There are often a lot of questions by new hypnotists. After all, this can be a strange and confusing world!
One common question is the one above, how do I know if my subject is in the state of hypnosis. The answer is indeed complex – but there are ways to make such a difficult question easier.
It is such a difficult question because it raises a larger question – what is trance? The exact definition usually varies around "the state where a person has entered hypnosis and can become responsive to suggestions", but this has a massive flaw in that people Reply to suggestions all the time! To a covert hypnotist, the normal rules of employment and deepeners may not apply, and their definition of trance may be different.
So, what is it? To me, trance is simply another tool. It can be used in, but is not essential to, powerful hypnosis. And there are signs to pick up on, if you know where to look.
While hypnosis has yet to be fully accepted by the scientific community, studies on the effects of hypnosis have been done. Clarke E Hull, a prominent hypnosis researcher, discovers several physical attributes that are often displayed by a person entering the state of trance.
The most common is rapid eye movement, or REM. Normally, REM happens while you are deeply sleep, and is associated with the dream state (the part of your sleep where you dream). Since both dreams and hypnosis both stem from the subconscious, it is only natural that there would be some similar characteristics. When your subject has dropped their head down, and you have done your deepeners, have a look at their eyelids. You should be able to see their eyes flitting back and forth, a sure sign that trance as taken place.
Another common sign is a change in heart rate. I say a change, because in some cases it can speed up, others it can slow down. This is a very interesting phenomenon – after all, you would expect someone who is relaxed to also have a low heart rate. But it sees, like the REM above, that a person who is utilizing their unconscious mind needs to make little changes to how the body functions. Look out for flushed skin, even take the person's pulse if you need to – watch out for slow or fast beats.
The next signal is the breathing of a person. While heart rate may go either way, breathing rate almost always becomes more slow and deep. Hypnosis is similar to sleep in many ways, and so the action of the brain to stimulate this unconscious way of breathing is there natural. After all, we can control when we breathe to an unnecessarily – but when you are sleeping, your subconscious takes over. And this is what we want for hypnosis too. So as you talk to your subject, try and listen for their breathing. A good hypnotic technique is to time your words and suggestions so that they are in rhythm with this deep breathing.
The most important signal of all, though, had got to be the simple one. Are they following your suggestions? Those definitions above say that is all you need. Even so, such advice can be very unhelpful – if a person is treated to try suggestions because they are not sure if a person is in trance, then what would be the point in just giving them suggestions anyway? One way that makes it possible to test a trance state, as well as deepen the trance further and increase responsiveness, is to use little hypnotic tests. One such test is a simple arm levitation. For those who do not know, this is a very simple and easily exhibited hypnotic phenomenon, caused by a few very simple suggestions – "Now imagine there are helium balloons tied to that hand, and notice how buoyant it feels as it just raises up into The sky ". How a person responds to that will help you determine the level of trance, and it is also easy to backpack more deepeners onto that arm lift – "That's right, and as that hand drops down again you will sink into hypnosis, becoming even more Relaxed ". See how easy that was?
So we have several things to look for. Students must bear in mind, however, that subjects may exhibit all or none of these signs when in hypnosis. And again, these usually only apply to the bona fide traditional hypnosis sessions, where it goes pretalk, induction, deepener. As we mentioned earlier, a covert hypnotist would not be looking for any of the physiological signals, they would simply be after the last one – following suggestions. It is up to you. Next time you do hypnosis, try to spot one of these – and for a more interesting challenge, all you covert hypnotists out there, you try and spot them too. It would be interesting to see the results!
Contributed by guest blogger Ben M Lawson