Hypnosis is used for: desensitising phobias and for dealing with bad habits.
Sports and other performance issues
Childbirth in emergency conditions
Anaesthesia in emergency conditions - surgery, dental etc.
Hypnosis for most people means a process in which one person called a hypnotist influences the behaviour and experience of another referred to as the subject. The subject to all appearances becomes a kind of puppet of the hypnotist. Also common, is the idea that subject is in a kind of sleep. However, the only one of these statements that is unequivocally true is the first sentence.
No one doubts that people can influence each other. The statement that hypnosis is a kind of sleep is unequivocally false as it is known beyond all doubt that a hypnotised person is no more asleep than someone involved in reading a book or absorbed in solving a problem. The other statement, that the subject is a puppet of the hypnotist is definitely not true. In fact, for hundreds of years psychologists and other academic specialists have argued over whether or not there is really any scientific or logical reason for a concept of hypnosis at all. That is, it is argued by many that there is no evidence providing support for some special state of mind called hypnosis because in reality it does not make anything possible that cannot be done without it. These points will be further amplified below.
One thing about which no one disagrees is the fact that the human imagination can exert enormous power over our behaviour, what we believe, what we perceive, our emotional experience, our physiology or the balance of processes going on in our bodies and even what we can achieve. Further there is no disagreement that one person's imaginings" can be influenced by the suggestions of another, whether given directly and verbally or via the media of books, theatre, radio or movies. There is no disagreement about the fact that some persons have imaginations that are more easily influenced than others. Some people have an ability to create more life-like or real ideas and images in their minds than others, to become more totally absorbed in those ideas and images and shut out what is going on around them. There is no disagreement that there are certain well established techniques and lawsť concerning how people's imagination is influenced. These are the laws of suggestion.
Hypnosis is the art of influencing another person's imagination and hence potentially, that person’s behaviour and experience. And so it is argued that hypnosis is what we all perform (and are subjected to) every day as in the course of communicating with others we either seek to influence them or unwittingly influence them. As an example of unwitting influence in everyday life, I have had clients visit me in a state of anxiety because their doctor had told them, “Your blood pressure is quite low”. The doctor had thought he was complimenting his patient but had inadvertently triggered the patient’s imagination in a negative way.
People in professional positions, such as lawyers and doctors, need to be careful about their choice of words and the care with which they explain things because their utterings have considerable suggestive power and their clients, being often in an anxious state of mind are particularly susceptible to suggestions (ideas) related to the source of their anxiety, e.g., the letter from the taxation office or the recurrent chest pains etc. This problem is amplified by the fact that people do not always fully understand what their professional consultants tell them. Further, when people are anxious their minds are overloaded and they listen selectively to what they are told, often ignoring or not absorbing important contextual material. Thus, they misinterpret what they are told, or in popular language, “go off half-cocked”.
The background to hypnosis.
I want this manual to be concise and free from long-winded historical padding and referencing. However, some knowledge of the history of the hypnosis" concept is necessary to its understanding. One can trace the use of suggestion back into the history of the healing arts and religions in many ancient cultures. The European history of hypnosis as we understand it, however, begins with Anton Mesmer (1734-1831). He held that all space was permeated by an invisible fluid called animal gravity or animal magnetism. Our nervous systems, he thought were channels for this substance. Illness was caused by blockages in the nerve channels and cures required that the channels be unblocked. The way to free up these blockages Mesmer thought was to use magnets. Mesmer believed the metal nickel was especially good for concentrating magnetism and he used it in his treatments. The freeing up of a nervous system blockage by the use of magnetism, Mesmer claimed, would cause a crisis. Thus his patients upon being treated with magnets would fall down and begin to twitch and convulse. They would then get up claiming to be cured of whatever ailed them.
Mesmer’s reputation was such that the French government set up a Commission to investigate the reality of his cures. The Commission included some of the greatest intellectuals in modern history - Benjamin Franklin, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, biologist de Jussieu and Joseph Ignace Guillatin (who invented the guillatine as a more humane way of dispatching criminals). This commission performed its work so thoroughly that its findings have never been effectively challenged. It found that whether or not people had this crisis would depend on whether or not they believed they had been treated with objects magnetised by Mesmer. A lump of lead was just as good as nickel if the subject was told it was nickel. Crises could be induced in subjects by having them touch a tree they were told was magnetised by Mesmer - even though Mesmer had been nowhere near the tree. In other words the process depended on Mesmer’s reputation and the imaginations of the subjects.
The commission concluded, quite correctly that Mesmer’s cures were the work of the imagination. Dr Mesmer was deemed to be discredited and he ended his days breeding canaries. The French investigating team missed something very important, specifically that the cause of the dramatic phenomena should not logically diminish them. It was apparently outside the team’s brief to investigate further into what feats precisely the imagination is capable of producing. We now know that in sports for example it can be the difference between success and failure and that the imagination can be used to train us to consciously control autonomic nervous functions, like heart rate as just one very simple, non-dramatic example.
It is worth noting that Mesmer used showmanship in his treatments. He was flamboyant. In his group healing sessions he would use mirrors, music (he was a personal friend of Mozart) and when he judged the group mood had reached an appropriate stage he would appear dressed in lilac robes carrying a glass wand. The patients would draw metal rods, like wands, from his baquet, a tub of water containing glass and iron filings. They would touch themselves and each other with the rods. Then they would fall down twitching in a crisis, (like the teenagers at big-name rock concerts) before getting up and claiming to be cured.
The Abbey (A French priest’s title of respect) Joseph Faria (1756-1819), recognised that the all-important fact was the desperation of the patients or subjects. (The great importance of the subject’s needs and motivation is reinforced throughout this manual.) Dr. A. A. Liebeault (1823-1904) recognised that “Mesmeric” phenomena or hypnosis was the result of suggestion and psychological factors. Subjects had crises or convulsions because this is what the publicity surrounding Mesmer had lead them to expect. Today, we know we don’t need any hardware such as nickel, magnets or iron rods (although physical gimmicks can still be useful tools, and modern practitioners have found it more convenient to use the term hypnosisť and to condition the public to an expectation of hypnosis as being something like sleep which is far less disruptive than a convulsion and less likely to encounter emotional and intellectual resistance. Would you the reader, sooner be given a convulsion or put into a harmless sleep?
The special state controversy.
As stated above, there is an academic controversy concerning the scientific justification for a concept of “hypnosis”. This is not a formal academic treatise but for purposes of practical education something more must be said about this. A great many experiments have demonstrated that anything that can be done with hypnosis can be done just as well without it. In reality hypnosis cannot reduce the pain threshold any more than in someone who is simply using his imagination without the direction of a hypnotist. It is known beyond doubt that hypnosis cannot improve one’s memory, and even the demonstrations of hypnotic regression (having the subject becomes a child again) are not in reality, accurate representations of what that person was like as a child. Claims that infantile regression can reinstate physiological reflexes (plantar reflex) only found in babies, and childhood handwriting have not stood up to close scrutiny. The fact that hypnosis does not make possible anything that cannot be done equally as well without hypnosis has given rise to the “non-special state theory” which holds that there is no scientific reason for a concept of "hypnosis”ť
This point of view does not deny the power of imagination when used in a methodical fashion but merely says that the use of the full power of the imagination does not require any special state of mind or any particular ritual. The most well-known proponent of this point of view is T. X. Barber.
The opposing point of view is that there is sufficient reason for a concept of hypnosis as a special state of mind. A major problem for the special state theorists is the difficulty of distinguishing between hypnotised persons and persons who have not been subjected to any particular ritual but have been asked to pretend to be hypnotised. The pretenders are able to perform all perceptual, memory and pain resisting tasks as well as the hypnotised subjects. One leading American special state theorist, Martin Orne proposed a concept of “trance logic” which he said distinguished hypnotised persons from the pretending control persons. According to Orne if genuinely hypnotised persons are told to hallucinate a double of themselves, and subsequently receive instructions such as, “Would the hallucinated youť raise his hand please, the subjects raise their hands. When pretenders are treated in the same way, Orne said, they do not raise their hand. However other investigators have found that Orne’s experiments with trance logic are not reliably replicable. My own non-published experiments in a clinical setting have failed to replicate Orne’s findings.
Professor Peter Sheehan (one of my lecturers at UNE) had 2 groups, a “hypnotised” group and a group of pretenders both following tape recorded instructions. One group was “hypnotised” and obeying the hypnotic instructions of a voice from a tape recorder. The control group of pretenders were following the same tape recording of instructions but were told to pretend to be hypnotised. After the sessions had been in progress for some time the tape recorder was made to “break down” so the instructions suddenly ceased. According to Sheehan the “hypnotised” group continued for some time to behave as if hypnotised and in a trance, gradually arousing themselves, whereas the pretenders almost immediately dropped the pretence.
A problem in interpreting this ingenious experiment lies in the fact that the hypnotised group was selected in the first place for their “hypnotic susceptibility” meaning they had already been tested and had displayed the characteristics of people who are commonly said to be very “hypnotizable”. In other words they were selected in the first place because they behave differently from most people, to commands and ideas issued in a particular way, and further were operating under a totally different set of instructions. Therefore the fact that they behaved differently from other people when the tape recorder “broke down” should not surprise anyone. One group was concerned that they should be obeying the tape recorder and the other group was less concerned.
Some successful “special state” theorists nevertheless, to my mind, behave as if they were “non-special state” theorists. For example, the late Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist who was acquiring virtually cult leader status amongst young psychotherapists even before his death, believed that hypnosis involves a special “state”. His technique however, seemed to me from watching videos of his sessions, to suggest otherwise. Erickson, like most good hypnotherapists saw no need to make any special mention of “hypnosis” to his patients or go through any dramatic rituals. He simply capitalised on his patient’s needs and expectations about which he was quite intuitive, his reputation, and he engaged their imaginations with colourful word pictures and stories. He was noted for getting ideas and suggestions across to his patients by means of metaphor or parables, fictitious stories that make points in subtle and yet easy to digest ways, even “subliminal” ways.
The Experience of Hypnosis.
A hypnotist will often use terms like, “You are becoming drowsy, sleepier and sleepier”, or Your eyes are getting heavier, and possibly, Your arm is becoming heavier, numb and heavy etc. More will be said about such suggestions under the heading, What it Involves. The point to be made here is that hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep. The word “sleep” as used by hypnotists is nothing more than a useful metaphor that stimulates the subject’s imaginations in a way that induces a relaxed and calm state of mind. A “hypnotised” person is no more asleep than someone who is reading a book or just day dreaming. If you are the “subject”ť and a plane flies overhead or a truck rumbles past the chances are that you will hear it and remember it quite distinctly. If you are a very good well motivated subject or your hypnotist a particularly good communicator you might not notice the plane or truck because of your total absorption in what is being suggested.
Most people who have had hypnotherapy will tell you that they were aware of everything. Many will add, “I don’t think I was really under”. Most hypnotherapy clients immediately after a session will say something like, “That was good. I haven’t relaxed so deeply in a very long time”. Another typical comment: “He told me I couldn’t separate my hands but I could have if I had really wanted to. Such clients are telling the literal truth. The glued handsť response (or similar demonstrations) shows that the subject was being fully cooperative and willingly entering into the spirit of the enterprise. But there is more to it than just "simply going along" with situation to humour the hypnotist. Very susceptible persons become to a point, captives of their own motives and needs.
The Factors That Make Hypnosis.
Hypnosis as a contract (and therefore as a relationship): Hypnosis is an unspoken, unwritten contract between two people. The subject agrees to let the other person play hypnotist. The hypnotist’s function is that of a “movie director” who suggests scenes, ideas and behaviour for the subject to follow. The subject is in effect saying to the hypnotist, I will do whatever you suggest and immerse myself as fully as possible in whatever phantasies or ideas that you suggest just as long as this is consistent with my needs or motives, and not harmful to me in any way, and for as long as seems appropriate given the context of our meeting and relationship. The time frame is usually defined by a ritual of induction and of waking up.
Needs and motives.
The kind of needs and motives that might be involved in hypnosis could be to give up smoking, overcome a fear, say of public speaking, the need to receive special attention or to indulge a need to behave in a certain way without actually having to take responsibility for the behaviour. It is this latter need that makes possible an entertaining stage hypnosis show. Unfortunately it is the idea, implicit within the popular concept of hypnosis, that it involves transferring responsibility to the hypnotist that attracts many clients to hypnotherapy. They are hoping (although they invariably deny it at first) for a magical change without effort or pain. The hypnotist too, brings his or her needs and motives into the situation. These might include a need to earn a living in an agreeable way while having the satisfaction of helping people, a need to try the most effective ways possible to help his or her client, a need to find prestige in playing the wizard, or the good and powerful doctor or simply to have a marketable profession.
The interesting but perplexing thing about our needs and motives is that we very vigorously deny many of them, that is, we do not recognise some of them because they contradict the ideas we have about ourselves - our self-image.
An important aside: Self Image and Cognitive Dissonance.
Educational studies going back to the Wilbur Brookover study which covered students progressing from 7th to 12th Grade over the 6 year period 1962-1968, have highlighted the extreme importance of self-image and expectation with regard to academic achievement. It has been shown that self-expectation can be more important than intelligence which has a disappointing correlation with actual performance. Self-concept and self-expectation, i.e. self- image, are the real factors limiting achievement, not intelligence. And this has been shown to apply in every area of life, academic, sporting, social and business achievement. Self-image once formed is hard to shift and we tend to resist any information that is not consistent with our self-image. So the laws of suggestion i.e. hypnosis can be used to help people modify their self-image, the expectations they have of themselves.
Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory is to my mind one of the most important concepts in psychology for it is testable and has withstood empirical investigation. Let’s say that although not a mechanic, you are proud of your knowledge of motor cars and think you are competent to make a good choice in purchasing a second hand car. Let’s say having made a purchase a mechanic friend tells you the car you bought is no good. You now have “cognitive dissonance”, you will get a sinking feeling, and will seek to reduce the dissonance in the most cost efficient way possible. Some alternatives that will come into your mind: A very clever salesman cheated you and you are a trusting person, your friend is not really a mechanic’s bootlace and has made a premature judgement, your friend is not really a friend and is just trying to upset you. The truth, namely that you were outside your area of competence and should have sought professional advice before buying the car will be the very last idea that you will seriously entertain. Harking back to the Brookover study mentioned above, it was found that students with poor expectations of themselves but who managed to get surprisingly good results, likewise tried to reduce their cognitive dissonance by mentally disparaging their good result and the reason they got it. In other words these people felt more comfortable with failure! This is because failure was consistent with their self image.
The above material on self-image or self-concept and cognitive dissonance is of vital importance to hypnotherapists who are expected to help people with all sorts of performance issues, from sporting performance to performance in social and business situations.
A person will behave as a hypnotised subject only for as long as the hypnotist does not go beyond the unspoken terms of the hypnotic contract. These terms, having never been actually spelled out exist only implicitly, and arise out of whatever the subject understands hypnosis to mean and out of any communication between hypnotist and subject that might precede an induction ritual.
If a hypnotist were both naive enough to believe that he or she really did have direct control of the subject’s mind and behaviour, and unethical enough to try to exploit the situation at the subject’s expense, then the subject would immediately rescind the contract. In other words the spell or hypnotic rapport would be broken. If the subject’s eyes were closed at the time, he or she would simply open them and cease responding in accord with the hypnotist’s suggestions. The subject may make no reference to the attempted exploitation and simply seem confused, or he or she might enter into a heated confrontation with the hypnotist depending on the precise situation and the personalities involved.
I have witnessed several demonstrations of this breaking of the contract with subjects of the very highest susceptibility to suggestion. No one enters so deeply into the hypnotist- directed make-believe world of the imagination that they cease to monitor consensus reality and their orientation within it.
Trust is also important because at the outset a subject does not know what to expect of hypnosis and unless he or she feels safe is unlikely to completely relax and let go to the extent required. Hypnosis means relaxing and letting someone else be director of the action on the stage of one’s mind. This is not possible with a tense, untrusting attitude. The quality of hypnosis achieved depends on the quality of the subject’s cooperation or rapportť with the hypnotist. As in any constructive, psychological relationship between people this involves trust.
University psychologists have performed many experiments demonstrating that people tend to see or perceive whatever they expect (and what people expect can be sometimes manipulated by the processes of suggestion). In one student experiment, carried out in a public place, a man withdrew a banana from under his coat and pointed it another person, who dropped to the ground as someone else let off a firecracker. Witnesses swore they saw the first man draw a gun and fire it! Movie directors (and stage magicians) make use of this quirk of human psychology in order to get their effects cheaply and without risk to actors. Expectation is also related to what is written about self- image above.
Consider the effect of the following cinema shots if joined in rapid succession: A camera shot of a man driving a car, followed by a shot (presumably through a windscreen) of a pedestrian in the middle of the road being approached by the camera at alarming speed, followed by successive close-ups of an alarmed driver and his foot stamping on the brake, followed by an extreme close-up of the now alarmed pedestrian through the windscreen, followed by a long-shot of a now stationary car with a body on the road nearby. Viewers of such a movie sequence will report that they saw the car hit the pedestrian, especially if sound effects are skilfully employed. Movie makers have discovered that sound can have extremely powerful suggestive force and can contribute more to our emotional reactions than a visual image.
The books and movie about the house of the Amityville Horror was merely a hoax, and yet many people who visited the location of the house reported strange sights and experiences. A young woman who visited the property fell down in a convulsion on the front lawn only to be told she was at the wrong address! This anecdote demonstrating the power of belief and expectation has parallels in the early history of hypnosis as explained above.
Belief and faith.
Some of the most powerful demonstrations of belief and faith lie in the established facts of placebo medicine.
A placebo is any substance or object or process which is known to have no medicinal or other noticeable effect but is administered to a patient in lieu of a useful or active substance or procedure. In some experiments patients or experimental subjects are given a placebo but are made to believe (e.g. by telling them a lie) that they have been given a potent substance or medicine.
Some American medical reports in the 1970s indicated that placebo medicine could be 80% effective compared against morphine in reducing pain. Does your headache disappear because you took the aspirin or because you expected the aspirin to cure your headache? How many times has your symptom of illness disappeared almost at the very moment you hung up the phone from booking an appointment to see your doctor? Your doctor, lawyer, or accountant is likely to be just as generally competent and effective in dealing with your problems as you believe or expect him or her to be.
Needs and motives.
Academic psychologists have long known from the results of experiments that there is a tendency for people to see or perceive what they need to see or perceive. If, for example, you are very hungry you will perceive indications of food even where in reality there are none (that is you may misinterpret ambiguous data), and you will detect signs of food that others might miss.
Beliefs (or expectations) combined with needs (or motives). These two sorts of factors make an extremely powerful combination. They are very important in any craft that seeks to manipulate the experiences and behaviour of human beings and are therefore kept well in mind by hypnotists, psychotherapists, salespeople, advertising agencies, marketing experts, movie directors, politicians, leaders of religions etc. It is worth noting that beliefs and needs are not necessarily distinctly separate factors because human need is all powerful and can even apparently determine what one believes. Surely you’ve known, for example, of a mother who against all evidence has believed what she needed to believe about her child, and perhaps you’ve noticed that people who are dependent on government grants or who have a high likelihood of needing social security payments will be more likely than others to favour socialist philosophies, and likewise those who aspire to the acquisition of significant capital will favour conservative political philosophies?
Imagination is central to hypnosis. At the Hypnotist’s direction we imagine our hands have glued together, or we imagine ourselves behaving fearlessly in certain situations. It is important to note that there appears to be very significant differences amongst people concerning how they use their imaginations. Some people can absorb themselves more fully in their imaginations than others and give their imagined experiences more depth of reality. We say such people are more suggestible than others.
Can people be hypnotised against their will?
Hypnosis is a voluntary relationship. No one can be hypnotised against his or her will. However, to some degree people can be manipulated without them being aware of the process because the human imagination is not entirely under the influence of the will and (though we may vehemently deny it) we are all slaves to our deepest needs and fears. For example, I was explaining to a female friend the processes and instrumentation used in a surgical procedure called a dilation and curette. At first she merely showed interest in what I was saying, but then suddenly fainted at my feet.
Perhaps you’ve sat with your family at a meal when one member (probably a junior) began talking about an unsavoury subject? The other family members would have complained that junior was putting them “off “ their meals. In other words, junior was influencing the imagination of the others and hence their experience of the meal, in a way they found unpleasant. Although we can’t be made to do anything against our will without coercion, it is true that our imagination can be triggered against our will, as every child knows. The behaviour and experience of people can be manipulated against their will to the extent that their imaginations can be manipulated against their will. If a manipulator also has insight into the emotional or other needs of the other person he can tailor his or her suggestions to create an expectation that if certain things are done, those needs will be fulfilled.
Artists, marketing experts, religious leaders, and politicians are all successfully manipulating us by capitalising on our imagination and appealing to our beliefs and motives. In this sense they are hypnotising us. Their task is made easier by the fact that we do not recognise all of our needs or motives. For example a need for prestige is quite pervasive but because we are taught that seeking self-aggrandisement is shameful we tend not to recognise the full extent of this need in ourselves. This lack of insight makes humans in general very susceptible to flattery, especially the more subtle forms and to any suggestions appealing to our need for admiration (simply showing great interest in, and respect for what someone is saying can be a subtle and yet very powerful form of flattery). For the same reasons we are also extremely susceptible to appeals to our greed..
The manipulator can use various psychological devices to help us rationalise these motives, that is to disguise or redecorate them so that we feel comfortable with our behaviour. This sort of manipulation is much more the province of salesmanship and showmanship than true hypnosis: “I’m so happy to be in your very beautiful city” (barely 5 minutes after stepping off the plane), or, You Aussis are so much more advanced than us Americans in this respect.). But salesmanship, demagoguery or social-political manipulation does not take place in the same context that more or less defines hypnosis. Hypnosis is a voluntary and collaborative relationship operating within limitations, like a contract.
Hypnotists, both of the show business and psychotherapeutic variety have a conflicting need to convince intending subjects of the reality and power of hypnosis while at the same time assuaging any fear of it. This leads them to say such things as, “But don’t worry because under hypnosis you cannot be made to do anything against your moral code or anything you really don’t want to do. Few people, including I suspect most hypnotists themselves, ever think about the logical meaning of such statements. A person can do something because they themselves will it or alternatively because they are made to do it. There is no other alternative. If hypnosis (or anything else for that matter) cannot make or force you to do something you don’t really want to do, what can it MAKE you do? (Something against your moral code is simply something you strongly don’t want to do) The answer obviously, is nothing! So once again we see hypnosis involves the subject’s own motivation.
The real value and power of hypnosis is that it is a method for getting subjects to focus their imaginations in new and hopefully constructive ways. It is this concentration of the mind in the act of imagining that gives rise to the notion of hypnosis as a trance. Hypnosis is also a device for allowing subjects to try out uncharacteristic behaviour safely both in imagination and in real life because they are not being required to assume responsibility for their own behaviour. Psychotherapists say this in different words when they speak about the liberating and empowering, permission granting power of hypnosis and the value of hypnosis in ego strengthening. Another technique every bit as powerful as hypnosis with regard to its permission granting power and behaviour modification potential is group work where people with a similar focus come together to learn from each other and support each other. If you’ve ever been to a live-in seminar you might have experienced the so called seminar-high. Groups have the problem that they rarely persist across sufficient time to have a permanent effect.
It is our imagination that gives a person’s reputation the power to influence us. If for example we believe that a person has the power to influence us in some way it will tend to be true.
Our imagination can affect our bodies in various ways. Just thinking about an action can cause us to start to make that action with minute movements of the relevant muscles. Even when we are thinking or reading, the muscles in our voice box move slightly in what is called sub-vocal speech. If you’ve ever become engrossed in watching a boxing match you might have noticed your tendency to duck and weave. Hypnotists sometimes make use of ideo-motor tendencies to convince subjects that they are being influenced by his or her (the hypnotist’s) suggestions and thus further increase their belief and expectation of being influenced. More will be said about this under the heading How it is Done.
Hypnotists and others influence us by manipulating our imagination via the use of suggestions. Suggestions are simply assertions or ideas delivered verbally, by the written word, and audio or audio-visual representations. Suggestion, the stock-in-trade of all of the theatrical arts, can also be created by the expectations that are built up by the logic of a string of events. For example, in a James Bond film an Asian bodyguard appears to slice the head off a garden statue with a steel brimmed hat. However in the shot of the head separating from the statue the hat does not actually appear when the film is slowed down.
Again, in an old silent film comedy, a lovely young woman goes behind a high screen. Then, piece by piece her hand is seen throwing items of clothing and underwear over the top of the screen while 2 male clowns standing nearby become increasingly excited. Finally, the screen is knocked over to reveal that the woman was merely taking clothes out of a cupboard. In live theatre an entire city or countryside can be suggested by just a few carefully designed props or pieces of stage scenery.
Stress can increase one’s susceptibility to suggestion, especially if the suggestions are perceived as being even remotely relevant to the source of stress. For this reason political-military brain washing techniques make heavy use of insecurity, terror, pain, loss of dignity, isolation, hunger, thirst, sleeplessness and perceived security and trust in the company of compatriots who have already adopted the patterns of thought and behaviour rewarded by the captors. The captors may characterise themselves as being the victims of the captive’s society and present a line of argument that taken at face value has a significant degree of credibility. Such suggestions are more likely to be accepted by someone who is under great stress and who stands to gain by his or her acceptance of such an argument. Because hypnosis involves a voluntary relationship, hypnotists rely almost entirely on verbal suggestions and normal physical reactions which the subject is encouraged to believe are the result of the hypnotist’s suggestions. The hypnotist will make use of any simple psychological devices calculated to raise the subject’s expectations of being influenced in some way and to increase his or her credibility as a hypnotist, that is, as someone who has extra ordinary powers that can modify the experience and behaviour of other people.
A stage hypnotist playing in a city for the first time without an established reputation can ensure the success of his show by simply having a video of his earlier shows playing in the foyer of the theatre (or better still, in TV adverts) before his performance starts. This conditions the expectations and suggestibility of the audience. He or she can also spike the audience with stooges or people he/she’s hypnotised before. The sight of one person being influenced increases the suggestibility of all who watch. One of the simplest and yet most powerful devices for amplifying the effect of one’s suggestions (as all politicians quickly learn) is merely to comport oneself and speak with an air of total self-assurance and conviction. Such an air of confidence is absolutely essential for anyone who earns a living through influencing others.
The Technique of Hypnosis or How it is Done.
It can be argued that in reality there is no need for any special technique or ritual if the conditions for hypnosis are already present. For example a suggestible subject, one who has an imagination that is vivid and easily influenced might respond in hypnotic fashionť immediately without any need for ritual if he or she believed the other person or hypnotist had special powers and if that hypnotist or other person issued suggestions consistent with the subject’s beliefs, expectations and needs. As I’ve said elsewhere, many of us are hypnotized the moment we walk into our doctor’s consulting room.
Perhaps you’ve seen televised faith healing sessions? After a few prayers, a person who has been publicised to the congregation as having special powers calls each supplicant forward, places a hand on their head, utters a few prayer-like words and the supplicant collapses to be caught by other congregation members. The ritual may be reasonably brief and minimal but gains its power from the reputation of the operator together with the beliefs, expectations and especially the needs of the supplicants. The main requirements for the faith healer are a reputation (or at least some artificially contrived prestige as the next best thing), an air of total confidence and, above all, some congregation members who desperately need hope, as recognised by the 18th. Century Abbe Joseph Faria mentioned above.
In clinical situations some form of ritual is used if the client specifically seeks hypnotherapy. This is necessary firstly because otherwise the clients would not feel they had been hypnotised! In reality, however, it is possible that the client may have such faith in the therapeutic competence of the doctor or psychologist that he or she could be beneficially influenced without the need for any ritual of the sort traditionally recognised as being hypnotic. In such a case the doctor or psychologist could merely carry out some form of examination, utter a few hmmms and ahas and then make a pronouncement concerning the patient’s problem and the appropriate cure.
Of course it is not easy for a doctor or psychologist to gauge the extent of the patientâ€™s faith in his or her competence and a person who actively seeks hypnosis will require some formal application of hypnosis order to be satisfied.
Step 1 in the formal induction of hypnosis is to allay any fears that the subject might have and then to encourage deep relaxation. Relaxation of the client is often accomplished by the method of progressive relaxation similar to that used in yoga. The client is asked to pay attention to and relax each muscle group in the body, one at a time until the whole body, including the facial muscles have been relaxed. At the same time the hypnotist will encourage anything that produces a sensation of tiredness or heaviness of the eyes. This usually involves a request that the client gaze steadily at some object above eye level. A hypnotist will intersperse his or her instructions with suggestions such as, “Your eyes are growing heavier and heavier, your eyes are blinking, drooping, closing", etc. If the subject’s eyes have been gazing steadily at a spot above eye level for some minutes they will in fact be feeling heavy. The subject will tend to attribute this heaviness to the Hypnotist’s suggestions and this increases the credibility and imagination shaping power of the suggestions that follow. The challenge: At the end of the induction ritual the hypnotist should ideally introduce a challenge, e.g. "Your eyelids are now stuck down so very firmly and are so incredibly heavy, the harder you try to open them the more stuck and impossible to open they become. Try as hard as you like. (pause) OK, stop trying now and just relax, and listen to my voice."
One of the laws of suggestion (and behaviour manipulation) is that each suggestion that is obeyed increases the probability that a subsequent suggestion will be obeyed, and thus increasingly difficult suggestions can be given. By difficult I mean either suggestions of decreasing credibility or suggestions which are likely to meet more resistance. For example, if a subject has been staring at a spot on the wall (or say, a swinging fob watch) for some minutes, then the suggestion, “Your hands are gluing together”, will have less credibility than, “Your eyes are growing heavy and tired”. Therefore the latter suggestion should be given first. A competent hypnotist issues a string of suggestions of gradually increasing difficulty. It is also considered beneficial to have the suggestions linked together, e.g., â€śAs your eyes grow heavier your hands are beginning to glue together. Hypnotists must also try to prevent the subject from mentally challenging, analysing or failing to pay attention to the suggestions. This can be especially necessary with subjects who are anxious or whose minds are over active. Some individuals have grass-hopper minds. Preventing a subject’s mind from challenging the suggestions or straying to incompatible ideas can be accomplished by techniques of distraction. In practice this may mean interspersing the suggestions with deliberately confusing instructions or a task that keeps the mind occupied. For example, the hypnotist might ask the subject to count backwards by 7s from say, 200. As the subject concentrates on counting backwards the hypnotist issues his or her suggestions.
Another commonly used method is to ask the subject to visualise chalking a big letter “A”ť on a blackboard, "looking" at it and then erasing it with a duster. This is followed by an instruction to replace the A with a B , look at it and then erase it, and so on. These monotonous mind numbing directions are interspersed with the hypnotic suggestions. Demonstrations of instant hypnosis where the hypnotist quickly performs some minimal ritual and the subject appears to fall into a trance by dropping his or her head as if falling asleep (similar to the faith healing and evangelical demonstrations) usually involves a subject who the hypnotist has worked with before, or a subject who the hypnotist has reason to believe is highly suggestible and impressed with his/her reputation as a hypnotist.
Books on hypnosis often mention trance deepening procedures. These consist of repeatedly hypnotising and awakening the subject. Each time an attempt is made to get the subject to respond to still more difficult suggestions. Whether or not this procedure makes any real difference is hard to say. In my experience it makes little difference in the clinical situation although it is an attempt to condition the subject’s behaviour through repetition, as in learning by rote. Hypnosis is a graded process, of gradually getting subjects to behave and to use their imaginations in ways suggested by the hypnotist, and by using such means as appealing to the deepest needs of the subject, and thus it is in essence a kind of seduction.
Why it looks like magic.
The reason hypnosis often looks magical to the onlooker, especially in show business hypnosis, is that people have difficulty understanding the needs, fears and motives, and hence the behaviour of others. The person who goes to bed smiling and relaxed because he knows that tomorrow he’ll be the centre of attention giving a speech at a large formal social function finds it hard to understand the person who doesn’t sleep properly for a whole week and is suffering stomach cramps because he knows he’ll soon be expected to say a few words at small friendly gathering. At hypnosis stage shows the audience sees the subjects on stage as making fools of themselves.
It’s hard for the audience to understand that the volunteer subjects stampeded onto the stage for that very purpose! The perceptions of the subjects are quite different from those of the audience. The subjects are volunteers who actually compete for the laughter and applause. This is why the utterings and activities of the subjects become increasingly outrageous and salacious as the show goes on. And the beauty of it from their perspective is they are not taking full responsibility for their behaviour! The responsibility is largely transferred to the hypnotist who at the end of the show takes the bows and final acclaim. What the hypnotist has done is to provide an environment and opportunity for the subjects to safely act outrageously in front of an audience. To show off in other words! The subject under the influence of posthypnotic suggestion doesn't forget his "cues" because this is his moment, like the symbol player in a symphony concert who only has to clash his symbols once or twice in a long concert, but amazingly doesn't forget!
Many people believed that American mass murderer Charles Manson had hypnotic powers and observers in the court room avoided looking into his eyes. This belief stemmed from the power Manson apparently had over his followers. However, Manson’s followers were not representative of ordinary people. They were people whose needs or desires (as with a stage hypnotist’s subjects) he could fulfil in a mutually rewarding relationship.
I use the term mutually rewarding because what happened between Manson and his followers was a lengthy 2-way selection process. Firstly, Manson, clutching his guitar would regularly station himself on the steps of a University of California campus and sing his self-written songs. Occasionally a student would stop and talk to him, and this might be the tentative beginnings of a relationship. Thus, a few students selected Manson as someone worth knowing.
In the second phase Manson would either reject or accept the friendship of those students who had accepted him. It was important to Manson that he should be in total control of any relationship so he would reject anyone of strong ego or dominance characteristics. And so relationships were formed with people who could fulfil his special requirements and who’s dependency needs he could satisfy (often students with poor social skills and strong dependency needs, for example teenage runaways from very disturbed homes). The kind of people who interested Manson tended to know similar people and so the growth of his commune snowballed.
Like a hypnotist, Manson seemed to have an incredible amount of control over a group a people. To observers, reading their newspapers or sitting in court, Manson seemed to have magical powers of influence, but only because they did not fully understand the emotional needs and psychological make-up of Manson’s followers and how Manson was able to appeal to those needs.
The hypnotic relationship.
It is recorded that hypnotic suggestions have been given to subjects that their arm had been touched with a very hot object when in fact the hypnotist had touched the spot only with the back of a pencil. At a later time the spot on the subject’s arm which the hypnotist touched with a pencil had shown signs of blistering or similar irritation. Experiments in which such hypnotic suggestions have been given prior to the subjects being seated behind a 2-way mirror, have shown the subjects surreptitiously scrubbing at the touched spot to produce a lesion. In other words the lesion always occurs at a considerable interval after the hypnotic suggestions. This does not appear to have occurred without the subject deliberately creating a lesion in situations which have been witnessed, carried out in a scientifically controlled way and recorded in detail. This raises interesting questions about the relationship or rapport between the subjects and hypnotist and the emotional needs that are being met.
Some text books will make a broad statement concerning some other investigator who the author will cite as having looked into such reports and found that a small number of cases cannot be explained by the subject’s deliberate intervention. Invariably, such reports are second hand and totally lacking in methodological detail or any information allowing for verification. This is an important criticism because there is a strong tendency for text books to uncritically reproduce the material of earlier textbooks and carry misinformation across generations.
I am especially sceptical because in 39 years of practising hypnosis I have not witnessed any such demonstrations and nor have I ever met a colleague who has. Books or articles dealing with "stigmata" invariably mention the R. L. Moody article, "Bodily Changes During Abreaction" in The Lancet, 1946, in which a patient developed old rope burns on his wrists during a period of emotional excitement. It was claimed the burns had been photographed but alas the photos were not published. More recently Arthur Janov of "The Primal Scream" fame published in his "The Anatomy of Mental Illness" (Putnam) a photograph of lesions temporarily appearing after a period of emotional excitement and which he claimed were reinstated birth traumas. Included is a photo of the woman's chest before her abreaction (reliving of her birth). Journalist-TV producers such as Mike Willisee investigating religious stigmata, seem to me particularly naive and fail to photograph close ups of the affected areas before the trauma appears and out of respect for the histrionic display of suffering do not photograph what is happening during the development of the stigma.
On the basis of what is actually known a reasonable hypothesis is that area is already scarred from past demonstrations and is easily abraded into a fresh injury. Plain money is known to be the motive in some cases. Rather than digress too far I want to make the point that the really interesting thing about the experiments with hypnotically induced lesions and the subject’s active participation in the creation of such an illusion is what these experiments say about the power of the hypnotist-subject relationship. They lend emphasis to my earlier statements that hypnosis is of the nature of a contract and relationship. The needs that are being satisfied by such relationships are sometimes very hard to identify. Some theorists have taken the view that the hypnotist serves as a symbolic father or mother and point to the fact that some subjects respond best to paternal hypnosis (suggestions issued in a firm dictatorial manner) while others respond best to maternal hypnosis (suggestions issued in a kindly, persuasive manner ). Such psychoanalytic theories are blue sky conjecture but it has to be said in their defence, there is no doubt that some subjects will go to great lengths to please the hypnotist.
In most clinical situations the predominant motive of the subjects is to achieve the fastest, most effortless resolution of a personal problem such an irrational fear or a bad habit and they will work cooperatively with the hypnotist as long as they perceive some hope of overcoming their problem. For many (but not all) problems of psychological origin any technique capitalising on the considerable powers of the imagination (whether it’s called hypnosis or anything else) has a reasonable chance of success.
Can Subjects be Made to Do things Against Their Own Will?
No! Many experiments have shown that subjects cannot be made to perform grossly antisocial acts against their will. Some experiments deserve special attention. For example, one paper describes how a World War 11 military psychiatrist hypnotised a male soldier and told him that another soldier was a Japanese enemy and ordered him to bayonet the Japanese soldier. The subject did attack the soldier identified as being Japanese and had to be restrained by attendants. However, this subject had already served as this psychiatrist’s subject many times before in experiments with hypnosis, secondly the subject was only a Private whereas the military psychiatrist was high ranking Commissioned Officer and therefore responsible for anything done under his orders, hypnosis or no hypnosis, and thirdly there were attendants on hand to intercede. In short the subject understood the name of the game and had incentives to play it.
No matter how impressive a hypnotic demonstration looks to the naive observer, the performance, firstly, does not involve anything that could not be done just as well without hypnosis, and secondly, the demonstration is dependent on the subject’s faith in the hypnotist and the fact that the hypnotist will be taking responsibility for whatever the subject does. The final editor is always the subject. If a subject is asked to do anything so outrageous that it fails to meet the psychological needs of the subject and even threatens to attack the subject’s self-concept, then the hypnotic rapport will be immediately broken. The subject will simply seem to wake up and cease behaving like a hypnotised person. This means that no matter how deeply hypnotised a person may seem to be, if that person were asked by the hypnotist to walk into a busy street and remove all of his or her clothes, in most cases the subject would simply wake up. Only a very tiny minority of subjects with weakly repressed exhibitionistic tendencies would obey such a command.
The control that hypnotists appear to have over their subjects is illusion. The illusion depends on hypnotists capitalising on the subject’s own needs and propensities, and in some cases by utilising the faith in the hypnotist factor to encourage the subjects to accomplish tasks they could have accomplished in any case, if only they had the confidence to try! The hypnotist’s role in this latter case is that of providing ego support, i.e. the encouragement.
Ego support is what your mother gave you when/if she accompanied you to your first job interview or into the doctor’s surgery. Ego support is what your friend gave you by accompanying you to a large social event full of strangers. Ego support is what your school teacher or music teacher gave you in those last few seconds before you went out on stage to perform at a school concert. Ego support is what you get from the one friendly face in a sea of critical strangers.
Some people are made quite anxious about the prospect of being hypnotised. The anxiety is totally unfounded because one can never be made a helpless puppet of the hypnotist. One can never be made to go to sleep or lose consciousness, or do anything against one’s will. In show business hypnosis the apparent memory losses, sleep, deafness, blindness, negative hallucinations (not seeing a designated object or person and behaving as if it was invisible) and post hypnotic suggestions are all enactments made to please the hypnotist in a mutually rewarding relationship. The quality of these enactments will depend to a large extent on the style or quality of the imagination possessed by the subject (i.e. suggestibility, which appears to be a personality factor in its own right), and the context in which the demonstration takes place.
The term mutually rewarding relationship can be taken to mean rapport. If you are a man, you might have had the experience of joining a social gathering where perhaps a lady you would have been interested in meeting was already engrossed in conversation with another man. Perhaps your attempts to join their conversation left you with the feeling you must be either invisible or covered in a horrible rash! In such a situation, the reason you could not properly engage their attention was the rapport that existed between them. That is, their minds were intensely focused on pursuing what each perceived to be an at least potentially rewarding relationship.
Finally I recommend to clinicians, John Hartland’s Medical & Dental Hypnosis & its Clinical Applications (Bailliaire Tindall, Lond.). On page 7 of my 2nd edition he writes, Bernard C. Gindes summed up the situation admirably when he suggested the following formula:
Misdirected Attention+Belief+Expectation=The Hypnotic State. To this we can also add Imagination, which is the integrating factor which welds belief and expectation into an irresistible force.ť
The above quotation is the most honest, comprehensive, and yet beautifully succinct explanation of hypnosis I have ever read.
The last word. If you are a clinician conducting psychological therapy and wish to utilise the principles of hypnosis one of the things you should probably not do is ask your client to read this paper. Intellectualising about the psychology of hypnosis tends to work against you. Intellectualisation tends to be antithetical to the eidetic evocation of imagery, sensation, and phantasy and hence the achievement of hypnotic reverie. Instead you should give such information as to allay fears, explain that if a truck goes past or a plane overhead the client will probably hear it but it won’t be a bothersome issue. Talk about hypnosis as a refreshing relaxant and as a method that fosters the full focussing and idea-absorbing powers of the mind.
If on the other hand you are a potential client, then this paper should give you heart for you should be starting to understand the power of your own imagination. It means that once you understand this there is a lot you can do to help yourself. You have probably been your own worst enemy (see note on "self- image and cognitive dissonance" above). One of the most important things I do is help people to enlist the power of self-hypnosis and use relaxation, and visualisation to modify their self-image and boost their performance in any area of life of concern to them, from sports performance to business and social performances. I have guided the self-help programs of specialist anaesthetists, helping them to qualify, little girls to perform gymnastics at championship level and newly promoted executives to stand up and talk confidently in meetings.
As a potential client you should remember the note about "ego-strength" above, because when we are physically or mentally at a low point, our ego-strength is lowered and it is precisely at such times that we benefit most from having our hand held and being guided by an appropriate expert professional person. Even when not under stress, because we are social animals our confidence and achievement capacities tend to be enhanced by working in collaboration with appropriately skilled and motivated others.
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