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Differences Between Hypnosis And Brainwashing

Updated on November 4, 2007
Hypnotherapists are not at all like Svengali (portrayed here by John Barrymore)
Hypnotherapists are not at all like Svengali (portrayed here by John Barrymore)

People often shy away from any mention that they see a hypnotherapist because they think hypnosis is brainwashing. Far from it. Hypnosis and brainwashing are two different things, with differing techniques and results. Also, hypnosis (often called Hypnotherapy) is recognized as a legitimate form of medical treatment by the American Medical Association. Brainwashing is not.

What Is Hypnosis, Then?

When you compare hypnosis (or hypnotherapy) and brainwashing, you can clearly see that they are not the same thing. Hypnotherapy isn't even the same as stage performers who claim to hypnotize people (as seen in the film clip below). With hypnotherapy:

  • you have to want to be hypnotized
  • you won't do anything that a hypnotherapist suggests that you don't want to
  • puts you in a pleasant deeply relaxed state
  • usually makes you feel refreshed after a session
  • seeks to make you a happy member of your community

What Brainwashing Is

Brainwashing, in comparison:

  • is done without the patient's consent
  • forces your body into a hypnotic state through intimidation, starvation and sleep deprivation
  • does not make you feel better afterwards
  • seeks to isolate you completely from everyone else
  • wants to make you do something you don't

How did hypnosis and brainwashing become synonyms in the mind of popular culture?

Evil Svengalis

People have always been scared of not being in control of their own lives. When Dr. Anton Mesmer of Austria started giving public demonstrations of hypnotism in the late 1700's, audiences were both intrigued and repulsed. This love-hate relationship with hypnosis demonstrations was not lost on author George du Mauriner. In 1849, his novel Trilby was published to great acclaim. In the novel was the character of Dr. Svengali, an evil hypnotist who controlled innocent young girls to obey his every whim. Dr. Svengali has shown up in many movies, portrayed most chillingly by John Barrymore.

When Russia teetered on the brink of Revolution, one of the celebrities of the day was Rasputin "The Mad Monk", who was also a hypnotist. He would use hypnotism to help soothe the hemophiliac Prince and charm his was with the Imperial family. He was also a notorious women-chaser, drunk and religious fanatic. He was used as an example of how depraved and useless the Imperial family had become. Rasputin was the closest living Dr. Svengali that history has ever known. Anything having to do with Rasputin was condemned, including the arguably good affects of his hypnotism.

Hypnotherapy Today

What's old is new again - hypnosis and brainwashing are starting to be perceived as the different things that they are. The field of hypnotherapy is a growing one, with hypnotism used to help ailments of the body, the mind and the spirit. And if you don't like the thought of going to someone for hypnotherapy, there are many DVDs, CDs and cassette tapes explaining how to hypnotize yourself. Self-hypnosis takes a while to learn, like any other skill, so go easy on yourself. Hypnotherapy - whether done by a licensed hypnotherapist or by yourself - is meant to get rid of stress, not to add to it.


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    casandrakumsung 9 years ago

    Advertising is brainwashing. So it Education and religious training by parents. It is receptive words phrases. You will believe something if it is said to you enough. Brainwashing is usually associated with mental torture, sleep deprivation to break down ones will. The CIA are masters at it without touching their victim. They do not call it torture because mental torture is not defined and is much more efficive than physical torture.

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    Covert Hypnosis 1 8 years ago

    Hi, great lens. Although I tend to disagree a bit - hypnosis CAN be used to brainwash people. Hypnosis in and of itself is neither good nor bad - it depends on the person who uses it. And unforunately, there are people that are using hypnosis in manipulative ways too.

    But the large majority of hypnotists are ethical and morally clean. There's no reason to shy away from hypnosis. You can use a knive to cut a piece of bread, but you can also use it to kill someone. Does that mean that you won't ever touch a knive? I hope not :-)

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    Hypnotize Yourself 7 years ago

    Hmmm, hypnosis can be used to change your beliefs. Whilst its not brainwashing in the normal sense, it sure is powerful

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    Conversational Hypnosis  7 years ago

    I think Many people used hypnosis in different purpose..

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    Rick Collingwood 6 years ago

    Anton Mesmer used Mesmerism not Hypnosis. No words were spoken in the use of Mesmeriam, it was an energetic transfer method. It was James Braid who introduced the spoken word to hypnosis and it is well known that the CIA used hypnosis during MKULTRA

  • FitnezzJim profile image

    FitnezzJim 6 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

    Good discussion, so well done that I wonder to what extent hypnosis has influenced our history.

  • Derek_Lane profile image

    Derek_Lane 6 years ago from USA

    Interesting post Rena though there is a blurring of the distinction between consent and hypnotherapy. Many hypnotherapists are now use Ericksonian Hypnosis and this has been proven to work best without the consent of the patient. Yes they know that they are talking to a therapists but they don't know they are actively being hypnotized. As another comment said this technique has been combined with NLP to produce conversational hypnosis which is widely used on the street. Sometimes this is positive and other times exploitative but its the morality of the hypnotist not the skill itself that should be questioned.

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    enyo 5 years ago


    * you have to want to be hypnotized

    - It can be done without agreement (faked signature).

    * you won't do anything that a hypnotherapist suggests that you don't want to

    - A person who is hypnotized displays certain unusual characteristics and propensities, compared with a non-hypnotized subject, most notably hyper-suggestibility, which some authorities have considered a sine qua non of hypnosis, this is why it is very dangerous and can be used to inject anything into somebody's mind.


    Anything can be injected into your mind. It means it can make you think you want to do some stuff that you wouldn't have done if you were yourself.

    * puts you in a pleasant deeply relaxed state

    - Let's talk about that after this shit made you do awfull stuff

    * usually makes you feel refreshed after a session

    - See previous point

    * seeks to make you a happy member of your community

    - See previous point

This will not happen in a hypnotherapy session

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