not possible for the hypnotist to ‘take over’ and implement harms to a client.  That being said, hypnosis is not completely risk free.  The risks however are very low, and the benefits as noted above greatly outweigh the risks to provide an extremely positive risk/benefit ratio.  In this sense hypnotherapy satisfies the requirement of non-maleficence because it is practically impossible to cause harm even if that was the intent of a practitioner.

Justice is an odd concept for a private practice, but as long as the hypnotherapist respects all eligible clients and does not discriminate in his or her practice, justice is an easy standard to accomplish.  If hypnotherapy were more broadly accepted as a healthcare approach for the public, this principle would come into play more.  As it is, it is up to each practitioner to exercise justice within his or her own practice.

There is a misconception about hypnosis.  That is the idea that the client, while under hypnosis, looses control of his or her mind to the hypnotherapist, and that they succumb to the will of the hypnotherapist.  This misconception has been the most difficult for hypnosis to overcome, and if true, would compromise the principle of respect for autonomy.  Hypnosis however does not compromise autonomy and in fact helps to build one’s sense of self.  As noted above, the hypnotherapist does not impart his or her own will upon a client, but rather works with the client ahead of time to implement the changes that the client desires.  Clients are fully informed before, during, and after each session.  It is the client who is coming to the hypnotist with an agenda to be fulfilled and the hypnotherapist simply guides them through the process.  This in a sense helps one to build individual will power and make the positive changes they desire.  And since the client does not respond to suggestions that they find reprehensible, they maintain control throughout the hypnosis session.  In fact the client can wake up at any time they desire.  Given this, it appears the principle of autonomy is respected in the profession.

Hypnotherapy appears to meet the tenants of an ethical practice.  Subjects benefit from the sessions, no harm is done and the risk/benefit ratio is favorable, justice is easy to accomplish, and individuals’ autonomy is fully respected and strengthened.  Given that each principle is fully met with hypnosis, and the potential benefits of the art, it is important that hypnosis be respected as a viable tool in the well being of individuals seeking improvements in their lives.

Hypnosis Is The Viable Alternative

There are many techniques available to solve your problems or accomplish your goals.  Often times these techniques are marketed as a quick fix, whether it be for weight loss, or smoking cessation, or earning more money.  The truth is that while some of these techniques work, most of them do not, and are a waste of your time, money, and attention.  Hypnosis is often a technique that is used as a last resort because of misconceptions about the art and practice of the technique.  This may be attributable to the fact that as William N. Upshaw, M.D. writes in Hypnosis: Medicine’s Dirty Word, “the therapeutic effects of hypnosis have rarely been refuted. However, supernatural or religious characterizations, unscientific explanations, scientifically viable alternative treatments, negative media, and most recently a 1985 AMA report about the forensic use of the technique, have collectively caused hypnosis to be shunned by many in the medical profession.”  This misrepresentation is unfortunate and spreads beyond the medical profession.  But unlike many of the other methods of change which are often accepted by the mainstream, hypnosis has been proven to be a safe and effective means of accomplishing goals time and time and time again.  Given its success rate, it is time that hypnosis is recognized as the viable alternative that it is and given the credibility it has earned.

What Are Mental Scripts?

What are mental scripts?  I’ve received questions asking for more clarification about what a mental script is.  I recently complimented a friend of mine on his positive outlook for the year.  He mentioned that success is all about positive thought and that thought influences your attitude, attitude influences your actions, and your actions influence your character.  This is all true and easy to agree with.  He wanted to start at the core of success by shaping his thoughts to be positive and optimistic.  While he didn’t realize it at the time, my friend was using mental scripts to lead to a new reality for himself.

Humans process reality through language.  We take information from the world which we acquire through our senses, and through learning, and we encode this information in the form of language.  All of our conscious thoughts occur through language, and once those thoughts and beliefs are encoded, they are played over and over to ourselves in a constant unconscious loop until new information is incorporated to change them.  When people ask, “What is a mental script?”, this is what they are referring to.  It is the linguistic representations of reality that we have encoded in our minds.

Another way to describe mental scripts is to consider them our internal dialog, both conscious and unconscious.  Everything we do has language associated with it.  Even as I pick up this coffee cup, I think, “I want some coffee, I am going to reach out and bring this cup up to my mouth” before I actually drink.  I may not exactly say this, but the thoughts are running through my head.  Beyond our everyday actions however, we have ingrained representations of ourselves and the way the world is.  Some of these are positive, such as “life is great” and some are negative such as “nobody likes me”.  All of our thoughts, beliefs and opinions are reflected in our mental scripts, and thus our realities are shaped by these scripts.

Knowing that these scripts vastly influence reality and your life, it is worthwhile to understand how to control these scripts.  They are built up over time and reinforced through repetition, and are shaped by many different sources.  They usually take time to change.  For example, as a young person you might have the mental script of “I am a boy”.  This is repeated and reinforced for most of your life and is a strong script that runs unconsciously through your mind.  As you get older, that script begins to change with some realizations that you are changing, and you receive inputs of “I am a man”.  The man script competes with the boy script, but the boy script remains dominant.  Eventually, enough inputs of “I am a man” are experienced so that it becomes the dominant script, though “I am a boy” still lingers as a small percentage of your beliefs (which is partially why even as adults we sometimes feel like children).  As enough time passes, the boy script fades and you are left with the belief/reality that you are a man, and act accordingly.  While this change is usually gradual, there are some things that may accelerate the change, such as a right of passage ceremony, or the death of a parent.

These scripts exist for everything from what you think is healthy, what your values are, who you like/dislike, your politics, your religion, and everything else.  I will continue to write more about mental scripts, but for now I leave you with this exercise:

Write down all of your beliefs that comes to mind about yourself, and be completely honest.  Seriously, take 5 minutes to do this and you will be amazed.  Write down what you think you are good at, what you are bad at, what your self image is, what you like, dont like, etc.  Some of this will be true, and some will not, but you have begun a vital exercise of identifying your own mental scripts.  The next step is change them or erase them and construct new ones based on your own will and intentions.