Have you ever seen one of those old movies in which a psychologist or psychiatrist, or perhaps a psychic, or medium, or mentalist hypnotizes someone? Yes, with the hypnotist wearing a turban, usually? And the hypnosis is followed by making the subject stiff as a board, and perhaps even making the subject float weightless in the air, while those watching gasp—that’s not what hypnosis really is.
Or maybe you’ve seen one of those live entertainers who populate the Borscht Belt and the lesser rooms in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, men in tuxedoes or women in kaftans with snappy patter and perhaps even a musical number in the act somewhere, who hypnotizes “volunteers” from the audience? Yes, the ones who get their subjects to “act like a chicken” or passionately kiss a total stranger, or take off their clothes, and they’ll be here all week, doing two shows a night—that’s not what hypnosis really is, either.
So what is it, exactly, and how can you learn it? That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You are interested in hypnosis, and want to become a hypnotist. So, that’s what we’ll talk about today. We’ll look at what hypnosis is and isn’t, what you need to get started, some resources for learning, and what you might want to do with this new skill once you’ve mastered it.
Ready? All right, look deeply into our eyes, and we’ll begin…
What Is Hypnosis?
The truth of hypnosis is not exactly the same as the impressions you may have gotten through the media. Let’s begin with that premise. Firstly, hypnosis is not the same as being asleep. It is not some odd form of waking sleep, wherein the subject can communicate, but rather a specific psychological state that resembles sleep in a few superficial ways. It is a different state of awareness when compared with waking, that is true, but hypnosis is also a different state of awareness when compared with sleeping as well.
Individuals under hypnosis have heightened abilities in focus and concentration, to the extent of blocking out any and all extraneous distractions, including the usual array of sensory input that we are bombarded with and process throughout our waking lives. There is an excellent online course called “Introduction to Hypnotherapy” that goes into more detail about the theories of hypnotism and its many medical and psychological benefits, of which we will speak more later.
Ultimately, one must come up against this truth: doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists don’t know, exactly, how hypnosis works. They do know that hypnotized subjects are “awake,” and in a state which somehow increases the ability to focus on a single idea while correspondingly reducing focus on outside stimuli, and that this is accompanied by an increased susceptibility to suggestion.
Why does it work? Well, no one knows that, exactly, either. But work it does. Assuming that a subject can be hypnotized in the first place (estimates are that up to twenty five percent of people are not hypnotizable), there is a body of psychiatric and therapeutic literature to support the effectiveness and benefits of treatments or therapies performed under hypnosis’ hyper-focused, highly suggestive state of mind.
Many do get similar results (and perhaps even similar effects) through deep meditation. There are many ways to approach this type of meditation, and this blog post by David Green, “Meditation Techniques,” explores several of them in detail.
But Do I Need a Pocket Watch?
To get started on the road to hypnosis, you‘ll need skills and sensitivity more than specific equipment. Yes, a pocket watch is nice, but you don’t need one, really. What do you need? Well, to start with, it is helpful if you have good control over your eye movements. A hypnotist’s greatest tool are his or her eyes, and you need to be able to gaze directly into your subject’s eyes, without blinking, for a significant period of time. There are hypnotists who use no more than their eyes, such is the extent of their control.
You also need to have the ability to project calmness and stability, through your body language, your facial expression, and your voice. Hypnotists need to be able to control their movements and expressions to create a feeling of placid serenity, and modulate their voices to soothe the subject. Ultimately, if you are jittery and nervous, you won’t be hypnotizing anyone.
In addition, you must be responsible, careful, and reassuring, or be able to project those things. If you can somehow project those qualities without actually possessing them, you probably fall into the category of the sociopath, and the less said about that, the better.
Other than these qualities, props are not necessary. However, many medical professionals who perform hypnosis do use various tools when inducing the hypnotic state. Generally, these objects are small, benign items that are easy to focus on. It helps if the object is bright or shiny, but not interesting or detailed. Pen lights, pens, pencils, any small ordinary object can be used as a gentle distraction and aid the hypnotist in relaxing the subject.
And yes, a pocket watch will work for that purpose. But if you do decide to use a pocket watch, you’ll simply be buying into the cliché. Be aware of that.
Hypnotizing Your Subjects
Okay, so how, exactly, are subjects hypnotized? Well, the truth is that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. Yes, the subject has the power to place him or herself in the hypnotic state, but generally needs assistance to do so. And that is where the hypnotist comes in. As a hypnotist, you are a guide or trainer more than someone who “places” the subject under hypnosis. In other words, hypnotists help their subjects to hypnotize themselves.
So how do they do that? Well, as we said earlier, it begins with putting the subject at ease. Your subject must trust you and feel comfortable around you. The room should be quiet, with gentle lighting, and free of clutter. Hypnotists must dress in simple clothing in muted colors that do not stimulate the eye.
Many people start with a method known as Progressive Relaxation. It begins with a calm conversation in which the hypnotist explains what will happen, and that the subject will be fully awake the entire time, and will remember everything that happens. It is important to allay any fears the subject may have. Assure subjects that you will not be making them act like a chicken or doing or suggesting anything that is contrary to their needs and wishes. Maintain eye contact while doing this.
Next, speaking slowly and calmly, have the subject sit down or recline on a comfortable chair or couch. Have your subjects close their eyes, and in smooth tones, guide the subject through deeper and deeper states of relaxation. This may involve the sorts of visualization techniques used in meditation and guided relaxation recordings. Ultimately, the goal is to get your subjects so deeply relaxed that they naturally slip into the hypnotic state.
How do hypnotists do this? Typically, they begin by instructing the subject to imagine being in a good place, a “happy place,” one that is calm and unquestionably positive, perhaps sitting by a gently-flowing stream, or under the trees in a forest on a breezy, sunny day. From there, you must guide your subject’s physical relaxation, addressing each part or section of the body. In calm and soothing tones, with much repetition, guide the subject to the point of total physical relaxation.
Next, change the visualization. Ask the subject to imagine that he or she is flying or soaring through the clouds, or perhaps swimming effortlessly underwater, or rocketing through the endless reaches of outer space. The goal is to get your subject to detach from their physical reality and allow the deep focus necessary for hypnosis. Instruct your subject to imagine that all stresses or cares are dissolving into the clouds, the water, or space, leaving them clear, calm, and perfectly at ease. Time your words to your subject’s breathing, which should, by now, be regular and deep.
Next, you must deepen the hypnotic state by introducing suggestions to the subject that every word you say deepens the relaxation, that with every moment and breath, the subject is descending deeper into hypnosis. All the while, reinforce how calm and pleasant the experience is, reassuring the subject that letting go of conscious thought processes is a good thing, a peaceful and serene thing.
Once this is accomplished, you need only let subjects know that they have “arrived” in the hypnotic state, and that they should and will only accept the suggestions you make that are good for them, and which they are willing to accept.
Then, with the hypnotic state fully induced, the therapeutic portion of hypnosis can begin. A discussion of how to do that is something best left for another time, after you’ve mastered the art of induction.
How Can You Learn Hypnosis?
You can teach yourself hypnosis, of course. There are many books, videos, websites, and online courses that can help you to develop your skills. An excellent online course to get you started is “Hypnosis Crash Course,” which will quickly give you a good base from which to hone your hypnotic craft.
It is also worthwhile to learn from the other methods as well, and of course, through practice with willing partners. No one has ever learned anything through any method as well as they can through practice. No matter the amount of practice you may engage in, however, there is always more to learn. You might wish, once you become more accomplished, to pursue a certificate in one form or another of hypnosis or hypnotherapy. This online course, “Certificate in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy,” will help you do just that, using the style, techniques, and ideas, of Milton Erickson, the noted 20th Century Psychiatrist. Erickson’s techniques are unique, and offer many creative methods of induction for resistant subjects.
Closely related to deep meditation and visualization techniques is self-hypnosis or autohypnosis, which is, by necessity, a bit different than hypnotizing another subject. The same basic techniques are used, but as it is directed inward, there is no need to speak. Autohypnosis can be very helpful in relieving stress, quitting smoking, boosting focus on goals, or even pain management. There are numerous accounts of subjects under hypnosis undergoing minor surgical procedures without anesthetic, believe it or not. There are several good online courses for this specific type of hypnosis, and one of the best is called simply “Self Hypnosis.” Check it out if you wish to apply the benefits of hypnotherapy to yourself.
When all is said and done, there is no way to learn hypnosis from reading a single article. There are too many variables, too much “real life” for any such purely theoretical pursuit to guarantee success. If you are interested in using hypnosis to help yourself and others, there are many ways to pursue your craft, and most important is practice. If you want to use hypnosis to make a quick buck playing matinee shows in Branson, Missouri, perhaps you might be better off learning to play the guitar. Hypnosis is real science, not pseudoscience, and it is not entertainment. It is a powerful therapeutic tool, and one worth acquiring.