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Hypnosis is a mental state (state theory) or set of attitudes (nonstate theory) usually induced by a procedure known as a hypnotic induction, which is commonly composed of a series of preliminary instructions and suggestions. Hypnotic suggestions may be delivered by a hypnotist in the presence of the subject (“hetero-suggestion”), or may be self-administered (“self-suggestion” or “autosuggestion”). The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as “hypnotherapy”.

The words ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotism’ both derive from the term “neuro-hypnotism” (nervous sleep) coined by the Scottish physician and surgeon James Braid around 1841 to distinguish his theory and practice from those developed by Franz Anton Mesmer and his followers (“Mesmerism” or “animal magnetism”).

Although a popular misconception is that hypnosis is a form of unconsciousness resembling sleep, contemporary research suggests that it is actually a wakeful state of focused attention[1] and heightened suggestibility,[2] with diminished peripheral awareness.[3]

In the first book on the subject, Neurypnology (1843), Braid described “hypnotism” as a state of physical relaxation (“nervous sleep”) accompanied and induced by mental concentration (“abstraction”).[4]


Skeptics point out the difficulty distinguishing between hypnosis and the placebo effect, proposing that the state called hypnosis is

[…] so heavily reliant upon the effects of suggestion and belief that it would be hard to imagine how a credible placebo control could ever be devised for a hypnotism study.[5]”

However, hypnotism itself originated out of very early placebo controlled experiments, conducted by Braid and others. Many researchers and clinicians would therefore object that hypnotic suggestion is explicitly intended to make use of the placebo effect, e.g., Irving Kirsch has proposed a definition of hypnosis as a “non-deceptive mega-placebo”, i.e., a method which openly makes use of suggestion and employs methods to amplify its effects. It is therefore surprisingly difficult to distinguish between the views of skeptics and proponents regarding hypnotism.


The earliest definition of hypnosis was given by Braid, who coined the term “hypnotism” as an abbreviation for “neuro-hypnotism”, or nervous sleep, which he opposed to normal sleep, and defined as:

a peculiar condition of the nervous system, induced by a fixed and abstracted attention of the mental and visual eye, on one object, not of an exciting nature.[6]

Braid elaborated upon this brief definition in a later work,

[…] the real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition, is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as, for the nonce, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought. The hypnotic sleep, therefore, is the very antithesis or opposite mental and physical condition to that which precedes and accompanies common sleep […] [7]

Braid therefore defined hypnotism as a state of mental concentration which often led to a form of progressive relaxation termed “nervous sleep”. Later, in his The Physiology of Fascination (1855), Braid conceded that his original terminology was misleading, and argued that the term “hypnotism” or “nervous sleep” should be reserved for the minority (10%) of subjects who exhibited amnesia, substituting the term “monoideism”, meaning concentration upon a single idea, as a description for the more alert state experienced by the others.

A modern account of hypnosis, derived from academic psychology, was provided in 2005, when the Society for Psychological Hypnosis, Division 30 of the American Psychological Association (APA), published the following formal definition,

The American Psychological Association’s Definition of Hypnosis
Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one’s imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction. A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions. When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior. Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one’s own. If the subject responds to hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced. Many believe that hypnotic responses and experiences are characteristic of a hypnotic state. While some think that it is not necessary to use the word “hypnosis” as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential.

Details of hypnotic procedures and suggestions will differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and the purposes of the clinical or research endeavor. Procedures traditionally involve suggestions to relax, though relaxation is not necessary for hypnosis and a wide variety of suggestions can be used including those to become more alert. Suggestions that permit the extent of hypnosis to be assessed by comparing responses to standardized scales can be used in both clinical and research settings. While the majority of individuals are responsive to at least some suggestions, scores on standardized scales range from high to negligible.[8]


Hypnosis is normally preceded by a “hypnotic induction” technique. Traditionally this was interpreted as a method of putting the subject into a “hypnotic trance”, however subsequent “nonstate” theorists have viewed it differently, as a means of heightening client expectation, defining their role, focusing attention, etc. There are an enormous variety of different induction techniques used in hypnotism. However, by far the most influential method was the original “eye-fixation” technique of Braid, also known as “Braidism”. Many variations of the eye-fixation approach exist, including the induction used in the Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS), the most widely-used research tool in the field of hypnotism. Braid’s original description of his induction is as follows,

James Braid’s Original Eye-Fixation Hypnotic Induction Method
Take any bright object (I generally use my lancet case) between the thumb and fore and middle fingers of the left hand; hold it from about eight to fifteen inches from the eyes, at such position above the forehead as may be necessary to produce the greatest possible strain upon the eyes and eyelids, and enable the patient to maintain a steady fixed stare at the object.

The patient must be made to understand that he is to keep the eyes steadily fixed on the object, and the mind riveted on the idea of that one object. It will be observed, that owing to the consensual adjustment of the eyes, the pupils will be at first contracted: they will shortly begin to dilate, and after they have done so to a considerable extent, and have assumed a wavy motion, if the fore and middle fingers of the right hand, extended and a little separated, are carried from the object towards the eyes, most probably the eyelids will close involuntarily, with a vibratory motion. If this is not the case, or the patient allows the eyeballs to move, desire him to begin anew, giving him to understand that he is to allow the eyelids to close when the fingers are again carried towards the eyes, but that the eyeballs must be kept fixed, in the same position, and the mind riveted to the one idea of the object held above the eyes. It will generally be found, that the eyelids close with a vibratory motion, or become spasmodically closed.[9]

Braid himself later acknowledged that the hypnotic induction technique was not necessary in every case and subsequent researchers have generally found that on average it contributes less than previously expected to the effect of hypnotic suggestions (q.v., Barber, Spanos & Chaves, 1974). Many variations and alternatives to the original hypnotic induction techniques were subsequently developed. However, exactly 100 years after Braid introduced the method, another expert could still state: “It can be safely stated that nine out of ten hypnotic techniques call for reclining posture, muscular relaxation, and optical fixation followed by eye closure.”[10]


Main article: Suggestion

When Braid first introduced hypnotism, he did not use the term “suggestion” but referred instead to the act of focusing the conscious mind of the subject upon a single dominant idea. Braid’s main therapeutic strategy involved stimulating or reducing physiological functioning in different regions of the body. In his later works, however, Braid placed increasing emphasis upon the use of a variety of different verbal and non-verbal forms of suggestion, including the use of “waking suggestion” and self-hypnosis. Subsequently, Hippolyte Bernheim shifted the emphasis from the physical state of hypnosis on to the psychological process of verbal suggestion.

I define hypnotism as the induction of a peculiar psychical [i.e., mental] condition which increases the susceptibility to suggestion. Often, it is true, the [hypnotic] sleep that may be induced facilitates suggestion, but it is not the necessary preliminary. It is suggestion that rules hypnotism. (Hypnosis & Suggestion, 1884: 15)

Bernheim’s conception of the primacy of verbal suggestion in hypnotism dominated the subject throughout the twentieth century, leading some authorities to declare him the father of modern hypnotism (Weitzenhoffer, 2000). Contemporary hypnotism makes use of a wide variety of different forms of suggestion including: direct verbal suggestions, “indirect” verbal suggestions such as requests or insinuations, metaphors and other rhetorical figures of speech, and non-verbal suggestion in the form of mental imagery, voice tonality, and physical manipulation. A distinction is commonly made between suggestions delivered “permissively” or in a more “authoritarian” manner. Some hypnotic suggestions are intended to bring about immediate responses, whereas others (post-hypnotic suggestions) are intended to trigger responses after a delay ranging from a few minutes to many years in some reported cases.

Consciousness vs. unconscious mind Edit

Some hypnotists conceive of suggestions as being a form of communication directed primarily to the subject’s conscious mind, whereas others view suggestion as a means of communicating with the “unconscious” or “subconscious” mind. These concepts were introduced into hypnotism at the end of 19th century by Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet. The original Victorian pioneers of hypnotism, including Braid and Bernheim, did not employ these concepts but considered hypnotic suggestions to be addressed to the subject’s conscious mind. Indeed, Braid actually defines hypnotism as focused (conscious) attention upon a dominant idea (or suggestion). Different views regarding the nature of the mind have led to different conceptions of suggestion. Hypnotists who believed that responses are mediated primarily by an “unconscious mind”, like Milton Erickson, made more use of indirect suggestions, such as metaphors or stories, whose intended meaning may be concealed from the subject’s conscious mind. The concept of subliminal suggestion also depends upon this view of the mind. By contrast, hypnotists who believed that responses to suggestion are primarily mediated by the conscious mind, such as Theodore Barber and Nicholas Spanos tended to make more use of direct verbal suggestions and instructions.

Ideo-dynamic reflex Edit

Main article: ideo motor response

The first neuro-psychological theory of hypnotic suggestion was introduced early on by James Braid who adopted his friend and colleague William Carpenter’s theory of the ideo-motor reflex response to account for the phenomena of hypnotism. Carpenter had observed from close examination of everyday experience that under certain circumstances the mere idea of a muscular movement could be sufficient to produce a reflexive, or automatic, contraction or movement of the muscles involved, albeit in a very small degree. Braid extended Carpenter’s theory to encompass the observation that a wide variety of bodily responses, other than muscular movement, can be thus affected, e.g., the idea of sucking a lemon can automatically stimulate salivation, a secretory response. Braid therefore adopted the term “ideo-dynamic”, meaning “by the power of an idea” to explain a broad range of “psycho-physiological” (mind-body) phenomena. Braid coined the term “mono-ideodynamic” to refer to the theory that hypnotism operates by concentrating attention on a single idea in order to amplify the ideo-dynamic reflex response. Variations of the basic ideo-motor or ideo-dynamic theory of suggestion have continued to hold considerable influence over subsequent theories of hypnosis, including those of Clark L. Hull, Hans Eysenck, and Ernest Rossi. It should be noted that in Victorian psychology, the word “idea” encompasses any mental representation, e.g., including mental imagery, or memories, etc.

Post-hypnotic suggestion Edit

Main article: Post-hypnotic suggestion

Post-hypnotic suggestion can be used to change people’s behavior after emerging from hypnosis. One author wrote that “a person can act, some time later, on a suggestion seeded during the hypnotic session… A hypnotherapist told one of his patients, who was also a friend: ‘When I touch you on the finger you will immediately be hypnotized.’ Fourteen years later, at a dinner party, he touched him deliberately on the finger and his head fell back against the chair.”[11]

File:SB – Altay shaman with gong.jpg

Susceptibility Edit

Main article: Hypnotic susceptibility

Braid made a rough distinction between different stages of hypnosis which he termed the first and second conscious stage of hypnotism, he later replaced this with a distinction between “sub-hypnotic”, “full hypnotic”, and “hypnotic coma” stages. Jean-Martin Charcot made a similar distinction between stages named somnambulism, lethargy, and catalepsy. However, Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault and Bernheim introduced more complex hypnotic “depth” scales, based on a combination of behavioural, physiological and subjective responses, some of which were due to direct suggestion and some of which were not. In the first few decades of the 20th century, these early clinical “depth” scales were superseded by more sophisticated “hypnotic susceptibility” scales based on experimental research. The most influential were the Davis-Husband and Friedlander-Sarbin scales developed in the 1930s. Andre Weitzenhoffer and Ernest R. Hilgard developed the Stanford Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility in 1959, consisting of 12 suggestion test items following a standardised hypnotic eye-fixation induction script, and this has become one of the most widely-referenced research tools in the field of hypnosis. Soon after, in 1962, Ronald Shor and Emily Carota Orne developed a similar group scale called the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (HGSHS).

Whereas the older “depth scales” tried to infer the level of “hypnotic trance” based upon supposed observable signs, such as spontaneous amnesia, most subsequent scales measure the degree of observed or self-evaluated responsiveness to specific suggestion tests, such as direct suggestions of arm rigidity (catalepsy).

Main article: History of hypnosis


It is often said that there are as many definitions of hypnosis as there are hypnotists. Researchers and clinicians have different requirements from explanations of hypnosis and consequently the focus of theories from these respective fields can vary dramatically.

One fundamental distinction in hypnosis theory is between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ approaches to hypnosis. State theorists believe that hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, whereas non-state theorists believe that hypnotic effects are the product of more mundane psychological processes such as absorption and expectancy. Note how the APA definition (below), essentially a consensus statement from a broad range of researchers and clinicians, remains neutral with respect to this argument.

American Psychological AssociationEdit

Hypnosis typically involves an introduction to the procedure during which the subject is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented. The hypnotic induction is an extended initial suggestion for using one’s imagination, and may contain further elaborations of the introduction. A hypnotic procedure is used to encourage and evaluate responses to suggestions. When using hypnosis, one person (the subject) is guided by another (the hypnotist) to respond to suggestions for changes in subjective experience, alterations in perception, sensation, emotion, thought or behavior. Persons can also learn self-hypnosis, which is the act of administering hypnotic procedures on one’s own. If the subject responds to hypnotic suggestions, it is generally inferred that hypnosis has been induced. Many believe that hypnotic responses and experiences are characteristic of a hypnotic state. While some think that it is not necessary to use the word “hypnosis” as part of the hypnotic induction, others view it as essential.

Details of hypnotic procedures and suggestions will differ depending on the goals of the practitioner and the purposes of the clinical or research endeavor. Procedures traditionally involve suggestions to relax, though relaxation is not necessary for hypnosis and a wide variety of suggestions can be used including those to become more alert. Suggestions that permit the extent of hypnosis to be assessed by comparing responses to standardized scales can be used in both clinical and research settings. While the majority of individuals are responsive to at least some suggestions, scores on standardized scales range from high to negligible. Traditionally, scores are grouped into low, medium, and high categories. As is the case with other positively-scaled measures of psychological constructs such as attention and awareness, the salience of evidence for having achieved hypnosis increases with the individual’s score.

(see Complete definition and description.)

John KihlstromEdit

Professor Kihlstrom of the University of California, Berkeley, defines hypnosis: “Hypnosis is a social interaction in which one person, the hypnotist, gives suggestions to another person, the subject, for imaginative experiences involving alterations in perception, memory, and the voluntary control of action. In the classic instance, these suggested experiences are accompanied by a degree of subjective conviction bordering on delusion, and an experience of involuntariness bordering on compulsion.”

(see [1].)

Michael YapkoEdit

Michael Yapko defines hypnosis: “…hypnosis is a process of influential communication in which the clinician elicits and guides the inner associations of the client in order to establish or strengthen therapeutic associations in the context of a collaborative and mutually responsive goal-oriented relationship. (Yapko, M.. Hypnosis and the Treatment of Depressions. Brunner/Mazel Inc., New York, New York, ISBN 0-87630-682-2, p. 37)

Theta State-basedEdit

Some physiological definitions of hypnosis assert that a predominantly alpha state is required for successful therapeutic change, others assert that predominantly theta activity is the marker of hypnosis. Many lay definitions of hypnosis stem from a misunderstanding of what the EEG data means, and trying to define hypnosis as either an alpha or theta state is likely to be a gross oversimplification. It is important to note that non-hypnotized subjects can be found in any of these states of cortical arousal without also displaying any of the behavior, traits or the enhanced suggestibility associated with being hypnotized. Some sophisticated, and scientifically testable, models of brain activity in hypnosis have been developed (see Gruzelier’s Neuropsychological Model below).

A scientific theory attempts to describe and explain the behaviour of a natural or social phenomenon, following the principles of the scientific method. Good theories produce testable hypotheses which can be supported or refuted by experimental data. There are unfortunately many vague and untestable theories of hypnosis which continue to circulate, but high quality research is still published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

One fundamental distinction is between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ theories of hypnosis. State theorists believe that an altered state of consciousness is a core part of hypnosis, whereas non-state theoriests believe that more mundane psychological processess such as focussed attention and expectation are sufficient to explain hypnotic phenomenon. The precise definition of what constitutes an altered state of consciousness is a matter of some debate. Although many people who are hypnotised describe their experience as ‘altered’ it is difficult to use these terms in the absence of a prior definition.

One final thing to say about theories is that they can work at different levels of description. Some theories of hypnosis attempt to describe hypnotic phenomenon in terms of brain activity while others concentrate more on the phenomenological experience. Both are valuable and a unified theory is a laudable goal.

Dissociation and neodissociation theoriesEdit

Pierre Janet originally developed the idea of dissociation, literally a splitting-off of some components of consciousness, as a result of his work with hysterical patients. He believed that hypnosis was an example of dissociation: areas of an individual’s behavioral control are split off from ordinary awareness. In this case, hypnosis would remove some control from the conscious mind and the individual will respond with autonomic, reflexive behavior. Weitzenhoffer describes hypnosis via this theory as “dissociation of awareness from the majority of sensory and even strictly neural events taking place.”[2]

Ernest Hilgard developed Janet’s ideas and published his neodissociation theory in 1977. His theory, a classic ‘state’ theory, postulated an excutive ego (essentially a central executive system in today’s cognitive psychological terms) which became dissociated from sub-components via an ‘amnesic barrier’. Suggestions from a hypnotist could produce alterations in perception and behaviour, which were explainable in terms of these dissociated sub-systems. Hilgard’s ideas were influenced by his discovery of the ‘hidden observer’ phenomenon, a process by which different components of consciousness were investigated (other researchers, notably Spanos, believed the hidden observer to be an experimental artifact).

Social constructionism / Role-playing theoryEdit

Generally, under hypnosis people become more receptive to suggestion, causing changes in the way they feel, think, and behave. Some psychologists (such as Sarbin and Spanos) have suggested that hypnosis is a social construct, so well-known that strong social expectations are played out by subjects, who believe they are in a state of hypnosis, behaving in a way that they imagine a hypnotized person would behave. Much experimental work has demonstrated that the experiences of hypnotized subjects can be dramatically shaped by expectations and social nuances. This view is often misunderstood: it does not discount the claim that hypnotized individuals are truly experiencing suggested effects, just that the mechanism by which this has taken place has in part been socially constructed and is not necessarily reliant on the idea of an altered state of consciousness

Barber theorizes that hypnosis is not a state or a trance and is not produced as the result of suggestions. He suggests that hypnosis is based on a number of overlapping variables, but, primarily, that interpersonal relationships allow the operator to restructure perceptions and conceptions of the subject. He theorizes that this occurs because the subject is relatively inattentive to the environment and, because of this misdirection of attention, the subject is willing to think as the hypnotist wants them to think.[3]

Neuropsychological theory of hypnosisEdit

Neuropsychological theories of hypnosis attempt to explain hypnotic phenomenon in terms of alterations in brain activity. Gruzelier, based on large amounts of EEG research, proposed that hypnosis is characterised by a shift in brain activity from anterior (front) to posterior (back).

Hypnosis as a state of hysteriaEdit

Charcot postulated that hypnosis was a symptom of hysteria and that only those people experiencing hysteria were believed to be hypnotizable.[4] Although those exhibiting hysteria seem to be more suggestible, normal individuals are, indeed, hypnotizable which calls this theory into question.

Hypnosis as a conditioned process leading to sleepEdit

Ivan Pavlov believed that hypnosis was a “partial sleep”. He observed that the various degrees of hypnosis didn’t significantly differ physiologically from the waking state and hypnosis depended on insignificant changes of environmental stimuli. Pavlov also suggested that lower brain stem mechanisms were involved in hypnotic conditioning.[5]

Although some modern researchers still subscribe to this theory, Kroger states “during deep sleep, conditioned reflexes and physiological responses to a repeatedly given stimulus cannot be established, whereas in hypnosis the learning of conditioned reflexes is enhanced over and above that of the nonhypnotic state.”

In hypnosis, the subject typically appears to be asleep because of eye closure that is typically part of the induction procedure, but there is quite a bit of literature on blood pressure, reflexes, physiochemical and EEG studies which indicates that hypnosis more closely resembles complete wakefulness.[6]

Role-playing theoryEdit

This theory suggests that individuals are playing a role and allowing the hypnotist to create a reality for them. This relationship depends on how much rapport has been established between the hypnotist and the subject (see Hawthorne effect, Pygmalion effect, and the Placebo effect).

Hyper–suggestibility theoryEdit

Currently a more popular theory, it states the subject’s attention is narrowed by certain techniques used by the hypnotist. As attention is narrowed, the hypnotist’s words eventually take over the inner voice of the subject. From this theory comes the implication that only gullible or weak-minded people are suggestible. Some people, however, find the narrowing of attention to be desirable. Milton H. Erickson was said to have told his subjects, “… and my voice will go with you,” meaning that Erickson’s voice would be a comforting presence in the face of adversity and trouble.

Informational theoryEdit

This theory applies the concept of the brain-as-computer model. In electronic systems, a system adjusts its feedback networks to increase the signal-to-noise ratio for optimum functioning, called a “steady state”. Increasing the receptability of a receptor enables messages to be more clearly received from a transmitter primarily by trying to reduce the interference (noise) as much as possible. Thus, the object of the hypnotist is to use techniques to reduce the interference and increase the receptability of specific messages (suggestions).

Main article: History of hypnosis


According to his writings, Braid began to hear reports concerning the practices of various Oriental meditation techniques immediately after the publication of his major book on hypnotism, Neurypnology (1843). Braid first discusses hypnotism’s historical precursors in a series of articles entitled Magic, Mesmerism, Hypnotism, etc., Historically & Physiologically Considered. He draws analogies between his own practice of hypnotism and various forms of Hindu yoga meditation and other ancient spiritual practices. Braid’s interest in meditation really developed when he was introduced to the Dabistān-i Mazāhib, the “School of Religions”, an ancient Persian text describing a wide variety of Oriental religious practices.

Last May [1843], a gentleman residing in Edinburgh, personally unknown to me, who had long resided in India, favoured me with a letter expressing his approbation of the views which I had published on the nature and causes of hypnotic and mesmeric phenomena. In corroboration of my views, he referred to what he had previously witnessed in oriental regions, and recommended me to look into the “Dabistan,” a book lately published, for additional proof to the same effect. On much recommendation I immediately sent for a copy of the “Dabistan”, in which I found many statements corroborative of the fact, that the eastern saints are all self-hypnotisers, adopting means essentially the same as those which I had recommended for similar purposes.[13]

Although he disputed the religious interpretation given to these phenomena throughout this article and elsewhere in his writings, Braid seized upon these accounts of Oriental meditation as proof that the effects of hypnotism could be produced in solitude, without the presence of a magnetiser, and therefore saw this as evidence that the real precursor of hypnotism was to be sought in the ancient practices of meditation rather than in the more recent theory and practice of Mesmerism. As he later wrote,

Inasmuch as patients can throw themselves into the nervous sleep, and manifest all the usual phenomena of Mesmerism, through their own unaided efforts, as I have so repeatedly proved by causing them to maintain a steady fixed gaze at any point, concentrating their whole mental energies on the idea of the object looked at; or that the same may arise by the patient looking at the point of his own finger, or as the Magi of Persia and Yogi of India have practised for the last 2,400 years, for religious purposes, throwing themselves into their ecstatic trances by each maintaining a steady fixed gaze at the tip of his own nose; it is obvious that there is no need for an exoteric influence to produce the phenomena of Mesmerism. […] The great object in all these processes is to induce a habit of abstraction or concentration of attention, in which the subject is entirely absorbed with one idea, or train of ideas, whilst he is unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, every other object, purpose, or action. [14]

Franz MesmerEdit

Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) believed that there was a magnetic force or “fluid” within the universe which influenced the health of the human body. He experimented with magnets to influence this field and so cause healing. By around 1774 he had concluded that the same effects could be created by passing the hands, at a distance, in front of the subject’s body, referred to as making “Mesmeric passes.” The word mesmerize originates from the name of Franz Mesmer; and was intentionally used to separate its users from the various “fluid” and “magnetic” theories embedded within the label “magnetist”.

In 1784, at the request of King Louis XVI, Mesmer’s theories were scrutinised by a series of French scientific committees, one of which included the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. They also investigated the practices of a disaffected student of Mesmer, one Charles d’Eslon (1750-1786), and on the basis of their examination of d’Eslon’s manner of working (not Mesmer’s), and despite the fact that they accepted that the results that were claimed by Mesmer were in fact veridical, their placebo controlled experiments of d’Eslon’s practices clearly demonstrate that the effects of Mesmerism were most likely due to belief and imagination rather than to any sort of invisible energy (“animal magnetism”) being transmitted from the body of the Mesmerist.

In other words, despite accepting that Mesmer’s practice seemed to have a certain efficacy, both committees totally rejected all of Mesmer’s theories.

James BraidEdit

James Braid.

Main article: James Braid (physician)

Following the French committee’s findings, in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Dugald Stewart, an influential academic philosopher of the “Scottish School of Common Sense”, encouraged physicians to salvage elements of Mesmerism by replacing the supernatural theory of “animal magnetism” with a new interpretation based upon “common sense” laws of physiology and psychology. Braid explicitly quotes the following passage from Stewart[15],

It appears to me, that the general conclusions established by Mesmer’s practice, with respect to the physical effects of the principle of imagination […] are incomparably more curious than if he had actually demonstrated the existence of his boasted science [of “animal magnetism”]: nor can I see any good reason why a physician, who admits the efficacy of the moral [i.e., psychological] agents employed by Mesmer, should, in the exercise of his profession, scruple to copy whatever processes are necessary for subjecting them to his command, any more than that he should hesitate about employing a new physical agent, such as electricity or galvanism.[16]

In Braid’s day, the Scottish School of Common Sense provided the dominant theories of academic psychology and Braid frequently refers to other philosophers within this tradition throughout his writings. Braid therefore revised the theory and practice of Mesmerism and developed his own method of “hypnotism” as a more rational and “common sense” alternative.

It may here be requisite for me to explain, that by the term Hypnotism, or Nervous Sleep, which frequently occurs in the following pages, I mean a peculiar condition of the nervous system, into which it may be thrown by artificial contrivance, and which differs, in several respects, from common sleep or the waking condition. I do not allege that this condition is induced through the transmission of a magnetic or occult influence from my body into that of my patients; nor do I profess, by my processes, to produce the higher [i.e., supernatural] phenomena of the Mesmerists. My pretensions are of a much more humble character, and are all consistent with generally admitted principles in physiological and psychological science. Hypnotism might therefore not inaptly be designated, Rational Mesmerism, in contra-distinction to the Transcendental Mesmerism of the Mesmerists.[17]

Despite briefly toying with the name “rational Mesmerism”, Braid ultimately distanced his approach from Mesmer’s and emphasised its uniqueness, carrying out many informal experiments throughout his career to refute the theories of Mesmerists and other supernatural practices, and demonstrate instead the role of ordinary physiological and psychological processes such as suggestion and focused attention in producing the effects observed.

Braid worked very closely with his friend and ally the eminent physiologist Professor William Benjamin Carpenter an early neuro-psychologist, who introduced the “ideo-motor reflex” theory of suggestion. Carpenter had observed many everyday examples of expectation and imagination apparently influencing the movement of muscles involuntarily.[18]

Braid soon assimilated Carpenter’s observations into his own theory of hypnotism, realising that the effect of focusing attention was to enhance the ideo-motor reflex response. Braid extended Carpenter’s theory to encompass the influence of the mind upon the body more generally, beyond the muscular system, and therefore referred to the “ideo-dynamic” response and coined the term “psycho-physiology” to refer to the study of interaction between the mind and body in general.

In his later works, Braid reserved the term “hypnotism” for the small minority of cases in which subjects entered a state of amnesia resembling sleep. For the rest, he spoke of “mono-ideodynamic” principle of action to emphasize that the eye-fixation induction technique worked by narrowing the focus of their attention to a single idea or train of thought (“monoideism”) which thereby amplified the effect of the consequent “dominant idea” upon the subject’s body by means of the ideo-dynamic principle.

Hysteria vs. suggestion Edit

For several decades, Braid’s work became more influential abroad than in his own country, except for a handful of followers, most notably Dr. John Milne Bramwell. The eminent neurologist Dr. George Miller Beard took Braid’s theories to America. Meanwhile his works were translated into German by Wilhelm T. Preyer, Professor of Physiology at Jena University. The psychiatrist Albert Moll subsequently continued German research, publishing his Hypnotism in 1889. However, the study of hypnotism mainly became focused in France, after Braid’s research was presented before the French Academy of Sciences by the eminent neurologist Dr. Étienne Eugène Azam who also translated Braid’s last manuscript (On Hypnotism, 1860) into French. The French Academy of Science, who had previously examined Mesmerism in 1784, therefore subsequently examined the writings of Braid, shortly after his demise, at the request of Azam, Paul Broca, and others.

Azam’s enthusiasm for hypnotism influenced Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault, a country doctor whose enormously popular group hypnotherapy clinic was discovered by Hippolyte Bernheim who subsequently became himself an influential hypnotist. The study of hypnotism subsequently became centred upon a fierce rivalry and debate between Jean-Martin Charcot and Hippolyte Bernheim, the two most influential figures in late 19th century hypnotism.

An important argument developed between Charcot’s “Hysteria School”, centered on Charcot’s clinic at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital (thus, also known as the “Paris School” or the “Salpêtrière School”) and Bernheim’s “Suggestion School”, centred on Bernheim’s Nancy clinic (thus, also known as the “Nancy School” over the true nature of hypnosis. Charcot, influenced more by the Mesmerists, argued that hypnotism was an abnormal state of nervous functioning found only in certain hysterical women. He claimed that it was manifested in the form of a series of physical reactions which could be divided into distinct stages. Bernheim argued against Charcot that anyone could be hypnotised, that it was an extension of normal psychological functioning, and that its effects were variable being primarily due to suggestion. After several decades of debate, Bernheim’s view eventually came to dominate and Charcot’s theory of hypnosis is now seen as little more than a historical curiosity.

Pierre JanetEdit

Pierre Janet (1859-1947) reported some initial studies on a hypnotic subject in 1882 which came to the attention of Charcot who subsequently appointed him director of the psychological laboratory at the Salpêtrière in 1889, after Janet completed his PhD in philosophy which dealt with the subject of psychological automatism. In 1898 Janet was appointed lecturer in psychology at the Sorbonne, and in 1902 he became chair of experimental and comparative psychology at the Collège de France. Janet reconciled elements of his views with those of Bernheim and his followers, developing his own sophisticated hypnotic psychotherapy based upon the concept of psychological dissociation which, at the turn of the century, rivalled Freud’s attempt to provide a more comprehensive psychological theory of psychotherapy.

Sigmund FreudEdit

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, subsequently studied hypnotism at Charcot’s Paris school and briefly visited Bernheim’s Nancy school.

Initially, Freud was an enthusiastic proponent of hypnotherapy, and soon began to emphasise and popularise the use of hypnotic regression and abreaction (catharsis) as therapeutic methods. He wrote a favorable encyclopedia article on hypnotism, translated one of Bernheim’s works into German, and published an influential series of case studies with his colleague Joseph Breuer entitled Studies on Hysteria (1895). This became the founding text of the subsequent tradition known as “hypno-analysis” or “regression hypnotherapy.”

However, Freud gradually abandoned the use of hypnotism in favour of his developing methods of psychoanalysis, through free association and interpretation of the unconscious. Struggling with the great expense of time required for psychoanalysis to be successful, Freud later suggested that it might be combined with hypnotic suggestion once more in an attempt to hasten the outcome of treatment,

It is very probable, too, that the application of our therapy to numbers will compel us to alloy the pure gold of analysis plentifully with the copper of direct [hypnotic] suggestion. [19]

However, only a handful of Freud’s followers were sufficiently qualified in hypnosis to attempt the synthesis. Their work had a limited influence on the gradual emergence of the hypnotherapeutic approaches now known variously as “hypnotic regression”, “hypnotic progression”, and “hypnoanalysis”.

Émile CouéEdit

Émile Coué (1857-1926) served for around two years as an assistant to Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault in his group hypnotic at Nancy. However, after practising for several years as a hypnotherapist employing the methods of Liébeault and Bernheim’s Nancy School, Coué gradually began to develop a new orientation called “conscious autosuggestion.” Several years after Liébeault’s death in 1904, Coué founded what became known as the New Nancy School, a loose collaboration of practitioners who taught and promoted his views. Coué’s method did not emphasise “sleep” or deep relaxation and instead focused upon teaching groups of clients how to use autosuggestion by trial and error learning involving a specific series of suggestion tests. Although Coué argued that he was no longer using hypnosis, some of his followers, such as Charles Baudouin, viewed his approach as a form of light self-hypnosis. Coué’s method became an internationally renowned self-help and psychotherapy technique, which contrasted with the methods of Freud’s method of psychoanalysis and prefigured subsequent self-hypnosis techniques and, in some regards, the development of cognitive therapy.

Clark L. HullEdit

The next major event in the history of hypnotism came as a result of the progress of behavioural psychology in American university research. Clark L. Hull, an eminent American psychologist, published the first major compilation of laboratory studies on hypnosis, Hypnosis & Suggestibility (1933), in which he conclusively proved that the state of hypnosis and the state of sleep had nothing in common. Hull published many quantitative empirical findings derived from experiments using hypnosis and suggestion and thereby encouraged subsequent research into hypnosis by mainstream academic psychologists. Hull’s behavioural psychology interpretation of hypnosis, in terms of conditioned reflexes, rivalled the Freudian psychodynamic interpretation in terms of unconscious transference.

Dave ElmanEdit

Although Dave Elman was a noted radio host, comedian and (song)writer, he also made name as a hypnotist. He lead many courses for physicians and wrote in 1964 the classic book: ‘Findings in Hypnosis’, later to be re-titled ‘Hypnotherapy’ (published by Westwood Publishing). Perhaps the most well known aspect of Elman’s legacy is his method of induction, which was originally fashioned for speed work and later adapted for the use of medical professionals; his students routinely obtained states of hypnosis adequate for medical and surgical procedures in under three minutes. His book and recordings provide much more than just his rapid induction techniques, however. The first heart operation using hypnosis rather than normal anesthesia (because of severe problems with the patient) was performed by his students with Dave Elman in the operating room as “coach”.

Milton EricksonEdit

Milton H. Erickson, M.D. was one of the most influential post-war hypnotherapists. He wrote several books and journal articles on the subject. During the 1960s, Erickson was responsible for popularizing a new branch of hypnotherapy, which became known as Ericksonian hypnotherapy, eventually characterized by, amongst other things, the absence of a formal hypnotic inductions, and the use of indirect suggestion, “metaphor” (actually they were analogies, rather than “metaphors”), confusion techniques, and double binds. However, the lack of resemblance between Erickson’s methods and those of traditional hypnotism led some of his contemporaries, such as André Weitzenhoffer, to seriously question whether he was actually practising “hypnosis” at all, and the status of his approach in relation to traditional hypnotism has remained in question.

Erickson had no hesitation in presenting any suggested effect as being “hypnosis”, whether or not the subject was in a hypnotic state. In fact, he was not hesitant in passing off behavior that was dubiously hypnotic as being hypnotic. [20]


In the latter half of the twentieth century, two factors contributed to the development of what subsequently became known as the cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis. 1) Cognitive and behavioural theories of the nature of hypnosis (influenced by the seminal theories of Sarbin[21] and Barber [22]) became increasingly influential. 2) The therapeutic practices of hypnotherapy and various forms of cognitive-behavioural therapy overlapped and influenced each other.[23] Although cognitive-behavioural theories of hypnosis must be distinguished from cognitive-behavioural approaches to hypnotherapy, they share similar concepts, terminology, and assumptions and have been integrated by influential researchers and clinicians such as Irving Kirsch, Steven Jay Lynn, and others [24].

Hypnosis was used during the 1950s, at the outset of cognitive-behavioral therapy, by early behaviour therapists such as Joseph Wolpe[25] and also by early cognitive therapists such as Albert Ellis[26]. The term “cognitive-behavioural” was subsequently introduced to describe their “nonstate” theory of hypnosis by Barber, Spanos & Chaves in Hypnotism: Imagination & Human Potentialities (1974)[27]. However, Clark L. Hull had introduced an influential behavioural psychology approach to the study of hypnosis as far back as 1933, which was preceded by Ivan Pavlov’s own writings on the subject[28]. Indeed, the very earliest theories and practices of hypnotism, even those of Braid, resemble the cognitive-behavioural orientation in some respects[29].

Research on HypnosisEdit

Much research has been conducted into the nature and effects of hypnosis and suggestion, and hypnosis continues to be a popular (if somewhat peripheral) tool in contemporary psychological research. A number of different strands of hypnosis research are apparent: that which examines the ‘state’ of hypnosis itself, that which examines the effects and properties of suggestions in and out of hypnosis, and that which uses hypnotic suggestion as a tool to research other areas of psychological functioning.

With the advent of recent brain imaging techniques (MRI, although also EEG and PET) there has been a resurgence of interest in the relationship between hypnosis and brain function. Any human experience is reflected in some way in the brain – seeing colors or motion is underscored by activity in the visual cortex, feeling fear is mediated by activity in the amygdala – and so hypnosis and suggestion are expected to have observable effects upon brain function. An important issue for researchers conducting brain imaging is to separate the effects of hypnosis and suggestion – knowing that a suggestion given during hypnosis affects brain area X does not just tell us about hypnosis, it tells us about the effects of the suggestion too. To account for this, experiments need to include a non-hypnotic-response-to-suggestion condition – only this way can the specific effects of hypnosis be examined.

A number of brain-imaging studies have been conducted which have used hypnosis, a selection are given below:

For example, one controlled scientific experiment postulates that hypnosis may change conscious experience in a way not possible when people are not “hypnotized”, at least in “highly hypnotizable” people. In this experiment, color perception was changed by hypnosis in “highly hypnotizable” people as determined by positron emission tomography (PET) scans (Kosslyn et al., 2000). (This research does not compare the effects of hypnosis on less hypnotizable people and could therefore show little causal effect due to the lack of a control group.)

Another research example, employing event-related fMRI and EEG coherence measures, compared certain specific neural activity “during Stroop task performance between participants of low and high hypnotic susceptibility, at baseline and after hypnotic induction”. According to its authors, “the fMRI data revealed that conflict-related ACC activity interacted with hypnosis and hypnotic susceptibility, in that highly susceptible participants displayed increased conflict-related neural activity in the hypnosis condition compared to baseline, as well as with respect to subjects with low susceptibility.” (Egner et al., 2005). Skeptics dispute the significance of such findings, claiming that such changes cannot be shown to be particular to the hypnotized state, and that any other action such as daydreaming is also likely to alter brain activity in some manner. The subject is still a matter of current research and scientific debate.

There is a long tradition (over a century) of hypnosis research (the majority of which not using brain imaging techniques) which has allowed scientists to test key ideas in the debate. Hypnosis has been shown to be an effective tool for pain relief, and when combined adjunctively with other therapeutic techniques it has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool (it is effective for weight loss, IBS, anxiety conditions and many more – the data for smoking cessation are more dubious).

Hypnosis Methodologies and EffectsEdit

General methodsEdit

The act of inducing a hypnotic state is referred to as an induction procedure. There is no current consensus on what the requirements are for an induction procedure to be effective; while some practitioners use simple calming verbal techniques, others use complex triggers, including mechanical devices (see Michael Robinson’s Self-Hypnosis Learning or Licensed Online Counseling, page 45).

Many experienced hypnotists claim that they can hypnotize almost anyone. They also claim it is a myth that people with strong will power cannot be hypnotized, as they claim these generally make the best participants. This is based on the idea that those who are most intelligent are also the most creative and as such they will make strong associations with the structure of language used by the hypnotist and by the visual or auditory representations inside of their mind. On the other hand, there is a common claim that no one can really be hypnotized against his or her will (Liébault, Le sommeil provoqué (Paris, 1889)). The counter-claim given by many hypnotists is that while you cannot make someone do anything against their will, you can change what it is that they wish to do.

Many religious and cultural rituals contain many similarities with techniques used for hypnotic induction and induce similar states in their participants.

General effectsEdit

Focused attentionEdit

This school of thought holds that hypnosis as a state is very similar to other states of extreme concentration, where a person becomes oblivious to his or her surroundings while lost in thought. Often suggested as an example is when a driver suddenly finds himself much further down the road without any memory of driving the intervening distance (highway hypnosis), or when a person is watching television and focuses so intently on the program that he or she ceases to be aware of the sides of the screen.

The act of hypnotizing, is, in effect, the act of manually inducing a similar state (See, for example, general information on the ASCH website).


Main article: Suggestibility

Psychologists have produced controversial studies that seem to show a strong correlation between the ease of putting someone in a state of hypnosis and their level of suggestibility. Some of these studies have produced the Harvard scale, Stanford scale|, and eye-roll test; all of which are supposed to predict how easily a person can be put in a hypnotized state.

Hypnosis has further been described as “The suspension of the critical factor” which expands on the idea of “increased suggestibility”. A person who claims to be hypnotized may accept statements as true that he or she would normally reject.

For example, when told “you have forgotten your name,” the subject in a normal state would react with disbelief, but under hypnosis people have claimed that they have, indeed, forgotten their own names.

It often appears as if the hypnotized participant accepts the authority of the hypnotist over his or her own experience. When asked after the conclusion of such a session, some participants appear to be genuinely unable to recall the incident, while others say that they had known the hypnotist was wrong but at the time it had seemed easier just to go along with his instructions. (Richard Feynman describes this in his memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! as his own experience under hypnosis.) The mechanism of this effect is however disputed: Some hypnotists would claim that this showed the difference between a deep and a shallow hypnotic trance, while skeptics would question the validity of this conclusion, citing that such effects can be duplicated in other circumstances where an agent holds authority, such as the Milgram experiment, and suggest that unreliability in results discredits a scientific theory of hypnosis.


Some believe that hypnosis can affect the subject’s judgment and therefore could potentially cause them harm. In the hand of a “professional” seeking to promote the subject’s welfare, those of this opinion believe, hypnosis can produce profound effects and be a complement to treatment. Some of those who believe in hypnosis believe that in most cases one can resist hypnosis if one is aware of it. However, some of those who hold this belief also believe in brainwashing and/or mind control and believe that when hypnotism takes place in the context of these, resisting hypnosis is far more difficult. These beliefs are not generally based on scientific evidence, as there is no scientific consensus on whether mind control even exists, let alone whether it is more difficult to resist hypnotism in the context of this unverified theoretical construct.


Some psychologists and other mental health professionals are concerned that practitioners of hypnosis might evoke intense emotions in their clients that they are untrained to handle. These abreactions might occur when spontaneously or purposefully recalling traumatic events or, some believe, spontaneous mental breakdowns.

Hypnosis ApplicationsEdit


Main article: Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is a term to describe the use of hypnosis in a therapeutic context. Many hypnotherapists refer to their practice as “clinical work.” Hypnotherapy can either be used as an addition to the work of licensed physicians or psychologists, or it can be used in a stand-alone environment where the hypnotherapist in question usually owns his or her own business. The majority of certified hypnotherapists (C.Hts in the US, Diploma. Hyp in the UK) today earn a large portion of their money through the cessation of smoking (often in a single session) and the aid of weight loss (body sculpting). Some of the so called ‘incurable’ diseases have shown to be treatable with the mind-body (such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis). Some of the treatments practiced by hypnotherapists, in particular so-called regression, have been viewed with skepticism.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have both cautioned against the use of repressed memory therapy in dealing with cases of alleged childhood trauma, stating that “it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one”[7], and so the procedure is “fraught with problems of potential misapplication”[8]. This is why Forensic Hypnosis is not widely used in many countries’ legal systems.

Clinical HypnosisEdit

The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis is an organization that “promotes greater acceptance of hypnosis as a clinical tool with broad applications”. Hypnosis is applied to a great range of both physical and psychological ailments, rather than being restricted to purely psychological phenomena. The society was founded by Milton Erickson, a doctor who attempted to put hypnosis on a firm therapeutic backing in the 1950s.

Milton H. Erickson was opposed to non-board-licensed healthcare professionals performing therapeutic hypnotism, which has since caused difficulty for certified laymen willing to practice. In the United States, certified lay hypnotists are now said to perform “non-therapeutic issue-resolution hypnotism”, rather than “hypnotherapy”. [9]

Recently, efforts to reduce obesity with hypnosis (when used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, and a low-fat diet) have been effective in most cases[10].


Main article: Autosuggestion

Self-hypnosis— (or autosuggestion) hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself without the assistance of another person to serve as the hypnotist—is a staple of hypnotherapy-related self-help programs. It is most often used to help the self-hypnotist stay on a diet, overcome smoking or some other addiction, or to generally boost the hypnotized person’s self-esteem. It is rarely used for the more complex or controversial uses of hypnotism, which require the hypnotist to monitor the hypnotized person’s reactions and responses and respond accordingly. Most people who practice self-hypnosis require a focus for their attention in order to become fully hypnotized; there are many computer programs on the market that can ostensibly help in this area, though few, if any, have been scientifically proven to aid self-hypnosis.

Some people use devices known as mind machines to help them go into self-hypnosis more readily. A mind machine consists of glasses with different colored flashing LEDs on the inside, and headphones. The LEDs stimulate the visual channel while the headphones stimulate the audio channel with similar or slightly different frequencies designed to produce a certain mental state. A common occurrence is the use of binaural beats in the audio which is said to produce hypnosis more readily.

Pain managementEdit

Main article: hypnoanesthesia

Dental ApplicationEdit

Main article: Hypnodontia

The use of hypnosis in dentistry has a long history. Dealing with hypnodontia — the use of hypnosis in dentistry — has attested to the increasing sophistication of hypnotic procedures to deal with the special problems of the dental patient. Besides smoothing out dental procedures by way of its generalized anti-anxiety effects, it can increase overall patient comfort, make the dental experience acceptable and bearable, decrease resistance to future intervention, and through posthypnotic suggestions, encourage more rapid recovery.

Obstetric Application (Painless Childbirth)Edit

The practice of hypnotically assisted deliveries has a history of over a century. Falling into disfavor due to competition from chemical anesthesia, hypnosis has seen a revival in the last two decades. One important reason for this comeback is the realization that hypnosis may find usefulness not only in obstetric analgesia or anesthesia, but also in all phases of giving birth from pregnancy to postpartum recovery.

Forensic ApplicationEdit

Scientific knowledge of hypnosis applied to Legal problems is called forensic hypnosis. Courts prior to 1968 consistently excluded post-hypnotic testimony on the grounds that it was unreliable and apt to influence a jury unduly. Now hypnosis practice is growing stronger and still admissible in courtroom testimonies as long as the stringent criteria and guidelines are met. American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code specifies Crime done by hypnotic Suggestion & Witness evidence in court after Hypnotic suggestion are not valued. In the U.S., Oregon, Texas, Indiana,Nevada, and California states have separate hypnotic investigation acts. Nevada courts accept hypnotically refreshed statements as evidence for judgment. Russia generally uses hypnosis in criminal investigations.

Mass ApplicationEdit

Influencing the crowds of common longings and yearnings by a demagogue is called mass hypnosis. Generally mass hypnosis is applied to religious sessions. The pious mob will easily respond to, monotonously repeating suggestive words. Many forms of music and dance can be used to create religious trance.

Stage ApplicationEdit

In stage hypnosis, a hypnotist carefully chooses volunteers from the audience, puts them into a trance using hypnosis and then plants suggestions for them to perform. The critical factor in all stage hypnosis shows is the choice of enthusiastic and credulous individuals. Various techniques exist for discerning whether an individual is a likely candidate for a hypnosis stage act. Often, the sheer willingness of audience members to volunteer is a sign that they will “go along with” the hypnotist’s suggestions during the show, whether or not they ever really become hypnotised in the first place. For example, the volunteers may be made to believe they are drunk, aliens speaking a strange alien language, naked or seeing others naked, 6-year-old children, ballet dancers etc. Such suggestions are designed to be temporary, lasting the duration of the show. Stage hypnosis is a unique performance in that it involves “real” people from the audience responding in a variety of ways, making no two shows the same. There has been debate over the years as to whether some degree of fraud or collusion may be involved in some stage hypnosis acts.

Regarding the phenomenon of stage hypnotism, Jon Connelly, Ph.D., a therapeutic hypnotist, writes:

How does the stage hypnotist create the illusion of “taking over” his subject’s minds? It appears they are helpless to refuse whatever he directs them to do under his power and control.

How is this accomplished? It begins with the hypnotist asking for volunteers from an audience already entranced enough with the idea of stage hypnosis that they chose to make attending the show their priority. Naturally, they all have expectations about what they will witness.

The audience is made up of three categories of attendees. The first is prepared, and actually hoping to come up on stage to be subjects despite knowing they will be doing silly things in front of everyone else. The second category is comprised of those who want to prove they can’t be hypnotized. These folks are likely to volunteer but only to prove the hypnotist wrong. Finally, the third group is simply interested in watching the show.

The first thing the hypnotist does is to ask for volunteers. On the crowded stage, he “tests” their willingness to cooperate by directing them to do something and he observes their reactions. Anyone not cooperating is eliminated. Seeing others dismissed, enhances the willingness of the remaining volunteers to cooperate even more fully.

The task of finding the most cooperative and dramatic volunteers is accomplished as the hypnotist asks those on stage to do even stranger things and eliminates those whose performance isn’t up to par. Soon a small number of volunteers remain. These people are willing to dramatically engage in almost anything the hypnotist suggests. The audience has enjoyed the screening process on another level, believing the hypnotist has caused the subjects to become more and more entranced with hypnosis.

The hypnotist tells the small group of remaining subjects to relax even more into the role of “hypnotized person” he created for them. There is little difference between a good hypnotic subject and a good actor. The context and the understanding each has of why they are doing what they are doing, is the main difference. They both voluntarily throw themselves into the role created for them since both are stage performers.

The stage hypnotistlink Stage Hypnotist is like a casting director for a movie. The casting director selects people who can vividly imagine and act on what is written in the script as if it was real. These are the same qualities that would make someone a good hypnotic subject. Both the hypnotist and the film director create the scene and encourage the subject or actor into imagining their role to the extent that it can become real to them. They are often described as “absorbed” in the role. Actors know their job is to fool the audience into experiencing the role as real also. The hypnosis subject imagines her role so vividly, it is experienced as real. On some level, both the actor and the hypnotized subject know what is happening. Neither is being “controlled.”

In stage hypnosis, audience members confuse what is really cooperation with control over the subject’s mind.

Indirect ApplicationEdit

In addition to direct application of hypnosis (that is, treatment of conditions by means of hypnosis), there is also indirect application, wherein hypnosis is used to facilitate another procedure. Some people seem more able to display ‘enhanced functioning’, such as the suppression of pain, under hypnosis.

One of the major initial applications of hypnotism was the suppression of pain during medical procedures; this was supplanted (in the late 19th century) by the development of more reliable chemical anesthetics.

Some studies suggest that while hypnosis may possess these qualities, they are not exclusive to hypnosis, that it is often the drama and fantasizing that produces the behavior.

Objective Signs of the Hypnotic State: Breuer’s Absent Pupillary Reflex SignEdit

For those who discount trance state completely, this is an objective sign, and is the opposite of the normal physiological response. When the subject/patient/client is in ‘deep’ hypnosis (based upon most scales)she/he is asked to stay in hypnosis and open their eyes. The pupils are usually dilated. When a penlight is shone into the eyes the pupils will usually stay dilated or poorly reactive (the normal non-hypnotic response being contraction). Some clinicians use this as a benchmark for cases being readied for hypno-anesthesia. What is meant by very ‘deep hypnosis’ is debatable as is the terminology used for that state (somnamulistic, Esdaile, Ultradepth, etc.). This is a brief test and will not take away from therapy. (Dr. William Breuer popularized this test in University lectures to his students after conducting a research project that involved professionals in multiple sites from three countries.) HISTORY: The early mention of this sign is in an ‘archaic’ and esoteric book, ‘Hypnotism’ by Carl Sextus, which stated that when people are asked to open their eyes while remaining in deep trance and then when a light is shone into their eyes, their pupils won’t contract. Use any suggestions you wish to keep them in hypnosis, but at this point in trance do not use any suggestions relating to their eyes, visual focus, light or the pupils’ dilation/contraction.

Professional associations and governmental authoritiesEdit

Several types of organizations exist to further the professionalism and regulation of practicing hypnotists. For example, professional associations typically offer opportunities for collegial exchanges and professional development in general and/or specialized areas of hypnosis. They also may establish codes of conduct and standards for various certification programs. They may offer such certification programs directly or approve third-party programs. Organizations not affiliated with any professional association may offer their own certificates as well.

Governmental authorities, such as state licensing agencies, may establish minimum requirements for credentials that must be earned before one may practice hypnosis within their jurisdiction. Such credentials typically are called certificates or licenses. Some noteworthy examples of professional associations and governmental authorities that offer certification, licensure or statutes that regulate hypnosis follow.

References& BibliographyEdit


  1. ^ — Executive Committee of the American Psychological Association Division of Psychological Hypnosis [1993, Fall]. Psychological Hypnosis: A Bulletin of Division 30, 2, p. 7; citation culled from hypnosis-research.org.
  2. ^ — Dave Elman, Hypnotherapy, Westwood Publishing Company, 1984 ISBN 0930298047 (page 26).
  3. ^ — Charcot, J. M.: Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System. London, New Sydenham Society, 1889.
  4. ^ — Pavlov, I. P.: Experimental Psychology. New York, Philosophical Library, 1957.
  5. ^ — Dittborn, J.M., and O’Connell, D.N.: Behavioral sleep, physiological sleep and hypnotizability. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 15: 181, 1967)
  6. ^  Weitzenhoffer, A.M.: Hypnotism – An Objective Study in Suggestability. New York, Wiley, 1953.
  7. ^  Hilgard, E.R., and Hilgard, J.R.: Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain. Los Altos, CA, William Kaufman, 1975.
  8. ^  Barber, T.X.: The concept of hypnosis. The American Journal of Psychology, 45: 115, 1958.


  • Hypnosis and Suggestion in the Treatment of Pain: A Clinical Guide, by Joseph Barber. NY: Norton (1996).
  • The Highly Hypnotizable Person, Michael Heap, Richard J. Brown & David A. Oakley, (2004), Routledge
  • Better and Better Every Day, Emile Coue, (1960).
  • Uncommon Therapy, Jay Haley (about the psychotherapeutic intervention techniques of Milton Erickson)
  • Open to suggestion. The uses and abuses of hypnosis. Robert Temple, 1989, ISBN 1-85030-710-4
  • Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis William S. Kroger, M.D., 1977, ISBN 0-397-50377-6
  • Fromm,E. and Shot,R.E. (eds) Hypnosis: Research Developments and Perspectives, 2nd edn, New York Aldine
  • Hilgard, E. R. (1965). Hypnotic Susceptibility NY, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
  • Hilgard, E. R. (1977) Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action John Wiley & Sons.
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  • Wilson, S.C. and Barber, T.X. (1983) The fantasy-prone personality: implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis and parapsychological phenomena. In: A. Sheikh (ed.) Imagery: Current Theory, Research and Application, New York: John Wiley.

External linksEdit

  • Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis
  • International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis
  • Contemporary Hypnosis
  • American Society of Clinical Hypnosis
  • American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis
  • Hypnosis Studied With fMRI and PET brain scans (digest of several scientific articles)
  • Hypnosis, from the Skeptic’s dictionary, skeptical review of the veracity of hypnosis.
  • Hypnosis, from Howstuffworks.com
  • Principles of Psychology The point of view of William James about Hypnotism
  • hypnosis glossary Hypnosis Glossary
  • Learn How To Hypnotize People
  • Hypnosis Information
  • Hypnosis From HypnoBusters
  • Directory of Hypnotists

Self-Hypnosis AidsEdit

  • Free hypnosis audios.

Professional associationsEdit

  • American Board of Medical Hypnosis
  • American Council of Hypnotist Examiners
  • American Hypnosis Board for Clinical Social Work
  • American Psychological Association, Division 30 Psychological Hypnosis: “Brings together psychologists and other professionals interested in scientific and applied hypnosis.”
  • American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association
  • American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, founded by Milton Erickson in 1957: “Promotes greater acceptance of hypnosis as a clinical tool with broad applications.”
  • Australian Society of Hypnosis
  • British Association of Therapeutical Hypnotists
  • Council of Professional Hypnosis Organizations (International)
  • General Hypnotherapy Register Largest (UK) umbrella body
  • General Hypnotherapy Standards Council (UK) Overseeing the GHR.
  • National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists (USA)
  • National Guild of Hypnotists (USA)
  • Professional Board of Hypnotherapy (Canada)
  • Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (USA)
  • Institute of Clinical Hypnosis and Counseling. (India)]
  • Gesellschaft für therapeutische Hypnose und Hypnoseforschung (Germany)

Governmental authoritiesEdit

  • California statute (Enter Chapter “820”, Year “2002”)
  • Florida statute
  • Indiana Hypnotist Committee
  • http://www.hypnotherapists.org.uk

Historical sitesEdit

  • The Hypnosis Museum of Historical Equipment & Methodology
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