Do hypnosis tapes work?

Fans of the American sitcom Friends might remember the episode where Chandler starts listening to hypnosis tapes while he sleeps in an effort to stop smoking. When Chandler begins to act effeminately during the day, nobody knows why until he finds out that the tape tells him during the night that he is “a strong, confident woman who doesn’t need to smoke”.

Although not a particularly realistic example, it’s a great argument that hypnosis tapes work. However, it’s not a guarantee!

The point of hypnosis tapes such as the one used by Chandler is to enable the individual to give up bad habits such as smoking or overeating. This is claimed to be done through suggestion; a less intensive form of hypnotherapy that can be done while the body and mind are at their most relaxed (ie while asleep). There is no basis of ‘induction’ involved in this method suggestion – think of the scary stereotypical swinging of a pocket watch while a man tells you you’re getting sleepy – which means that this process is entirely voluntary.

It’s claimed that the body is more likely to respond to these suggestions when putting up the least resistance – on a subconscious level you won’t immediately reject ideas offhand like your conscious mind might – and so it’s hypothetically possible that you would begin to alter your behaviour and attitudes towards things like food and smoking. Hypnosis tapes are becoming increasingly popular these days, with personalities like Paul McKenna providing their expertise on his own range of hypnosis products.

Unfortunately, aside from clever marketing and that episode of Friends, there’s very little other evidence to suggest that this form of self-help actually works. If produced properly, the tapes can at least help the mind relax and focus, but that’s what relaxation tapes are for; a form of suggestion that encourages users just to calm their minds. If you’re looking to quit a bad habit then there’s no greater force than willpower; least of all a disembodied voice giving suggestions!

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