Is Hypnosis Science? or Pseudoscience?
Why are many Hypnotherapists considered Pseudoscience?
A fundamental misunderstanding that many people have about science is within the definition of science itself. When there is a personal interest in a subject or the need to boost credibility in a personal opinion many will desire to align themselves and what they believe by calling it Scientific. This desire often with good intentions, and often with self-serving attempts will require a failure to accept the limits that science places on itself, in
1) Types of things it investigates,
2) The way they are investigated and
3) The conclusions that can be made.
Scientific investigation must follow the scientific method, it must be observable, empirical and measurable: that is, it has to be physical matter, that can be measured and tested, and the conclusions or findings come from the data obtained. The data must present a statistically valid effect, and without enough data to make a conclusion, science can not guess or assume – it must respond “We don’t know”
What is Science? – What is not Science?
Science is defined as:
An enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the natural/material world, through a strict and defined process called the Scientific Method. The Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.
How Science is Done
A scientific study will start with a hypothesis (a statement that logically follows from existing knowledge) that is designed to investigate one specific and defined effect, removing anything else (referred to as noise) from the equation and compares it to controls which are known values. In therapy for example a new technique or idea will be stripped down to a clearly defined approach and compared to a placebo or existing therapy approach, (which have a known effect) and controls will be placed to ensure nothing else except what is studied will be measured. Science attempts to answer questions and gain knowledge, and the results are valued even if they disprove the original hypothesis. The conclusions based on the findings are then made which may support the original idea being studied, refute it or provide another question to ask.
It is a totally normal situation for a study that showed a remarkable effect to be shown by more research to have been a mistake or a result contamination. In fact the researcher is obligated to attempt to disprove their own findings when the results exceed what is expected. Science makes it conclusions of All the data obtained – and only after enough data has been collected and shows a result is it accepted as a consensus or agreeable conclusion.
The findings of science do not prove something – it shows that one idea (hypothesis) has a much higher probability of being more correct than another. This is one of the issues with a theory about what hypnosis is. There are several hypothesis about “what hypnosis is” and “how hypnosis works” and the results so far do not show any one hypothesis as having more data to stand above the others. The truthfully answer to the question “What is hypnosis” is “We don’t know yet”
After considerable evidence is found an attempt to explain the data is called a Theory. A scientific theory differs from the common meaning of the word – in that a scientific theory is something that has already a massive amount of data to support it, whereas in common usage, the word implies evidence must be found to support the idea.
What Science is not
To qualify as science, the Hypothesis must come from current understanding of what is already known, and must contain details of a possible explanation to explain in observable and measurable ways what is to be investigated. Creationism is therefore not science as it starts with the Hypothesis “God did it” and rather than look for data that shows a knowledgeable understanding of how God did it, it looks for examples of where current knowledge does not yet have an answer, and makes the claim ‘we don’t know how this works therefore god did it’. In the debate in America to teach creationism as science, supporters often don’t know how science limits its ability to investigate something or they attempt to redefine science.
Science does not attempt to investigate or explain anything non-physical. It does not investigate or can be called upon in an attempt to understand the paranormal or metaphysical. By its very definition the Metaphysical is not physical matter, and the attempt to bring science into such realms is referred to as Pseudoscience (claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status)
How Hypnotherapy and a Hypnotherapists get confused
Contrast, the approach of Science with the objective of a therapist, where the aim is to improve the effectiveness of the results of the therapy method they use. They do everything they can to improve, which often includes accepting the explanation they were taught when they learnt the method, and supporting the belief by looking for and finding people and results that confirm what they think. As a general human trait, we are attracted and look for evidence that conforms with what we already believe, and are apt to dismiss and have actual mental processes and behaviors that downplay anything (evidence) that might contradict it. The use of the scientific method is designed to prevent this in genuine scientific investigations.
How a Hypnotist becomes confused and involves Pseudoscience
Understand that the intentions of a Hypnotherapist is always to provide the best results for their clients, and that their prime focus is on creating results and not a critical look at how those results are obtained. Often therapeutic results are called miracles or a therapist is remarkable, rather than seeing all results fall within the statistical variation. When a client is helped with hypnosis more than by a medical Doctor, it becomes easy for a therapist to convince themselves that they cured something incurable. Especially when the client tells them that their Doctor can not explain the results, when it is not understand how medical science tries to examine what specific treatment creates what specific result and how. The Therapist however adds as many approaches and factors as they can and is not concerned with the effects of any one component of the treatment. When the claim is made that hypnosis can help with treatments without an understanding of how it affected the issue it becomes Pseudoscience.
Concepts such as you can learn as you sleep or accomplish incredible amazing things once you tap into your true mind potential, become plausible based on a long history of such claims and one or two experienced situations, and accepted as real. Because of a lack of detailed knowledge of how these results are obtained the metaphysical is used to provide an explanation. In addition there maybe one or two studies that seem to show the thing and it seems to be scientific because studies show a similar effect. The hundreds of studies that showed the effect never occurred again when tested, or the millions of brain scans that show (for example Sleep learning or only using 10% of your brain) not to be the case get filtered out, often with an explanation that evokes Pseudoscience.
A Hypnotherapist has usually never been trained to question or validate a result, rather the results seem to confirm what they were taught and it makes sense to accept the given explanation of what is happening. And since many people who learn Hypnotherapy have come to it from an existing New Age or Metaphysical belief system this is the approached used. As is the case with many Alternative Medical therapies, when a scientific study is first reported that supports what is believed it is grabbed and incorporated into the philosophy of how the system might work. Without the understanding of what science is, and what it is not – there is a great appeal to referring to ‘scientific proof’. Confusion arises then as science progresses and looks at the totality of results to form a conclusion, and a therapist has a focus of building evidence that supports what they do.
Claims about hypnosis and hypnotherapy become Pseudoscience, when there is no causation of a claim made. There might be a reasonably assumption made that the brain changes as we grow and learn. Then studies might show that in actual fact the structure of the brain does change in patients after a stroke and a part of the brain that used to control an aspect of visual processing now starts to be used in the retraining of movement after the motor section of the brain was damaged in the stroke. To therefore say that Hypnosis causes changes in the brain as you change behavior moves out of the realm of science and into the realm of Pseudoscience because it is a claim which is presented as scientific, but lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, or lacks a description of how Hypnosis might create this claim.