Hypnosis is a state of focused attention where a person's
concentration is directed inwards (this process is known as absorption).
Because the mind is focused inwards in such a sharpened way, people in
a hypnotic trance report diminished perception of external cues, such
as noise, etc. People in trance are dissociating from, or zoning out
these external distractions.
This hypnotic process happens naturally for most people at times during the day. An example of hypnosis would be daydreaming:
you ever become really focused on a thought or image ñ so much so that
you briefly lost awareness of your surroundings? For example, you might
be driving a car and sitting at a long red light lost in your thoughts.
Upon the light turning green, it might take a honk of the horn from
the car behind you to re-alert you to the fact that it was time to
Or perhaps there have been times when
you've been listening to a really dull speaker or in a meeting that has
been dragging on and on, and you find yourself drifting away into your
thoughts and away from what is happening in the meeting. You might find
yourself jolting to awareness as you realize that you have no idea how
much time has passed or what was just said in the meeting.
Hypnosis vs. Clinical Hypnosis
hypnosis is a naturally occurring state of mind or being rather than a
technique, clinical hypnosis is the targeted use of hypnosis by a
trained health practitioner to specifically address a particular mental
health or health concern. The key in distinguishing the two is that
hypnosis refers to a (naturally occurring) mental state, whereas
clinical hypnosis is a method or technique used to facilitate this
hypnotic state in a clinically useful way.
American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) is the association
responsible for training and certifying medical and mental health
practitioners in clinical hypnosis. ASCH has standardized and rigorous
requirements for certification in clinical hypnosis. For more
information on these standards, visit the ASCH website at www.asch.net
How does Clinical Hypnosis work?
utilizing clinical hypnosis generally begin with an induction, which is
a technique designed to focus a client's attention inwards. This could
be anything from directing the person's attention to a specific spot
and giving directions for focusing to having them raise or lower their
arms and imagine phenomena associated with this process (e.g. a heavy or
light object). The purpose of these and other inductions is to enhance
the client's inward focus on their body. Most clinicians will work to
deepen the hypnotic trance by having the client visualize hypnotic
imagery (imagination is an important component of hypnosis). Once a
client is in a hypnotic trance, the clinician will then give the client
specific suggestions associated with addressing the problem. These
suggestions can range from imagery connected to alleviating the concern
or specific instructions about doing so. These suggestions are very
similar to those given in a wakeful state. However, research indicates
that individuals in trance are more receptive to these suggestions
because their active, conscious minds are disengaged, and they are in a
more receptive state. In fact, brain research shows that brain waves
change from beta waves, which are active during a wakeful state, to
alpha, theta and gamma waves (depending on the level of trance). These
types of brain waves are generally associated with sleeping. Lastly,
the clinician will prepare and then bring the hypnotized client out of
trance in the re-alerting stage. Following re-alerting, with the client
in a wakeful state, the clinician and client will discuss the client's
What Does Hypnosis Feel Like?
people in a hypnotic trance report afterwards that they felt very
mentally focused while at the same time feeling physically relaxed.
When re-alerted following a trance, many people report having a sharp
awareness of what was being said to them, yet feel physically as if they
just awoke from a nap. They may feel groggy or a little tired,
although this feeling quickly goes away. However, there are many
different sensations that people can report from trance, depending on
one's level of hypnotizability (next question). The bottom line is
despite the fact that hypnotic phenomena (mental and physical sensations
associated with hypnosis) vary by person, most people report it is a
Am I Hypnotizable?
is not consensus on the issue of hypnotizability. Some hypnotherapists
believe that everyone is hypnotizable, whereas many other
hypnotherapists believe that one's level of hypnotizability is a trait.
As with other traits, this means that there will be a range of levels
in the population, resembling the shape of a bell curve. With a bell
curve, most people fall in the middle or average range for this trait,
whereas smaller percentages report high and low hypnotizability. There
are varying methods for assessing hypnotizability, the most prominent
being the Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP). In addition, there are
physical signs that a trained clinician can observe in clients to assess
whether a person is in a light, medium, deep (or no) trance. Although
the research findings can vary to some degree, most estimate that higher
than 90% of the population can experience at least a light hypnotic
trance. People in the much smaller group of the population who are
highly hypnotizable can be put under trance for more intensive
procedures such as surgery and childbirth! My personal view on the
matter is that since even light hypnosis can be of some benefit in
addressing many clinical concerns, hypnosis can be useful to most people
that I work with.
Will I Lose Control During Hypnosis?
answer is a simple NO. No one can use hypnosis to make someone else do
something that they do not want to do. People in trance still have
awareness of what is being asked of them, and they will only do it if
they want to. I'm sure that some of you reading this may wonder about
stage hypnotists, who appear to have complete control over their
hypnotic subjects. This is not actually the case. First, stage
hypnotists scan the crowd prior to performing in order to identify
possible participants who appear both extroverted and hypnotizable.
They are looking for extroverted types because those people are going
to be more willing to go along with their suggestions in order to
perform for the crowd. So, when you see these participants barking like
a dog or clucking like a chicken on stage, keep in mind the following:
(1) some of these people may not even be in trance at all, and they may
just be faking it (2) some actually are in trance, but they want to do
these things the hypnotist is asking of them. Perhaps you've noticed at
the end of shows when the hypnotist brings the participants out of
trance that some appear confused and disoriented. This is because these
stage hypnotists are not trained to apply clinical hypnosis and do not
adequately lead the person out of trance in a gentle, directed manner.
The result is a sudden re-alerting, which can be disorienting. It is
not harmful, in the sense that are no long-term effects to my knowledge,
but nonetheless not a particularly enjoyable feeling. The best analogy
is when you are suddenly awoken from a sleep, such as by a loud alarm
clock, it can be a jarring, unpleasant feeling.
Can I become stuck in a hypnotic trance?
While it might be smoother to be re-alerted in a directed, gradual
manner, we possess the ability to re-alert ourselves as needed. Because
the hypnotized client has control over her or his trance at all times,
he or she can re-alert as necessary.
How do you use hypnosis in your work?
just like with therapy, I conduct a detailed intake evaluation (usually
60 minutes). In addition to thoroughly assessing a client's history
and background, with hypnosis clients I like to get a sense of what has
been tried, what has and has not worked for them, and particular
activities, imagery, and sensations they enjoy (as well as those that
they do not). All of this information helps me tailor the clinical
hypnosis directly to the client and her/his needs. I find that a more
personalized hypnotic approach works the best.
the intake and a discussion of what to expect from the clinical
hypnosis experience, I will use hypnosis in subsequent sessions. I find
that people become better at entering hypnosis as they get more
practice with it. For this reason, usually the first hypnosis session
takes the longest because the induction stage is lengthier. As clients
become more experienced at entering hypnotic trance, we can shorten the
induction and deepening phases and move more quickly into the actual
Generally, I strive to
keep the number of hypnosis sessions relatively limited (in the 4-6
session range). However, the number of sessions really depends on the
particular clinical concern. In some cases, hypnosis can be used
effectively in fewer sessions, and in some cases more are necessary. It
is possible to have a successful outcome in as little as one hypnosis
session; on the other hand, certain chronic problems with a long-term
complex history could require long-term hypnosis. Regardless, my goal
is on transitioning from something called hetero-hypnosis (two person
hypnosis, where there is a hypnotherapist and a hypnotic subject) to
self-hypnosis. I enjoy utilizing hypnosis because it is such a
portable, empowering skill. Anyone can learn to effectively use
hypnosis on themselves. AND, by teaching my clients self-hypnosis, this
allows them to frequently use it as part of a good self-care regimen.
addition to working with clients exclusively using clinical hypnosis
(e.g. someone who is referred to me specifically for hypnosis for a
particular problem), I also often integrate hypnosis into the regular
therapeutic treatment of my clients, with their consent. I view it as
one of many clinical tools that I use to address their concerns in an
What is Self Hypnosis?
hypnosis is just what the name implies. It involves putting yourself
into a trance. Since hypnosis is a naturally occurring state, as
clients become more effective at going into trance they are able to
induce it on themselves. Usually, I will transition them into
self-hypnosis by giving them a CD/MP3 recording with my voice on it
going through a hypnotic script. They can then follow the script and go
into hypnosis on their own. As clients become more comfortable with
self hypnosis, they can substitute their own voice for the CD. In this
sense, the self-hypnosis becomes more free-form, but it can be just as
effective. The degree to which a person uses a recording or their own
voice completely depends on their comfort level. Either way is fine.
Some people feel more comfortable following an outside voice rather
than having to concentrate on giving themselves suggestions. Again, it
is just a matter of preference.
Is All Hypnosis Done in a Relaxed Environment?
far, as you read this, you may be thinking that all hypnosis involves
closed eyes and a relaxed environment. NO - this is not the case.
There is a type of hypnosis called active-alert hypnosis, which
naturally occurs (and can be induced) in an active state. This type of
hypnosis is used particularly for performance enhancement, such as with
athletes or test-takers. The generally principle is the same as with
regular hypnosis: a hypnotic state is being induced by focusing one's
attention inwards. However, in active-alert hypnosis, this process is
occurring while the person is in activity. Scratching your head over
this one? Consider the following example, and it may become clearer.
Many star athletes report "being in the zone" during peak performances.
"Being in the zone" means being in a concentrated state, in a rhythm,
where everything else is blocked out. Sound familiar? Michael Jordan
often reported this feeling during games where he was scoring bucket
after bucket. Of course, there aren't many Michael Jordans, but the
principle still applies. The individual is actively moving, but
focusing her or his attention inwards and blocking out external stimuli.
Going with another basketball example (I am a big hoops fan), think
about the players that are able to make pressure-filled foul shots with
the game on the line and thousands of fans screaming and waving their
hands behind the basket. It could be said that they are in an
active-alert hypnotic trance.
I have used
active-alert hypnosis with athletes to help them block out anxiety and
external distractions in order to improve their performances. If
active-alert hypnosis is something of interest to you, let me know and
we can discuss how we might utilize this approach together.
For More Information
These are some great resources that I recommend viewing:
(1)American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), "Information for the General Public"
(2)American Psychological Association (APA), Division 30 (Hypnosis), "New Definition: Hypnosis"