A Book Review by Tim Brunson, PhD
When I first learned of the upcoming publication of Neuro-Hypnosis: Using Self-Hypnosis to Activate the Brain for Change by C. Alexander Simpkins and Annellen M. Simpkins, I was thrilled. Together the title and a statement in the book's introduction implied that the authors had written about how the mind can be deliberately used to change the brain. As this is a theme of much of my writings, I was encouraged by the fact that others were independently recognizing the power that we humans have in affecting lasting change. However, after an exhaustive reading I have concluded that this is yet another Ericksonian-oriented "what is hypnosis" primer as well as an interesting and entertaining self-help book. My hopes and expectations were not met.
As the authors briefly admit in their concise history of hypnosis, the words "Neuro-Hypnosis" actually came from the original name (neuro-hypnotism) given the phenomena by James Braid, MD – and later shortened to just "hypnosis." Therefore, the implication that the book was going to discuss neurology and hypnosis in a meaningful way was rather misleading. Yet, they did include a few diagrams and pages discussing the intricacies of neuro-substrates and neurotransmitters, and threw in the word "brain" occasionally. Regardless, this did not justify the subtitle or the expectation clearly set in the book's introduction. Furthermore, I found this to be somewhat excessive for the non-clinical reader and insufficient for the professional audience.
When these issues were overlooked, the book presented an enjoyable reading experience. The latter half of the book contained several organized and clear subject-specific discussions and scripts, which can be extremely valuable both to clinicians and on a self-help basis. In fact, I found this to be the book's most important asset. Therefore, I wish that they had focused the entire volume on providing Ericksonian-based self-help techniques and eliminated the first half – and the pretence that the book had anything to do with mind-based neurological changes.
Their references to neurology concepts actually seemed to be somewhat out of place. In fact, in some ways they appeared to be awkwardly inserted. Although I very much appreciated the pages regarding the more recent work of Ernest Rossi, PhD, otherwise the brain stuff was more informational and not necessarily highly relevant to the points they were making. It was easy to come to the conclusion that the authors were involved in a somewhat Procrustean effort to vindicate nearly 60 year old Ericksonian "hypnotherapy" ideas with modern neurological concepts. I would have rather that they would have shown how the psychiatrist's profound ideas could be modified or further advanced by recent brain studies. Additionally, the thoroughness of citations of the then innovative works of notables such Hilgard and Kroger were interesting – but old news to the experienced clinician. Those researchers did their most influential work back in the 1970's. On the other hand, there has been a tremendous amount of neurological discoveries in the meanwhile. Nevertheless, I did appreciate their brief coverage of Rossi's work and the mention of the recent research done by Amir Raz, PhD. If fully understood, contributions by researchers such as Rossi and Raz could revolutionize how we view hypnosis – which may imply that the self-help techniques discussed in the latter part of the book could stand more than a little updating. I am not sure who would benefit the most from this volume. It lacks the coherence and accuracy one would expect for a book that is intended to be directed primarily toward a professional audience. In fact, in many ways it read like a New Age self-help book, which typically contains unsubstantiated statements, which are to be accepted only on the basis of faith or the author's persuasive influence. This was especially true as they frequently and loosely used the words hypnosis – which they never accurately or definitively explained – and unconscious (or unconscious mind or subconscious mind) – which is essentially a Western-only philosophical term lacking scientific credibility. Furthermore, as already mentioned, their inadequate attempts to weave in a trendy neurological thread were insufficiently related to the self-help angle. And, I fear that this would alienate or be rather meaningless to the average reader.
While I would have hoped to have learned a great deal from this book, its credibility was quickly destroyed as I encountered more than a few statements regarding what I believe to be incorrect facts – based upon my formal and subsequent hypnotherapy training and the prior reading of many the original works cited by the authors. Additionally, as a long-term Buddhist scholar and practitioner I found that their occasional attempts to make points using Buddhist concepts were particularly disturbing. (As mindfulness therapy is a recent trend, many writers find that it is fashionable to accessorize their work with Buddhist references.) Specifically, their statement on page 59 that Buddhism "holds that the world is continually changing and so there is no real, lasting, physical or material substance" is incorrect. Nargajuna's (150-230 c.e.) Madhyamaka Prasangika School, which formed the core of Mahayana Buddhist thought recognizes the existence of both explicit and implicit meaning and substance. Thus an object has both a real substance as well as one that is dependent upon the sum total of environmental and historical influences (i.e. the Law of Dependent Origination). Again, the authors were inappropriately presenting themselves as authorities. It was instances like this that led me to doubt the value of the other information they presented.
In many ways I experienced considerable difficulty deciding what this book was about – as well as for whom it was intended. There was a tremendous amount of information, which was presented in a clear – yet rather disjointed way. Again, the self-help scripts and information were brilliant even though I would have preferred for them to be presented differently. So, after having carefully read and frequently annotated this volume with my professorial pen, I am afraid that this will not be a book that I will be recommending. There are several other books on the market that provide a more comprehensive set of self-help techniques and/or a more professional discussion of the nature of hypnosis. I do, however, recommend that the serious student of hypnosis review the authors' extensive bibliography and take the time to read their source material. I am sure that such study will lead the reader to profound insights, which will most assuredly be considerably different than the authors of Neuro-Hypnosis. For those interested in positive neurological transformation and health, I would recommend that they seek the work of Daniel Amen, MD, or Allan Snyder, PhD.