For those of us who have never experienced hypnosis, the good news is that hypnosis is nothing like what the movies portray. In the movies, when someone gets hypnotized, his head slumps, and he’s told he will become an assassin. He awakens, not knowing what happened, and he goes out and kills someone. This suggests two myths about hypnosis: 1) when you’re hypnotized, you mind goes somewhere, and you don’t know what is happening, and; 2) therefore you can be made to do anything. Nonsense!
What is a trance?
Hypnosis is a trance state. A trance is nothing more than an altered state of absorbed attention. You and I go into natural trances many times a day. When you drive down a freeway, and you miss your exit, because you are lost in thought, you are in a trance. Daydreaming is a trance. Watching TV typically is a trance state. Being so absorbed in something you’re doing that you don’t hear someone speaking to you is a trance. There’s nothing unusual about trance. It happens to us every day.
How Hypnotic Trance Differs
Hypnotic trance differs from everyday natural trance states in three ways. First, the trance is induced intentionally, rather than accidentally. Secondly, the trance is deepened (but you don’t lose awareness). Finally, the trance is applied to a therapeutic purpose.
How It Feels to be Hypnotized
When you are hypnotized, physically you feel very, very relaxed. Almost everyone feels profoundly relaxed. Some of my clients have mentioned that their experience of trance has been the most relaxing experience of their lives!
Mentally, you are aware of what I am saying, because your mind does not go anywhere. During your first trance experience, I may say to you, “It’s normal, natural, and correct that you hear the sound of my voice.” Because you are aware of what I am saying, the Hollywood drama of doing something against your will is not possible. If I were to so stupid as to suggest to you in trance, “Write me a check for a million dollars!”, then most likely you would just open your eyes, and say, “What did you just say!”
Nevertheless in hypnotic trance, you will notice a relaxing change in the quality of your mind. The quality is very similar to how it feels when you first awaken in the morning. The alarm clock rings. You turn it off. Not wanting to get out of bed immediately, you rest in bed, eyes closed. Your mind is open, relatively empty of the flood of thoughts which you will experience later as your day unfolds. You are conscious, for example aware of any sounds, but your awareness is passive, relatively open. You’re just experiencing. That is very much what trance feels like.
If you have ever experienced guided imagery or a guided meditation, that’s quite similar to what hypnotic trance feels like. It’s nothing exotic, and yet very powerful.
How the Power of Hypnosis Works
There are two ways of explaining how the power of hypnosis works. The first is that our habits, memories, learnings, etc. are stored in the unconscious mind. For example, you are listening to the radio, and a song is played which you haven’t heard in decades. Immediately you begin to sing along, remembering the melody and lyrics. Those memories were stored in the unconscious. When the relaxing state of hypnotic trance occurs, hypnotic suggestions are allowed to more directly impress the receptive unconscious thereby changing unwanted behaviors which were stored in the unconscious.
The second way of explain hypnotism’s power relates to the new area of science called “neuroplasticity”. Science has discovered that the brain is always creating new synaptic connections between neurons, especially when the brain is presented with new or novel experience. I believe research will show that the suggestions offered in hypnotic trance actually create new synaptic connections. These new connections create new neural pathways whereby the brain’s electrical charges related to a given behavior (like smoking) may travel.