Why Does Hypnosis Work on Some and Not Others?
It’s a simple question: why does hypnosis work on some and not others?
There’s a small confession we need to make.
Even after several hundred years of study, and countless more years of practice, the truth is we still aren’t absolutely 100% certain how hypnosis actually works!
However, even though we don’t know exactly how hypnosis works, or why it affects some people more than others, as a scientifically quantifiable phenomenon, we know that it does exist, and because we know so much about it we can point precisely to what it does to people and understand it from there.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is the word we use to describe a trancelike state of mind that people enter into, characterised by suggestibility, relaxed mind and body and heightened imagination and connection with the subconscious mind. (1)
Unlike other types of trance, someone undergoing hypnosis is awake and alert the entire time, and knows what’s going on around them. Hypnosis is sometimes described like a waking daydream, where you’re letting your mind wander, or be guided by another person, usually a counsellor. At the same time you examine the moving of your mind, see where it goes, how you think about certain things, with the ability to step in at any time.
In fact, there’s arguments that suggest that we enter into forms of hypnotic trance all the time. Milton Erickson, one of the most prominent hypnotists who ever lived, thought that, especially when we’re doing things that require sustained focus. If you’ve ever gone for a drive and arrived at your destination without really remembering the journey, you might have gone into a micro trance, and let your mind and body go through the motions.
How does hypnosis work as a therapy?
Hypnosis works by inducing a trance state in a person, which, as already discussed, leaves them relaxed and more freely able to examine their thoughts and habits from a place of calm, non-judgemental freedom.
As a therapy tool, this is invaluable. Especially when dredging up painful memories, it can be hard to stay objective or discuss things in a calm manner, especially if it’s something that causes a person considerable pain.
But the detached relaxation that comes with a hypnotic trance allows us to firstly look at how we feel almost from the outside, and second be guided to look at things in new ways that we otherwise might resist, if we weren’t so calm.
Now that we understand what hypnosis is, let’s examine the aspects of a hypnotic trance, and how that affects us and those we hypnotise.
Suggestibility as a trait means that when someone says something, you’re more likely to do it than you otherwise would be.
It’s this trait that makes stage hypnosis and all those TV shows so fun. The hypnotist takes his victim and suggests that, for example, they can’t see him. Then they act as if the hypnotist is completely invisible, to roars of laughter all round.
It’s this same trait that allows hypnosis to be used as such an effective and powerful tool for self change and growth.
A client who faces mental blocks in their day to day life, things they just can’t get past, like a crippling, paralysing fear of spiders, is far more likely to be able to deal with their phobia when in a hypnotic trance. Slowly, over time, they can use this trance state to become acclimated to their fears, working through the problem bit by bit until they’re free of what held them back!
Don’t worry though. Pretty much all existing research says that hypnotism doesn’t work on people who don’t want it to work, and can’t be used to make people do things they aren’t happy to do.
This is an important reason hypnotism might not work on your clients, but we’ll discuss that in more detail later in the article.
Relaxation and Lack of Inhibitions
Observing people in a hypnotic state, it’s obvious that they become far more relaxed than they otherwise would be.
Their body language changes completely, tension running from muscles, movements becoming slow and languid, breathing deep and relaxed.
The relaxation is also mental. A calm, almost serene mind state overtakes people who are hypnotised, almost like a day dream, like we mentioned before. Because of this, worries and concerns melt away, problems seem far smaller, and the day to day issues that we face just don’t seem as big.
This is excellent for your clients, because it means they might be able to face issues that are just too big otherwise, and relaxing is a huge part of inducing hypnosis. We’ll discuss a primary method, called progressive relaxation, later on.
Connection to The Subconscious
It’s common scientific knowledge that a lot of our thoughts go on without us being aware of them. That there’s a huge part of the brain that does its thing without our input, dictating how we live our lives without any conscious input from our rational minds.
So when we act, our subconscious is a huge part of that, bringing thoughts and memories to the fore. But because we’re busy living our lives, we don’t get the opportunity to sit back and think about how our minds work, and how our subconscious might be dictating the things that we do.
But when we go into a hypnotic trance, it calms our conscious mind, settles our thoughts, and allows us the freedom and space we need to assess our subconscious thoughts and our minds, examining thoughts as they arise and working out how and why we think the way we do.
Is Hypnosis Affected by Belief?
It is, and it isn’t. Whilst almost everyone can be hypnotised to some degree, and there are things that can affect your susceptibility to hypnosis, the science still isn’t 100% on what these things are or why they can have such a huge effect. (2)
What is clear is that someone believing they can be hypnotised certainly makes it easier to hypnotise them, and someone opposing the idea makes it more difficult.
It’s obvious, when you consider it. If you’re inducing a mindful trance into someone, and they’re actively resisting it by thinking ‘This isn’t going to work. Why isn’t it working…’ over and over again in their heads, they’re never going to be able to relax enough to let the trance take over.
This is a great thing to bear in mind when you’re discussing and preparing people for hypnosis.
It’s called pacing and leading. Ask them if they’re ready to be hypnotised, let them know that hypnosis has a good chance of working, and that they should approach it without judgement or thought, just to see what happens, and it has a much greater chance both of working and of being effective.
Can you hypnotise someone who doesn’t want to be?
Ignore anyone who ever says you can hypnotise people who don’t want to be hypnotised.
The answer is a clear and obvious; No.
Hypnotism only puts people into a light, waking trance. Whilst you might be more suggestible than at other times, it’s only that, suggestibility.
If I suggested you take a drink, you might do it, just because it might be a good idea. But suggesting you give me all your money is clearly not a good idea, and suggesting you do something stupid like drive off a cliff will never hold.
This is great knowledge, both for you and for anyone you might be treating. For you because now you know that you’re never going to inadvertently get your clients to do things that you don’t mean for them to do. For them because once they know this, they can relax and trust in you and your skills a whole lot more.
Why are some people more easily hypnotised than others?
Research in hypnosis has been going on for hundreds of years, but research from Stanford University might be able to finally identify how and why some people respond so much better to hypnosis than others. (3)
According to the research, there’s a link between hypnotic suggestibility and certain types of brain activity. Apparently you can predict whether someone is highly receptive to hypnosis, or might take a little more effort to relax into a trance, by how their brain looks under MRI scans.
But luckily for you and me, we don’t need to worry about this. All we need to know is that some people are just more receptive to hypnosis, so if a client takes a little longer than others to go into a trance, just relax with them, keep trying and perhaps try a different method.
Don’t fight resistance, use it
Resistance is energy. Fighting it gets you nowhere. Instead, you should use it. Instead of pushing against the resistance, push with it. (4)
An example of how this could work is a client thinking that hypnosis is silly. Saying it isn’t silly won’t get you very far. There’s already an idea entrenched in that persons head and arguing will only make it worse.
Instead, you go with it. Agree that it’s silly, but it’s worth a try, even if just for five minutes. Frame it as an experiment, or something that you’re doing for yourself, to see how they react.
You can always use resistance. Remember, it’s only resistance if you resist it. With nothing to push against, it’s just a thought, passing through their head.
Progressive relaxation is a great technique for any client, not just those who might be struggling to fall into a hypnotic trance.
It takes a few minutes to go through, but it’s fun, and once done leads to massive relaxation, whether you end up hypnotised or not.
The method is simple. Slowly go through your body, tensing and then relaxing each part in turn.
A lot of the time, it’s suggested to start at the feet and work up, breathing slowly all the way. Either way, if you’ve got a few minutes one evening, it’s worth trying for yourself and see how it affects you.
Remember what we said about resistance? How there can only be resistance if you push back against it?
Often, someone resisting hypnosis will still fall into a trance, if only you try a different angle of attack, so to speak.
There are so many different approaches, different methods of hypnotising someone, that getting fixated on one, determined that it must work, is only going to make things worse.
You’ll get frustrated, and picking up on that frustrated energy, the person you’re working with will be even less likely to fall into a trance.
That’s why we’d always recommend anyone thinking of training in hypnosis or hypnotherapy of any kind to make sure that they’re training in a method that gives them options.
In our opinion, the best training on the market right now is Rapid Transformational Therapy. Created by Marisa Peer, it combines everything she’s learned in her 30 years of transformative practice with current, up to date science and technology, so you’ll be getting the most effective toolbox for change imaginable.
If you’re interested, we’ve written more about it here. Just click the link to learn everything you need to know about the most powerful method of change available for people like you and me, right here and right now.