Oh you can't hypnotise me, or can you?
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
"Oh I can't be hypnotised, I don't go under, I have tried before and it never works"... Whilst I acknowledge that there may be those who feel left with a sense of disappointment that they may not have experienced a state of anticipated nirvana, but I am always interested in the idea that a person cannot be hypnotised or that they need to "go under" or "go into trance". Fundamentally this assertion comes from films or books, where the person being hypnotised is somehow "taken over" by another person; usually with malign intent, and is wholly unaware of their actions- think Manchurian Candidate or Zoolander.
I don't refer to "trance" in my work with my patients. I actively avoid using this outdated term, for me, it presupposes that I, as the therapist, impose something on another and as I am not inclined to such megalomania, I find it unhelpful. As for "going under"; that too suggests no agency from the patient and the hypnotherapist is able to put you under a spell.
Hypnosis is a natural state; we each experience it every day. Imagine if you will you are driving to work or another familiar route. You leave home and arrive at your destination sometime later. Now can you remember every action you took along the way, every gear change, clutch engagement, mirror check, turning of the steering wheel, listening to music, singing along... very often we arrive and have little or no recollection of us getting there, or at least in part. That is because we have become so engaged that our unconscious mind; the part into which our habits and routines are embedded, has taken over and done what needed to be done. People rarely say I can't ever forget every action I took whilst driving, I have a complete recall of every manoeuvre... This altered state is by and large a hypnotic state. Granted it is not facilitated by a professional therapist but it perfectly demonstrates that the state itself is a natural phenomenon.
It is also a perfect example of you being fully conscious, not all hypnosis occurs in a state of sleepy unawareness.
In my experience when people feel they cannot be hypnotised it speaks of their ability or rather inability, to trust someone enough to expose their own inner- self, which is why finding the right therapist; your own best fit , is essential. As with any therapy, the relationship is fundamental. Let's face it when we feel able to trust someone be it a friend or therapist, we are more likely to be open and honest. Who would like to air their innermost troubling thoughts to someone they thought may judge or betray their confidence. Finding the right person to work alongside is so very important, how can you develop a therapeutic relationship if there is no mutual respect and trust.
How does it feel to be hypnotised?
Everyone will experience hypnosis differently. Some say they felt like they were floating; as if on a cloud, or as in a balloon, some a sense of being grounded by a heavy but comfortable weight, rather like the fashionable weighted blanket. Others felt a warm sensation; a feeling of deep happiness and wellbeing, an enveloping hug. Others cannot name the feeling or perhaps want to remain quiet about something quite so profound and personal. I don't probe, my patients often spontaneously share this information. Although it has to be said, I love hearing their response and seeing their reaction. I have never yet had anyone say that the state was anything but pleasurable.
I can, however, speak of my own experience of being hypnotised, which has happened a great many times, Initially, as a method for helping me with a personal issue, and then subsequently during frequent sessions as an essential part of thorough hypnotherapy training.
To begin with, I found myself panicking that I wouldn't be hypnotised, that nothing was happening. I was still awake, and fully aware of everything around me. Thoughts too of; will I drool, fall asleep... These are perfectly usual sensations and importantly they do not prevent hypnosis from occurring, (there are methods that can be adopted which means hypnotists never even induce a " trance" or altered state, just work directly with the unconscious mind). In fact, while your conscious mind is in a state of flux concerning itself with all these events - or non-events, the unconscious can and often is fully prescient and ready to work. So all that overthinking can, for once, help.
After this period of internal non-verbal panic, there was a change in my perception. The way to best describe it is when you are snoozing on the sofa but still have an awareness; a TV or radio playing in the background as though through cotton wool. The rest is hazy. Upon "waking", I had little sense of how long it had been. It seemed like just a few moments had elapsed when in reality it was about 30-40 minutes. My abiding memory of that very first experience was Wowzers; what on earth just happened?. I felt invigorated yet relaxed, calm, confident with a sense of wellbeing. I was ready to take affirmative action to make the change I needed. My therapist made it clear that unpicking everything said during hypnosis was unhelpful. I now know this to be what is termed as an amnesic cap, a way to seal in the conversation between conscious and unconscious mind if you will. So for me now as a therapist, when my patients have awoken, I frequently ask "what are you doing for the rest of the day?"
Want a brief try?... sit somewhere comfortable and quiet, close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, in.....out......in.......out.....in......out......keep that rhythm going. Now you are beginning to feel relaxed, bring to mind your favourite experience, a time when you have felt happy, content, and perhaps invincible. Really see it, feel it, make the experience vibrant in colour, sounds, and sensations. Sit with this for several minutes, this wonderfully relaxed state. When you are ready, just re-centre yourself back in the present. This wonderful feeling reflects the initial relaxed state leading to hypnosis. Now imagine adding therapeutic strategies to that!
David Spiegal (2016), from Stamford University, describes hypnosis as "the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it has been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes". He goes on to say that it is in fact a powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control our perception and our bodies.
I love being a hypnotherapist. I love the process, the outcomes, the changes that can occur and remain more long-term. Whilst I may have a cape or two in my wardrobe they are never for swishing; just keeping out the cold.
Spiegal D. 2016. Study Identifies Brain Areas Altered During Hypnotic Trances Stamford Medical Center News Center. July 28.