People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn’t clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It’s unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it’s a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.

But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibilityrelaxation and heightened imagination. It’s not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.

What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is something that occurs naturally in daily life, some day to day examples are; being in a daze and when someone calls you may jump with fright, on a car journey reaching your destination and not remembering the journey. Hypnosis is a natural state of consciousness that can be induced by suggestion. When hypnotised, a person can have increased openness and response to suggestions. The persons subconscious is amplified and aware, while their critical factor (the part of the brain that worries and analysis) is bypassed. The clients self belief system can be altered for the benefit and request of the client.

Can anyone be hypnotised?
Yes, everybody can be hypnotised to some extent – some more than others. Susceptibility to hypnosis can be measured with a hypnotic susceptibility scale. Approximately 10% of the population is considered highly hypnotisable – meaning that they can readily experience quite dramatic changes in sensation and perception with hypnosis. Roughly 10% are classified as ‘low’ – meaning that they have not responded strongly to hypnosis.

Is hypnosis dangerous?
Hypnosis is not in itself a dangerous procedure but there are concerns that if it is not used properly then it could lead to negative reactions. The risks associated with hypnosis (for example, participants very occasionally experience a mild headache) have been shown not to differ from those associated with attending a lecture.

Can hypnosis make me do things I don’t want to do?
The simple answer is no. You keep full power of your actions when under hypnosis. You cannot be made to do anything you don’t want to do in hypnosis. You will retain power over your ability to act upon suggestions, although if you do allow yourself to act upon a suggestion you may feel as though the effects are happening by themselves.

Is hypnosis like sleep?
The short answer is no. Hypnotised people are in a state similar to wakefulness however you could say that the part of mind that worries and analysis (critical faculty) is asleep. Because the critical faculty is asleep it is not doing its job assessing and analysing any information or suggestions being received which means that the subconscious mind is able to directly download the desired information more quickly and easily.

What does hypnosis feel like?
The answer is that hypnosis probably feels different for everybody. You cannot really feel hypnosis. Many hypnotists (researchers & clinicians) use elements of relaxation procedures so people commonly associate a feeling of relaxation with hypnosis. Different people have all sorts of bodily responses to relaxation instructions. Some feel as though their body is very heavy whereas some can feel very light almost as if they were floating. Mentally, again people have all sorts of responses. People typically report feeling very focussed or absorbed, often effortlessly so. You might remember things long ago forgotten. Some people feel numb and other people tingle. Your conscious mind might wander. Your eyelids might water or flutter. Since instructions for imagery are often used people can have very vivid imaginative experiences – many report feeling ‘as if they were there’. It is worthy bearing in mind that hypnosis is a totally normal state of mind and for many of us the hypnotic state is a common occurrence.

Can I get ‘stuck’ in hypnosis?
There is no evidence that anybody can become stuck in hypnosis. The worst that might happen could be that you fall asleep – and wake up unhypnotised! Studies have been conducted where participants have been hypnotised and the experimenter leaves the room under the pretence that there is a problem he has to attend to, the participant is then observed (without his knowledge) to see what happens. The result in all cases was that participants spontaneously woke up, the high hypnotisables taking slightly longer to do so.

Is NLP like hypnosis?
Nuero Linguistic Programming is a set of techniques that are intended to promote personal development. Some of these techniques were developed from the work of successful hypnotherapists.