I wanted to give you all a “peek behind the curtain” as it were. Hypnosis may seem magical (and in many ways it is), but it isn’t magic. You don’t need to believe in it for it to work (just ask the *many* skeptics I’ve tranced over the years). If anything being better informed can allow you to relax and enjoy the experience more. So – I’ve listed some common induction techniques (techniques that induce trance) with explanations of how they work and pros and cons.
This list is compiled through a combination of personal experience and research. I don’t personally use many of these techniques for various reasons (e.g. I specialise in working with analytical people many of whom would find a relaxation induction boring and uneffective, and the handshake technique I find ethically dubious so have deliberately avoided it) but they are all useful to know. I primarily use a conversational induction (I will be writing a separate blog about this so keep an eye out) as a base and then “freestyle”, tailoring my approach specifically to the individual I am working with. I can incorporate standard techniques or develop new ones on the fly based on my years of experience and understanding of how the underpinning principles of hypnosis work and how I can use them to my advantage. It’s liberating, great fun, and best of all – very effective!
This is a simple, straightforward and commonly used technique where the hypnotist encourages the subject to relax, often via a variation of the “progressive relaxation induction” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. Often the hypnotist will suggest that the subject relaxes each part of their body independently – talking them through systematically relaxing their head, jaw, shoulders…and so on and so forth until every part of their body is relaxed. Hypnotists often suggest that subjects relax their minds and try not to think.
Pros: Very popular technique that works well with the majority of people. Gentle and unrushed.
Cons: Doesn’t work well with analytical people as they tend to find it boring and predictable. Can take a long time.
- Handshake Technique
This rapid induction technique was made famous by Milton Erikson. It uses a “pattern interrupt” technique by disrupting what is considered a common social norm (in this case a handshake). The idea is that by interrupting a social action so common it’s practically automatic/muscle memory (usually by tugging the subjects hand as they reach out to shake hands), the subconscious is shocked/knocked off balance and momentarily more vulnerable/open to suggestion, giving the hypnotist an opening to give suggestions to direct the mind in the desired direction (e.g. a suggestion issued in a commanding voice to trance, followed up with softer repetitive guidance and reassurance).
Pros: Works incredibly quickly; very dramatic so great for performances.
Cons: Some hypnotists attempt without obtaining prior consent; the “shock” of the induction can be uncomfortable for some people.
This is another commonly used technique for inductions. The idea is that you get the client to visualise a safe, peaceful place and focus on the details. Some hypnotists will use guided imagery to reinforce the trance – e.g. descending a staircase. Typically the hypnotist will describe the scenario that the subject is to imagine (e.g. a beach, walking through a forest, floating in a sea…whatever it is) and the subject is expected to follow along and immerse themselves in the visualisation. The idea is that the subject will become more relaxed and will begin to enter trance as they follow the hypnotists guidance and immerse themselves in the scene they are being encouraged to visualise.
Pros: A gentle, relaxing technique;Easy to learn the basics from a hypnotists perspective; works well with the majority of people.
Cons: Inexperienced hypnotists can get overly confident and reliant on the technique without fully understanding or appreciating how or why it works; hypnotist could inadvertently use imagery that is uncomfortable for the client (e.g. talking about water and sinking when the client has a fear of drowning); often a boring technique for analytical people as it’s predictable and slow.
- Arm Levitation Technique
A classic Ericksonian technique. You begin by asking the client to close their eyes and then ask them to allow themselves to become aware of a difference in feeling between their arms. Some hypnotists will direct and use/incorporate visualisation techniques (e.g. “imagine a red helium balloon tied to your right arm, lifting it higher”). Others are more permissive (e.g. “I want you to allow yourself to become aware of one arm feeling lighter than the other. Allow your mind to focus on how light that arm feels. I don’t know if it is your left arm or your right arm that is feeling lighter and lighter, but I know you know which arm it is, don’t you?”). Either way, the end result is that the arm lifts. You can also incorporate the dropping of the arm as a deepener (as the arm drops you will go deeper into trance. Once your arm settles in your lap you will be deep in trance).
Pros: Technique is a good “convincer” (proof to client that they are in trance); tried and tested technique developed by a true pro.
Cons: Tricky balance for new hypnotists between being confident and over-confident; takes skill and experience to not panic if client doesn’t respond as anticipated – can catch out inexperienced hypnotists.
- Eye Fixation
The client is encouraged to focus their attention solely on a particular object/point (either asked by hypnotist to choose themselves – e.g. a particular spot on the wall – or directed to focus on something specific either static or moving). A common example would be a pocket watch. The swinging watch keeps the conscious mind occupied, leaving the conscious mind open to suggestion (there are also other techniques that can be incorporated into swinging objects that can encourage trance but I don’t want to destroy all the mystery!).
Pros: Very common technique – well known and works for a lot of people purely because they associate hypnosis with swinging watches. The power of the mind at work!; Easy to master for the hypnotist – a very simple induction that plays a lot on people’s assumptions of hypnosis and how it works.
Cons: Not enough to always appropriately engage an analytical mind; can perpetuate common misconceptions about hypnosis and how it works.