There are a few common fears and misconceptions about hypnosis, such as losing control, being made to do something illegal or immoral or not being able to wake up. None of these are possible with hypnosis as is explained below along with the answers to some other common questions.
What is hypnosis?
What hypnosis is not
What makes hypnosis effective?
Can I use hypnosis to help with XYZ?
How does it feel to be hypnotized?
How does a hypnotist hypnotize a person?
Can everyone be hypnotized?
How do I know if I can be hypnotized?
Is hypnotism more effective than self-hypnotism?
Are hypnosis recordings effective?
Can I make my own hypnosis recordings?
What if the hypnotist can't wake me up?
Glossary of hypnotic terms
Narrowly focused attention - While in hypnosis it is easy to simply 'forget' about the outside world. Stray thoughts and mental chatter are reduced or turned off completely and body awareness is similarly reduced or forgotten. Subjects retaining a body awareness usually describe the sensation with descriptions such as very pleasant, euphoric, tingly,floating, light or heavy.
There are common everyday occurences of narrow focus that we have all experienced. For example, in a crowded restaurant we are able to chat with the people at our table, filtering out the noise, distractions and other conversations that are happening at the same time (unless a conversation you overhear is so engrossing that you can't focus on your own conversation!) Another example is when someone is talking to you and your mind wanders momentarily, perhaps triggered by something the speaker has said. You 'come back' several seconds later, realizing that you have not heard a thing that has been said, at least not consciously.
This narrow focus, either on the words of the hypnotist or on the subject's internal experience is part of the power of hypnosis. When our minds are filled with distracting or even conflicting 'voices' it is a challenge to remain focused on a single issue. Hypnotic subjects frequently describe the experience as one of great mental clarity.
Increased suggestibility - Increased suggestibility means that suggestions made during hypnosis, either by a hypnotist or through self-hypnosis, will have a greater impact than if they were made during normal waking consciousness. This does not mean that any suggestion made will be mechanically obeyed. It is widely accepted that in order for hypnotic suggestions to take hold they must be in agreement with the individual's own moral code. Furthermore these suggestions should be therapeutically well-formed, meaning that they are crafted for maximum effect by using language that is best suited to the subject's own communication style.
While in a hypnotic state the conscious aspect of the mind is quieted as it would be during normal sleep, yet the inner consciousness remains alert and highly focused. The conscious mind, in addition to all the good it does for us, is also the seat of judgement, doubt, skepticism, feelings of unworthiness and so forth. When a positive suggestion is made during the waking state the conscious mind will often throw in its own 'two cents', and by the time the positive statement reaches the inner mind it is accompanied with contrary or negative statements based on past experience, defeatism and other self-sabotaging thoughts. The same positive suggestion made while under hypnosis is delivered to the inner mind without this additional 'editorializing'. If the suggestion is rational and sensible then the inner mind very much enjoys this good news and it is enthusiastically accepted.
There are many common fears and misconceptions about hypnosis popularized by books and movies, or by having seen or heard about outlandish behavior induced by a stage hypnotist. The most common fears are centered around losing control over one's own mind, revealing private information or being made to take innappropriate actions. Through the use of drugs and aggressive brainwashing techniques this may be possible, however it is not at all possible with hypnosis.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis and it's much more accurate to think of the hypnotist as a coach or tour guide rather than as a master and commander. Entering hypnosis is a completely voluntary process that takes the full cooperation of the subject. People are often surprised, sometimes even disappointed, after their first hypnosis session if they were expecting an overpowering or mind-blowing experience. While these mental states are possible it usually takes a few sessions for most people to enter deep hypnosis.
As for stage hypnotism, please keep in mind that this is show business, not unlike a magic act. While the participants are truly hypnotized to different degrees a certain amount of showmanship and misdirection is employed to create the illusion of an all powerful hypnotist who is in complete control over his or her subjects. To this end the stage hypnotist strives to convey a mystical presence in order to enhance the entertainment value and also increase the expectation by potential subjects that they will be hypnotized.
About one in six people are what is known as natural sonambulists, which means that they are able to reach a state of deep hypnosis easily the first time they are hypnotized, even under these extraordinary conditions. Therefore, another important skill of the stage hypnotist is the ability to select suitable individuals from amongst the many volunteers. Volunteer is a key word, remember that these people eagerly offered to be part of the act to fulfill a personal desire to entertain themselves and others and to experience hypnosis.
Being in a state of hypnosis does not in any way circumvent our normal sense of values. To the contrary, as hypnosis is a state of deep focus and powerful inner awareness it is much more likely to promote an even stronger sense of self and adherence to one's personal values. This is how hypnosis can be so effective in achievng goals such as weight loss or quitting smoking, by putting us intimately in touch with our core beliefs and desires.
Throughout the day we naturally enter states of hypnosis in various ways. Also, as we are falling asleep or waking up we briefly pass through states (hypnagogic and hypnopompic resp.) that are similar to hypnosis. In summation, hypnosis is a natural state of mind and a powerful tool that may help us achieve our goals, it may not be used to harm or compromise us.
We learn and unlearn through experience and repetition. Repetition is required in part because so little of experience actually makes it through to our inner mind, and what does get through is often distorted and accompanied by distracting or conflicting thoughts.
It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the subconsious mind does not know the difference between a real experience and one that is imagined. This may seem hard to believe, but that is from the perspective of your conscious mind. So consider that all of our experiences, real or imagined, are now nothing more than memories, the impact and clarity of which are dependent upon the impact of the initial experience (real or imagined). For example, you may have had a dream that seemed very real and wake up still feeling strong emotions from the dream. You are fully aware that it was only a dream, yet somehow the experience and the emotions stay with you.
The aftereffect of hypnosis is not unlike this dream experience. You will most likely recall that suggestions were made and you will be fully aware that any role playing or imagined experiences were 'all in your head'. Nonetheless, the experience can feel very real, much more so than in the case of a powerful dream because the suggestions are carefully tailored for acceptance and are spoken directly to your subconscious. Often the hypnotic experience will feel 'realer than real' as all of the images, feelings, sounds and thoughts are internally generated. Contrast this to real experience which has been filtered through our sense organs and our conscious minds, leaving us with what is essentially a highly edited second-generation copy of 'reality'.
Everything that we achieve is through the use of our minds. Even great physical feats would not be possible without mental cooperation. Those who engage in physical sports are well aware that mental attitude is key to success. With this understanding it is clear that the potential uses for hypnosis are essentially unlimited. Anything that involves a mental process may be facilitated through the use of hypnosis, and everything we do involves a mental process.
Many people first explore hypnosis for help in losing weight or quitting smoking. Hypnosis can be very effective in these cases if this is truly the desire of the individual. Remember that hypnosis cannot make you do anything that you really do not want to do, even if it is something very good for you such as quitting smoking. With a legitimate desire to quit smoking or lose weight hypnotism can be used to overcome contrary expectations, skepticism or issues of discipline and will power.
Musical ability, public speaking, creativity, relationship skills, each of these are examples where hypnosis can help to reach goals more quickly and easily. Naturally hypnosis is not a magic wand, nor can it affect situations out of our control. We cannot make someone love us, win the lottery or get our children to do their homework by undergoing hypnosis, at least not directly. We may however change ourselves, our attitudes, behaviors and outlook on life, and this in turn will affect how the people in our lives treat us and the opportunities that become available to us.
The answer to this will vary from person to person, but it is not what many people expect, which is to 'black out' completely. Blacking out (referred to as amnesia) can happen when subjects attain a deep level of hynosis, particularly if the hypnotist makes the suggestion to not remember the session. This is sometimes done when the hypnotist believes it is in the best interest of reaching the stated goal. The experience for most people is much less pronounced, especially in the first or second session.
There is a sensation of great physical and mental relaxation. Ordinarilly you would feel quite relaxed sitting in a big easy chair, kicked back with your feet up, but idle would be a better description of this state. The muscles still remain nearly active and ready for action and the same is true for the mind. Relaxation under hypnosis is much deeper and it is often quite surprising how relaxed one can become while under hypnosis.
Physical relaxation leads to mental relaxation which is again much more profound than normal relaxation. People will often take a break and relax physically, but how often do we give our minds a break, and could we do it even if we wanted to? It's hard to realize just how busy our minds are until we have something to compare it to. The sense of mental calm while under hypnosis is rejuvenating, like a mini-vacation. Some compare it to having been in a room with a TV set that is always running, and then having the TV turned off for a moment of peace, quiet and reflection. This temporary break from our constant thought processes is one of the most pleasant aspects of being hypnotized.
As the trance deepens many people will simply 'forget' that they have a body altogether. If a fire alarm went off they could jump up and be out the door in a moment, but without the need for that it is very easy to just completely let go of body awareness. This is due in part to the hypnotic characteristic of focused attention. Whatever has your attention will have your full attention, to the exclusion of outside thoughts, sounds and even body awareness.
If the hypnotist engages the subject in guided imagery or role playing then these will often be experienced quite vividly and the post-session memories will also be as strong as if the experience had physically taken place. When recalling the experiences they may seem 'realer than real' or 'bigger than life', and this is a very uplifting and rewarding experience.
The hypnotist is likely to make suggestions that support your goal, whether it be to eat the right foods or be a confident speaker. If the suggestions are well formed and compatible with the subject then they will be accepted and internalized at a very deep level and integrated with your core beliefs and expectations. It can take a much longer time to make fundamental changes to our belief systems from the waking state where we have to contend with conflicting thoughts and without the benefit of narrowly focused attention.
To conclude the session the hypnotist will usually either count or suggest that the subject take a few deep breaths and open his or her eyes when they're ready. The hypnotist will almost always say something along the lines of "You will wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated", yet upon first 'waking up' there is often a slight sense of grogginess. This fades away quite rapidly however, leaving you alert, fully awake and feeling very positive.
Entering hypnosis is a skill that improves with practice and it's a skill well worth learning. Consider for example the effort that you put into learning to ride a bike or drive a car, effort that was well spent as you are now able to bike or drive for pleasure and mobility. Similarly, being adept at entering a hypnotic state gives you a vehicle for relaxation, pleasure and mobility in your life.
Styles will vary greatly and what may work well for one subject may not work as well for another. An experienced and intuitive hypnotist is able to discern which approach is appropriate for a given subject. While the methods do vary the desired outcome is always the same, hence different means to the same end.
The reknowned hypnotist Milton Erickson described the process of hypnotizing as gradually directing the subject's attention from the outer experience increasingly towards their inner experience, while simultaneously narrowing the focus of attention. This usually begins with body relaxation, guiding the subject to release any tension from their muscles. This naturally begins to calm the mind and the hypnotist then proceeds to calm the mind with appropriate, generally soothing statements. The subject's attention has been brought from the world at large, to his or her body, and into the mind and ultimately into the subconscious.
Another key technique is the hypnotic patter or cadence that a hypnotist will use. This is essentially speaking in a very even and measured tone, using short rhythmic phrases and perhaps timing these phrases with the subject's breathing. An experienced hypnotist is able to 'read' the subject's inner experience by carefully observing their outer appearance, judging muscle tone, changes in breathing, facial expressions and other subtle cues. The hypnotist may then alter the words or pace to best assist the subject in letting go and entering a trance state. The steady, metronomic pulse of the hypnotist's words have a lulling, and yes 'hypnotic' effect, much more so than one might expect until they have experienced it.
The short answer is a qualified 'yes'. The exceptions to this fall into two broad categories, subjects with mental illness and subjects with various forms of fear or resistance. Hypnosis is a team effort and requires of the subject the ability to rest calmly and attempt to follow the instructions of the hypnotist. This may not be possible for individuals afflicted with certain mental disorders.
Sometimes fears or misconceptions about hypnosis can be stumbling blocks. Remember that hypnosis is a voluntary process and the subject must allow this to take place. This is why a hypnotist will discuss and dispel any myths and fears about hypnosis before beginning the hypnosis session with a new client.
Some individuals with perfectly functioning minds and a genuine desire to be hypnotized may still find that they are not able to be hypnotized, even after visiting several hypnotists. There are any number of reasons why this may be a problem, such as not believing that they can be hypnotized or having the wrong idea about what being hypnotized really is. Usually it is just a matter of clarification and patience that will eventually break through with these subjects, and once they've broken through future session will be easy. In fact, initially resistive subjects often turn out to be able to reach profound states of hypnosis once they've overcome the obstacles.
Again, the above are exceptions as most people are able to by hypnotized by most hypnotists during the first session. Classically about 25% of the population were considered to be very easy subjects (natural sonambulists), another 50% average subjects and the final 25% were considered difficult subjects. This view is no longer held by modern hypnotists. Though it is true that people will vary in how readily they may be hypnotized, it is now recognized (owing in large part to the work of Milton Erickson) that the approach must be varied to suit the subject and that there is no one-size-fits-all magical trance incantation that will work for everybody.
First you should recognize that you have been hypnotized thousands of times in your life as you go about your daily business. Each of us passes through a hypnotic state when falling asleep (hypnagogic state) and when awakening (hypnopompic state). In addition to this there are times throughout the day when we may enter a state of spontaneous hypnosis. If you've ever 'spaced out', lost track of time or missed your turn because you were thinking of something else then you have been hypnotized. These examples of everyday hypnosis don't seem that dazzling or useful, but they are 'cut from the same cloth' as the hypnotic trance we think of in relation to hypnotherapy.
Being hypnotized is a skill which requires the ability and willingness to relax and to follow directions. If you have been a hypnotic subject in the past and had not had good success you can take heart in knowing that you can develop the necessary skills, usually quite easily. Also, it is quite possible that you were hypnotized but that the experience wasn't as profound as you had anticipated, perhaps based on expectations from books, movies or other sources.
Hypnotists use various suggestibility tests to guage the subject's ability to follow the relaxation and focusing suggestions. These tests can be used as diagnostics to learn where and how you are resisting and to help you overcome this (usually unconscious) resistance.
Note also that the hypnotists instructions should be taken quite literally and followed to the best of your ability. For example, if the hypnotist says "Now feel the tension draining from your shoulder muscles" you should make an effort to do so. These words aren't merely pleasant sounding and soothing, they are instructions. The hypnotist is your guide taking you into a trance state, and these instructions are pointing the way to get there.
While there are exceptions it is true that hypnotism is generally more effective if done by another person versus using self-hypnosis. All hypnosis is really self-hypnosis because it takes the desire and cooperation of the subject to let themself into a hypnotic trance. However there are at least a couple of reasons why hypnosis may yield better results over self-hypnosis.
The first reason depends on experience. Hypnotists have studied how hypnotism works, what works for different individuals and have hands-on experience. In short they have mastered the methods of hypnosis. Many individuals who want to try self-hypnosis will learn from a book or video but do not have the background and training to adapt the hypnotic scripts to their own personality and do not have the knowledge to discover and overcome their own internal resistance.
A more important reason is simply that doing self-hypnosis requires active mental participation of the conscious mind which makes it more difficult to 'completely let go'. There is also sometimes a tendency for the mind to wander. This difference is similar to the difference between driving a car and being a passenger. You can be very relaxed and natural at driving, yet still you must remain attentive with your eyes on the road. With the hypnotist as chauffeur you may simply enjoy the ride as along the way the hypnotist points out interesting sights and sounds. You are able to completely release all thoughts and give yourself entirely to the experience.
This is not to say that self-hypnosis has no value, quite to the contrary. Self-hypnosis is an excellent tool to use throughout the day, to reduce stress, to reinforce eating or smoking habits, or just for a quick charge. Even taking thirty seconds for a 'quick dip' can be remarkably refreshing.
Hypnosis recordings may be effective, particularly when used in conjunction with hypnotherapy sessions. There are many off-the-shelf recordings available on a variety of topics that vary greatly in quality. How well a particular recording will work for a particular person is highly individual so if you're curious it is best to experiment. Tapes are readily available at bookstores or online and if you areworking with a hypnotherapist on a specific goal he or she may be wiling to make a custom tape for you.
NOTE: Please do not listen to hypnosis tapes while driving a car or at any time that your attention is necessary. Hypnosis recordings are designed to 'take you away', and the effect of a soothing voice speaking in rhythmic hypnotic patter can do just that.
Certainly! There are many excellent books on the subject of hypnosis and self-hypnosis. With basic recording equipment you may make your own recordings based on the scripts contained in these books, modifying them as you see fit. If you are entirely new to the subject you may wish to purchase at least one good professionally recorded hypnosis recording so that you can hear a good example of how to speak like a hypnotist.
This is not at all possible, despite what we might be led to believe by tales of fiction. In the absolute worst case, assuming that you reach a profound state of hypnosis and do not respond to the hypnotist's request to wake up, your trance will eventually transition to normal sleep and you will wake up just as you would from sleep. Even this occurence is exceedingly rare, it is generally more difficult to awaken someone from a sound sleep than it is to awaken someone from even a deep hypnotic trance.
The language of hypnosis uses many common everyday words, but sometimes in the context of hypnosis these words have a very specific meaning that may differ from their everyday usage. The following are some of the more commonly used hypnosis terms.
Awakening - Hypnosis sessions typically close with awakening instructions given to the subject. Awakening is brief and simple, the hypnotist will count the client out of hypnosis or ask the client to take a small number of deep breaths and open their eyes when they're ready. In either case this usually takes less than a minute. Upon first 'awakening' subjects may feel a little bit groggy or 'spacey', but this goes away very quickly, generally leaving in its place a sense of alertness and mental clarity.
Deepening - Immediately following, and sometimes considered part of, the induction phase. The purpose of the deepening phase is to bring the subject from a lighter trance into a deeper trance. A deep trance is not always necessary but in certain cases, particularly when trying to create anaesthesia for surgery or pain relief, a deep trance is most effective. Deepening suggestions are spoken in a style and language that is very similar to the induction. Sometimes a hypnotist will bring a subject 'up' slightly or ask them to open and close their eyes, followed by suggestions to then go deeper than before.
Induction - This is the process of bringing a subject from waking consciousness into a hypnotic trance which is generally the first phase of a hypnosis session. The induction phase is usually characterized by a measured and steady tone of voice that is delivered in short rhythmic phrases. The time required can vary from a few seconds to a half hour or more. This depends on the subject's natural ability to enter a trance, their previous experience with hypnosis and on the hypnotist's own style and experience. For subjects who are new to hypnosis the induction phase will typically last from fifteen to thirty minutes.
Resistance - This is a broad term used to describe various roadblocks that are preventing the subject from attaining a suitable state of hypnosis or from accepting suggestions made while under hypnosis. Common types of resistance are fears about hypnosis, fear of losing control, difficulty in relaxing the mind or body and ambivalence about the stated goal. When seeking the help of a hypnotist it is essential that the subject has a genuine desire to effect change. Any sense of resentment that they are being forced to quit smoking, lose weight, etc must be addressed in order to achieve the required cooperation and motivation. The hypnotist must be able to pinpoint and alleviate resistance in any of the many forms that it may manifest itself.
Session - A session is generally a single visit to a hypnotist, though this term is also used more narrowly to mean the hypnosis portion of the session itself. In the former definition the client will generally arrive at the office and depending on the situation may be asked questions geared towards helping the hypnotist understand the subject and their goal. Once any required information has been collected and any questions from the subject have been answered the hypnosis can begin to put the client into hypnosis. In terms of using the word session to describe only the hypnosis portion this encompasses the induction, deepening, suggestion and awakening phases.
Suggestion - Suggestions are the actual therapeutic statements used to effect change. Once the induction phase has rendered the subject into a state of hypnosis the hypnotist will proceed to offer appropriate suggestions based on the subject's goals using language that is tailored to match the subject's own communication style. Whereas the induction is usually spoken in a rhythmic monotone suggestions are more likely to be delivered in a manner which seems much more like normal speech. Even so, it is important that the hypnotist voice the suggestions in such a way as to achieve the maximum impact. This will include the careful choice of words and phrasing, subtle emphasis placed on key words and phrases and modulation of vocal characteristics to convey or imply additional meaning.