What is Hypnosis?
- Chris Harrison
- 7th January 2009 - Updated 8th October 2013
What is Hypnosis? Is it all swinging watches and goatee beards, or is there more to hypnosis?
Firstly, I'm sure you've seen the clichéd view of what hypnosis is - as seen in the movies - a state in which people, with either their eyes closed or with a ghostly stare, seem to be particularly open to the forceful suggestions of a hypnotist.
To many people this is the standard hypnotic trance, and some people believe that the concept of hypnosis refers only to this - a special state of mind that the hypnotist can move the client into.
According to Milton Erickson, perceived by many as the godfather of modern day hypnosis, hypnosis is "The loss of the multiplicity of the foci of attention.” In other words, during our normal everyday consciousness we are aware of several things; As I type this I can hear the television in another room and am aware of the monitor in front of me, the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, the slight tension in my neck due to sitting at a less than optimum angle... but during a hypnotic trance the client is only aware of a very limited or single sensory input such as the hypnotists voice or the sound of their own breathing.
While this definition perfectly defines the standard eyes closed hypnosis session, in reality this only covers a subset of the contexts associated with hypnosis.
When you ask 'what is hypnosis?' we also have to think about the concept of suggestion - that is the use of hypnotic language whether someone is in a trance or not. This is the kind of hypnosis that Derren Brown is always accused of, whether he is using it or not.
«Hypnosis is the loss of the multiplicity of the foci of attention»
In this case we're using hypnotic language but many people would not consider the recipient of the hypnotic commands to be 'hypnotized' even if they obeyed the commands. So is this hypnosis?
The word can also be used in reference to the somewhat unethical effect achieved by advertisers who get us to buy their products by parading them on our television sets night after night. This is another example of hypnosis without trance based purely on language, suggestion, and association but no obvious hypnotic signals such as eyes closed, or slow breathing.
There is a list that has been around for a number of years which contained all the effects a hypnotist could achieve with a hypnotised client such as arm catalepsy and amnesia. This was used as a way to show whether or not a client was hypnotised or not.. It has since been shown that all the effects can be achieved in a normal waking state with eyes open. Hypnosis is a very slippery thing.
In fact, if you think about it now I'm sure you can remember when you've drifted off yourself. We've all done it while reading a book, or driving on the motorway. A sudden jolt into awareness and we realize we can't remember the last ten minutes of our journey. That kind of amnesia should only be achievable in a deep trance, but that just isn't true is it.
Another point to bear in mind is that most of the paraphernalia of hypnosis - such as the watch, or the staring eyes are completely superfluous (yes before anyone posts me about the image above - I know, but its such a cool image I just had to use it). Hypnosis can be performed anywhere and with no props. You don't even need a goatee beard.
It seems that hypnosis is much more 'everyday' then we're lead to believe.
So it seems that hypnosis is a word that really refers to a number of different 'effects' based around communication and different states of mind.
It may be (and this is just my own opinion) that many of the effects of hypnosis are side effects of how the brain has evolved to help us survive, or simply leftovers from thought processes that are useful for children's development - but that could just be my own flight of fancy. Like everyone else, I'd really like to know what hypnosis really is.
But one thing that is clear is that a hypnotist can bring to bear skills that allow them to influence, affect, and help an individual to improve their life, overcome their compulsions and build better internal processes, whether they know what it actually is or how it works.