There are so many different hypnotic inductions available to choose from. Where do you start? In this detailed guide on hypnotic inductions we'll turn you into an expert.
You'll not only understand how practically every induction works ... you'll soon get comfortable making up your own hypnotic inductions!
Ready? Here we go!
Induction is how we create a hypnotic trance. It is foundational to all hypnosis. Whether onstage, in conversation, or in a therapy setting, you need ways to cause hypnosis to just happen.
As we discuss both the art and science of hypnotic inductions you'll discover that there are an infinite number of ways to induce trance.
You'll also learn the most important principles of trance creation, which means you'll be able to hypnotize people through almost any method.
In a nutshell, this means that you're about to discover that hypnosis is EASY.
Rapport Always Comes First.
Before we can discuss the various aspects of inducing hypnotic trance, there are certain fundamentals that must be taken into account, and the first of these is rapport.
Rapport is a sense of connectedness and shared experience that lets people communicate. The stronger the rapport you have with another person, the more you'll feel understood.
The field of NLP (neurolinguistic programming) sometimes makes this seem complicated. But it's really not. Rapport can be broken down into mirroring posture, offering back the subject’s words, and essentially entering what we call a "psychodynamic feedback loop" with the subject.
Key point in building rapport: By behaving like the subject, we send a strong message of similarity. People like people who seem to be like themselves.
Think about how this works in your everyday life. When you're in rapport with someone you'll listen to them and even trust them.
It's almost too obvious in retrospect. If you like yourself, then you'll like someone who seems to be like you.
When someone sends you subtle postural and verbal messages that match yours, you'll like them. This makes hypnosis much easier to achieve. But when there is mistrust or tension present, hypnosis gets harder.
Hypnotize with Intention!
Another important foundation is intention, and it goes back to the early days of hypnosis, when it was still referred to as Mesmerism.
Intention is the foundation of the Mandel Triangle.
Old school mesmerists quickly discovered that by focusing their own will on the subject, their results were much more certain. When the hypnotist focused on intending the desired result, instead of merely going through the motions, the subject picked up on the hypnotist’s self-confidence, and quickly went into trance.
In order to apply this principle, it’s a matter of staying mentally present with the subject, rather than looking at notes or scripts, and engaging him with your focused attention.
Milton H. Erickson was probably the greatest hypnotist who ever lived. He stared intently at his subject with riveted attention. He looked expectantly at the subject, like he was watching for something he knew was going to happen.
The subject would notice this, perhaps unconsciously, and anticipate something about to happen. When you focus your attention on the person you are hypnotizing, while looking at them expectantly, you will do much to open the door to trance.
Perhaps the most important foundation of hypnotic skill is belief. You must believe in yourself in order for it to work. You must become what Anthony Jacquin calls “The Hypnotist”. You must believe in your own ability, or at least convince the subject that you do. Belief works both ways. Not only must you believe in yourself, but the subject must believe in you.
The Power of Prestige!
This brings us to the thing called prestige. Prestige is when a person seems important, famous, or somehow above us. Prestige comes from reputation, and it affects our ability to succeed with hypnotic inductions.
Imagine if someone hears that you're just learning hypnosis. There is no prestige in that! On the other hand, when someone hears that you're a hypnotist who trained at a famous university, your prestige goes way up!
Prestige in hypnosis goes back to Edward the Confessor, a king of England. He had such prestige, as a king, that he would place his hands on a sick person they would often recover. His prestige meant that he created hypnosis by his very presence.
By highlighting your prestige, you’ll automatically help your subject to believe in you and in your abilities.
Think of all the things that can boost your prestige. If you have certificates from hypnosis trainings, make sure they’re on display in your waiting room.
Look like a hypnotist! You don't have to copy Franz Anton Mesmer with a cape and a turban .. but consider some carefully chosen rings, pendants, or other jewellery. It can make you stand out and seem different. This adds to your prestige.
Be subtle with this. You don’t want to look like Dracula. The point is to be The Hypnotist, not to scare your subject.
So you now have rapport, intention, belief, and prestige.
Use these hypnotic foundations when creating a trance state, with all your hypnotic inductions.
Can You Skip Hypnotic Inductions?
Amazingly, sometimes those above principles are all that’s used. Let me break that down for you a bit more ...
Sometimes in a stage hypnosis show there are no hypnotic inductions at all!
Sometimes the hypnotist's prestige is very high because of great advertising. The audience volunteers believe in him so much, that all he has to do is shout "Sleep!" and everyone goes into hypnosis.
If you're on stage doing a show with enough volunteers this might be all you need. But when you're working in your office, this probably isn't your best method. You'll use a formal hypnotic induction of some kind.
Internal Focus: All Roads Lead to Rome.
No matter which induction you choose to use, there is a sense that “All roads lead to Rome”.
That’s because all hypnotic inductions work by shifting the person’s attention inward. It’s what hypnotic great, Dave Elman, called “establishing selective thinking”.
As you guide the subject’s focus and turn it inward, you can lead him into a trance.
Focus is everything when it comes to hypnosis. When you are hypnotizing someone you might begin by immediately directing the person's attention inward.
But you could also start by directing his attention to something external.
That external thing might be a swinging watch, which is commonly associated with hypnosis. But it could be anything.
Hypnosis Moves the Focus Away from Critical Thinking.
In any case, it’s important to understand that focus works in two directions. That’s because we move the focus of attention away from critical thinking and logic. At the same time, we move the subject’s focus toward trance elements, like relaxation, memories, or feelings.
Pretty much all hypnotic inductions will redirect the subject’s attention and focus. This is how we create hypnotic trance.
If you have strong rapport with your subject, they’ll tend to stay in trance too. That’s because hypnosis is more of a relationship you are in with another person, than a thing you're doing to them.
In a real sense, both you (the hypnotist) and the subject are in trance together. Think of hypnosis as being in a conversation with your subject, in which you are powerfully linked.
In stage hypnosis, all the subjects are linked with the hypnotist, and with each other. Pretty cool eh?
Dave Elman and "Selective Thinking"
All types of hypnotic inductions establish what the late, great, Dave Elman called selective thinking. Selective thinking bypasses a part of the mind known as the critical faculty.
Think of the critical faculty as the firewall of your mind. The critical faculty permits or prevents information and influence from entering the deep mind.
By the way ... please keep in mind that there is no such physical thing as a "critical faculty" or a "deep mind". It's all just a model. It's a useful way to think about how hypnosis works. When we act as though it's true, we get amazing results!
So here's an example:
If we tell a wide-awake person that the moon is made of green cheese, he’ll look at us like we’re crazy. But the same person in a deep trance will accept this ridiculous idea as completely reasonable.
That’s because selective thinking has been established, and the critical faculty has been bypassed. Focusing the attention of the person being hypnotized is one way this is accomplished.
James Braid and Eye Fixation
One of the earliest methods for focusing a subject’s attention goes back to Scottish surgeon, James Braid. Widely considered to be the father of modern hypnotism, Braid discovered that staring at a bright light or other object could be used to create a hypnotic trance.
In reality, staring at something did not cause hypnosis. It only fixated their attention. This became known as the fascination method, and was much used in Nancy France in the 1800s.
If you can get someone to stare at an object while suggesting sleep or relaxation, you'll almost certainly get a trance. Especially if their eyes tire, which will convince them it's working.
Braid discovered the power of an external fixation, but an internal fixation of focus works just as well.
George Estabrooks was a psychologist and a hypnotist. He hypnotized people with their eyes closed. His voice was the what the subjects focused their attention on. They didn't need to stare at anything.
Milton Erickson actually ran experiments where a hypnotic subject would either fixate their attention on a real physical metronome or an imagined one.
Guess what? The people who imagined a metronome had a slightly better trance experience, even though both methods caused a trance. The often reported that the imaginary metronome did strange things, like slowing down or speeding up. This tended to captivate the subject's attention even more. Staring at an imaginary metronome is a hypnotic induction!
This tells us that we can hypnotize people by having them focus on something internal, like a pretend metronome, or something external, like a real metronome, or pretty well anything .
All we need is a willing subject who can focus until we get hypnosis.
Here's another important point:
Focus Doesn't Need to be Visual
External focus of attention does not need to be visual. Drumming, dancing, singing or chanting, can all create powerful trance states, as many cultures confirm.
Whatever the means used, trance will eventually develop into an internal focus, either small and precise, or huge and free-flowing. NLP practitioners refer to this as downtime. Hypnotists call it hypnosis. It’s basically when the attention is turned away from the firm and logical reality of day to day life, and toward a more free-floating and receptive state of mind. At this point, something that M.T. Orne called trance logic occurs, and the most outlandish ideas can seem to be completely reasonable. A subject may accept contradictory ideas while in a trance, and be both in the room, and believe he's on the moon, at the same time.
There are many ways of creating a hypnotic state by directing the attention inward. A classic (though outdated and fairly ineffective) trance induction may be achieved through progressive muscle relaxation. The method consists of giving numerous suggestions that the subject is relaxing, until eventually he falls into a mild state of hypnosis. This induction originated in the belief that relaxation is necessary for, and an indication of hypnosis, but this is not the case. Subjects may be active, tense, and seemingly wide-awake, but still in profound trances. We see this sort of hypnosis at political rallies, but that’s a different matter altogether.
Internal focus may also be achieved by simply being aware of one’s thoughts as they appear and recede. Alternately, we can focus on our breathing, as many forms of meditation do, which will often lead to hypnosis. Even accessing a specific memory in greater and greater detail can cause an intense inward focus, and hypnotic trance.
NLP practitioners speak of three primary representational systems, which are just the main ways we experience and evaluate the world around us. These are the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (feeling) senses. Since most people in Western society are primarily visual, directing their attention to the kinaesthetic system will cause an altered state, which can easily be cascaded into a trance. All the hypnotist needs do is direct the subject’s focus from what he is seeing, to what he is feeling. When the hypnotist continues to unpack those feelings or emotions in greater and greater detail, while slowing his voice, the subject enters a trance.
Hypnotic Inductions That Access Past Memories...
Another way to turn the attention inward and create a hypnotic state is through revivification. This fancy word only means to re-access a memory of something you enjoy doing. (The reason it’s something you enjoy is because we don’t want to access and intensify bad memories.) It doesn’t have to be a specific memory. It can simply be an activity that you’re familiar with, and that you like doing.
This might be writing, swimming, skiing, whatever. To revivify and cause trance, a hypnotist offers information to the subject that must or can be in their experience. If the client has chosen swimming, the hypnotist might say “And you can feel the flow of the water over your body...and you may notice the temperature of the water...”. The more the subject accepts what’s being offered, the deeper the trance he will experience.
It’s important to understand the power of the kinaesthetic system, which covers both emotions and physical feelings. It’s a slow system with a long lag-time. That’s why feelings like anger can persist, even when the problem is gone. When we’re doing hypnosis, it’s important to put the person in feeling states, rather than having him or her intellectualize what you’re saying. You want the subject in their body feelings, not in their head thoughts.
Our friend, hypnotherapist, Freddy Jacquin understands this well. He is a master at creating an emotional response in a subject. Immediately after he elicits the emotion he gives a suggestion.
The more you can elicit feeling states and deep emotions from a subject, the better hypnotic results you will experience. When you combine emotions with imagination, your results will be even stronger. When fear is combined with imagination, anxiety results.
Real Experiences vs. Vividly Imagined?
It’s well-established that our brains cannot tell the difference between a real experience, and one that’s vividly imagined. Even memory is affected by this principle, because we don’t really remember anything.
We transform memories in our imaginations all the time. Our memories are plastic, and every time we re-access a memory, we change it to some degree. Over time, our memories may not resemble anything like the original event, as any police officer who interviews witnesses will testify.
Since imagination is so powerful, we can greatly benefit by adding it to any induction we use. Simply asking the subject to “Imagine you’re turning your attention inward…” can have profound effects. This is the power of pretending. The subject can pretend to be going into hypnosis, until trance becomes a reality. He can even pretend that he's not pretending...
With a good understanding of how to direct a subject’s attention inward and toward feelings rather than thoughts, hypnosis may be entirely conversational, and the word “hypnosis” may never even be mentioned. This is the function of hypnotic metaphors, which are stories that change minds.
By speaking more slowly and deliberately, the hypnotist activates the subject’s unconscious mind, and a simple story becomes a prescription for change. The story itself is crafted to contain elements that match the structure of the client’s problem or situation. When the metaphor is told with intention and focus, it becomes a hypnotic induction that the subject is unaware of, as his attention has gone internal. A program is installed, and change happens seemingly on its own.
What About Confusion?
Confusion too, may be a useful inroad to hypnosis. Milton Erickson reported that almost all of his hypnotic work involved confusion in some form. Skillful questioning may create confusion and trance.
For instance, if a client reports that she cannot remember something, and the hypnotist locks eyes with her and asks with intention “What else have you just forgotten?” the result will be confusion. How could she possibly know what she’s just forgotten? A skilled hypnotist will be able to cascade that confusion into trance by simply saying “?Eyes closed...NOW....”
As we can readily see from these examples, there are numerous ways to draw the subject’s attention inward, and away from their analytical mind, and into powerful kinaesthetic states that may be associated with hypnotic trance. The key is to be gentle and fluid, always responding to the client’s response. This is less a case of the hypnotist putting someone into a trance, than the hypnotist and subject entering a communication loop together. Each response from the subject causes a response from the hypnotist, sending the subject through layer after layer of internal processing, and down into hypnosis.
Catalepsy as an Inroad to Hypnotic Induction
Another extremely useful inroad into hypnotic trance is catalepsy, which is described as a “waxy immobility” of a body part. Catalepsy appears as variety of different phenomena. Eyes that won’t open, a hand floating in the air, legs that won’t permit the subject to stand up, are all said to be cataleptic. Cataleptic phenomena were discovered very early on in the history of hypnosis. Until Milton Erickson came along, most researchers believed that catalepsy occurred only because the hypnotist suggested it, but Erickson said that that was not the case. Like time distortion and hypnotic amnesia, catalepsy is what’s known as a classic hypnotic phenomenon, and as such, it may occur without being suggested at all.
And this leads us to Clark Hull, former Yale University psychology professor, and one of Erickson’s early teachers. Hull made an interesting statement in his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility (1933). Hull said:
"Anything that assumes trance, causes trance."
This is a cool statement, because Hull gives us the keys to rapidly induce hypnosis! He means that if we need some kind of medium trance to get someone’s hand cataleptic and weightless, we can do it the other way round. Instead of hypnotizing someone and telling them that their hand is rising up and floating in the air, we can make their hand cataleptic. Then we focus the subject's attention on that hand. We get a hypnotic trance without doing any hypnosis at all!
This is the heart of many rapid inductions, such as Kinaesthetic Ambiguity, Single Finger Catalepsy, and Breathing With the Hand inductions. By doing certain physical things, the hypnotist creates catalepsy without suggesting it. It just happens on its own.
The subject is quite surprised when his hand floating weightlessly in the air, and the cataleptic hand then becomes the focal-point of the subject’s attention. Trance develops quickly and organically, because there’s nothing for the subject to resist.
Catalepsy is also useful in other ways. For example, the classic Dave Elman Induction creates catalepsy, but not in the hand - in the subject's eyelids! The hypnotist first asks the subject to relax the muscles around his eyes. He is then told to continue to “hold onto that relaxation” and “give them a good test”. The hypnotist demonstrates this. He relaxes the muscles around his own eyes and then boings his eyebrows up and down while keeping his eyes shut. When the subject imitates this, he causes his eyelids to become cataleptic. And they’ll stay cataleptic, as long as he keeps pretending he can’t open them.
So because anything that assumes trance, causes trance, it’s easy for the hypnotist to turn catalepsy into hypnosis. All he has to do is say something like “Sleep now…” Catalepsy isn’t trance, but it creates an open door. It turns into a trance very easily.
What about Instant Hypnotic Inductions?
Catalepsy is an awesome tool that can lead to deep trance in just a few minutes. But for some hypnotists, even a few minutes, is too long! For them, a rapid induction is a slow induction, so they like instant inductions. It may be hard to believe, but it’s actually quite easy to bypass the critical faculty and create trance in just a few seconds. All you have to do is fire what’s known as a PGO spike in the subject's brain.
A PGO spike is not a nail driven into the person’s head! It's the activation of a super-highway of nerve fibres in the brain. When this happens, the critical faculty goes offline for a few seconds. It is at this moment that the hypnotist typically shouts “Sleep!” The brain scrambles and the person goes into trance to escape the confusion and disorientation they're feeling.
A hypnotist will do something that causes confusion, shock, or surprise. Gil Boyne, the famous hypnotherapist, would ask his subject to step forward, and he would then pull him off balance and give the “Sleep!” command. The subject would go limp, and Boyne would lower him to the ground or onto a couch and begin therapy.
When the PGO spike is fired, the hypnotist must immediately take control and give suggestions to deepen and stabilize the trance. Otherwise, the subject will just come back out of hypnosis. You also have to have strong rapport with your subject for him to stay in trance. You can't just go up to a stranger, yank his arm and yell “Sleep!” and expect it to work; regardless of what you see on YouTube. Your subject must be prepared to go into trance.
In all these examples, the hypnotist must find a way under, or around the critical faculty and refocus the subject’s attention. It doesn't matter whether the focus is on a swinging watch, the subject's own internal feelings, or a cataleptic hand. In each case, the subject's attention is shifted and directed by the hypnotist. If your subject is a willing subject, and you have rapport, belief and prestige, your subject will go into hypnosis, every time.
Now you know more than most hypnotists about how hypnotic inductions actually work! Go out there and help people.