Have you ever wondered why some people go into hypnosis easily and for others this is more difficult? Why exactly is it that some people can be hypnotised and others, seemingly, cannot?
This article is going to look at the skills required to go into hypnosis and is for anyone wanting a clearer understanding of the hypnotic experience. This is also for anyone wanting an answer to the question- why does it seem that some people are hypnotised easily while others are not?
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Firstly, I will look at why it is that these skills are important. Then I will look specifically at three of these skills and explain how these function within the hypnosis experience.
To clarify; the hypnosis skills that I am referring to in this context are the skills that are required by the subject or the client in order for them to become successfully hypnotised. This represents an important piece of the hypnosis and hypnotherapy jigsaw puzzle to understand for a couple of reasons-
Firstly, the client who comes for hypnotherapy has something they want to achieve. The vehicle they are going to achieve this through is hypnosis so it makes sense for them to be able to enter into hypnosis as effectively as possible.
Secondly, this is also an important concept for the hypnotist or hypnotherapist to make sense of. This is because the more we understand what it is that is happening in hypnosis then the better we’re going to be at facilitating this experience for our clients, or on the stage or wherever hypnosis is taking place.
It may be, that thinking about the idea of “going into hypnosis” in terms of a particular skill set seems a little unusual? It might even seem at odds with what you have previously read or been advised about hypnosis. The notion of hypnosis involving a set of skills forms part of a socio-cognitive understanding of hypnosis. This is the model that I work with because it makes sense and also because it gives plenty of control back to the client.
The alternative way of understanding hypnosis involves the idea that the hypnotist puts the subject into a trance, and is sometimes described as “putting a client under”. This is known as the State model of hypnosis, and within this, the hypnotist is the player with the power and the subject is a passive recipient of what it is that’s happening. The idea here is that the subject plays no part in the shape of the experience. They are re at the mercy of the skill set, capability and intention of the hypnotist, who is the one in control.
Hmm, really though?
This is not the way I frame things, because enough time spent with clients has shown me that it really does not explain what is happening in hypnosis.
Let me explain. If it was actually the case that all the power and skill in hypnosis belonged only to the hypnotist, then, how and why would it be that an incredibly skilled hypnotist could have ten people on stage during a performance and seven of these people go into hypnosis and three of them do not?
Or, let’s consider a talented hypnotherapist who sees plenty of clients each week. Why would it be that, out of twenty clients, fifteen of these report having felt hypnotised at the end of their session and five say they found this challenging?
In both of these scenarios, the hypnotist or the hypnotherapist is doing the same thing, and using exactly the same amount of skill with each subject or client involved. This subsequently means there must be another variable other than just the skill of the hypnotist to account for those people that didn’t feel hypnotised in these examples. This variable is the skill of the client or the subject.
And it is in this client skill set that lies the answer to the question- ‘why can some people be hypnotised and others can’t?’.
As well as the hypnotist obviously needing to have certain skills, the subject or the client also requires certain skills in order to bring the hypnosis to life. So what are these hypnotic skills?
The first of these is the ability to really engage the imagination; to become properly absorbed in the imaginative experience. This is a type of effortless imagining; a process we engage with willingly but without trying to force it to happen.
When I’m explaining this to clients, I often compare this to the way we automatically use our imagination when we go to the cinema or sit down at home to watch a film we’ve really wanted to see. Maybe it’s a comedy, or it’s a scary film or a sad film. And perhaps at some point during the film, you find yourself really laughing, or crying, or perched on the end of your seat in terror.
The thing is, on one hand you know that the film is not happening in real life, AND YET you are able to automatically immerse your imagination in the film to the point it feels physically real, which is why we get the tears, or the laughter, or the adrenaline and fear.
Using the imagination like this is a way of ‘suspending disbelief’. And the ability to suspend disbelief is the next skill that serves someone wanting to become hypnotised.
Suspension of disbelief is a phrase that was coined by William Coleridge and refers to suspending the examining and critiquing processes of the mind in order to enjoy the experience at hand.
So, the purpose of suspending disbelief in any situation is for the payoff that it provides. This happens naturally when we play with children. Take for example, the scenario of playing in a den with a child, which is then fantastically transformed into the experience of playing inside a magical castle.. The payoff for suspending disbelief in this case is the fun and the enjoyment that comes from being transported to a different reality.
When a participant decides to take part in a hypnosis performance, the payoff for suspending disbelief is the wonder and intrigue and delight that can come from for example, forgetting a name or becoming stuck to your chair.
In hypnotherapy, the payoff for suspending disbelief is going on be achieving the therapeutic goals that are sought by the client.
So, following on from ‘suspending disbelief’ another skill important in the hypnotic process is the skill of focus.
What I mean is the ability to apply your focus to the hypnosis experience as it is happening in the moment, and being able to really follow the suggestions of the hypnotist.
The ability to exert control over our focus is a skill that is useful in life generally, however it is something that some are better at than others. Some people are practiced in applying their focus in useful ways, whereas other people find themselves distracted easily.
Of the clients I work with, some of those who get really outstanding results are those involved in competitive sports and a contributing factor in this may be that they are used to applying their focus. This is something they are trained in. This means that when I ask them to follow the suggestions I am making, they can attend to this quite easily.
The type of focus we are aiming for in hypnosis is not a rigid focus but rather a gentle but definite focus on the hypnotist’s directions. This is the ability to follow and stay with the hypnotist’s suggestions and then, importantly, to come back to them if the attention wanders.
We have the skill of engaging the imagination, really becoming absorbed in this. And as part of this we have the ability to suspend disbelief in order to benefit from the gains of the hypnotic experience. Lastly, we have the skill of focus and the ability to apply this to the hypnotist’s suggestions and guidance.
And these are skills that a lot of us are out of practice with or that we haven’t really used in a long time. But it is when a client is really adept at these skills that they find it easy to enter into hypnosis and at times have quite a profound experience.
The good news is however that these are skills which any of us can improve and get better at. So that a client who initially struggles to really engage with hypnosis can be coached and encouraged to indulge their imagination, suspend their disbelief and apply their focus in the right way. And this is something that I do with many of the clients I work with. Because, like I said before, the payoff for engaging these skills is achieving the goals that the client comes to hypnotherapy for.
I hope this has been helpful in understanding the kind of skills that go into a successful hypnotic experience. And also in understanding why it is that some people are easily hypnotised and others are not. If you’ve liked this article, then please do share it with anyone else who might find it useful.