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Does Hypnosis Improve Memory?

Attention, memory, and focus.

Did you ever hide something important - not to lose it, just to forget where you hid it? Well, could using hypnosis help you recall the location of that item? The power of hypnosis can certainly increase focus but, how could it help you remember? The answer to that question rests in the mechanisms of memory, hypnosis and the skill of the hypnotist.

Over the years many clients have come to me asking for hypnosis to find lost jewelry, valuable papers, or items that were simply misplaced. Most of the time I have been successful in helping these people retrieve their items. The same applies to actual memories that may have been forgotten. The research literature is full of studies that document the power of hypnosis to enhance memory. Most studies are laboratory based experiments that usually show a significant increase in the recall of hypnotized subjects as compared to normal controls. Articles about psychology are full of stories of people who recover lost things or recall memories that presumably were lost.

The key to understanding the ability of hypnosis to improve memory is found in how our memory works in the first place. Memory is actually a complicated system that remains not fully understood. There are the very short term memories (like recalling a phone number) which last a few seconds. The long term memory works in a two stage process. First, you store the experience somewhere in you mind and secondly, we have to recall that memory. Problems may occur in either system: the storage or retrieval. Remember hypnosis is a trance that focuses attention on a limited area, can slow down thinking, heighten the imagination, and prevent distractions. Hypnosis, if used by a skilled practitioner, can help focus attention on either part of the memory system, how the information was stored or how to recall it.

Did you forget something? The first question is what and how were you trying to store that information? What cognitive mode were you using (visual, auditory, written, sensory, etc)? What was the context of the situation? What were any associations about the information? For example, Kathy wanted to hide the combination to her safe where nobody would find it. She wrote it down on a small white piece of paper and taped to a file called "home equipment" and stored it in her file cabinet under "valuables." After returning from a long trip, she could not remember the combination. She also could not remember where she hid the instructions. When she came to my office, I helped her enter a light trance where she could still speak with me and we went over her actions and decisions about storing the combination. Eventually, she was able to retrace her steps and remembered exactly where the paper was hidden.

This kind of memory retrieval was accomplished by helping the subject focus on the experience and sequence of details increasing the vividness of each memory until all the information was recalled. Police have used hypnotists to help witnesses recall details of crime scenes. This has actually led to the thorny issue of false memories and many states have even created laws regarding how hypnosis is used in legal matters. It is possible for an unethical hypnotist to insert fabricated memories into an unsuspecting person, however this does not happen spontaneously. Therapists routinely use regression (taking the subject back in time to early memories) to help resolve conflicts or traumatic memories.

There is no question that hypnosis has the power to enhance memories by improving the mechanisms by which we create and retrieve them. This is partly based on the subject's suggestibility or persuasiveness which can be used to encourage deeper probing until recall is successful. If you forgot something, first try to reconstruct the memory best you can. If you really cannot recall the information, give a call to a qualified hypnotherapist and they should be able to help you remember.

The power of hypnosis is ultimately in the workings of the human mind. Trance allows deeper access to parts of the subconscious or unconscious mind that are normally outside our ordinary wakeful consciousness. The trance gives us uncontested permission to snoop around the inner labyrinth of the mind. You actually never know what you may come across. In general, we usually do not have bizarre hidden memories but, there are many things we would never remember if we did not make an extra special effort to recall it. When it is really important, do not underestimate what hypnosis can do for you.

Your questions and comments are welcome... Keep going in positive directions.

About the Author
John Ryder Ph.D.

John Ryder, Ph.D., is a psychologist, hypnotherapist, and the author of Positive Directions. He is a mental fitness expert who offers effective tools to refocus on the positive.

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