Before you learn to put someone into hypnosis, it can be useful to learn how to bring them out of hypnosis! Now, there are many different terms used to represent the conclusion of a hypnosis experience, whether for therapy, street or stage hypnosis. Depending on which training course, book, video, or website you look at, you may notice the process referred to as:
De-hypnotising (popular in research)
It can be helpful if the term that you use with your hypnotic subject is congruent with how you initially describe hypnosis. For example, if you say to a subject that, “hypnosis isn’t sleep” and then tell them, “In a moment I am going to wake you up”, it may cause confusion, weaken credibility or rapport, or even adversely affect belief in the process. However, for the sake of simplicity and ease of reading, this blog will use the term ‘awakening’ throughout, as well as ‘subject’ (in lieu of ‘client’ or ‘volunteer’).
Why use an awakening process?
You may be wondering if an awakening process is really even needed. However, consider what might be the response if a hypnotist simply said, “…and you can open your eyes and come out of hypnosis when you are ready”. The outcome is less predictable than you might imagine. With a poor to moderate hypnotic subject, they might bring themselves out of hypnosis, fully or partially, yet may retain any suggested or spontaneous phenomena, such as feeling relaxed or active, alert or drowsy, light or heavy. If you haven’t fully dispelled any of the subject’s myths and misconceptions about how they will feel after the hypnosis session, then the subject could also generate unpleasant or unwanted emotions or sensations as well, as they may expect this to happen based on what they’ve seen in the media, or heard from other people who had negative experiences. In the absence of suggestions to the contrary, your subject may anticipate feeling unpleasant, and can generate this experience in themselves.
According to Irving Kirsch’s Response Expectancy Theory. If someone believes a certain outcome will occur, this is more likely. This is nothing new, if you consider the Laws of Suggestion and Rules of the Mind (e.g. the Law of Concentrated Attention and Rule No.2 What you expect, happens). In consideration of this, a subject can be led to expect hypnosis to be terminated by a defined cue, such as a finger click/snap, a clap of the hands or certain word(s). More broadly though, if they have held belief in the hypnotist and the session to that point, they will usually believe that they will awaken when they are told to.
Not using an awakening process can be even more serious with really good hypnotic subjects. If you simply tell a really good hypnotic subject to open their eyes when they are ready. Firstly, they may be enjoying the process so much that they won’t ‘be ready’ anytime soon! Secondly, if they did open their eyes, they may still remain in hypnosis with their eyes open. This can lead to feelings of disorientation, loss of focus and dissociation, and it might not be safe for them to then leave and drive on a motorway or even safely cross a road! As such, we highly recommend that you always use a thorough awakening process with anyone that you hypnotise.
Theoretical influences and awakening
Generally, most hypnotists, regardless of their theoretical perspective of hypnosis (e.g. ‘state’, ‘non-state’ or ‘integrative’) tend to recognise the value of concluding the hypnosis experience in a way that helps the subject understand that they will return to their normal condition, retaining the gains (if any) made during the session, whilst letting go of any spontaneous or suggested hypnotic phenomena (e.g. heaviness, lightness, amnesia, catalepsy) that are no longer required. However, the style and theoretical perspectives of the hypnotist can influence how they choose to awaken a subject.
If a hypnotist is more authoritarian in nature, they will tend to be more commanding and direct in their approach, such as, “I am going to re-alert you”. Whilst a more permissive hypnotist may be more indirect, perhaps with, “In a few moments time, you can start to allow yourself to re-orient to the present”. In reality, hypnotists are rarely only direct or indirect, so a blend of direct and indirect suggestion within the awakening process tends to be more common.
Followers of the ‘state’ theory of hypnosis will consider their subject to be in a hypnotic trance with an altered/focused state of consciousness. Some perspectives, such as with Ernest Hilgard’s Neo-dissociation Theory of Hypnosis, consider the hypnotist has control of the subject, who may not necessarily be aware of being in hypnosis and that there is some aspect of dissociation (splitting of awareness). As a result of this perspective, a ‘state’ awakening may be considered more directive, with the hypnotist telling the client exactly what to do and how to feel, for them to then obey.
In contrast, ‘non-state’ theorists may consider the subject is always aware of being in a suggestible or hypnotised state, with the subject being an active participant in the process. This can lead to a more collaborative approach to the hypnosis experience and the awakening may include both what the hypnotist will say/do and what the subject will do, giving some responsibility to the subject.
The ‘state vs non-state’ debate has been widely discussed and continues to this day. However, other theories are emerging beyond these two distinct concepts, offering either integrative (aspects of both) or alternative perspectives. Kirsch’s earlier theory (1985) has some connection to the Cold Control theory of Zoltan Dienes and Josef Perner (2007), with the viewpoint that response to suggestion is achieved by forming the intention to perform an action. It is perhaps unsurprising that theories of hypnosis arise according to popular psychology, for example with John Kihlstrom’s Third Way (2008) considering hypnosis can be both a social interaction between hypnotist and subject whilst recognising consciousness and changes in experience, thought and action. However, these emerging theories tend to have greater influence on how the hypnosis is initiated and conducted, rather than on the specifics within the awakening process itself.
Preparing to awaken
Rather than jump straight from the active part of the hypnosis session or performance to the awakening, it helps the subject to transition more easily if you give some appropriate suggestions to prepare the subject for the end of the hypnosis phase.
Using direct suggestion, you may say, “In a moment I will count to 5 and you will be fully wide awake”.
An indirect approach could be, “As you continue to listen to my voice, I wonder how quickly you will now start to awaken to your normal state of alertness”.
A conversational hypnosis approach might include, “It is at this part of the session that people become aware that they are about to wake up, bit by bit, becoming more aware of their body and becoming more alert to what is going on around them”.
Methods of awakening
So, how do you awaken your subject? As mentioned already, simply telling someone to open their eyes is limited in its effectiveness. You will find that there are a range of different elements in the awakening process.
You might also have noticed that during the awakening many hypnotists use different methods of counting, usually upwards, including from 1 to 3, 1 to 5 and 1 to 10 or perhaps even more. Generally, longer awakenings are more useful if the subject has been in hypnosis for a longer period of time, or if they are deeper in hypnosis. It gives them longer to awaken, with a smoother transition, and helps them to re-acclimatise into their normal waking state. This means they are more likely to feel alert at the end of the process. Conversely, if you’re only hypnotising someone for a short time, a shorter ‘count up’ can be used, as they’re unlikely to be as deeply hypnotised. If you are working in a way where the subject is going in and out of hypnosis multiple times throughout a session, then a 1 to 3 count may be used during the session, with a longer awakening with a count up at the end of the process.
Depending on your training and studies, you may have noticed that some hypnotists use a finger click/snap on awakening, or a clap beside the ears. Generally, it can be good to avoid using a click/snap as this is commonly used during the hypnosis process itself or as a trigger for re-induction, such as with, “whenever I click my fingers you will go back into hypnosis”. This means clicking is associated with being in hypnosis, rather than coming out of it.
Clapping, or creating another loud noise is something that is best used with discretion. If you have been working on relaxation or stress reduction, a loud and unexpected noise can startle and cause an adrenaline spike, and can promote an anxiety response. However, if you are working on something high energy and motivational, then it may be appropriate and energising if in context.
As soon as people are told that the hypnosis session is about to conclude, they will often dip deeper into hypnosis, perhaps wishing to get the most out of being in hypnosis. Therefore, this is the ideal time to give some positive post-hypnotic suggestions for how good the subject will feel when they awaken. Clarifying how the subject will be feeling upon awakening is a great idea, just in case of any myths they believe, such as thinking they will feel groggy or spaced out. For example, you might say, “You will re-alert with a sense of mental and physical wellbeing, clarity of thought and a fantastic positive energy”.
As well as the words you say during the awakening process, it can also be good to build the energy in your voice in order to inspire the subject to awaken with a feeling of energy. Aim to transition from your hypnosis voice, up to a lighter and more energetic tone. Some people think of it as turning up the brightness, or increasing the energy. Generally, you will want to aim for a tone and pace slightly higher than your normal speaking voice.
Deconstructing the awakening
An example of a relatively quick, yet comprehensive awakening is deconstructed below. For ease of use, it is also replicated in full at the end of this blog.
“In a few moments time I will re-alert you.”
This prepares the subject for what is coming and signifies the end of the hypnosis process.
“I will count from one to five, and at the count of five, and only on the count of five, you will open your eyes and stretch.”
This tells the subject what you are about to do and what they will do in response. If the subject opens their eyes before the end, this can be a sign of resistance. The solution to this is to simply tell them to close their eyes until the end so they can fully complete the hypnosis process.
“All normal healthy sensations restored to every part of you, and every part of you back here with me in the present.”
This suggestion removes any spontaneous or suggested hypnotic phenomena, as well as reducing the likelihood of unwanted physical sensations. It also helps re-orient the client fully, as they may have dissociated (gone somewhere in their imagination) during the session.
“Coming back with a sense of wellbeing, mental and physical wellbeing.”
A further positive post-hypnotic suggestion, which is broad in application, so more likely to be relevant for each person.
“Nod your head that you understand… / …Good.”
Moving the head engages large muscles which helps to re-alert the subject and the nodding also indicates compliance with the suggestion. The praise at the end reinforces the subject’s response.
This lets the subject know that the awakening is about to happen.
“One, re-orienting to the room around you.”
This starts the count up process and helps the subject disconnect from the hypnosis experience and become reconnect to the present environment.
“Two, becoming more alert.”
Telling the subject that they are becoming more alert implies they are already alert to some extent and are building on that.
“Three, take a deep refreshing breath of air.”
Not only does a deep inhale increase oxygen intake, which enables a subject to re-alert more effectively, the increased physical effort required to breathe deeply also helps the subject to become more alert.
“Four, as you breathe out, getting ready to open your eyes.”
This prepares the subject for what happens next.
“Five, eyes open, wide awake, feeling good… well done!”
This final suggestion reminds the subject how they will be feeling and ends with praise. During the first 15 seconds or so once a subject has opened their eyes, they are thought to have increased suggestibility, so giving a positive suggestion or two here is likely to have greater impact.
If they don’t awaken
If your subject does not open their eyes when you ask them to, it could be for one of several reasons. Firstly, they might have fallen asleep, secondly, it might be that they simply didn’t hear your awakening suggestions fully, or thirdly, it might be that they are so enjoying the hypnotic experience that they don’t want it to end. Also, it can be that they are rather deeply hypnotised and it is taking them a while to bring themselves back to their normal state of alertness. Generally, repeating the awakening process with a little more energy, pace and volume will ensure that your subject awakens the second time. This isn’t the time to be using a quiet, relaxing voice. Instead, be direct and commanding in your approach.
If they look spaced out
If your subject looks a little (or a lot) disorientated when they open their eyes, if they seem spaced out, or in any way not quite themselves, it is usually a sign that the awakening process would benefit from being repeated again, and giving them ample time to come fully back awake. Rather than simply just asking them to close their eyes and then repeating the awakening process, it is often better to get eye closure and do a little deepening in order to settle them back into hypnosis, and then repeat your awakening process with a little more energy. If you are naturally quiet or softly-spoken, it can help to stand up to deliver the awakening suggestions.
Post-awakening: Break the state
In the therapy room, it can be tempting for the subject or hypnotist to start to explore the work conducted in the session immediately after the awakening. However, this can lead to ‘unpicking’ of the work, instead of giving it time to settle and process. It can be helpful to move on to a neutral topic, such as what the subject is doing for the rest of the day. You can then go on to discuss relevant matters, such as setting a date for another session.
Another useful approach is to ‘close the loop’. This means that you start talking again about whatever it was you were talking about before the hypnosis, as though there had been no gap between the two parts of the discussion. This can create a (temporary) spontaneous amnesia of the work in the session and avoid immediate critical unpicking.
The full awakening script
“In a few moments time I will re-alert you… I will count from one to five, and at the count of five, and only on the count of five, you will open your eyes and stretch… all normal healthy sensations restored to every part of you… and every part of you back here with me in the present… coming back with a sense of wellbeing… mental and physical wellbeing. Nod your head that you understand… / …good. So, ready… one, re-orienting to the room around you… two, becoming more alert… three, take a deep refreshing breath of air… four, as you breath out, getting ready to open your eyes… five, eyes open, wide awake, feeling good… Well done!”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog about the awakening and how to get people out of hypnosis, and 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 Dr Kate Beaven-Marks