Hypnosis 101


Hypnosis is a state of focused awareness. It is something everyone has experienced countless times; among instances of it are waking up or getting absorbed in a good book. The characteristics of the state vary; it cannot be pinpointed on an EEG and the experience is different for everyone though there are common elements. A person can be hypnotized and while that state be having a great time at a party; no zombie eyes no intonations of Yeesss Massterr no wandering about with arms outstretched. Hypnosis does not have a unique and unmistakable insignia indicating its presence.

This is generally not the case with the PROCESS of hypnosis. Patterns of hypnosis have been written up and used for decades. You can find books depicting the process in bookstores and libraries. The process is intended to create that state of focused awareness. It is this process I wish to discuss in the remainder of this post. [Hypnosis and being hypnotized will refer to the process should there be any confusion.]

General Considerations

Hypnosis can be thought of as a game that is binding. The rules are initially defined by the expectations of the subject which encompasses all their experiences with it everything they've seen on TV and old movies and what the subject has been told about hypnosis. These rules dictate what will and will not be effective; which inductions will and will not work; and the conduct of the subject while in the state of hypnosis. The rules are mutable. Debunking misconceptions demonstrations and providing more information - accurate or not - will affect the rules of the game.

A professor at Stanford illustrated how greatly expectations dictate results. The gentleman told one of his introductory psychology classes that an unfailing indication of a hypnotized subject was that their right arm would float upwards. The professor told another class the same thing only in this case he specified it was the left hand that would rise. When he hypnotized members of both classes he discovered that students responded in accord with their expectations. The right arm of the members of the first class did indeed rise while with members of the second class only the left hand rose.

In hypnosis the subject calls the shots. Their expectations outline the manner in which the game is to be played. The hypnotist wields no mystical power; she and the subject have an agreement that the process of hypnosis is conducted in a certain manner and each player behaves in a particular way. The level at which the game is played is defined by the rules and the degree of trust the subject feels for the hypnotist. A mistrustful subject will be paying far more attention to what you are doing and what you might be scheming than to what you are saying.

Hypnosis is useful as a catalyst. As seen above the state itself is not too exhilarating in and of itself. The process and the applications are what make it fun and useful. You can call on your mind's abilities to control pain [useful]; you can play the most intense imagination game of D&D of your life [fun].

The function of the hypnotist is to provide a focal point and talk their partner through evoking the intended result. The process usually begins with a discussion of hypnosis. This is to determine the purpose of a session debunk misconceptions get a sense of the subject's expectations and generally make things go easier later. The induction consists of bringing the subject's awareness to something and keeping it focused. The hypnotist gives suggestions to bring about the determined purpose including any post-hypnotic suggestions. Then she guides the subject back to a normal state of awareness.

What Hypnosis Is Not

  • It is not sleep. The participant is thoroughly aware of their surroundings. They may choose to ignore them. The hypnotist may ask the subject to ignore things or to focus all attention on one idea.
  • You can not get stuck in hypnosis. Either you will awaken on your own or the state will become one of natural sleep. Sometimes a subject requires a few more moments to return. Sometimes the subject refuses to return. This is particularly true of stage hypnosis; if a subject feels pissed off at the hypnotist it can be mightily gratifying to unnerve said offending hypnotist by not responding. Even if this is the case the subject will still either return on their own or fall asleep.
  • A hypnotized person will not knowingly violate their code of ethics.

Milton Erickson messed around with this a bit and found it to be particularly true if he made it clear that the subject was responsible for the consequences of their actions. There are three twists here;

  1. A person may do something seemingly unethical if it is O.K. according to their moral standards especially if they believe being hypnotized at the time is sufficient excuse.
  2. Stage hypnotists evoke some silly behavior which might ordinarily be contrary to the subject's code of conduct. This is a result of group pressure of the forgivability of stage hypnosis and of the streak of hamming it up in each of us.
  3. A person can be tricked. If I am told I am in a blazing hot desert sweating buckets and the only way to get cool is to take my shirt off I might do that. I will not do that because I am an exhibitionist. If I am directly told to take off my shirt first I will snap back to the here and now and next I will drop-kick the lech out of my house. Furthermore once such a maneuver is recognized the hypnotist has utterly destroyed the subject's trust and will have no further success with them.

Nitty Gritty Stuff

First some things concerning speaking. The hypnotist ought not speak in a monotone; not only is it unnecessary it is an annoyance. Rather she should make her voice congruent with what she's saying. If she is describing a soothing walk on the beach under a restful sunset she ought not sound hyper. It is useful to use a particular tone of voice when hypnotizing people. This is helpful because soon there will be an association between The Voice and the state. In addition it means you will not inadvertently trip an association if you use your normal speaking voice with someone whom you see primarily for hypnosis you are apt to zone them out just by saying Howzit goin The Voice comes with practice and you can pick it out after a while.

There are definite reasons behind word choices. Sense words make things more vivid; describe the colors textures and sounds associated with that soothing walk on the beach. Repeating words and phrases helps things sink in and adds rhythm to your patter. You may opt to say things in a permissive way [in a moment you may picture yourself walking upon a soothing beach; perhaps there is a glorious sunset coloring the sky crimson and purple] or in an authoritative way [ You are walking on a beach. The beach is soothing; it makes you more and more relaxed. Notice the glorious sunset]. The choice of words is based on the situation the hypnotist's style and most of all upon the personality and rules of the subject. Make them fit.


Synonyms for this word include credibility and rapport. Leverage makes suggestions more effective. Things that generate leverage are accurate descriptions of present experience and accurate descriptions of future events.

An accurate description of your present experience may be that your eyes are moving across these words and you feel the keyboard beneath your waiting fingers and you feel the chair beneath you and you hear noises in the background that you have not been paying much attention to until now.

An accurate description of future events can be that as you read these words you will become aware of your left earlobe. Another is that when you take your next really deep breath your hand may feel somewhat lighter. I base my estimation of your awareness of your earlobe on the fact that mentioning it almost inevitably makes you think about it. The second assertion is much shakier in this context but stronger if you were being hypnotized. Relax your hands on your lap for a moment and inhale deeply. Notice how your shoulders rise a little and tug your arm up a little bit

Things that are bad for credibility are ability tests and blatant contradictions of present experience. When you use an ability test you run the risk of it not working. They do work for many people and sometimes providing useful information but it is very difficult to recover gracefully from an unsuccessful ability test. The participant may reach the conclusion that they can not be hypnotized or that you are incapable of hypnotizing them. Blatant contradiction of present experience as you carefully scrutinize the upper left corner of your monitor you can become aware of the little picture of a pink-and-purple hippopotamus. Right.

Now to tie these together. If you have been correct in the past few descriptions you increase the probability you will be in the next one. As an example presume I am being hypnotized right now. I am told about how I feel the keyboard under my hands as my fingers dance from key to key (correct)I glance at my scribbling to help me clarify this thought (correct)and I hear muffled music in the background (also correct)and as I notice these things I can feel myself becoming more and more relaxed. The last assertion is pure speculation; there is no reason that those things should make me feel more relaxed and no real indication that I'm mellowing out noticing these things. However the hypnotist has been right on three counts so far. He has acquired a little credibility. My response is going to be Sure he's been right so far why not now

This point is somewhat esoteric; if it makes sense fine. If it doesn't or even if it does read Trance-Formations listed at the end of this post. The authors go over this in detail and in a very skillful and clear fashion. Let this stand the more accurate you are, so much the better; a really incorrect statement or blatant failure is apt to be disruptive.


The purpose of an induction is to focus awareness on something and gradually move through to evoking the intended results. The methods are many and varied.

Very often the focal point is relaxation. Progressive relaxation consists of deliberately tensing and relaxing (sometimes just relaxing) each part of the body paying attention to releasing every bit of tension. Descriptions of soothing surroundings or experiences are also used to produce relaxation.

Trance-Formations describes an induction utilizing points mentioned above. It consists of sets of six statements. The first set contains five accurate descriptions of present experience and one abstract or unverifiable statement (and these things make you feel more and more relaxed and while you notice them you feel a sense of security and strangely enough these remind you of wrecking Aunt Milllie's car). The next set contains four present-experiences and two abstracts; then three present-experiences and three abstracts and so on until you're dealing with just the abstracts.

Confusion inductions consist of confusing the hell out of someone and then providing them with an understandable option. This confusion often consists of ambiguous statements or plays on words. Take the words right write rite and Wright. As you right about the right brothers you realize you have violated the rights of those whose right this is by righting with your right instead of your left. The intended response is a huge HUH at which point you offer an understandable option and that makes you feel really silly! The option is an escape route from all that unpleasantness and ambiguity and therefore desirable.

Inductions take time. It is common for an induction to take ten or twenty minutes with a participant who has not been hypnotized much before or is unused to your style. Signs of effectiveness the participant's responses match your description and that makes you feel really silly may be met with a smile; depictions of relaxation are matched with visible decreases in tension. Requests to picture scenes usually evoke rapid eye movement. If you ask your partner to do a lot of talking you will notice changes in their manner of speaking; it becomes quieter slower perhaps a little less well enunciated. Depending on what you ask them to say and how familiar you are with their normal speech patterns you may notice differences in word choices. Subjectively you or the participant may feel more lethargic and may experience dissociation. For me that means that I could do a lot of things like move my hand up a few inches but it would require so much energy and I do not think it important enough at the time to expend that energy. Also I tend to start loosing track of where I left my limbs (tee hee); I know they're there somewhere but don't think it important enough to bother to relocate them.

It is desirable to make series of suggestions flow as smoothly as possible. Choppy sentences are more apt to create tension than soothe them. Flowing sentences encourage relaxation have better rhythm to them and can possess more leverage.

Take these three phrases You feel the chair beneath you. You see the text on the screen. You are becoming more relaxed than ever before.

The simplest way to connect them is with plain old conjunctions. You feel the chair beneath you AND you see the text on the screen AND you are becoming more relaxed than ever before.

Next step up simultaneous words. AS you feel the chair beneath you you see the text on the screen AND AT THE SAME TIME you are becoming more relaxed than ever before.

The most powerful way to hook up phrases is with causal words. SINCE you feel the chair beneath you AND BECAUSE you see the text on the screen you are becoming more relaxed than ever before.

Suggestions Central

This is the portion of the process where you accomplish the stated purpose; the part of the game that is binding. Suggestion styles include the following:

  • Direct suggestion. This is where you flat-out say such and such is going to happen. When you are going to bed tonight you will feel compelled to think of purple hippos. As soon as your head touches the pillow purple hippos will occupy your every thought.
  • Indirect suggestion. Comprised of visualization and storytelling.

Visualization is just mentally creating the event. It is not restricted to just pictures; whichever senses make it more real are the ones you should appeal to. If you know the person is oriented to one sense more than another, describe with them. ( See the purple hippos dancing on your quilt. Hear them thundering up the hallway. Feel the floor shake with their every step. ) If in doubt it can't hurt to use all of them. [ Most people favor either vision hearing or kinesthics so you needn't necessarily go into how it tastes to chow down on purple hippo. If you were visualizing walking in a flower garden however it makes sense to include smell. Use what is appropriate.] Picture yourself preparing for bed. Your teeth are brushed; the sounds of traffic are hushed; and the pillow feels delightfully cool against your cheek. As you snuggle down under the pillows your mind turns to thoughts of purple hippos.

Storytelling is more subtle than both direct suggestion and visualization. You relate an event or anecdote which provides a sort of framework for conduct.

When I was a child every night as I went to sleep I would conjure up a rainbow zoo dancing on my bed covers. First there would be the lions as yellow as lemons. Following them were orange alligators [blah blah blah through blue ostriches] And last and best of all were the purple hippos. They were my favorite part of the procession; I looked forward to them as soon as my head touched the pillow. And the last thoughts on my mind were of those purple hippos cavorting on my quilt.

If it's something really strange like the above you probably wish to attribute it to a weird cousin or obscure newspaper clipping. Lead into these gracefully; this example might start off with bedtime rituals in general and in the present then remembering back to bedtime rituals as a child then into your story. ( How many people will think of purple hippos the night after they read this)

These should be related in an appropriately serious manner. If it's silly sound a little silly but present it as if it's important as if you were sharing it with a friend. If you make it sound important it will be received as such. Go gently with them too; don't holler PURPLE HIPPOS CAVORTING ON THE QUILT. Just weave it into its surroundings. Storytelling is best for going sideways at something for attending to integral corollaries of the purpose. Their power is in subtlety.

  • Subliminals. It is possible to mark out certain words as you say them. You may make a certain unobtrusive gesture change pitch or loudness slightly glance off in a certain direction - something small enough not to require the participant's full-blown attention but designed so they will be able to perceive it. This is the hardest thing for me to give an example of because it's something I have not begun to master. If you could possibly string the words purple hippo and bedtime together in a few sentences that make enough sense so the listener doesn't get confused and go back to review them then you'd mark out those particular words with a perceivable and unique action. You'd also probably want to throw in similar words - lavender going to sleep late-night thoughts - to be sure the point gets across. Trance-Formations goes over this too; if you read it you may find it interesting to observe your own behavior during the subliminals chapters.

Phrase suggestions as positively as possible. Don't think of purple hippos is an utterly futile idea. Eating less is better put as being content with smaller portions. Pain is a loaded word; use discomfort or the presence of comfort instead. You get the idea.

Participants tend to take suggestions literally. One lady was told to picture herself leaving the office then turning out the lights. When she acted on this she left work. She then turned the lights off via the circuit box. Telling someone and your husband is being a big pain in the neck can translate into a nasty headache. If you're doing hypnosis at night be careful with words about being wide awake when you're bringing your partner back. Be as unambiguous as possible; be aware of literal translations.

This is a good place to mention trance logic and literal-mindedness. Trance logic appears when the participant is really into it. Presume they believe they speak only French. If you ask if they understand English the reply will be Non. Do they know only French Oui. Literal mindedness is illustrated by asking your partner if they can raise their right hand and getting a response of Yes. Will they Yes. Now Yes.

Suggestions should be given at a pace that matches the participant's breathing. It enhances rapport and is an acceptably leisurely pace.

Appeal to preferred senses.

If you're using hypnosis for habit modification when you're determining the purpose of the session learn what is motivating the participant. If the purpose were keeping up interest in exercise and the participant liked jogging because it created a feeling of independence don't sell the virtues of those neat suits and funky sneakers. Unless of course s/he likes them too.

If you are confused by a response ask. Doesn't hurt a bit.

If something unexpected happens stay calm. If it's an unusual action like drumming fingers you can ask about it. You can also incorporate it which acknowledges and accepts that action. And the drumming of your fingers makes you more and more relaxed. If someone bursts into tears suddenly stay calm. Ask why this is happening. Ask if the participant wants to continue and respect their reply. You can incorporate that too; and you feel those tears washing through you cleaning away your anger leaving you calm and serene. Unexpected interruptions and noises are better incorporated than ignored unless you discern from a total lack of response that they were not important enough for the participant to pay attention to.

There And Back Again

Bringing your partner back to the here-and-now is easy.

First undo any unusual suggestions that would make life unpleasant. If you suggested numbness in a hand be sure feeling is restored. If you're unsure do a general banishing.

Next make it clear you are concluding. And before you return to the here and now allow yourself to bask in this feeling of relaxation. If you look down the hall you will see a door marked EXIT.

Then conclude. When you're ready you can return to the here and now feeling perfectly fine in every way. 1starting to return2feeling more alert3half way there4feeling fine in every way5awake! ( Snap if you feel really showy.)

If your participant doesn't sit up and rub their eyes blearily within a reasonable amount of time ( a couple minutes or as soon as you get to awake! ) determine if they fell asleep. If they did it's a credit to your ability to help others feel relaxed. Make certain they heard you and know what the deal is. Restate it; if you do a count-up the best maneuver is to leave the ball in their court and let them come back when they're ready. If that seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time give suggestions about feeling more alert prepared to come back. And as usual if you're uncertain ask!

A nice reinforcer is to gradually switch back from The Voice to your regular voice as you conclude. With the 1-to-5 set up you might be speaking very quietly at one and graduate until at five your voice is somewhat louder than usual.

Now is an excellent time to ask for feedback. Feedback will tell you if you forgot to undo anything [ bring them back in, negate it, ask if anything else needs undoing, bring them back out]. It will tell you how you can make your style more effective in general or with just this person. It also acknowledges their part in the proceedings. If they're pissed off at you for some inconsideration it is a good time to clear the air and acknowledge the validity of their complaint.

Reinducing Hypnosis

If you both desire to create a word, gesture, mental image, whatever that will bring the participant back to a state of deep relaxation between the main set of purpose-suggestions and the return is the place to do it. Select an appropriate item; state that when this item is done AND the participant consciously desires to return to this state of deep relaxation that it will happen. Conscious intent prevents accidentally triggering it. You do NOT want it to be inadvertently activated while the participant is driving. It might not be in their rules that they can realize the deal and correct it; it may take vital moments for that realization to arrive; it may take time to brush away those cobwebby feelings of deep relaxation - don't put it to the test.


Pre-induction chats not only let you become more aware of the participant's rules it prevents problems by letting you debunk. You might not discover that this person believes they can reawaken only if you say Ah-La-Peanut-Butter-Sandwiches; telling them they'll just fall asleep is a nice margin to have.

Be trust-worthy and honorable. A gentleman tried to induce me to swig a beer. I would not. He has been unable to hypnotize me since then; he has lost my trust utterly. I will not risk a second chance. Not many people will.

This is intended to be an overview of general hypnosis. There are really weird variants that I don't know enough about to write up. [ F'rinstance - inducing hypnosis like as in zoning people waaaaay out without formal inductions just talking with them. NEAT!] I left out a bunch of stuff you will find in most books on hypnosis - history depth categories (not necessarily useful and specifics on applications. Go to your bookstore. Supplement this.

These are my rules of the Game. If you find them useful, keep them.

Good Books

Hypnosis A Journey Into The Mind by Anita Anderson-Evangelista. The most thorough beginning book on hypnosis the library possesses. Good stuff!

Trance-Formations by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Kind of esoteric, but really neat techniques and approaches.

Frogs Into Princes, also by Bandler and Grinder. Provides information on sense preferences, keywords, and rapport. Does not deal with hypnosis per se but the information within applies.

Tapes or live sessions are useful for helping you pick up the pattern of patter. They can provide new approaches and effective ways to say things.

Things I Thought To Add In The Wee Hours Of The Night

Presuppositions also possess leverage. A presupposition offers a choice on the surface and at the root of it is a fundamental Given. Would you prefer to go into a light or deep trance - the given is that the state will manifest and it is also presumed that the participant is capable of deeper degrees.

An induction related to the Confusion technique is overloading. Direct the participant's awareness to as many things as possible. The human mind can only attend to so many things; given too many it will start to withdraw or cut down. Offer suggestions regarding relaxation along with pointing out that they can perceive X while thinking of K. Kind of the same principle as the confusion technique.

Another way to reinduce a hypnotic state is to ask the participant to recall one. To answer your questions especially very specific questions your partner re-accesses that state goes into it a little bit. Or a lot. Depends on the person and memory. If you're working with the same person you can ask them to review the last session. If your partner has been hypnotized before you can ask questions about what the hypnotist said how they were seated or lying down did the hypnotist talk in a slow drawling manner or in an intense steady one what did s/he say what did the participant find most effective - anything pertaining to recreating the experience is fine. Then you can gracefully start an induction. OK while you're still recalling how pleasant it was to be so deeply relaxed why don't you just let your eyes close.


When you're giving the main set of suggestions repetition of the main points is helpful. Drives the ideas home. You may wish to ask if the suggestions were well understood from time to time.

When you're giving suggestions in general watch the participant carefully especially if you're describing something. You want to be on the alert for a negative response (handy word comes fastest to mind). If you're describing something that's really loaded, unpleasant, or plain too weird you can see it by the participant's responses. Clenched hands tension around the jaw hunched shoulders tensing up in general; these and anything you recognize as a negative response are things to look out for. If you are describing the participant as swimming in the ocean and they are phobic of water or if Jaws is on their mind you will know it by these indicators. Your choices are to gracefully offer alternatives (or if you prefer you can find yourself in a forest glade) or to inquire.

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