Hypnosis is a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion. The term may also refer to an art, skill, or act of inducing hypnosis.
Theories explaining what occurs during hypnosis fall into two groups. Altered state theories see hypnosis as an altered state of mind or trance, marked by a level of awareness different from the ordinary conscious state. In contrast, Non-state theories see hypnosis as a form of imaginative role-enactment.
During hypnosis, a person is said to have heightened focus and concentration. The person can concentrate intensely on a specific thought or memory, while blocking out sources of distraction. Hypnotised subjects are said to show an increased response to suggestions.
Hypnosis is usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction involving a series of preliminary instructions and suggestion. The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as “hypnotherapy”, while its use as a form of entertainment for an audience is known as “stage hypnosis”.
The words ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotism’ both derive from the term ‘neuro-hypnotism’ (nervous sleep) all of which were coined by the Scottish surgeon James Braid around 1841. Braid based his practice on that developed by Franz Mesmer and his followers (which was called ‘Mesmerism’ or ‘animal magnetism’), but differed in his theory as to how the procedure worked.
A person in a state of hypnosis is relaxed, has focused attention, and has increased suggestibility. The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist and typically responds in an uncritical, automatic fashion while ignoring all aspects of the environment other than those pointed out by the hypnotist.
In a hypnotic state an individual tends to see, feel, smell, and otherwise perceive in accordance with the hypnotist’s suggestions, even though these suggestions may be in apparent contradiction to the actual stimuli present in the environment. The effects of hypnosis are not limited to sensory change; even the subject’s memory and awareness of self may be altered by suggestion, and the effects of the suggestions may be extended (posthypnotically) into the subject’s subsequent waking activity.
It could be said that hypnotic suggestion is explicitly intended to make use of the placebo effect. For example, in 1994, Irving Kirsch characterised hypnosis as a ‘nondeceptive placebo’, i.e., a method that openly makes use of suggestion and employs methods to amplify its effects.
The earliest definition of hypnosis was given by Braid, who coined the term “hypnotism” as an abbreviation for ‘neuro-hypnotism’, or nervous sleep, which he contrasted with normal sleep, and defined as: “a peculiar condition of the nervous system, induced by a fixed and abstracted attention of the mental and visual eye, on one object, not of an exciting nature”.
The real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition, is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought.
The hypnotic sleep, therefore, is the very antithesis or opposite mental and physical condition to that which precedes and accompanies common sleep. Therefore, Braid defined hypnotism as a state of mental concentration that often leads to a form of progressive relaxation.
Later, Braid conceded that his original terminology was misleading, and argued that the term ‘nervous sleep’ should be reserved for the minority (10%) of subjects who exhibit amnesia, substituting the term ‘monoideism’, meaning concentration upon a single idea, as a description for the more alert state experienced by the others.
DIVISION 30 DEFINITION OF HYPNOSIS
A new definition of hypnosis, derived from academic psychology, was provided in 2005, when the Society for Psychological Hypnosis, Division 30 of the American Psychological Association (APA), published the following formal definition:
Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one’s imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction.
A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions. When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior.
Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one’s own. If the subject responds to hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced. Many believe that hypnotic responses and experiences are characteristic of a hypnotic state. While some think that it is not necessary to use the word “hypnosis” as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential.
Hypnosis is normally preceded by a ‘hypnotic induction’ technique. Traditionally, this was interpreted as a method of putting the subject into a “hypnotic trance”; however, subsequent “nonstate” theorists have viewed it differently, seeing it as a means of heightening client expectation, defining their role, focusing attention, etc.
There are several different induction techniques. One of the most influential methods was Braid’s “eye-fixation” technique, also known as “Braidism”. Many variations of the eye-fixation approach exist, including the induction used in the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS), the most widely used research tool in the field of hypnotism. Braid’s original description of his induction is as follows:
Take any bright object between the thumb and fore and middle fingers of the left hand; hold it from about eight to fifteen inches from the eyes, at such position above the forehead as may be necessary to produce the greatest possible strain upon the eyes and eyelids, and enable the patient to maintain a steady fixed stare at the object.
The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep the eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of that one object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted: They will shortly begin to dilate, and, after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object toward the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion.
If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried towards the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed, in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above the eyes.
Braid later acknowledged that the hypnotic induction technique was not necessary in every case and subsequent researchers have generally found that on average it contributes less than previously expected to the effect of hypnotic suggestions.
When James Braid first described hypnotism, he did not use the term “suggestion” but referred instead to the act of focusing the conscious mind of the subject upon a single dominant idea. Braid’s main therapeutic strategy involved stimulating or reducing physiological functioning in different regions of the body.
In his later works, however, Braid placed increasing emphasis upon the use of a variety of different verbal and non-verbal forms of suggestion, including the use of “waking suggestion” and self-hypnosis. Subsequently, Hippolyte Bernheim shifted the emphasis from the physical state of hypnosis on to the psychological process of verbal suggestion.
I define hypnotism as the induction of a peculiar psychical [i.e., mental] condition which increases the susceptibility to suggestion. Often, it is true, the [hypnotic] sleep that may be induced facilitates suggestion, but it is not the necessary preliminary. It is suggestion that rules hypnotism.
Contemporary hypnotism uses a variety of suggestion forms including direct verbal suggestions, “indirect” verbal suggestions such as requests or insinuations, metaphors and other rhetorical figures of speech, and non-verbal suggestion in the form of mental imagery, voice tonality, and physical manipulation.
CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS MIND
Some hypnotists view suggestion as a form of communication that is directed primarily to the subject’s conscious mind, whereas others view it as a means of communicating with the “unconscious” or “subconscious” mind. These concepts were introduced into hypnotism at the end of the 19th century by Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory describes conscious thoughts as being at the surface of the mind and unconscious processes as being deeper in the mind. Braid, Bernheim and other Victorian pioneers of hypnotism did not refer to the unconscious mind but saw hypnotic suggestions as being addressed to the subject’s conscious mind. Indeed, Braid actually defines hypnotism as focused (conscious) attention upon a dominant idea (or suggestion).
Different views regarding the nature of the mind have led to different conceptions of suggestion. Hypnotists who believe that responses are mediated primarily by an “unconscious mind”, like Milton Erickson, make use of indirect suggestions such as metaphors or stories whose intended meaning may be concealed from the subject’s conscious mind.
The concept of subliminal suggestion depends upon this view of the mind. By contrast, hypnotists who believe that responses to suggestion are primarily mediated by the conscious mind, such as Theodore Barber and Nicholas Spanos, have tended to make more use of direct verbal suggestions and instructions.
Franz Mesmer (1734–1815) believed that there is a magnetic force or “fluid” within the universe that influences the health of the human body. He experimented with magnets to impact this field in order to produce healing. By around 1774, he had concluded that the same effect could be created by passing the hands in front of the subject’s body, later referred to as making “Mesmeric passes”.
The word “mesmerize”, formed from the last name of Franz Mesmer, was intentionally used to separate practitioners of mesmerism from the various “fluid” and “magnetic” theories included within the label “magnetism”.
In 1784, at the request of King Louis XVI, a Board of Inquiry started to investigate whether animal magnetism existed.
They investigated the practices of a disaffected student of Mesmer, one Charles d’Eslon (1750–1786), and though they concluded that Mesmer’s results were valid, their placebo-controlled experiments using d’Eslon’s methods convinced them that mesmerism was most likely due to belief and imagination rather than to an invisible energy (“animal magnetism”) transmitted from the body of the mesmerist.
In Braid’s day, the Scottish School of Common Sense provided the dominant theories of academic psychology and Braid refers to other philosophers within this tradition throughout his writings. Braid therefore revised the theory and practice of Mesmerism and developed his own method of hypnotism as a more rational and common sense alternative.
It may here be requisite for me to explain, that by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, which frequently occurs in the following pages, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition.
I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher, i.e. supernatural phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science.
Despite briefly toying with the name “rational Mesmerism”, Braid ultimately chose to emphasise the unique aspects of his approach, carrying out informal experiments throughout his career in order to refute practices that invoked supernatural forces and demonstrating instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the observed effects.