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The Power of Suggestion: A Discussion of Hypnosis & Hegemony

Shayna or Sheness Israel's picture

This paper addresses the question of the definition of suggestion and some of its effects. More importantly, I address the overall or basic question of the power of suggestion. To do this I have chosen to look at scientific and non-scientific notions of the effects of suggestion particularly focusing on hypnosis and hypnotherapy. I do this with the intent of showing how much we as people are susceptible to forces that can alters us in powerful ways as well as bring into question what are those filter mechanisms that we use to counterbalance the potentially powerful effects of suggestion.

Suggestion as Power

To first begin examining these questions, I start with a working definition of suggestion: “Suggestion is the name given to the psychological process by which one person may guide the thoughts, feelings or behaviors of another.”(1) Imbedded in this definition is a power dynamic—one person explicitly moving or controlling the thoughts and feelings of another. These power dynamics are not inherently positive or negative, they are both. The controlling of someone’s behavior allows for enjoyable and non-enjoyable aspects to be born. The best example of that is culture. Also imbedded in this is the idea that mode of thinking such as those exhibited by culture are all based on things and opinions that are pretty much arbitrary.

Thus, one may imply based on Foucault, that suggestion is knowledge or truth in the sense that all three are arbitrary and gain significance or legitimation through mechanisms that are deemed to produce truth, i.e. through an authority that one believes as valid—that authority, for example, can be scholarly journals, or WebMD™. (2) According to ideas of hegemony, dominant ways of thinking or dominant frameworks gain their apparent naturalness from the perception that they are solely legitimate and everything else is less legitimate or crazy. So, if we believe our “own” thoughts as legitimate because it shares in the dominant way of thinking, we have internalized someone else’s criteria for what counts as valid and we have done so at the expense of other suggestions or knowledge that are equally as valid.

Here is the basic power of suggestion. It can be used in hegemonic ways—simply, for domination—or to facilitate amazing things such as helping someone quit smoking. Modern hypnotherapists understand this and have built an ethic around consent. (3) They do not impose their suggestions on people, but rather implant the suggestions that people request of them, i.e. people asking hypnotherapists to eradicate phobias that they find debilitating.

Scientific Notion of the Power of Suggestion: Hypnosis & Its Effects

The previous discussion of the power of suggestion being the power of domination is to allow the reader to be aware that the above framework is the one I am using throughout this paper to conceptualize suggestion and also this framework helps the reader understand why I chose to use hypnosis and hypnotherapy to demonstrate the effects of suggestion in terms scientific data—I chose hypnosis because it clearly shows how power over another can directly impact and change thoughts. Hypnotherapy is a positive way to use suggestion because the patient goes in wanting their minds to be changed. However, one can easily see how this power can be used in negative ways and ways that do not involve consent by all parties. Here, I will begin my discussion of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.

Hypnosis can be described as an induced passive state in which there is increased responsiveness to suggestions. (4) There are many discrepancies not regarding the existence of the hypnotic state, but regarding the effects of hypnotism. This is due to the fact that much of the time the results of hypnosis vary in quantity and quality. However, because they are so many studies and cases where drastic and unexpected change has occurred because of hypnosis, it becomes difficult to dismiss the existence of some its effects.

The interesting thing about some of these effects is that many state that suggestions during hypnotic states by either a trained person or themselves can alter the body and functions of the body that were once thought of as involuntary and unchanging, at least through conscious action. In the article Cholecystectomy (Gall Bladder Surgery) with Self-Hypnosis by Victor Rausch, D.D.S., Victor writes about redirecting the pain of surgery in a hypnotic state:

I could mentally direct the flowing sensation to any area and achieve complete control, and still be totally aware of every step of the operation. I would simply allow sensations cause by the surgery to rise to the surface and cancel them by mentally directing this apparent flowing force to the area in question. It was like establishing an equilibrium or balance in a disrupted kind of energy field. (5)


In Rausch’s article he has a chart of his blood pressure during this process and it literally was consistently low, save during the initial incision, throughout the entire operation. Another article sites four doctors, not associated with one another, that have increased women’s bust sizes through hypnosis. (6) In the four doctors, each found that every woman in the studied increased breast size to some degree and some even lost weight in the process. One doctor presented his study to the Department of Neuropsychiatry, University of California, Los Angeles, February 28, 1971. Other examples of the effects of hypnosis include overcoming phobias, quitting smoking, eliminating anxiety, stopping allergic reactions, reducing pain in childbirth, eliminating asthma, drug addictions, emotional problems, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, overeating, rheumatism, skin disorders, stress and more. (7)


I believe hypnosis and hypnotherapy to be effective. For I personally know that I use trance states to help calm or rejuvenate me throughout the day. Also, I have used self-hypnosis to overcome feelings of ugliness and worthlessness as well as have used it to overcome my past eating disorder—meaning I have, with concentration and intent, tried to reprogram beliefs that I had about myself during focused or associated trance states. My point in bringing this personal example up is that I am already convinced that there are some effects, if not major effects of hypnotism. What I am most interested in is the “how” of hypnosis. When, how, and through what do we accept or not accept suggestion? What is actually happening in the brain and body?

Many of the articles that I have read talked about “dual consciousness,” either by describing it as the objective vs. the subjective mind or the conscious vs. the unconscious or as the left brain vs. the right brain. (8) Each describes the diminishing function of the objective/conscious/left brain, which is associated with logical thought and rationality, during the hypnosis state and increased activity in the subjective/unconscious/right brain, which is associated with dreaming and creativity.

If this is all true, the hypnotic state or trance states are ways to literally shift gears in the brain. The question for me is why is there this shift? What is going on in the right hemisphere of the neocortex? Why are the two hemispheres of the neocortex “seeing” differently? How and why do they choose to agree or disagree with one another? Why are we dominantly moving and utilizing the “one side” of the brain at the expense of the other in this society? In our society, there is a left-brain hegemony. One cannot help but entertain the idea of what our society would look like if we used all of our brain equally or much differently than we do now.



References and Web Pages


1) Working Definition of Suggestion:

2) Foucault, Michel. 1980. “Truth and Power.” In Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. C Gordon, ed. New York: Pantheon Books.

3) Ethics of Hypnotherapy:

4) Definition of Hypnosis:

5) No anesthesia, Surgery and Self-hypnotism:

6) Breast Enlargement through Hypnosis:

7) Examples of the Effects of Hypnosis:

8) Left brain vs. Right Brain:



shanit's picture

is it possible that the

is it possible that the person in hypnosis state, we suggest them that they can look by imaging even though their eyes were closed. will they be abe to see exactly the same what is happening?

Serendip Visitor's picture

Seeing things which do not exist.

Is it possible, through the power of suggestion (within ones own mind and forethought), with the forces of left brain/right side of brain to mislead, and cause a measure of 'convolution' within ones' own thought process, thus seeing things which may not be happening as thought or actually perceived as seeing? I had an occurence of something recently (very personal regarding a loved one) that I was 100% sure I was witnessing, but was very hard to fathom, however, I do know I saw, what I saw. Point is, and overall it possible to be 'witnessing' something, and not really be seeing what is really happening completely. Hard to exactly word this correctly, but bottom line, can a rational, sane person see things that are not happening, or vice versa..I am not 'expert' enought in this area to really know.

Hypnotherapy Downloads's picture


Seems to me that suggestion is used in daily conversation even, but that the hypnotic 'trance' improves the suggestibility.
There's been some interesting work done at University College London in the MRI scanner you'd find fascinating!

I've been using some medication hypnosis downloads from the site my name links to, which have given me some very impressive journeys!

Keep up the great work!


Sara Struthers's picture

I understand that an ounce of

I understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, but the thing is that no one knows for sure just how far out we are from finding a cure. In the mean time though, I think it's more important to focus on the tasks at hand - for instance, methods of treatment for those who already have it. Having survived breast cancer myself, I found it a little frustrating that there was this relatively huge amount of support for breast cancer research, and little for those who are currently suffering. It's not that I don't appreciate all these donation commercials and pink ribbon stickers for your car and what not, but those do nothing for the ones like me, who have already undergone treatment, and are now focusing on breast reconstruction and getting their lives back.

Cal Banyan's picture

Definition of Hypnosis

I enjoyed your article and agree with you that hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be very useful.

I'd like your comments on my working definition of hypnosis...

Hypnosis A heightened state of suggestibility, such that the suggestions given are accepted as being true and effect the beliefs, habits, perceptions and behaviors of an individual in varying degrees according to the depth of hypnosis established. "Deeper levels" of hypnosis enable the hypnotized individual to experience greater hypnotic phenomenon such as light states being able to create catalepsy by suggestion, and deeper states allowing the individual to experience amnesia, anesthesia, and hallucinations.Generally there are several types of hypnosis, (1) naturally occurring hypnosis, (2) hetero hypnosis, (3) self-hypnosis, and (4) waking suggestion which is similar to placebo.

Anonymous's picture

last 10 years

It has only been in the last 10 years that science has been able to really discover what goes on in the human mind during hypnotherapy. It has essentially confirmed what most hypnotherapists have known, that being the fact that the RAS or the 'critical mind' goes quiet allowing direct access to the concious mind.

Anonymous's picture


Theres alot of new scientific data which can be found at local universities on the exact neurology that occurs during hypnosis.

For me the explaination that seems to be hinted at time and time again by neurologists is that hypnosis is a state akin to REM.

Thanks for the article
Vincent Lynch

Jason Meyer's picture


The power of suggestion even works with animals as well esp DOGS for some reason..., this article helped me tons.