The Phenomena of Hypnosis

The Phenomena of Hypnosis

In any adequate orientation to hypnosis, it is essential to clear up the various misconceptions that are prevalent. Unfortunately, some of these misconceptions are held by experienced hypnotists. This state of affairs is hardly surprising in view of the mystical and confused attitudes of the early workers, beginning with Mesmer. As with any other scientific discipline, the weeding out of errors and misconceptions is a long-term process. Ever since Braid, there have been workers who showed an excellent grasp of hypnotic processes and phenomena. It was the insights provided by Freud, however, that have made it possible to develop clearer and more adequate bases for evaluating hypnosis and its applications.

At the present stage of psychologic and psychiatric knowledge, there is still substantial resistance to the insights of dynamic psychology. Within the realm of a dynamic orientation, the field, of course, is still subject to revision.

Misconceptions about hypnosis

Not all the misconceptions about hypnosis can or need to be presented here. Those will be discussed which most often seem to concern prospective subjects and patients, or which serve as sources of difficulty during the induction process. Much of this material can thus be used in the orientation of new subjects.


The first misconception has to do with the belief that medical or dental hypnosis can be learned from a stage hypnotist. One can learn hypnosis in that manner for work on the stage. If the purpose is medical, dental, or psychological work, however, one cannot learn from the stage hypnotist. A great deal of professional study and earnest, sincere effort are primary requisites. The knowledge of hypnosis here is oriented about a patient’s needs and reactions rather than audience entertainment.


Another misconception is to the effect that anyone who uses hypnosis must have very special powers, special knowledge, special ability. Actually, hypnosis is a common phenomenon in all human living. Anybody who can communicate with anyone else can learn to use hypnosis.


A third mistaken idea, prevalent among lay persons, is that hypnosis works miracles. Hypnosis does not work miracles. It is genuine, honest, and earnest discipline of learning and effort. Anything that is accomplished depends upon work and attention given to the task in hand.


Many persons believe that to become hypnotized one must become unconscious. That impression is a very serious error. The subject does not need to be unconscious. Hypnosis requires him to utilize his ability to hear, to see, to think, to understand, and to feel in a certain directed way, but it does not require unconsciousness. The hypnotic subject is a responsive creature and the operator who employs hypnosis is a responsive creature. No unconsciousness is required.


There is no surrender of the will. Hypnosis is a dual effort, with cooperation between the subject and the operator. One does not necessarily surrender his will when he lets someone else drive his car, but there can be cooperation and there can be permission given for someone else to drive the car. It is a matter of assignment of roles in a given situation.


There is no question of hypnosis weakening the mind any more than there can be a weakening of the mind from ordinary everyday living. The operator lacks the power, as an operator or practitioner of hypnosis, to reach into the skull of his subject and alter the brain cells in such manner that the mind becomes weakened. One can only effect a stimulation of the subject’s thinking and his feeling, enabling him to function more adequately or less adequately, as the situation demands.


There is a common confusion between hypnotizability and gullibility. Suggestibility may be defined as the uncritical acceptance of an idea. By “uncritical” is not meant any abandonment of an intelligently critical attitude. Suggestibility may be further defined as the capacity of a person to respond to ideas. In the individual’s capacity to respond there is necessarily the implication that he is utilizing all his understandings, both critical and associative.


Another misconception is that one will talk and tell secrets, as with drugs. Hypnosis, as already noted, is a cooperative venture. There is no undue or miraculous disclosure of secrets. Anybody who has had practice with hypnosis in psycotherapy knows how extremely difficult it is to get the patient who comes seeking therapy, who “wants to tell you everything,” to overcome his reluctance to tell it. Hypnosis can aid him in telling what he needs to tell, but hypnosis cannot force him to tell anything that he does not wish to tell. There is a general lay misconception about the hypnotic subject being at the mercy of the operator. This is most certainly incorrect.


One should again bear in mind the fact that hypnosis is a cooperative venture. Two persons are involved, two persons with perhaps divergent purposes. The subject goes into a trance state. That subject has purposes known to that personality, or perhaps not known to that personality. There will be no difficulty in awakening, because the trance is contingent upon the achieving of purposes and that includes awakening as an integral part.

One may encounter the possibility that a given subject is unwilling to awaken from the trance, but that is the patient’s own choice. Patients who want to remain in the trance may sometimes attempt to defy the hypnotist to awaken them. In cases of such recalcitrant subjects, one simply reverses the technique of trance induction. This matter will be discussed in greater detail in the section on “Maintaining the Trance.”


The question has been asked many times: “Suppose you hypnotize someone and have him in a deep trance and then you drop dead of heart failure. What would happen?” Actually, of course, if the hypnotist were to drop dead, that would terminate any cooperative, interpersonal relationship between the subject and the operator, and that would eliminate the entire situation. The subject would probably awaken to find out why the hypnotist was not more attentive.

Defining hypnosis

It is important to note first of all that, in everyday life, all persons evidence some types of hypnotic phenomena: the reverie, the abstraction, the absorption in an idea, the forgetting of many things. Many an individual, while listening to a lecture or a symphony, becomes so absorbed in what he is hearing that he becomes temporarily unaware of his surroundings or of some part of his surroundings: he may forget that he is sitting on a chair; he may forget that he is wearing shoes, but if this is drawn to his attention, he begins to feel his feet. Actually, he was capable of feeling his feet before this fact was mentioned, but he was not consciously aware of them. In ordinary consciousness one has a certain relationship to externalities and the total reality in which he lives. In hypnosis there is also a certain awareness of things, but it is much more channeled and concentrated.

The primary mark of the hypnotic trance is the capacity of the person to limit his thinking and feeling to his conceptual life, to memory images, visual images, auditory-sensory images of all sorts. It is his conceptual life, his experiential life with which he tends to deal, rather than irrelevant realities existing in his general environment.


It has already been indicated that hypnosis is not physiologic sleep. What is a trance? The word “trance” is a very handy term. It should be emphasized that a trance is a certain psychologic state of awareness that one can learn to recognize, and that it differs from the ordinary state of conscious awareness.

There are light, medium, and deep trances. The kind of trance needed is one that serves the purpose for the particular patient. If the purpose is to work on some profound physiologic problem, it might be best to seek a very deep, stuporous trance. Likewise, when working on a profound psychotherapeutic problem, a very deep trance might be desirable. Ordinarily, for other purposes, light or medium trances will be sufficient.

A major difficulty for the beginner will be to recognize and accept the fact that the phenomena of hypnosis appear in light trances, medium trances, and deep trances in rather disorderly fashion, depending on the capacity of the subject to respond. Thus, one subject will display the phenomena typical of a deep trance in what is actually a light trance, while another subject in a deep trance will show many of the phenomena of the light trance. The only kind of a trance to seek is the one that serves the purposes of the particular patient or the experimental subject. The beginner need not be disappointed if he has a light trance, or a medium trance, but never has a deep trance; he may obtain deep trances without recognizing them until he has had more experience.

Separateness of trance induction and trance state

If a man takes a trip somewhere, whatever develops at his destination is independent of the trip itself. The trip was one thing; his activity at the completion of the trip is another. Similarly, the induction of a trance is one thing, but the trance state itself and the utilization of it are entirely different matters. That is a basic reason for obtaining as much practice as possible in learning how to induce a trance. Once that is learned, the student can then be confronted with a major problem of what he is going to do with a trance state.


Another important factor is the matter of confidence. Recently a doctor was asked to hypnotize a subject. Everything went well until the operator asked the subject to review a book on chemistry. The operator did not believe that it would be possible for the subject, who was in a very deep trance, to review a book on chemistry. The operator manifested that lack of confidence immediately and the subject, awakened from the deep trance, asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

The importance of cooperation in hypnosis

The importance of cooperation in hypnosis has been mentioned earlier. The subject must cooperate with the hypnotist and, more than that, he must in turn cooperate with the subject very completely and thoroughly. Anesthesia cannot be induced in a subject if, at the time the anesthesia is suggested, the hypnotist is thinking, “But it won’t work; I know it will not work.” He will inevitably convey through the intonations of his voice and his inflections, his belief that it will not work. The hypnotic subject is going to be convinced by this. He is not going to pay attention merely to the words. He will pay more attention to the inflection. Everyone knows that a woman can say, “What a beautiful hat!” and the woman wearing it looks at the speaker as though she wants to murder her. The words are all right; the inflection happens to be all wrong.

In the matter of cooperation, one tries to deal with the subject as thoroughly and completely as possible. Remember that the subject is the important person.

Orientation should focus on the subject

One’s orientation should concern the subject, not himself. It is generally recognized that early in the practice of hypnosis, when the operator tries to hypnotize someone, he is likely to think, “What shall I say now; what shall I say next; how can I get him to do something?” Actually, the hypnotist should be thinking about his subject, wondering what next the subject can do. Would the subject like to levitate his hand? Would he like to close his eyes? Would he like to nod his head? In other words, the hypnotist’s thinking should always be oriented around the subject, not around the complete unimportance of what he himself can do in the process of hypnotizing the subject.


The question will come up over and over again: “How does one recognize the hypnotic trance?” The best way of learning this is to observe experienced hypnotists as closely as possible. In addition, during practice sessions, it is essential to watch the subject carefully, because the hypnotic subject is in contact with the hypnotist, in rapport with the operator. He is not necessarily in rapport with a wealth of other ideas; he is responding to the ideas within his head, rather than to externals. The result is that all his physical movements are altered. His face is immobile, ironed out in expression. There is a delay in his responses to external things. A subject may be told to look at the wall of the room to his left. In ordinary everyday life he would simply turn his head to face the wall, but in a trance he will turn his head and his eyes independently until both eyes and head are facing the wall. Moreover, there will be a time lag in his responses.

Here is an important thing that should help in the recognition of states of hypnosis. Catalepsy is not necessarily manifested in the way just described. Look at the eyeballs and see what type of eyeball movements the subject is making. Look at his face and see what sort of facial rigidity there is—the frozen face of the hypnotic subject, the loss of mobility. Look at the way the hypnotic subject walks and the economy of effort he expends.

Special motor phenomena

Margaret Mead made a motion picture study of the Balinese, who employ hypnosis extensively in their daily life. When the Balinese walk across a field, they may be consciously aware at the start but they lapse into the consciousness of the hypnotic state halfway across the field. Watching these movies, an observer can realize that there has been a sudden change in the motor activity of the walking. It is possible to recognize the exact point when the walker drifted into an autohypnotic state.

Economy of movement

Watching a subject do automatic writing in the trance state, one can note the economy of movement, the frozen face, the loss of mobility, the loss of reflexes, and the loss of swallowing. There is a failure to make involuntary reflex responses. For example: if someone were to turn and suddenly speak your name, there would be a tendency for the head to jerk, the shoulders to move, or the eyeballs to move. There would be a momentary hesitation of the lips, because of the response. The hypnotic subject would not do that. There is a certain tonicity throughout the body that prevents the subject’s doing that immediately.

Time lag

Another manifestation of hypnosis is that of time lag. One can suggest to the subject that his hand is going to lift, that sooner or later it is going to lift higher and higher and higher, that soon it will give a little jerk. It is a few seconds later that the jerk occurs. There is a time lag during which the hypnotic subject mentally digests and understands and puts into action the idea presented. It takes a little time for the response to be made.

Giving the subject time to respond

Too many persons work with a hypnotic subject and say, “Now I want you to do so and so,” and expect the subject to do it immediately. A subject needs time. If one is working with a subject in a group or audience situation and one wishes the subject to become negatively hallucinated, one can tell him, “The audience has left the room and there’s nobody here but you and me. There really isn’t. We are all alone.” The subject can look out over the audience and see everybody. But when one is willing to wait and there is no urgency that the subject develop negative hallucinations immediately, when one waits a little—perhaps five or ten minutes—the subject can look around and say, “Where did they go? I think it’s rather rude that they all left like that, but at least you and I can go ahead and have a good time discussing hypnosis.” He has had time for the psychoneurophysiologic processes necessary to blot out his perception of the visual stimuli afforded by the audience.


There is also a tendency for subjects to be literal in their behavior. If a subject is asked to raise his hand, he will lift it at the wrist and then perhaps lift the arm as well. Yet, in everyday life all of us have learned that raising our hands means lifting the arms as well. If a subject is asked, “Will you tell me your name?” he will respond with either “yes” or “no,” and that is actually the correct response. This literalness in the hypnotic subject’s behavior is especially important. When it is not recognized and observed, the hypnotist may very well not know what the suggestions were that he actually gave his subject and will therefore be at a loss to understand the behavior which develops.

Special techniques


One of the most important aspects of hypnosis is concerned with communication or words. Any surgeon ought to know what instruments, sutures, and sponges he has. Similarly, anyone interested in hypnosis should have some ideas of what words are, and how one communicates understandings and ideas to another person. A very brief illustration of this is the simple statement, “The teacher says the principal is a fool.” This is an easily understood statement. It communicates a certain idea. But how can exactly the same words be said to mean something that is entirely different? “The teacher,” says the principal, “is a fool.” There, another meaning, completely different, is expressed. The use of words has not been altered; the same words have been used, in the same order, but the pause gives an entirely different meaning.

When learning hypnosis, it is essential to listen carefully to what is being said to the subject, to understand why it is being said, and to make note of the inflections, the pauses, the words, and the sequence of ideas that are presented. As work progresses with subjects, their tremendous tendency to be literal will become apparent. An effort must be made to understand what hypnotic subjects understand by what is said. Primarily, the hypnotist must be constantly aware of just what he is saying to the subject.


Too many persons think that the best way of dealing with a subject is to give him direct suggestions, to order him, to command him, in order to induce or to bring about hypnotic phenomena. It is most important to recognize that the communication of ideas, thoughts, or feelings to hypnotic subjects can be accomplished not only by direct authority methods. It can also be suggested indirectly. For the most effective use of hypnosis, it is essential to study the hypnotic suggestions given, to appreciate the importance of indirect suggestions.

One does not tell the contrary little baby, “Go outdoors and play,” for the baby then knows it is a good time to stay in the house and irritate his mother. One wonders, instead, if there is a bird out in the back yard and the contrary little baby goes out there to see the bird and everybody is pleased. Good hypnotic suggestions are not always necessarily direct. Indirect suggestions may be even more effective for indirect suggestions enlist the participation of the subject.


Spontaneous arousing of the patient

A number of points should be stressed. One of them is the matter of hypnotizing a patient, working with him, and having him suddenly and spontaneously rouse from the trance state. Many operators are very much at a loss when this happens. It may represent an error in their own understanding or an error in their technique, or it may represent a need on the part of the patient. The hypnotist must be aware of the fact that a subject can arouse at any time that he pleases, even if this does not happen to please the operator. In all work with a patient, it is necessary to bear in mind that each new procedure is a new experience for the patient. Since this is so, the question arises in his mind, “Should I remain in a trance for this procedure?” Therefore, in inducing a trance, it is essential to point out what procedures are going to be used and to instruct the patient that, as long as he remains in the special situation, the trance is to be maintained unless given instructions otherwise. As part of his interpersonal contact with the patient, the dentist in particular should make brief comment from time to time about the importance of remaining relaxed, should compliment the patient upon the relaxation of his arms or of his face or of his neck. The trance must be reinforced continually.

Allowing patient to arouse and go back into trance

If the patient has the need to arouse, the operator will soon find that out and can give a posthypnotic suggestion to the effect that the patient can arouse at any moment, take a look around, and go right back into the trance. Some patients need to have that particular assurance before they can continue in a deep trance. Thus, a dentist may extract a half dozen teeth and want to proceed to something else. The patient, however, wants to rouse to see how things are progressing. He arouses and looks around. It is a very natural inclination. If the dentist has given him the posthypnotic suggestion that he can look around and drift right back into the trance state, that is what he usually does.

Lapse of patient into sleep when neglected

Another question that has been raised is about the reverse sequence. A doctor will have the experience of putting his patient into a trance, doing some work, then stepping out of the office, coming back and, to his surprise, finding the patient in physiologic night-time sleep. This can happen, especially with children, but now and then it happens with adult patients. By stepping out of the office, by discontinuing his contact with the patient, the doctor terminates the trance, but the patient feels so comfortable, so relaxed, and drowsy that he immediately shifts into physiologic sleep. With this type of patient, it is sufficient to point out that he can enjoy all the satisfactions of night-time sleep and remain in the trance, even though the hypnotist has discontinued his contact with him very briefly to answer the phone or to step out to see another patient. It ought not to be a problem, but it should be something of which to be aware as a possibility.

Refusal to arouse

With patients who object to certain suggestions, the hypnotist is entitled to bring about other phenomena in order to achieve his purposes. Now and then he will encounter a refractory patient who flatly, absolutely refuses to arouse; probably the psychiatrist encounters these patients more often than they are seen in the other professions. In such a case, all the hypnotist needs to do is to recognize one fact: It was he who induced the trance, it was a cooperative venture, and now the patient is insisting upon continuing it. The hypnotist may have induced the trance by the suggestions that the patient get tired, sleepy, that his eyes close, that he relax more and more, go deeper and deeper into trance. All he needs to do now is to reverse the record. “You’re deep in trance now and you do not want to arouse. You’re really in deep trance.” The patient has to agree with this. “But you’re beginning to arouse just a little bit, your relaxation is disappearing just a little. Hang onto it just as long as you can, but it’s disappearing just a little bit at a time and, even though you’re trying hard to stay in trance, you are arousing a bit more and just a little bit more, rousing more and more and more.” All of this is the exact reversal of the procedure that was used to put the patient into the deep trance. He can also tell the refractory patient, “I want you to be sure to continue in trance. I want you to be sure to remain deeply in trance until you get the signal to arouse. Shall I give you the signal now or five minutes from now?”

When a child refuses to go to bed on time, the parent can ask, “Do you want to go to bed at eight or five after eight?” They certainly are going to choose the five minutes after 8:00. It is the patient’s commitment of himself to arouse at a signal rather than now. Yet the operator has really pleased the patient by letting him have his way, instead of forcibly compelling him to follow the operator’s will. That is the important thing.

Hypnotic phenomena

Before discussing hypnotic phenomena as such, it is important to add something to the concepts of general orientation and to some of the basic theories of hypnosis. All human nature is characterized by the ability to respond to ideas and the capacity for accepting them, elaborating them, and developing them. In hypnosis the subject is particularly responsive to ideas. The capacity to respond to ideas is of special value. Every physician and every dentist knows the experience of wishing that he could talk sense to his patients. With the utilization of hypnotic techniques, the practitioner has the opportunity of getting a patient into a psychologic state of awareness in which he can actually listen to the ideas offered.

The capacity to respond, to be hypnotized, merely means that there has been manifested and developed, rather adequately, our ability to listen to, to receive, and to respond to various ideas and thoughts: to a mental concept, in other words. One of the striking phenomena of hypnosis is the ability of the hypnotic subject to substitute mental ideas, visual, auditory, and tactile images for actual, concrete reality. A waking person can look at a glass of water and he thinks about the glass of water in terms of a particular silicate structure with H2O in it. But the hypnotic subject has an idea of what a glass of water looks like, of what it should be, and he can see the glass of water because he can substitute his mental image for the real one. He can actually see a glass of water that is not really there. He is using his mental images, his memories and understandings of how a glass of water appears. Thus, in hypnosis the subject is taught to respond to ideas and thoughts, to feelings and concepts, as well as to reality objects.

The phenomena of hypnosis are rather extensive. Brief definitions or discussions will be given of a number of phenomena. Every professional user of hypnosis needs to be aware of the variety of experiences that he will encounter when he uses hypnosis in his own practice.

First of all, the difference between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. It is common experience to talk about things being in the back of one’s mind, in the depths of the mind, or in the forgotten part of the mind; one can also readily think about the conscious mind. Those minds—the conscious mind and the unconscious mind—exist within the same person. The unconscious mind is constantly feeding the conscious mind.

It is possible to emphasize this distinction by mentioning something entirely unrelated. Take the word “house.” Just to hear the word or to see it unexpectedly brings forth a flood of memories. Yet, where were they just the moment before? Another example: most individuals would declare emphatically that they are well aware of themselves and that they know what is going on, but, as mentioned before, until the individual’s attention is specifically directed to the feeling of shoes on his feet, he is not likely to be particularly aware of them. Thus one’s attention can be directed to this or to that particular phenomenon that has been going on without conscious awareness.

When using hypnosis, the particular phenomenon that should be employed is this direction of attention to things within the subjects or patients, so that they can attend to these and be directed to utilize their own capacities to respond to ideas. The hypnotist wants his patient capable of responding to any idea, any concept, whether it be anesthesia, memory, or otherwise.


One of the first conditions of the trance state to be noticed is that of rapport. Exactly what is meant by rapport? It is that peculiar relationship, existing between subject and operator, wherein, since it is a cooperative endeavor, the subject’s attention is directed to the operator, and the operator’s attention is directed to the subject. Hence, the subject tends to pay no attention to externals or the environmental situation, to respond only to the person doing the hypnotizing.

Subject’s choice of persons with whom to be in rapport


A medical student brought his wife in with the request that she be taught to go into a trance for hypnotic delivery. She demanded that her husband be present. She wanted to be in rapport with him. She also brought in a former classmate of hers, a female medical student with whom she also wished to be in rapport. When she was put into a trance, she found herself in rapport with her classmate, out of rapport with her husband, and in rapport with the hypnotist. It was only consciously that she thought she wanted to be in rapport with her husband.

The subject always has the privilege of including in the hypnotic situation anything that he wants. He also has the right to exclude from the hypnotic situation anything that he wishes.

Transfer of rapport

Rapport can be transferred from one person to another. Thus, one could hypnotize a subject and be in complete rapport with that person, and that subject in complete rapport with the hypnotist alone. But the hypnotist could ask the subject to be in rapport with someone else who, in turn, could transfer the rapport to still another individual, who could suggest a termination of the trance with the original hypnotist.

The matter of rapport is a very important consideration because it is based upon trust and confidence in the persons who are involved.


By catalepsy is meant that peculiar state of balanced muscle tonicity where a subject in the deep hypnotic trance is enabled to remain in a set position for an indefinite period of time. Thus, the subject’s arm can be raised and it remains elevated. Catalepsy is a phenomenon that may appear in the light, medium, deep, or stuporous trance.

It should be re-emphasized here that all hypnotic phenomena, in the main, do not necessarily belong to any one particular stage of hypnosis. Catalepsy can be present in the light stage and absent in the deep stage, or present in the deep stage, not present in the medium stage, but present in the light stage. Each subject is a law unto himself; he manifests the various types of hypnotic phenomena in accord with his own experiential life.


Another significant phenomenon is ideomotor activity. What is meant by ideomotor activity? A person can be sitting in the back seat of a car, mentally braking the car with the pressure of his foot on the floor until he notices that his leg is getting tired. Then he takes his foot off the floor but, before he knows it, he may have his foot on the “brake” again. He may go to a football game, eager for his team to forge ahead. As he watches the game, he bends forward until he is touching his neighbor and has to apologize. A few minutes later, he may be leaning over and touching that person again. A number of hypnotic techniques are based upon ideomotor activity. Some of them will be illustrated in the text in the descriptions of hand levitation or related procedures.

Another form of ideomotor activity is automatic writing. Here, one offers to the subject the idea that his hand will pick up a pencil and will write a sentence, a phrase, or a whole story, giving an account of some long-forgotten experience. As the subject gets the idea of picking up a pencil and actually writing, his arm becomes dissociated and proceeds to write freely and easily. Automatic writing can be used to advantage by the psychiatrist, physician, dentist, or clinical psychologist.


Just as there can be ideomotor activity, so can there be ideosensory activity. Take, for example, the lover, who gazes intently into the fireplace and lets the flames outline his sweetheart’s face, or the girl who lies on the beach, looking at the filmy clouds above and seeing a beautiful dress. Consider the patient sitting in the dental chair, who recalls that once before a dentist used procaine and made his jaw numb. He sits there with all the sensations of numbness imaginable, just from hypnotic suggestions. That is the development of ideosensory activity.


The visual life of the person is connected with his auditory, gustatory, and tactile life. When one induces a visual alteration in the person’s experience, one is also likely to induce some auditory alterations, unknowingly. The various aspects of the experiential life of a person are interrelated. It is helpful to bear this in mind. When difficulty is experienced in producing, for example, visual hallucinations, these can often be accelerated and promoted by bringing about an alteration of the subject’s auditory experience, or an alteration of his sensory experience.

The dentist reports that he can have a child look at an imaginary television screen or a window with a patterned curtain on it and see things there. Because the child hallucinates things there, the child develops an anesthesia all the better. In working with hypnosis, it is important to remember that there are relationships of all the modalities of experience.


There can be any number and variety of sensory alterations. One can produce hallucinations in the visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, or kinesthetic field, in any way that is desired, if the subjects are given an opportunity to vary their psychoneurophysiologic processes. Hallucinations of all sorts, positive and negative, can be elicited. In positive hallucinations something is seen that is not there: in negative hallucinations, there is failure to see something that is actually present.


A subject recently reported, “I’m not really in a trance, and what I cannot understand is that I hear everything that is going on in this room. I know my eyes are shut. I know I am fully conscious. I am certain that I am not hypnotized, but why do I have the feeling that I am in the living room of my childhood home? Because I can see the walls and I can see the pictures and I can feel the floor with my feet, but I know I’m not hypnotized and I really am wide awake.”

Frank J was actually experiencing a positive hallucination, the revivification of a past memory that was part of his mental history, his experiential history. He was actually experiencing it, while at the same time he had a conscious awareness of his surroundings. This is one example of a particular type of dissociation, with a duality of conscious and unconscious functioning.


What is amnesia? In everyday living it is possible to forget literally and instantly, things that seem impossible to forget. It is a frequent and embarrassing experience to be introduced to someone, to repeat his name, utter a few polite remarks, then wonder what his name is. A man stops for directions, listens very carefully, but as he turns his attention to staring off down the road, he asks himself, “Now just what did he tell me?”

It should be borne in mind that the hypnotic subject has had plenty of experience in forgetting any number of things. The hypnotist helping him to develop an amnesia for a certain thing is merely utilizing that capacity of the individual to forget, directing it to some one given thing.

The best way to produce an amnesia is by distracting the subject’s attention and then proceeding to utilize the knowledge of hypnotic techniques. In the hypnotic state, the subject can direct his attention to the forgetting of things. Often in a light trance there is a tendency for the subject to forget a few of the things that occurred. He may have the feeling that he has actually remembered them all, however, because he cannot remember that he has forgotten some of the things.

Amnesia is a common phenomenon in the trance state. In the deep trance, the subject can go into a profound hypnotic state and awaken from it an hour later, after a wealth of activity, and still think he has just entered the office. Amnesia is one of the phenomena that tends to develop spontaneously. It may vary from time to time, according either to the purposes of the operator or the purposes that the subject wants served.


Selective amnesia is still another phenomenon. Here the word “selective” is the important thing. Since there can be selective hallucinations of all sorts, it is possible to have selective amnesias: it is possible to forget the names of all friends whose first names begin with the letter “J,” for example. A subject can single out all those persons whose first names begin with the letter “J,” and develop an amnesia for these names. Or he can develop a negative hallucination or selective blindness for everybody in the audience who has white hair.

Thus the subject can be asked to develop an amnesia for certain experiences or certain classes of experiences, for certain attitudes or for certain learnings. Since the subject is capable of responding to ideas in the hypnotic trance, one needs merely to direct the ideas to which the subject is to respond.


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Dec 10, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on The Phenomena of Hypnosis
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