“Look into my eyes… Now deeper and deeper…”
When you think about hypnosis, perhaps an old black and white movie with a villain swinging a pocket watch comes to mind. Do you believe hypnosis can work? Researchers say that believing is half of the process.
The History of Hypnotism
Since it is surrounded by many myths and misconceptions, the topic of hypnotism is highly controversial. Despite conclusive scientific research and its popular clinical use, many people are frightened by hypnotism, hooked on the stigma around it. To break down some of those ideas, we are going to walk you through a brief history of the origins and evolution of hypnotism.
Did you know that hypnotism has been around in the United States since the mid-1800s? You might be surprised to know that its origins go as far back as ancient historical times. Inseparable from western medicine and psychology, evidence of its use can be found in Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. The famous Sanskrit book the Law of Mandu refers to many levels of hypnosis, including “Dream-Sleep”, “Sleep-Walking”, and “Ecstasy-Sleep.”
During the Middle Ages, kings and princes were widely believed to have the power of healing, also known as the ‘royal touch.’ It is recorded that they performed miraculous healings called ‘magnetism’ or ‘mesmerism.’ The 16th-century physician Paracelsus was the first person to use magnets as a form of healing. This method of healing become popular, carrying into the 18th century.
It was then that the Austrian Physician Franz Mesmer discovered that he could incite a trance without the use of magnetic force. Mesmer incorrectly concluded that the healing powers came from an invisible force apart from the magnets. Perhaps you have heard someone say something was mesmerizing?
Mesmer was the first to describe a ritualistic method for hypnotism, which he passed down to his followers who continued to develop the method. Unfortunately, Frank Mesmer is also the reason why we have such a mystical view of hypnotism, as he had some rather strange and elusive practices to his methods, such as wearing a cloak and playing strange music during the ritual.
Other doctors believed that hypnosis wasn’t a magical power, but a very useful trance that opened the mind. Even still, the development of hypnosis carried on without Mesmer’s strange ways, and throughout history, many have believed hypnosis to be an effective psychological solution to many ailments of the mind and body. Seeing the potential of hypnosis in the medical field, a few notable doctors risked their medical licenses to pioneer its use in their practices.
In 1813, a priest named Abbe Faria began to research the validity of hypnotic techniques. He proposed that it was not magnetism or some outside force that caused a trance but rather the subject’s mind. Faria’s approach formed the foundation for the theoretical and clinical work of the French hypnosis-psychotherapy school, the Nancy School (also called the School of Suggestion).
Ambroise-Auguste Liebault, the founder of the Nancy School, believed hypnosis was a psychological phenomenon and disregarded the theories of magnetism. He focused his studies and hypnosis training on the correlation between being asleep and undergoing a trance. He concluded that hypnosis is a state of mind produced by suggestion. From this theory, he published Sleep and Its Analogous States in 1866. His work drew many of the prominent pioneers of psychology to study at the Nancy School.
Among them are Sigmund Freud, Pierre Janet, and Hippolyte Bernheim (who visited his clinic).
During the peak of hypnotic studies, many physicians used hypnosis for anesthesia. In 1821, Recamier became famous for using a hypnotic trance on a patient for anesthesia in a major operation. Thirteen years later, the British surgeon John Elliotson (who introduced the stethoscope to England) reported multiple painless surgeries using hypnosis.
Taking over a century to do so, doctors and researchers finally were able to remove the stain Mesmer left on the practice of hypnosis, revealing it as a valid clinical technique. By the end of the 19th century, hospitals and medical universities were exploring and applying hypnosis with studies and patients for a host of medical anomalies.
Despite having many predecessors in his field, it is the Scottish ophthalmologist James Braid who is credited as the ‘father of modern hypnotism.’ He was the first to coin the term neuro-hypnotism (meaning nervous sleep). This term was shortened to hypnotism in 1841. In the next century, the use of hypnosis proliferated and was incorporated into medical practice for rapid treatment following WWI and WWII.
After centuries of development and documentation, modern technology helped uncover the truth. With the use of brain imaging, doctors and researchers were able to actually see that hypnosis is its very own state. It is not a trance, nor is it vacant. Instead, it is a real state of mind in which the subject is very open to change and accepting new ideas, something that our very conscious state has been trained to block out.
Is Hypnosis Backed by Science Today?
From reading about the history of hypnosis, you have learned that it is a product of scientific inquiry. We know that hypnosis works. But what are the implications for a hypnotic session today? The Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School, Irving Kirsch, has this to say: “There are many myths about hypnosis, mostly coming from media presentations.” Apart from these preconceptions, hypnosis is a well-studied and proven method of treatment for conditions ranging from anxiety to choosing healthy lifestyle habits.
In relation to weight loss, Kirsch’s team discovered that those patients who couple cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) with hypnosis lose significantly more weight than those who do not. Following a period of four to six months, those patients who used CBT with hypnosis lost more than twenty pounds while those only using CBT lost ten pounds. In addition, the hypnosis-tested group maintained that weight loss for eighteen months thereafter whereas the other group did not.
Besides aiding weight loss, there is evidence that demonstrates that hypnosis is effective in the temporary relief of pain. Len Milling, a professor at the University of Hartford and clinical psychologist, concluded that hypnosis could help reduce post-surgical pain in children and pain related to other medical procedures.
Stanford University School of Medicine’s Doctor David Spiegel, a hypnosis expert, and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences had some interesting information to add as well. He said: “Half the people I see once stop [smoking], half of them won’t touch a cigarette for two years.” His statement is backed up by the Nicotine & Tobacco Research’s 2007 study, in which over 20% of 286 patients quit smoking after hypnotic treatment whereas only 14% quit by means of regular behavioral counseling. The hypnotic treatment was particularly successful in patients with a history of depression and anxiety.
However, pinpointing exactly how hypnotherapy is successful is tricky. If you ask ten different licensed therapists how it is effective, it is likely that you will get ten very different answers. One thing that most industry experts can agree on though is that the process of how to hypnotize someone occurs in two stages. The first stage is often referred to as induction. The second phase is the suggestion.
During the hypnotic induction, patients are often told to try and relax. The doctor will tell them to focus their attention and that they are going into hypnosis. The suggestion phase involves subtly proposing ideas to the patient to help them address or solve unhealthy behaviors or emotions. Patients are given scenarios to help them imagine hypothetical scenarios as if they were real. The types of suggestions and prompts given vary by the type of patient and their specific treatment needs.
In many ways, hypnosis can be compared to mindfulness practices and techniques since it prompts the patient to enter a deeper state of introspection. Spiegel says: “While most people fear losing control in hypnosis, it is, in fact, a means of enhancing mind-body control.”
The State of Hypnosis Today
These days you can attend seminars for everything from smoking cessation to overeating. But do they really work? If the clinical research and documented progress of hypnosis have anything to say about the subject, then yes, a person can be placed in a hypnotic state to change their mind about a habit. This is the part where experts say you have to believe in the ability to be hypnotized in the first place. Otherwise, your conscious state will thwart any effort to move your mind into a hypnotic state. A hypnotic state helps you enter a level of awareness that your conscious state cannot achieve, thereby revealing your mental roadblocks and allowing you to be more open to the ways around them.
Understanding How Hypnosis Works in the Conscious Mind and Subconscious Mind
The primary principle of hypnosis is that there are ways to access and influence the subconscious mind. During the induction period, most of this influence occurs by means of conversational hypnosis. For example, the person being hypnotized may consciously try to relax, focus on their breathing, and recall information. However, by doing all of these things, your conscious mind is working in coordination with the subconscious mind in order to access the part of the brain that solves problems and formulates plans. When a new idea pops into your head, it is because it was put together unconsciously.
Your subconscious is responsible for all of the processes you do that do not require concerted thought or effort. Your subconscious mind is what directs most of your thought processes. Your conscious mind evaluates your thoughts to make decisions and take action. It also processes new information so you can relay it in a new way. Psychiatrists theorize that relaxation and focusing techniques work to calm the conscious mind. By doing so, so it takes on a less active role in your thought processes. During this state of mind, you are still aware of what is going on, but your conscious mind takes the backseat.
So How Does One Hypnotize a Person?
First, You Need to Know About Informed Consent
Have you ever wondered how to hypnotize people for a magic act? Before we get into the details to help you learn to hypnotize, we must address the topic of informed consent and hypnotherapy. This term refers to the recipient giving the hypnotizer or hypnotherapists permission to perform the act.
You are likely aware of the act of giving consent throughout many daily activities in life. For example, when you go to your hairdresser, you let them know how much hair to trim and what style you would like. When you visit the doctor, they explain the visit and any procedures that you may need, including safety concerns and best practices. Informed consent is reassuring because you know that you will have enough information to make an intelligent decision that is in your best interest.
With this in mind, it is important to recognize the rights and well-being of the recipient of hypnotherapy. Common internet searches including ‘how to hypnotize someone without them knowing,’ how to hypnotize someone to do what you want, and ‘how to hypnotize someone instantly’ are all very disconcerting.
Within the field of hypnotherapy, there are three types of consent that are important to discuss. There is implied, explicit, and informed consent. We’re here to break down these concepts in a simple way.
Implied, Explicit, and Informed Consent
As the term suggests, implied consent is one that is not explicitly stated by the client but rather indicates their acceptance via an action (e.g. shaking hands). Explicit consent is a recorded verbal or written acceptance by the recipient. Finally, informed consent is one step ahead of explicit consent. It involves the hypnotist directly asking the client if they are willing to undergo hypnosis and they say yes. This means that the client has received sufficient information and is making an informed decision. Always make sure that you have informed consent if you are trying to learn how to perform the act of hypnosis (eye contact is important). Never attempt covert hypnosis.
Now the Process of Hypnosis Begins with Meditation
Now that you know about consent, let’s start by learning about meditation. This is the practice of eliminating all competing noises and energies around you and relaxing every part of your body and mind to gain a clear perspective. Some people say they physically feel lighter during meditation; that it is like emptying the junk drawer in your kitchen, and that they feel less stressed after a session. They can process deep thoughts after meditation more easily. However, during the process of meditation, there are virtually no thoughts at all. Meditation clears the mind of thoughts and frees the body from the stress of carrying them.
Meditation can be a relaxing tool or a preparatory action. Once in a state of meditation, a person may go on into prayer (spiritual journey), self-help, or psychoanalysis. Meditation is helpful in removing fear before a situation and relieving stress after a situation. That seems easy enough to understand, right? Some breathing exercises and mindfulness is all it takes.
Clearing your mind of stressful thoughts and harmful ideas is imperative for reaching a hypnotic state. One must understand that a hypnotic state is not a cure in itself; it is the door you open and walk through to accept suggestions and images that help reach a cure or relief. During the state of hypnosis, your fast-wave brain activity, used for thinking and processing, decreases, and slow-wave brain activity, used for relaxation and focus, increases greatly.
An In-Depth Breakdown of How Hypnosis Works
In general, the technique of hypnosis is rather easy with a willing participant – that is, someone who knows what is going to happen, who is open to the process, and who is ready to accept changing their mind. First, the subject needs a place where they can be completely relaxed and free from distractions and noises.
Some subjects appreciate white noise, like that of a fan or radio static, to achieve the ability to drown out the environment around them. This is possibly the most important part because the journey to the hypnotic state must be distraction free. Being disrupted while achieving the state can be very stressful and upsetting, making it harder and longer to get back there again.
Next, it is necessary to take the subject through a sequence of breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. Slowing the breathing calms the heart rate and the thought process, and relaxing muscle tension aids in physical awareness and mindfulness. Once the breathing is controlled and the heart rate has slowed, the muscles easily follow into complete relaxation. It is not unusual for your subject to look or act like they are asleep. The body will be as relaxed as a sleeping person, and the breathing will also mimic that of sleep.
Now, ask questions in a soothing tone of voice. Do this by posing a series of questions in a soft, encouraging voice (never harsh or commanding) to be sure you have consent from the subject in this state of mind. If at any time you do not feel that you have consent, you must stop the process. You should ask if the person knows where they are, if they feel relaxed, if they are okay, and if it is okay to ask some questions.
Once you have consent from the subject, you will open up their mind to the topic. The questions you ask now will steer your subject into the guided imagery that follows. Perhaps this is a friend who wants to stop smoking. So you would ask, “Do you want to stop smoking?” They will answer yes.
You will say something that identifies the topic of smoking and relates it to the person, such as, “Do you use cigarettes as a way to release stress?” And then ask a question that relates the topic to your help, such as, “Do you want me to help you get past your addiction to cigarettes?” Once you have determined the goal with your subject, you can go on to the guided imagery.
Never change your voice from the soft, lulling tone you have been using or you may startle your subject out of the hypnotic state, which can cause fear and anxiety. Guided imagery is going to open your subject’s mind to the topic they are trying to overcome and identify how it is having power over them. Next, you will paint a different picture of the topic, and ask your subject to refocus how they feel about it to meet the new image.
You might say, “I want you to picture yourself having a cigarette right now. Do you feel familiar with this?” They will answer yes. “I want you to picture that cigarette and how it looks coming out of the pack. Can you see it?” They will answer yes again. Now you will steer their thoughts by painting a new picture that reaffirms the bad habit.
“Now I want you to picture a poison symbol on the pack of cigarettes, and notice that each cigarette has a poison symbol on it. Do you know the poison symbol? Do you know poison is bad for your body?” Of course, they will answer yes to both questions. Continue with a directive. “Every time you want to have a cigarette, you will now remember that cigarettes have a poison symbol on them, okay?” You will go further by giving them a new feeling. “Every time you have a craving for a cigarette, you will remember that they are poisonous and you will not want it. You will have a piece of fruit instead, okay?” They will say yes.
Verify that the imagery is consistent with the goal you are trying to achieve. Ask your subject, “What are you going to see when you take a cigarette out of the pack?” Your subject should say, “A poison symbol,” or something similar. At this point, if they do not know, then you should repeat the imagery. If they are conclusive with your imagery, ask what they are going to do now when they have a craving. They should say, “Eat a piece of fruit” or something similar.
You should ask more questions that verify intent, without sounding critical or like you don’t believe them, such as, “What are some fruits you will eat when you are craving a cigarette?” They may say banana, apple, whatever. Always agree, even if they say something that is not a fruit. After all, you don’t really care if they eat fruit; your goal is to replace the cigarette craving.
Now role plays a little bit but keeps the same, steady, tone. “What are you going to do tomorrow when you want a cigarette?” They may say eat fruit, or they may say they will see the poison symbol. Both answers are correct. Always agree.
If they say I’m going to smoke that cigarette, then you need to go back through the imagery, always agreeing. You might say, “Okay, let’s think about what that cigarette looks like after it comes out of the pack.” And start from there again.
Once your subject is in full agreement to see poison and eat a piece of fruit, tell them how they should expect to feel. Say, “I want you to imagine feeling satisfied after you eat fruit. The fruit will make you feel good. How will the fruit make you feel?”They should say, “I will feel good” or something similar. You can consider the session successful and end the hypnotic state.
What to Do If the Subject is Resistant
If at any time the subject is resistant, or if you notice any sweating, stress, or tensing of the body or face, you should stop the experiment and try again another time. Whenever you stop the hypnosis, whether successful or not, you must carefully bring your subject back to a conscious state to avoid stressing the brain in this state of heightened awareness.
You begin to withdraw your subject from the hypnotic state by giving them an expectation, and let your voice gradually return from soft and lulling to a normal conversational tone. You might say, “I know you are feeling very relaxed, like you are asleep, and your eyes may be very heavy. You are going to start feeling more awake as I talk to you now, and when we are finished, you are going to feel so good about not smoking anymore. Are you ready to move forward?” Now you can simply allow them to fully awaken by asking them to take some deep breaths, squeeze and relax different muscle groups, smile, and open their eyes.
What is the Best Hypnotism Routine for Beginners?
There is no one perfect routine for hypnosis. For beginners, the best advice we can give is to exercise respect for the recipient and patience with yourself. Learning the practice of hypnosis is no easy act. There are, however, a few general tips that may ease the process and help you along the way. To recap, we talked about the induction process and suggestion.
A typical hypnosis session can be broken down into three parts. First, there is the induction (when the subject is brought into the trance). Second, is called ‘change work.’ This term refers to the process by which hypnotic suggestions are used to help the recipient make a positive change. You have probably seen this on a show with a stage hypnotist. Finally, you will come upon the exit process, or how to bring someone out of a trance. Remembering these three tips is a good way to know how to start and end the hypnotic session.
- Get the subject’s attention
- Bypass the conscious mind by holding their attention (e.g. ask them to look into your eyes, use power words, employ hypnotic themes that inspire focus and relaxation, show them a picture, or tell a story)
- Tap into the subconscious mind
2. Change Work:
- Give hypnotic suggestions (e.g tell them to focus on your voice, visualize a relaxing environment, etc.)
- Repeat hypnotic suggestions as a theme (e.g. Use description, keywords, and phrases like “look into my eyes,” “focus,” and “relax.”)
- Before you bring the subject out of the hypnotic state, make sure to cancel out any suggestions you do not want to stay active in their life
- Tell your subject to bring themselves out of the hypnotic trance as you count backward from three to one
- Should the subject have trouble ‘waking up,’ tell them it is okay to awaken, to open their eyes, or to move
- Make sure the subject stretches properly after they awaken
You Are Opening Your Mind to a New Idea
Since all pain, stress, and fear is managed by the brain, a patient can actually be trained to accept pain as a different sensation through hypnotic suggestions. Similar to the way meditation works in childbirth, once you have reached a state of awareness, you can retrain your brain to believe that when you feel a certain pain, it is actually just the processing of something necessary in your body.
A mother in labor might use hypnosis before childbirth to retrain her brain to believe that the excruciating pain of contractions is really pressure of the opening of the pelvis. Once the fear of the pain is removed and exchanged with the reasonable belief that the sensation is actually progress and pressure, the level of pain perceived by the brain during labor actually decreases. Doctors and researchers have documented this phenomenon by monitoring brain activity during hypnosis and during the live situation following hypnosis.
Benefits and Techniques of Hypnosis
Hypnosis can be very beneficial, and it is relatively easy to learn with a willing participant! Practice the breathing techniques on yourself and say the words you will use out loud to practice your soothing voice. Make some notes of the phrases you will use, and keep to a very methodical routine.
Fairly soon, you just might be the one your friends go to when they need help. If you want to learn more about hypnosis techniques that work, I strongly recommend you read through RebelMentalism. It shows you the exact steps and techniques that professional hypnotists use on their patients.