Hypnosis – What Is Hypnosis?
By Jeannette Teagle
Definition: Hypnosis: a mental state like sleep, in which a person’s thoughts can be easily influenced by someone else. Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus Cambridge University Press.
Definition: Hypnosis: a state that resembles sleep but in which you can hear and respond to questions or suggestions. Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
Definition: Trance is the state in which learning and openness to change are most likely to occur. Trance is a natural state experienced by everyone. My voice will go with you: the teach tales of Milton H Erickson.
There are many and varied definitions of hypnosis depending on whom you follow and the modality that you are using e.g. traditional hypnosis, NLP, etc.
There are various theories about what occurs during hypnosis. Hypnosis is an altered state of mind and most commonly referred to as being in a trance. A trance is a state of consciousness with an internal focus of attention. During our daily life we pay attention to either the inner or outer world depending on our activity and mood. We drift in and out of trance. In NLP term, trance is a type of state known as downtime. Downtime is when you are predominantly paying attention to the internal world. Uptime is when you are predominantly paying attention to the external world.
Altered state theories see hypnosis as an altered state of mind or trance which is marked by a level of awareness that is different from the ordinary conscious state. Non-state theories see hypnosis as a form of imaginative role-enactment. During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration.
There is a suggestion that we walk around in a trance and that when we seek assistance via hypnotherapy we are brought out of trance. Erickson said ”patients are patients because they are out of rapport with their own unconscious … patients are people who have had too much programming – so much outside programming that they have lost touch with their inner selves.”
In everyday life we move in and out of trance e.g. becoming engrossed in a book, a movie, TV programme or listening to music which means that we do not take any notice of what is going on around us.
Hypnosis cannot control anyone and it cannot make a person do something that is against their morals and important values. Trance and hypnosis help people to learn about themselves and express themselves better. Hypnosis is distinguished from a trance state in that it is guided by the hypnotist, usually for therapeutic purposes. It is a state of inner absorption that can include intense focus or free reverie.
Harvard psychologist, Deidre Barrett wrote: a hypnotic trance is not therapeutic in itself, but specific suggestions and imaged fed to clients in a trance can profoundly alter their behaviour. As they rehearse the new ways they want to think and feel, they lay groundwork for changes in their future actions. Psychology Today, January 2001.
There are different types of hypnosis:
- Traditional hypnosis – make direct suggestions to the unconscious mind. This type of hypnosis works well for someone who generally accepts what they are told without a lot of questions. Most hypnosis tapes that are sold today are based on “traditional hypnosis” techniques. This method of hypnosis is not effective for people who are critical or analytical in their thinking process.
- Ericksonian hypnosis – use stories called metaphors to present suggestions and ideas to the unconscious mind. This is a powerful and effective method because it usually eliminates the blockage of and resistance to suggestions that is often caused by the conscious mind.
- Types of metaphors used by Erickson are Isomorphic metaphors or embedded commands. Isomorphic metaphors offer direction to the unconscious through story telling. This leaves the unconscious to make the connections between the story and a problem situation or behaviour. Embedded commands: the hypnotist/hypnotherapist tells a story that engages and distracts the conscious mind. The story contains hidden indirect suggestions that are usually accepted by the unconscious.
- Ericksonian hypnosis also includes process instructions which direct the unconscious to find a memory of an appropriate learning experience from the past and apply that experience to making a change in the present.
- Much of Erickson’s work was about bringing subconscious resource into play for therapeutic purposes. He blended number things that he knew about, including systems theory, behaviour modification and subconscious mind. He saw the subconscious mind as being a creative, solution generating force all on its own.
- Self-hypnosis is more often than not used for individual relaxation. For example a person who travels a lot, may use self-hypnosis to assist in falling asleep or preparing for a big presentation. Many hypnotherapists teach their clients how use self-hypnosis as part of their session work to ensure that the client is able to assist themselves – both between sessions and when they have moved on from seeing a therapist.
- Stage hypnosis is for entertainment purposes. The greatest skill of the stage hypnotist is to select the people who want to come on stage and entertain the rest of the audience.
A Brief History of Hypnosis
Avicenna (980-1037) was a Persian physician who documented the characteristics of the “trance” (hypnotic trance) in 1027. At this time hypnosis as a medical treatment was seldom used.
Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) believed that there is a magnetic force within the universe that influences the health of the human body. He experimented with magnets, hence the term mesmerism.
James Braid (1795-1860) developed an interest in mesmerism when he found his patient, staring into an old lamp, with glazed eyes. Braid gave his patient the command to close his eyes and go to sleep. The patient complied and thus Braid’s interest grew.
James Esdaile (1808-1859) used hypnotism as his only anaesthetic while performing major operations while working in India. On his return to England, he was unable to convince his peers in England to use hypnosis for pain relief.
Pierre Janet (1859-1947) reported studies on a hypnotic subject in 1882. He developed his own sophisticated hypnotic psychotherapy based on the concept of psychological dissociation. At the turn of the century rivalled Freud’s attempt to provide a more comprehensive theory of psychotherapy.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was initially an enthusiast supporter of hypnotherapy. He wrote an article on hypnotism which was published in an influential series of case studies with his colleague, Joseph Breuer. This work was entitled Studies On Hysteria 1895. This became the founding text of the subsequent tradition known as hypno-analysis or regression hypnotherapy. Freud went on to abandon hypnotism in favour of psychoanalysis.
Emile Coue (1857-1926) developed a new orientation called “conscious autosuggestion”. His method did not emphasise sleep or deep relaxation and instead focused upon autosuggestion involving a specific series of suggestions tests – susceptibility.
Clark L Hull (1884-1952) published the first major completion of laboratory studies on hypnosis [Hypnosis & Suggestibility 1933] in which he proved that hypnosis and sleep had nothing in common. He published many quantitative findings from hypnosis and suggestion experiment and encouraged research by mainstream psychologists.
Dave Elman (1900-1967) made his name as a hypnotist and led many courses for physicians. He wrote the classic Findings in Hypnosis 1964 which was later retitled Hypnotherapy (Westwood publishing). The most well-known aspect of his legacy is the use of rapid induction – in under three minutes.
Milton Erickson (1901-1980) was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. In the 1960s he popularised a new branch of hypnotherapy, known as Ericksonian therapy. This is characterised primarily indirect suggestion; metaphors (stories & analogies); confusion techniques and double binds in place of formal hypnotic inductions.
Describe How Oatesian Hypnosis Differs From Regular Hypnosis
The hypnosis used, and taught, by David Oates accesses the metaphoric structural level of the deep unconscious. The inductions are specific in that they direct the conscious mind to relax and let go while directing the deep unconscious mind to rise up so that the “two” minds are on equal footing. This enable the two minds to be able to work together to effect the change desired by the client. Traditional hypnosis tends to only work with the subconscious mind which is just below conscious awareness, and not the deep unconscious mind where the metaphoric structure reside.
The reversals found in analysing the client’s tape are a reflection of who the person is at their deepest level. For example, an image of an eagle who has been shot in the wing may be interpreted as having the wing clipped while the image of God touching the wing to heal it may bring forth the interpretation of being touched by the hand of God a fabulous metaphor for healing.
The Reverse Speech hypnosis has elements of both traditional and Ericksonian hypnosis with the use of directions and metaphors. It differs from Erickson’s use of metaphors in that Erickson used analogies and creative metaphors. Reverse Speech uses specific metaphors as indicated by the client in their reversals.
- Erickson, Milton. My voice will go with you: the teaching tales of Milton H Erickson edited with commentary by Sidney Rosen. NY WW Norton, 1982
- Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus Cambridge University Press.
- Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
- O’Connor, Joseph NLP Workbook: a practical guide to achieving the results you want London, Thorson, 2001
- Vaknin, Shlomo The big book of NLP techniques: 200+ patterns, methods, strategies in NLP 2008
- Oates, David John Reverse Speech practitioner training manual. 2015
Disclaimer: This essay was prepared for an assignment in the Practitioner’s Course. Whilst all material was sourced from the public domain, credit is given to the authors of the original material. All errors, omissions and interpretations are that of the student.