Category Archives: hypnosis

Hypnosis as a way of communicating

In my last post, I talked about one interpretation of hypnosis as being a particular kind of state, one that’s not all that unusual, in fact, seen every day in most people.

Like any other complex, human phenomenon, hypnosis can be viewed through several different lenses, each of which gives it another useful perspective.  One such viewpoint is that of communication and language patterns.

It’s interesting, but I had a client a while ago who, for reasons of religion, didn’t want me to do any formal hypnosis.  During our talk however, she explained how she did sales at her job.  A good portion of her sales abilities were dependent on hypnotic communication patterns! Did she “hypnotize” her customers? Of course not!  However, language IS powerful and the use of special patterns in speaking to someone can determine how well they follow your ideas or consider something that is presented to them.

I remember when I was in college, there was a Brittanica Encyclopedia salesman at the student union.  We talked for a bit, and, considering my own high value on information and its availability (long before the internet), I was really thinking of getting the classic encyclopedia set.  I had, by this time though, already studied hypnotic communication patterns on my own.  The salesman went down the form, talking about how he would fill it in, what each section could be answered and finally, showing me the place that I could put my name on the dotted line to purchase the books.  I noticed how I was being pulled in and recognized the “yes set” of Ericksonian hypnosis!  If you are told enough things in a row, to which the answer is “yes”, your mind moves in a certain direction. That direction can continue for a crucial one or two steps further with something that you MIGHT have said “no” to before.  An example, used hypnotically, would be:

You are sitting there in that chair
You came here to learn something about change
You know that you can learn new things, you’d done it before
You can easily hear me and see me and
You can learn enough today to experience trance.

While that’s not a terribly refined example, it shows how that final statement, which ALSO can’t be argued with (who would doubt their ability to learn something?) leads a person to an obvious direction of thinking.

Many hypnotic patterns of communication are already used in common everyday speech.  Think of the parents who are dealing with a fuzzy child.  It’s important for them to lead the child in the right direction, not cause any resistance to their own directions and get the child to self regulate their own mood.  Not easy? No, but one often used pattern (called, as I recall “another cause”) is: “You are SO tired now!”  If the child buys this statement, (instead of something that would be more confrontational like “You are being a brat now!”) they can be led to a place to take a nap and also learn to see when their mood isn’t working and when they might need to rest.

In the same way, I don’t frequently do a “formal” trance with my clients.  I will, however, use hypnotic patterns to get them to open up to possibilities in their experience or to get parts of them to open to new possibilities (I am currently doing a lot of work with people’s parts).  Because of my long familiarity with trance communication, it is almost hard NOT to use patterns that are intended to open up the mind to more choice.

One final note:  There is an interesting idea out there that hypnotists in fact don’t so much “hypnotize” their clients as “DE-hypnotize” them!  Many times the things that people come in to complain about can be viewed as powerful “self-hypnosis” patterns that people find themselves stuck in!  A certain incident, happening early in life may set a pattern in thinking that, for years to come, may be considered a “post-hypnotic” suggestion, often with commands such as “you aren’t worthy” or “you’ll never get what you want” implied.  When things are implied, the mind has little to do to oppose something but is more often going to simply accept it and those implications can cause us some trouble!

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Hypnosis as a Special (or Not so Special) State of Mind

I am asked if I do hypnosis with my clients, often in the context of eating or smoking or some other kind of habit pattern.  Many people think that hypnosis is really only used for breaking or inducing new habits, but the hypnotic phenomenon is actually more complex and interesting than that.

One story that I tell to explain hypnosis goes like this:

A psychologist named Ernest Rossi had been in biology graduate school prior to shifting to psychology.  He also got training as a Jungian analyst and had a special interest in how the mind and body interact with each other.  He was reading a report on how some biologists were contracted to see if they could find out how air traffic controllers made mistakes, in an effort to decrease errors which could, at times, be fatal to hundreds of people.

After considerable study, the biologists found that the error rate rose every 90 to 120 minutes, dropping once again to a baseline level.  While they examined all sorts of biological markers, the ones that they found were based mostly on observation of the air traffic controllers.  They listed such things as:

  • slowed blink rate
  • slowed movements of the body, even stopping completely
  • swallow rate slowing
  • staring in one place
  • slow breath rate

Rossi looked at this list and found it to be the same as what was given him years before by the world’s greatest hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson, M.D. except he called it “signs of the common everyday trance“.

Rossi went on to study this phenomenon and write extensively on it.  From this, he developed the idea of a new “state” theory of hypnosis: that we slip into trance every 90-120 minutes a day, but utilize it mostly to rest. If we DON’T get the chance to take these breaks, then we end up with all those classic problems that come from modern life in the form of stress reactions, along with the chronic health problems connected to them.

This state of hypnosis then is not anything unfamiliar to anyone who daydreams.  While certain religious and spiritual groups have doctrines against hypnosis (most notably Christian Scientists and Theosophists), these arguments are based on a concept of trance that is over 100 years old and talks about control of one mind that is weaker by a stronger mind.  While that idea was useful in its time, usually to bring fame to the hypnotist and instill confidence in his techniques (almost always it was a male hypnotist and more frequently a female subject), it really has no place in the modern theories of altered states.

What does this state allow you to do?  One important component of trance is the ability to connect to states of mind in which memories are more vivid.  Scientists have found that the state of the mind and body in which memories form can be important to remembering them.  If something happens to you when you are drunk, the ability to remember it will be much easier if you are again tipsy.  They have even shown the effect when students take a test in a different room than that in which the lectures took place!

Remembering events and, in a sense, “re-coding” them is one important part to hypnotic psychotherapy.  The trance state can also be used to work with the mind’s natural connection to the body and influence it.  It’s been known for over a hundred years that a hypnotic subject can respond to an imagined lit cigarette pressed against the arm with a blister.  The range of responses in this mind/body interface are still being investigated, but there seems to be evidence of hypnosis being used for breast enlargement, skin disorders and even increasing height in an adult male by several inches.

What happens between the hypnotist and the subject in a session?  That will be the subject of my next blog entry.

And finally, a classical and completely  inaccurate depiction of hypnosis: