It isn’t unusual for people to come to me with their own ideas about what hypnosis is or ought to feel like. Sometimes those ideas are close to the mark, but often they are way off. That’s understandable, of course, since popular culture is fascinated by things like “mind control”, unconscious actions, and undetectable coercion. That couldn’t be further from what hypnosis actually is, but actual hypnosis wouldn’t make an interesting Hollywood plot device, so we can’t expect movies and stage shows to give accurate information.
One of the first conversations I have with people interested in hypnosis is what hypnosis really is, and isn’t.
First, hypnosis is safe and natural. It happens all the time - literally many times a day. It is there when we learn, when we daydream, when we are entertained, when we are moved to tears, when we vividly remember. Hypnosis is, simply, openness to suggestion. When you hear a song on the radio from your childhood and instantly you remember exactly where you were, what you were doing, and how you felt, almost experiencing it a little again, you have opened yourself to the suggested “reality” or association of that song and re-experience it. When you have an “a-ha” moment, or a “mountaintop” experience, your subconscious is re-writing itself a little, putting new things together, because you are accepting a novel perspective. When you are totally engrossed in a movie or book or performance, even though intellectually you know you are in a theater or on the couch and not really in Hogwarts or in a galaxy far, far away, you are opening yourself up to the suggested reality of the story, and are in a light state of hypnosis. If you wake up from a dream about someone and even though you know it was a dream you still feel like that person is in the room, you were briefly open to the suggestion in the dream as you passed through a natural “hypnogogic” state on your way to wakefulness.
The only difference between what happens in a hypnotist’s chair and what happens randomly throughout your life is that the state is deepened to a therapeutic level and then taken advantage of for your benefit, as opposed to just being open to whatever randomly happens.
Second, you aren’t asleep. Hypnosis isn’t unconsciousness. By definition true sleep isn’t hypnosis because one isn’t able to respond at all, one is not responsive to suggestion, you’re just asleep. (This is an understandable confusion. Two-hundred years ago, when doctors started studying and using hypnosis, they assumed it was a kind of sleep. So a lot of the words associated with hypnosis are sleep-related - “deeper” and the command “Sleep!” for instance. Even the word “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word for sleep. Two centuries later we know better, but we haven’t come up with any better words.)
In hypnosis, you are conscious and aware of what is happening, what is being said and what you are doing. Particularly with insight-based work - the real gold possible in hypnosis - the client needs to be aware and “awake” because those are their insights, valuable for them. If you aren’t awake and aware, then it is just an expensive nap!
Related to this is the fact that the client in hypnosis is always in control. The hypnotist can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. You always choose whether you go into hypnosis, how deep you go, whether you accept any suggestion. While there is always a part of you looking out for your interests and keeping you safe, I hope at some point, if you’re in session with me, that you allow yourself blanket permission, that you trust me for the duration of the session, so that you can focus your energies on the experience and instructions. That point comes sooner and easier for some clients than for others, but it makes for a much more productive and pleasant session when it comes.
Hypnosis looks from the outside like people are unnaturally asleep, unconscious, and slavishly obedient beyond their consent. But that’s only what it looks like. People who’ve been in hypnosis know that’s not true.
If what you want from hypnosis is magic, where a hypnotist puts you out and “fixes” you without you having to do anything, you’ll be surprised by the experience with a real hypnotist. Hypnosis at its best isn’t passive. It is interactive, engaging, fascinating, and it can be emotional and difficult at moments. But it is also one of the most efficient ways of discovering, exploring, and resolving subconscious beliefs, experiences, and behaviors. The work we can do in hypnosis helps us reprogram ourselves for the kind of life we want to live, to choose the suggestions we allow to run our lives, rather than the ones randomly collected over the years.
Our power while in hypnosis is worth exposing. You're already using it naturally! Let's put it to real use for what you want to make happen in yourself!