The altered state of consciousness known as hypnosis is a natural state of mind that most people experience in various forms almost everyday. Daydreaming, deep absorption while watching a movie or while reading, or the jolting experience of driving for several miles in a familiar area and not remembering any of the landmarks, the lights, the turns, the stops, and etc. The latter experience is known as “road hypnosis” and can be very frightening when it happens, but it illustrates the power of the subconscious mind and puzzling nature of hypnosis.
The distinction between these kinds of experiences and hypnosis as understood in the formal sense of the term is that hypnosis is something that is intentionally induced or caused to happen. A hypnotist or hypnotherapist
intentionally directs the subject’s attention in such a way that he or she is lulled into a focused and very relaxed condition that makes positive suggestions more effective. However, lest the reader think that the hypnotist can somehow force the subject to do something that he does not want to do, let us at once put this fallacious and fictitious notion to rest. It has been shown many times that a hypnotic suggestion which conflicts with the values or moral beliefs of the subject will be either be ignored or it will cause him to awaken from the trance state. What does often force a person to change is the hypnotic-like effects of culture and the massive and persistent bombardment of advertising: But this is a topic that is touched upon elsewhere
on these web pages.
There are many forms of hypnotic induction. Perhaps the types that are most commonly known, or should I say notorious, are the techniques of stage hypnotists. The subject may be staring into the stage lights and the hypnotist is telling him that he going to bark like a dog and crawl on all fours when he hears a certain word or sees some other cue given by the hypnotist. Sure enough, the subject is shortly doing just as it was suggested that he do. This is an example of what is called a rapid induction, but it is a very poor example what occurs in hypnotherapy. One of the reasons that a rapid induction is possible in stage hypnosis is because the subject is carefully screened for optimum suggestibility. What type of person is likely to volunteer to be hypnotized in front of hundreds of people, particularly when the subject realizes that he or she will be made to look foolish even if it is all in good fun? Clearly, the volunteer is going to be outgoing and a person who enjoys entertaining people. This person will also have been tested for suggestibility, and furthermore the dynamics of group behavior will be used to help suggest behavior that might not be accepted in a private session with a hypnotherapist. Why this digression? Because rapid inductions are most effective for hypnotherapy clients who have been successfully hypnotized in the past and/or who are very good at getting themselves to drift rapidly into the hypnotic state.
There are a many techniques for rapid induction, but Milton Erickson demonstrated how it is possible to informally induce hypnosis, sometimes very rapidly, through the establishment of rapport and understanding how to skillfully use language to redirect the client’s attention and indirectly make therapeutic suggestion through metaphor and other forms of symbolism. More typical, however, lengthier inductions involving such things as eye fixation and closure, deepening suggestions both through language and imagery, confusion techniques that tire and lull the mind, and progressive relaxation that both serves the function of relaxing the client into a meditation-like state and to focus the mind’s attention on the process of doing so. I personally tend to combine many techniques in any particular session. Regardless of the induction technique that is used, the purpose is to achieve the extreme mental focus and absorption that makes therapeutic suggestion more effective.
Statistically, the majority of individuals never reach deep hypnosis or somnambulism when undergoing an hypnotic induction. Some individuals, however, do drift off into a deep trance. In this deep state it may be possible to do things which are extraordinary as compared to what is possible in the waking state. Virtually everyone has experienced the sudden recall of a long lost memory while out for a walk or in some other moment of distraction. Something jars the subconscious and the sudden recall may resolve some stubborn problem that up until then has resisted solution. In hypnosis, particularly in deep hypnosis, the intentional recall of memory can sometimes be accomplished through “regression” and seems to cause a reliving of the experience in which the memory became hidden or submerged. In deep hypnosis, other remarkable feats such as positive hallucinations (hallucinating that something is there when it isn’t) and negative hallucinations (hallucinating something not to be there when in fact it is) are possible. However, deep hypnosis is generally not necessary for many of the beneficial effects sought by those seeking hypnotherapy. A light to medium state of hypnosis is all that is necessary to effectively communicate possible suggestions targeted at weight-loss, smoking cessation, anxiety and phobia reduction, improved motivation, as well as many other applications. The notion that a client has to “go under” in order for hypnotherapy to be successful represents a serious misunderstanding. Many clients experience phenomenal results while in their own minds they are “still waiting to be hypnotized” because after the hypnotic session they remembered everything and don’t “feel” that hypnosis really occurred. They may have only experienced a feeling of calm and relaxation. Hypnosis works through subliminal suggestion. Regardless of how deep the state of hypnosis, the success of the hypnotherapy is due to its ability to bypass the barrier to change–the “critical editor”– that has been put up by the conscious mind. This bypass does not require deep hypnosis or somnambulism. It is important to remember that hypnotherapy is a form of therapy. The measure of success, is success! Successful hypnotherapy does not require that the client be “put under” and or experience amnesia of what occurred or was said during the hypnotic session. The success of hypnotherapy is the realization of the positive change sought by the client.