Lately there have been an unusual number of clients whose expectations of what hypnosis would feel like were unrealistic. I’m not sure what they expected: to be completely unconscious? asleep? in a coma? And even after I explain that that’s not what hypnosis should or does feel like, they still seem uncertain.
“Not that it wasn’t absolutely awesome,” one of these clients assured me. “It was the most relaxed I’ve been since, well, probably since birth. Better than a full-body massage. But still, I could hear every word you said, and if there was a noise on the other side of the wall, I could hear that too.”
Well, yes. There are many levels of hypnosis, but the consensus among hypnotists seems to be that in order to correct most issues, it’s best to put the client in a light trance state. Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to put someone “way under” — for instance, if you had to have surgery but were allergic to anaesthesia, I would make sure you went so deep that you were barely aware of the surgery at all and certainly couldn’t feel anything.
But short of that, it’s best to experience hypnosis as a kind of zoning out — the same kind of zoning out you do when you’re driving home from somewhere for the billionth time, and arrive at your door only to realize that you have no recollection of making the turns, of stopping at the lights, of seeing the landmarks. And yet you continued functioning perfectly well all that time: You continued making the turns and stopping at the lights. You got yourself home, despite being what I think of as zoned out.
In other words, a part of you experienced some strange physical sensations and a kind of daydreaming; but the rest of you was still there, still conscious, still watching, still aware.
That’s it. Zoned out. Nothing mystical there, or even very dramatic, unless you think relaxing your body and mind is very dramatic. (Some of my clients, when they arrive for their first session, can’t even remember the last time they were totally relaxed, mind and body, so they probably do find it pretty dramatic.)
Almost always, my clients come out of their trance marvelously relaxed and happy. What gets lost in people’s anxiety about mind control, etc., is that the experience of hypnosis is fun. It’s meant to be fun. Sometimes my client feels so extraordinarily relaxed in that state that he/she wants to stay longer, and “awakens” only reluctantly, after a little extra prodding from me.
If there is time, after inducing a trance in the first session, I usually direct the client to cause certain physical feelings to occur, just by thinking about them: making one hand colder than the other, or heavier, or both. Or I will pick up one of their arms and suggest that it’s suddenly become stiff and straight as an iron bar, and then take my hands away and leave that arm hanging in mid-air until I break the spell. That’s called catalepsy, and it’s an indicator that the client is in a trance state.
I do this so that my clients can see for themselves that they are in the changed state of consciousness we call hypnosis. They do not have to rely on my judgment alone. Because why should they? Hypnosis is by definition a collaborative process. You always maintain a sense of yourself as a unique individual, in control of your desires and behavior –– an individual who has decided to get some coaching help.
That’s really all it is: I coach you to direct yourself into a trance, because you don’t know how to do it yourself. But all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. It’s all about you and your decision to participate: Nothing happens without your consent; it can’t. It is a joint effort between two people, one who has certain goals, and the other who helps him/her achieve those goals through hypnosis.
In the same way, I hope this blog will become a collaboration and a discussion. Please write in with your comments but also with questions. Until I get the comments thing figured out on this site, you can send your questions to me by email. And, because whatever questions you have are probably shared by others, I will copy your questions and attempt to answer them here, in this public space, unless you tell me not to.
Which is exactly what the hypnotist-client relationship is like at all times: you tell me what you want to happen, and I help you make it happen. Your concerns and goals are always what drives the relationship.
How you reach your goals, easily and pleasantly, with hypnosis, is the subject for another column. Stay tuned.
Darryl McCullagh Dip Hyp / Cert HypB