The Rev. Dr. Prentice Kinser III, B.A., M.B.A., M.Div., D.Min., CPC, NBCCH, is Executive Director and Pastoral Counselor for the Blue Ridge Pastoral Counseling Centers, Inc. (BRPCC), is an ordained minister (Episcopal priest), has received a Doctor of Ministry degree in pastoral counseling and psychotherapy, is certified as a Pastoral Counselor and Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, is an Adjunct Faculty member at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, and is a National Board Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, a Certified Trainer of Clinical Hypnotherapy, a husband, a father of three children, and a grandfather of three grandchildren.
Dr. Kinser leads Vestry retreats, spiritual growth classes, stop smoking, weight loss, and performance enhancement programs.
All of these positive benefits can be used to greatly enhance spiritual practices, deepen meditation and prayer, control stress, assist in physical, spiritual and emotional healing, and, in general, assist individuals to find greater wholeness and happiness in life.
“Hypnosis and Pastoral Hypnotherapy” is a portion of Dr. Prentice Kinser, III’s doctoral thesis presented in June, 1997 at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Many psychological and physical factors, acting reciprocally through the image-producing faculties of the mind induce the perceptual response called hypnosis.
The capacity to enter into hypnosis is as natural a phenomenon as sleep, but it is distinctly different from sleep. Hypnosis has been described as “a state of consciousness involving an extension of concentration combined with a susceptibility to suggestion occurring during physiological relaxation.”(1) Another definition I find useful is: “Hypnosis is a process which produces relaxation, distraction of the conscious mind, heightened suggestibility and increased awareness, allowing access to the subconscious mind, through the imagination. It also produces the ability to experience thoughts and images as real.”(2)
My own approach to hypnosis, pastoral hypnotherapy, and treatment comes out of my training and experience in using the therapeutic insights and writings of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. (19011980). From that perspective, hypnosis can be seen as an altered psychological state “generally characterized by certain physiological attributes (e.g., relaxed muscle tone, reduced blood pressure, slowed breath rate), by an enhanced receptivity to suggestion, and by an increased access to unconscious feelings, ideas, and memories (Erickson, 1989).”(3)
It is important to remember that hypnosis does not have to involve the stereotypic rituals of swinging pendulums, watches or crystal balls, or that it is a fixed internal state. “Clinical” hypnosis and “pastoral” hypnotherapy do imply a clinical or pastoral setting, with the focus more on the process of communication and therapeutic outcome, rather than on the hypnotic state involved.
Clearly, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, i.e., it is different from normal waking consciousness. However, it is believed that all people go in and out of hypnosis on a regular basis.
Many people have experienced a type of hypnotic state while driving a car and become unconscious of the fact that they are still driving. As they come out of the hypnotic state, they suddenly realize they do not remember what has happened for the past several minutes. It is as though an unconscious part of the mind was able to drive the car, avoid danger, speed up and slow down as necessary, while the conscious mind went off on a brief vacation thinking about something else. A hypnotic state may be experienced in the movies or while watching TV when people become so involved that they actually cry about a picture that has been projected onto a screen. At one level of their minds they know the picture is fiction. On another level, their minds move voluntarily into the imagination in which there is a suspension of reality testing and an acceptance of what is happening on the screen as real.
Likewise, when people experience hypnosis, they often simply allow their bodies to relax and their minds to focus attention on the words they hear, and the various images they may represent in their minds. As Erickson observed, this is not hypersuggestible mind control but a very natural process that allows clients to more easily reach goals or objectives they have chosen for themselves. With proper motivation, the client moves naturally and easily into a comfortable hypnotic state. This is a safe process in the hands of a trained Hypnotherapist.
In summary, hypnosis, when utilized by trained and competent practitioners, can be a natural, comfortable and helpful process of communication, during which clients and/or parishioners may experience increased attention to suggestions, profound concentration, heightened recall of memories and access to state-dependent memories, greater image-producing abilities, and increased ability to form new habit patterns.
1. David Fox, “Mind/Body, Brain/Soul: Halakhic Explorations of Hypnotic Trance Phenomena,” Journal of Psychology and Judaism, Vol. 16, No.2 (Summer 1992), p. 97.
2. A.M. Krasner, The Wizard Within (Santa Ana: American Board of Hypnotherapy Press, 1991), p.2.
3. John H. Edgette, Psy.D., and Janet Sasson Edgette, Psy. D., The Handbook of Hypnotic Phenomena in Psychotherapy (New York: Brunner/Mazel, Inc., 1995), pp. 3-4.
4. Edgette and Edgette, p. 4, quoting J.K. Zeig “Therapeutic patterns of Ericksonian influence on communication” in J. K. Zeig (Ed) The Evolution of Psychotherapy (New York: Brunner/Mazel, Inc, 1987) pp. 392-412).