How does hypnosis work? If you want to go and hypnotise someone right now, what would you need to do in order to hypnotise someone successfully? Well, there are lots of different methods of hypnotising people, but generally (and perhaps contrary to what you might’ve seen in the media), it tends to involve a little more than just ‘clicking your fingers and saying sleep’ (though, once you learn a bit more, you can learn how to do that too)!
When choosing someone to hypnotise, there’s a key criteria that they need to meet in order to go into hypnosis. They need to want to be hypnotised. If someone doesn’t want to be hypnotised, then it’s highly unlikely that they’ll go into hypnosis (regardless of the skill or experience of the hypnotist). The reason? Well, it turns out that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis! Yes, it’s true. Hypnosis is a self-generated state, so though a hypnotist helps you go into hypnosis, they tell you how to go into hypnosis, the person doing all the hard work is you. So, fundamentally, you can’t hypnotise anybody against their will – sorry to any creepy people that wanted to learn to do hypnosis for evil purposes reading this, you’re out of luck! (phew!)
When you’ve found a willing volunteer or ‘hypnotic subject’, it’s important to ensure that they are suitable for hypnosis and not ‘contra-indicated’. People with some psychological conditions are complex to work with in the hypnotic state, and others should not be worked with at all, for their safety. So, make sure that whoever you choose to hypnotise doesn’t have any of the following conditions:
Psychological & personality disorders
Uncontrolled epilepsy or seizures
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Severe learning difficulties
It’s important that when you’re using hypnosis, that you use it safely and appropriately. So do not use hypnosis with anyone if they suffer any of the conditions mentioned above. As well as that, it’s not a good idea to hypnotise anyone who’s under the influence of mind-altering drugs or medication, who’s drunk, who’s extremely emotionally unstable, and if you’re hypnotising anyone that’s pregnant, ensure that they’re sat safely in a position where they will not fall or be physically disturbed. Better safe than sorry!
Picking your hypnosis location
It can be useful to consider where you’re going to be doing this hypnosis session. Are you going to be in a public or private environment? It’s a common misconception that to do hypnosis you need a totally silent, comfortable environment. In fact, you can do hypnosis pretty much anywhere, even (when you progress in skill) with people standing up (yes, you can seriously be hypnotised standing up – however, if not managed correctly, you can also be hypnotised and fall down!).
When you start out using hypnosis, it’s a smart idea to choose a location where you’re not likely to face interruptions, and somewhere where you have some control over environmental factors (such as other people interfering with your hypnotised subject). It’s also recommended that, when starting out, you have your volunteer sat or reclining comfortably and in a location/position where they are able to easily hear you throughout the hypnosis process.
Preparing for success – the hypnosis ‘pre-talk’
So, you have your willing volunteer, and you’re in a suitable environment where you can focus on the hypnosis process, but wait! Before you get to hypnotising, you need to do something that could either make or break your hypnosis session (if you do it well, it will definitely help). The ‘hypnotic pre-talk’, though complex-sounding, is simply a conversation with your volunteer about hypnosis. You’re going to want to figure out whether they have any pre-conceptions or expectations about what hypnosis is going to be like. The reason being, hypnosis is a self-generated state, and everyone experiences it slightly differently. If a persons expectations do not meet the ‘reality’ of what hypnosis is like for them, then it can cause them to believe the hypnosis is not working/did not work.
The pre-talk will also address any concerns that your volunteer has about the hypnosis process. Making your volunteers comfortable, and informing them of what’s going to happen (and what’s not going to happen) is a surefire way to boost your success as a hypnotist. Again, remember, if you haven’t addressed their concerns in the hypnosis pre-talk phase and they don’t feel comfortable, then your volunteer may choose to not go into hypnosis. Again, this is because all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Your volunteers always have the choice as to whether they go into hypnosis or not, so it’s up to you to convince them that it’ll be a positive experience and to manage their expectations. A really simple way to have a ‘conversational pre-talk’ is to ask your volunteer ‘what are your thoughts about hypnosis?’ or ‘do you have any questions about hypnosis before we get started?’. During the pre-talk process, be prepared to educate them about any ‘hypnosis myths‘ that they may believe. Belief in these myths can often negatively effect the hypnosis process. As well as that, it can be a good idea to ask your volunteer if they’ve had any experience with hypnosis in the past, as this is also something that could effect how they respond to you during the hypnosis process.
The hypnosis process
Before you hypnotise your volunteer, it’s often a good idea to test how suggestible they are (as some people are more hypnotically suggestible than others). This ‘suggestibility testing’ process gives you a whole bunch of information that will help to shape your hypnosis session and choose the most appropriate techniques for your volunteer, depending on their capabilities. There are a whole number of suggestibility tests that you can employ to this end, the majority of them involve telling your volunteer to use their imagination to imagine parts of their body either moving or becoming immovable. By following those suggestions, even whilst not hypnotised, they are often likely to physically respond, to a certain degree. So, for example, you might suggest that they imagine their eyes are locked shut, and then ask them to try and fail to open them. Or, you may suggest that they imagine their arm is attached to a large helium balloon, and it wants to lift up into the air.
Seeing how people respond to such suggestions before hypnosis is a great way to gauge how well they will respond when they are actually hypnotised. For more information on the whole range of hypnotic suggestibility tests that you can use, take a look at our comprehensive Hypnotic Suggestibility Testing 101 online training course. Whether you’re looking to use hypnosis for serious therapeutic purposes or for fun and entertainment, suggestibility tests are likely to be an integral part of your hypnosis process moving forwards.
So, now it’s time to hypnotise your volunteer… There are many different techniques and methods that can be employed to hypnotise someone, these are often called ‘hypnotic inductions’. There are ‘progressive’ (gradual) hypnotic inductions that involve simply talking to your volunteer and having them follow your suggestions (usually to relax their body, and to engage their imagination). There are quicker hypnotic inductions, that involve different things, such as ‘eye fixation’ or physical movement. There are even ‘rapid inductions’, where a subject is hypnotised within a couple of seconds, often with a physical shock (such as their arm being tugged) or by being put into a state of confusion (by being asked to do too many things at once). For a deeper explanation of the various hypnotic inductions that are out there, check out our blog; ‘how to hypnotise someone’, or for even more detail check out the Rapid Hypnosis 101 online training course.
Then, once you have someone in a state of hypnosis, you would generally ‘deepen’ or ‘intensify’ the state. This can be achieved either using ‘deepening suggestions’ such as ‘with every breath you go deeper into hypnosis’ or ‘the more you listen to my voice, the more relaxed you become’, or using more rapid deepening techniques and approaches that are often physical in nature. However, you will also find that when you move onto the next part of the process, your volunteers will automatically ‘go deeper’ into hypnosis, as they will continue to engage with your suggestions, which has a compounding effect.
During hypnosis – the ‘suggestions’
Once you have hypnotised and deepened your volunteer, it’s then time to give your ‘hypnotic suggestions’. This is the part of the hypnosis process where you either do the ‘therapy‘ or the ‘fun stuff‘. Keep in mind, some people will go ‘deep’ into hypnosis, and will respond to the majority of suggestions/techniques that you might use, whereas others may only go into a ‘moderate’ or ‘light’ state of hypnosis, and may respond less well to more complex or challenging suggestions. For example, a deep and responsive hypnotic subject may easily be able to ‘forget their name’ or ‘hallucinate that they’re driving a racing car’, and similarly they may be able to easily be ‘regressed back to their past’, or ‘communicate subconsciously’ for therapy purposes. However, a less responsive, lightly hypnotised subject may not be able to respond to such suggestions, or not respond as profoundly as a more responsive subject might.
With this information in mind, if you’re looking at using hypnosis for entertainment purposes, it’s generally best to pick those volunteers that respond well to suggestion and go deep into hypnosis easily. ‘Lighter’ hypnotic subjects will tend to respond more in their imagination, and will often tend to not physically respond as well to hypnotic suggestions. For entertainment purposes, you want people who will move around, as it makes for a good show. However, for therapy purposes, you do not necessarily need a super deep level of hypnosis, and the majority of people are more than able to benefit from the hypnotherapy process.
The majority of what you do in this portion of the hypnosis session will involve giving ‘hypnotic suggestions’, which basically means ‘telling your hypnotised volunteer what to do’. There are many different ways you can deliver hypnotic suggestions, but the most simple is directly suggesting it. For example, if you want to help someone quit smoking with hypnosis, you might give them direct suggestions to that end, such as, ‘you are becoming a non-smoker… you now find cigarettes repulsive… you want to breathe fresh, clean air with your fresh clean lungs… you are now a non-smoker and you feel good…’ and so on. For therapy purposes, you’re likely to need to deliver quite a lot of suggestions along the theme of your volunteers ‘problem’ or ‘goal’. You may deliver such suggestions over a period of 5-30 minutes (so a bit more comprehensive than the example above). However, with stage hypnosis shows or street hypnosis demos, you’re likely to give your volunteers a single suggestion, looking for an immediate response. For example, ‘imagine now that your foot is stuck to the floor… completely stuck to the floor as if it’s rooted there like a strong oak tree… welded, stuck, completely attached to the floor… In a moment you’re going to try and lift it and find the more you try, the more stuck it becomes… Try and lift it now and find you can’t!’. To get a deeper understanding of how hypnotic suggestions work, check out our blog post on the topic (yes, another one), entitled ‘Creating effective hypnotic suggestions’.
Waking your volunteer up
The final part of the process is probably the most simple, but also one of the most important. You should always properly ‘awaken’ your volunteers so that they go away feeling fully alert and really good. To do this, you simply tell them what’s going to happen. For example ‘I’m going to count from 1 to 5, at the count of 5 you’ll be wide awake, fully alert, and feeling good. Ready, 1, beginning to wake up… 2, sitting up… 3, take a deep refreshing breath in… 4, beginning to move, and 5, eyes open, wide awake and feeling good!’. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s very important to always include! Also, if you’re doing entertainment hypnosis, it’s good practice that during your awakening process you suggest that all other suggestions are now completely and totally removed. This is so that people do not continue to respond to hypnotic suggestions after the hypnosis process has concluded (which could potentially happen).
So that’s a brief overview of how hypnosis works, we hope you’ve enjoyed it! If you have any more questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Rory Z Fulcher