Professor teaches uses of hypnosis in learning

Michelle Kibiger

When kinesiology junior Janelle Jacques registered for classes this fall, she decided to take a learning skills class.
Like other University classes, it offered several sections at different times. Unlike any other class at the University, however, one section taught students how they could improve their learning skills through self-hypnosis.
“I thought that would be really interesting,” Jacques said.
University Professor Emeritus David Wark is teaching a 10-week course in Efficient Learning Skills this quarter, using self-hypnosis as the primary learning tool. Wark said that many misconceptions surround hypnosis; hypnosis is merely being in a focused and highly relaxed state.
“It’s really common to be in a relaxed, hypnotic state when you’re watching a movie or reading a book,” Wark said.
Wark said that because there are several steps to the process, individuals should consult a professional before trying to hypnotize themselves. He also said the process is about focusing on goals and producing a desired effect.
Before beginning, the participant should decide the desired result and determine what image would best help achieve that goal. Wark encourages his students who want to study more effectively to choose a page in one of their books, and focus on how bright and clear the letters are. This helps students concentrate more completely on what they are studying.
After deciding what image will work best, a participant then focuses on complete relaxation and achieving the desired goal. “You need to be in a relaxed state to begin with, where you can focus on what’s inside you,” Wark said.
Throughout the quarter, Wark has taught his students how to give themselves instructions to relax, how to design images for themselves, and then get the desired effect.
Students do not have to adhere to specific rules when determining which methods will help them focus, but Wark said that goals should be positive. He encourages students to set up goals that they “will” achieve instead of things that they “won’t” do anymore.
“The ‘I won’t’ image leaves you thinking about what you won’t do,” Wark said. He said that when people forbid certain acts for themselves, they tend to focus on that act.
Wark said some people cannot hypnotize themselves. Those who are adept at dissociating themselves from a particular situation are much more likely to succeed with hypnosis. Even simple daydream is considered a form of self-hypnosis.
Jacques said self-hypnosis helped her relax more when speaking in public. She also said it has improved her reading speed.
“I was kind of willing to try anything that might help,” she said.
Wark said popular culture has exploited false notions regarding hypnosis to make people fear it.
“People get the idea that they can be controlled and have their minds wiped out,” Wark said.
Wark said there is nothing to fear from hypnosis, and added that people are more likely to be disappointed that they are not able to be hypnotized than they are afraid of being manipulated by others.
“There has never, never, never been a case that I know of somebody going into a trance and then getting stuck,” he said. Furthermore, hypnosis involves self-control, not the control of someone else. For example, hypnotists who perform for audiences may appear to have “control,” said Wark, but participants are actually in control the whole time. Many people in such situations are either willingly cooperating or simply acting, Wark said.
Wark said there are several other practical uses for hypnosis. Surgeons recommend preparing a patient for surgery through hypnosis, so they will relax and experience less pain.
However, not all professionals have embraced hypnotic therapy. “You run into problems in the medical profession, where it’s seen as the last resort,” Wark said, “‘Go see that screwball and he’ll hypnotize you.'”
Wark said that there’s convincing evidence developing, though, that using hypnotic therapies before surgery cuts down on time patients must stay in the hospital after the procedure and the amount of drug therapy they will need to reduce pain.