In psychology, the use of hypnosis for memory recovery has been (and still is) a hotly debated and comprehensively researched topic.
Whether you’re trying to look for money you’ve once hidden but have totally forgotten, or trying to recover memories you feel had been repressed due to trauma, using hypnosis can be the key to recall. But is it accurate? Can you trust the memories you’re about to unlock with hypnotherapy?
This post should help you get a clearer picture of what hypnosis can or cannot do.
Does Hypnosis Help to Improve Memory Recovery?
Many people visit a hypnotherapist to help them remember something they’ve forgotten, such as jewelry. Although there are successful stories of recalled items after hypnosis, this isn’t a guarantee.
But before you get your hopes up, you first have to understand how your brain works and if it is possible to improve memory through hypnosis.
Memory Works in Mysterious Ways.
And just like our complicated, magical brains, many of the memory’s functions remain not fully understood.
Plus, the ability to remember memories may be reduced if you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, active substance abuse, psychotic disorders, dissociative disorders, or other mental health issues.
Memories Come in Short Term and Long-term.
Long-term memory has two stages: storing (where your brain stores an experience somewhere in the mind) and retrieval (the process of recalling THAT memory). Problems could occur in both stages, and you have no control of when or if this happens.
Pros and Cons of Hypnosis in Memory Recall
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness wherein memories may be accessed more easily. Unfortunately, it is also the state where our mind is open to fantasy and heightened imagination. As such, it can be tricky to tell whether the subject or events you’re recalling are real or just fantasy.
If done by a skilled hypnotherapist, improving memory of a particular event, or object is possible. However, remember that hypnosis for memory is a different area that aims to improve present and future memories.
Can Hypnosis Recover Lost Memories?
Recovering lost memories is a more delicate process because people who forget painful memories in the past may have done so unconsciously via a mental process called dissociation (or disconnecting from one’s feelings, thoughts, or memories).
Prolonged exposure to bad memories (such as childhood abuse or trauma) may lead to dissociation as a coping mechanism. Meaning, the brain of an abused child dissociates (or shuts out that memory) from his/her experience and totally forgets the abuse as he/she grows up.
These bad memories can be anything from sexual abuse, physical abuse, a traumatic loss, immense stress, or any life-changing event that happened weeks, months, or years ago. Although some people spontaneously recall memories of these events without the help of hypnotherapy or other therapeutic interventions, this isn’t the majority.
Regression therapy is very controversial. Researchers and therapists who support this kind of therapy believe that through hypnotherapy, participants can resolve significant events in their life and turn “solve” disorders and difficulties that may be interfering with their mental and emotional health. These issues can be unexplained guilt or shame, intimacy issues, phobias or fears with no known cause, relationship troubles, and so on.
There are two types of regression therapy: past life (where you resolve issues from your past life) and age regression (where you uncover events that could have happened during your childhood).
There isn’t enough evidence to determine if hypnosis can help a person’s brain recall what happened to him/her, but for those who have snippets of memories or a “gut feeling” that they had been abused as a child, hypnosis can be beneficial in several ways.
How Does Regression Therapy Work?
This technique focuses on finding out the cause of negative emotions, bad behavior, and other negative conditions a person might be facing for reasons he/she is unaware of.
For example, a client feels that his intimacy problems are caused by something or someone his young self repressed and that by uncovering what happened to him, that particular revelation could cure his behavior or pattern.
The hypnotherapist goes through several stages with the clients:
- Preparation – The search for lost memories begins with going into a relaxed state, often through deep breathing techniques.
- Regression techniques – Once the person is in a hypnotic trance, the medical professional guides the client to remember significant experiences and asks open-ended questions such as “what do you see? what can you hear? how do you feel?” and so on, instead of suggesting ideas to the person’s subconscious.
- Expression of previously repressed emotions – The therapist often encourages the client to be as detailed as possible, which is believed to help access the subconscious mind and pinpoint emotions associated with certain memories.
- Shifting of the subconscious to a positive mental state – Hypnotherapy can help in relearning or reprogramming. If you were able to access memories of childhood abuse or trauma, your journey won’t stop here. For example, the therapist can make a suggestion that can help you forget the feeling of unworthiness or replace the feeling of shame, after finding out your family sold you to sex offenders when you were young.
- Closing – Like in a typical hypnotherapy appointment, it is essential to close the session properly (often via deep breathing, counting, or other techniques).
Childhood Abuse and Traumatic Memories
There is more research needed to provide scientific research that the memories people remember during hypnotherapy sessions are reliable.
As such, if you believe that you suffered from abuse and your current mental health is suffering because you cannot fully recall your memories, hypnosis can still help. Here’s how:
- Calming yourself whenever you are getting anxious about an incomplete memory
- Emotions you trigger due to memories you recall can now be pinpointed
- Every positive suggestion a hypnotherapist makes during a trance would potentially give your subconscious mind a more positive outlook.
- Reprogramming negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors into positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
No one really wants to recall they suffered from child abuse (whether this is physical, sexual, emotional, and so on), but if forgetting these incidents has done nothing for your mental health, then you are free to undergo hypnotherapy.
Can Hypnosis Implant Memories?
Hypnosis has so many life-enhancing benefits when it’s used well, but the fears of this technique implanting false memories have merit. What you see in sci-fi movies people being “given” memories that are not theirs can actually happen in real life.
When a therapist feeds you with details of memory while you are under a hypnotic state and your subconscious is open to suggestion, there is a good chance that you’ll believe that the details you now remember actually happened. This is called a false memory, and it can be a serious issue.
Imagine forgetting about your own childhood abuse only to recall something totally different (or much worse than what happened) thanks to a therapist’s wrong way of questioning.
Your goal in any hypnotherapy session is to find a professional who can do it safely and properly every time.
Therapist vs. Self-Hypnosis for Recovering Memories
It is not recommended to perform self-hypnosis when trying to access forgotten memories. If you make a mistake, you might retraumatize yourself or give yourself pseudo memories.
Because of the real and dangerous possibility of developing false memories, finding hypnotherapists who could work with you may be trickier than you’d hope.
In addition, even if hypnotherapists join organizations like the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis and the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists, there is no regulatory body (or certification required) for hypnotherapists. So your best bet is to seek out a health care professional (who has taken the Hippocratic Oath) and with extensive experience in hypnotherapy.
Fortunately, everyone is online these days. Hunt for reputable ones. Read articles they’ve written in journals. Look for client feedback or evidence of successful sessions. And most importantly, weigh their scientific ability. You wouldn’t want someone who considers hypnotherapy as magic, would you?
There is potentially an unlimited number of ethical dilemmas one can face during a hypnotherapy session, which is why having a trusted person governed by the regulations of their profession put you under a hypnotic state is very important.