A Raised Pinkie

One evening in a Hypnosis Practice Group, I was part of a group of three practicing “simple” hypnotic inductions on each other. The Practice Group was part of the Hypnosis-NLP DC Area Meetup, a Meetup.com group I helped organize.

We had been working our way through the exercises in Trance-formations, by John Grinder and Richard Bandler (1981, Real People Press, Moab, UT). Trance-formations is the take by founders of NLP on Ericksonian hypnosis (after Milton H. Erickson, MD); this was our second meeting on this topic.

We were taking turns being hypnotist and subject, with the other person in the group looking on and noticing the physical changes as the subject went into an altered state and then returned. It was my turn to be the hypnotist; Maryam was the subject.

I chose one of the easiest of all hypnotic inductions, accessing a previous trance. Maryam has been seeing a physical therapist, and during our discussion of hypnotic inductions she had suddenly realized that he has been taking her into a trance state in the course of working with her.

There is nothing unusual or insidious in this; practitioners of all kinds – psychotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, even doctors and nurses –  use what amounts to hypnosis in their work, without calling it that. Progressive Relaxation, where you start by having someone relax their feet, then their legs, then their stomach, chest, arms, neck, face, and finally their head (sometimes in the opposite order) is really a hypnotic induction, a way of guiding the person into a trance state. Many practitioners use “PR”, as it’s called, some of them unaware, even, of the connection.

So I had Maryam close her eyes, then describe in detail her last physical therapy session: the room they were in, the chair she where she was sitting, the therapist’s voice, his words, what he did, how she felt and continued to feel as the session progressed. And before very long she was into a nice, very comfortable trance state, her facial muscles relaxed, her eyelids fluttering ever so slightly, her breathing slow and deep.

I continued by giving her some “general instructions for learning” as described in the directions for the Exercise (and timing my phrasing to match her exhales):

And enjoy . . . those particular experiences . . . which your unconscious mind . . . can offer you at this point . . . a sense of wonder . . . and adventure . . . as you enter . . . new states of consciousness . . . gleaning from this experience . . . a sense of assurance . . . about your own capabilities . . . and flexibility . . . as a human being. . . . And doing that fully . . . and deeply . . . your unconscious, slowly . . . with full respect . . . can bring you back to this state . . . giving you a sense of refreshment and renewal. . . . I will be attentive. . . . If at any point . . . you would be interested . . . in my assisting you . . . in getting back . . . indicate that with a hand movement. (p. 55)

I shifted my position so that I could see her hands. And there it was! The left pinkie lifted up, briefly, and went back down! I pointed to it and Marcie, the third person in the group, nodded.

“Good,” I said, then

I am going . . . to count backwards . . . from ten . . . to one . . . slowly. . . . When I reach ‘one’ . . . your eyes will open . . . and you will have a sense . . . of refreshment . . . and you will be . . . totally present here. (p. 55)

and I “counted her out” (as we hypnotists say).

ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one.

Maryam opened her eyes and smiled. But then a puzzled expression came over her face. “I heard you say ‘good,’” she said, “but I didn’t do anything.”

“Ah, but you did,” I replied. “You raised your little finger, just briefly – a twitch, almost.” Marcie was nodding.

“I’m sure I didn’t,” she protested. “I was aware the whole time and I didn’t move it.”

“It must have been totally unconscious,” said Marcie, “out of your awareness. But it did move – we both saw it.”

I have read about this phenomenon, a totally unconscious response from a person in hypnosis, but this was the first time I have actually seen it happen, unequivocally.

How very, very cool!

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