I often wonder what is going through a new client’s mind when she or he comes into my office. What are they expecting? What are they feeling? Curiosity? Excitement?
Apprehension (“What’s this guy going to do to me?”)?
Of course the ones who are really terrified of hypnosis, or object to it on religious grounds, do not usually come to see me. Yet some are desperate; for them, hypnosis is a final
resort; they have tried everything else (except drugs, which many fear even more than hypnosis, and for good reason) without resolving their issue, and in a last-ditch effort they push past their
fears and call the hypnotist.
Ted remembered a hypnosis show in a local comedy club. Was I going to make him cluck like a chicken, he wondered, only half joking? “Well,” I told him, “if you want to cluck like a chicken, we can do that. But that’s stage, that’s entertainment hypnosis. What we do here is different. Did you go up on stage?”
“No, not me.”
I nodded. “The people in those shows are volunteers, first of all. They are willing, even anxious, to do silly things on stage in front of an audience. Second, the stage hypnotist screens them. He or she will do a hypnotic induction, and see who is responding well. At a show I saw, the hypnotist suggested they wouldn’t be able to remember their name – even when he said it to them out loud. Then he went down the line, asking, ‘What’s your name?’ or even, ‘Louise, what’s your name?’ The ones who said their name right away he sent back to the audience. The ones who couldn’t come up with it or hesitated, he kept. So now he had a group of individuals who not only were willing to do silly things in front of other people but were ready to play. And furthermore, once you are up there in the show, it’s easier to go along than to not.
I went up once, for a stage show [true story!]. It was a small show, in a bar. The hypnotist did his induction, taking us into trance. Then he started this skit that involved racing cars – we were supposed to be race drivers, in these loud racing cars. Well, I don’t like loud cars. I just don’t – when I hear one I think, ‘Get a muffler!’ So as he set up the skit, I stood up, walked back to my seat in the audience, and sat down. But for a while, I was still responding to what he was doing on stage – I was still hypnotized! It took a while to wear off.
Maria was afraid of losing control. Her idea of hypnosis was that the hypnotist does something to you and thereafter controls you, so that you are compelled to do, think, or believe whatever she or he says. If that is what you’re thinking, you would have to trust someone a lot to let them hypnotize you. Doing hypnosis with someone you don’t know, even a professional, might be a daunting thought.
I always begin by talking with the client about what hypnosis is and how it works. Hypnosis is a trance state, an altered state of mind, that we go in and out of all the time, every day. I give some common examples of trance states: daydreaming, being deeply engrossed in a good book, driving on the highway while your mind is elsewhere, and watching a good movie. I take them through a simple visualization exercise and talk about how modern sports training uses visualization, really a form of self-hypnosis. So now they realize, after the fact, that they have actually experienced hypnosis, and it was not so sinister. I reinforce that by telling them that as a hypnotist, “I don’t do anything to you,” I told Ryan. “You do it; you take yourself into that altered state of mind that is part of your original mental equipment. I’m just the guide: I help you, I show you how to get there. But you are doing it – all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis.”
Some clients want me to control them. They want me to make them stop smoking, or lose weight. “Can you hypnotize me to not like potato chips?” Laura asked me. Her concept of hypnosis is similar to those who are afraid of it, but minus the fear. She thought I would do something to her so that the issue would just go away, without her having to do anything. There are some individuals whom you can guide into a trance state and say to them “You are now a non- smoker; you have no desire to smoke anymore,” and that is it. But for most people what works best is a combination of things: self-hypnosis; a “one-breath trigger,” a post-hypnotic suggestion, that when they do it will relax them and stop a craving in its tracks; EFT, a method of tapping on certain points on the body that removes cravings; along with a hypnosis session that uses direct suggestions (“The very idea of tobacco smoke in your body is repugnant to you.”), metaphors; future-pacing (“Be yourself a year from today, smoke-free and loving it.”); and other subtle and not-so-subtle ways of changing their outlook and their whole identity to being smoke-free. “People quit all the time,” I tell my smoking clients. “I can make it easier – much easier.”
How you respond to hypnosis is very individual. Some people trance and go very deep easily; they may not even remember anything about the session. Others may not feel any different; they may not realize they were hypnotized. Hypnotists often use convincers for this purpose – common ones are eye locks, arm levitation, stiff arms, and heavy legs (“What would it be like if your legs feel so heavy, that if you try to lift them, they just get heavier … and heavier?”).
Suggestibility does not seem to have a direct relationship to depth of trance. Most or all of what are usually thought of as deep hypnotic trance phenomena can be evoked, under the right circumstances, in relatively light states of hypnosis or even in the so-called waking state. Stage magicians create hallucinations all the time, using misdirection and slight-of-hand. A video that has gone round the internet features players bouncing a basketball to one another while moving around, and instructs the viewer to “count the number of times the ball is passed.” At the end, the video asks, “Did you see the gorilla?” “Gorilla? What gorilla?” you say. Watching it again, though, you see a person in a gorilla suit walking right between the players and beating its chest. Completely unnoticed the first time, this is an example of a “negative hallucination,” usually associated with very deep trance states.
Even for individuals familiar with hypnosis (“I stopped smoking with hypnosis, 15 years ago,” Robert told me), their experience in my office may be somewhat different than what they remember. Different practitioners use different approaches. I, for example, emphasize the self-hypnotic aspect, that the client is always in control, so that I see little or none of “resistance” that other hypnotists (and therapists) complain of.
Expectations play a big role in the hypnotic experience. But it is also the hypnotherapists’ job to help the client shift their expectations in realistic ways that will empower them, enhance their experience, and allow them to have the changes they want.