Exploring Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy In Virtual Reality Environments

The strong, oaken-looking door looked ominous. Forbidding. Heart in mouth, I approached.

It was slightly ajar, the thin crack between frame and door not quite announcing what was on the other side. As I reached out to touch the handle a disembodied voice came from within.

A voice I knew but didn’t know.

“It’s OK . Don’t worry about a thing. I’m here to protect you.”

Slowly I realise. It was mine. Yet not mine.

 

 

Does Hypnotherapy Work?

 

In theory (and in practice, from one very powerful personal experience) a subject can be induced into such a deep hypnotic state (assuming they are susceptible enough, and willing to accept that state) after which they will believe that their experience in that state was real.


Or at least cause them to deeply question the reality of it, even though they know that logic tells them it was not real.


They can have had an experience which will remain vivid in their memory for a lifetime.

 

For Everybody?


This wouldn’t be the case for everyone, and I suspect that the fact that the subject was susceptible enough to be induced also contributes to the level of reality – and the long term maintenance of the imagery encountered within it in whatever area of the brain it’s stored in – that they attribute to it afterwards.


I don’t understand the exact mechanism in the brain that makes this happen, and whether it’s purely psychological or has some physiological inputs. Probably a mixture of both. But this is most likely best handled as the subject of a different question.


What seems clear though is that it can be created. Created at a level of believed reality depending on the skill and techniques of the hypnotist/hypnotherapist involved. Allied, maybe partly and maybe wholly, to the susceptibility of the subject.

 

So the actual act of hypnotising (at least from a hypnotherapist perspective) includes the use of tone, words, and imagined imagery. Combined, they take the subject (if the subject ‘allows’ them to) into an altered state of consciousness. One which bypasses the normal questioning state of the brain, and allows suggestions to be made direct to the part which is our subconscious.


Most people can soak up the tone and words.


But some may not be able to create the vivid imagery in their heads that might help to create the state in which they can be fully hypnotised.


Maybe it’s that ability to combine imagery with the suggestive tone and clever use of words that partially differentiates a susceptible subject from one that does not respond.

 

So given the major element of virtual reality is sight based – everything else (sound, feeling etc) is an addition which can enhance the immersion level, not create it on its own – it follows that if the imagery can be supplied in the VR environment, accompanied by the words and tone of a skilled hypnotherapist, then that experience could:

 


1. Be used to increase the number of susceptible subjects ie those who will respond
2. Speed up the time taken to move a subject into an altered state ie do it quicker
3. Improve the success rate of the intended ‘fix’ ie achieve the desired result of the session

 

But there’s more to it.

 

“It’s OK . Don’t worry about a thing. I’m here to protect you”

How Hypnotherapy Might Work In VR

 

In a ‘normal’ one on one hypnotherapist to subject session there are psychological inputs at play that might be distorted in a VR based session.

 

You (the subject) are willing to be there. You want it to be successful.


And your subconscious – that small part of it that looks through a tiny crack in the door just enough to keep you safe, that is present in the conscious you – wants it too. It will allow the altered state to exist and throw open the door for the therapist to walk through and tell it what it’s doing wrong.


‘Safe’ here is a key word to note.


What does safe mean to you?

 

Almost certainly you’ll be thinking safe in a physical sense. Safe from harm.


But that’s not the ‘safe’ the subconscious means/recognises.


Sure, that small part of it is working behind your rational self to give common sense physical protection.


But really it’s trusting the rational self to handle that, based on real life/real world experience and understanding. The experience built up over your lifetime that tells you it’s not safe to run into the path of a car, for example.


The subconscious is present in that type example only on a sixth sense level, and at varying degrees. The crack in the door.


What ‘safe’ means to the subconscious is the maintenance of a response – whether it’s right or wrong, beneficial or not – that it believes is right for you. But that belief is based on one or more experiences it learned to protect you from psychologically. That is, it built a response based on something that happened that may no longer be needed.

 

 

In a Virtual Reality Hypnosis Session, Would This Work In The Same Way?


You’re there willingly, so the intent is the same.


But could the power of the virtual environment change the way your conscious mind and subconscious are interacting at the outset of the session?


In a way that either hinders or enables the hypnosis.


Could the perceived reality of virtual reality trick the subconscious into believing it needs to afford more or less protection?


And actually would the immersive nature of the experience cause the conscious self to focus too much on the experience itself, thereby disallowing the total relaxation of conscious thought that the therapist is trying to induce?

 

These are all rhetorical questions which probably haven’t been investigated yet. They may or may not have a bearing on success rates.

What is clear though is that given VR is working on the brain, it will be altering brain wave patterns. Hence with the right input added to the ‘right’ ability of the subject to ‘surrender’, there would appear to be every chance that a hypnosis session in VR would be highly successful in many cases.

I suspect that it will need a highly skilled hypnotherapist to pull it off, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see one or two become emminent in the field. It’s possible that over time we’ll the application of hypnotherapy combined with virtual reality experience increasing, and maybe one day reaching the point where all sessions involve some immersive assistance to reach the desired states.