Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

The experience of hypnosis involves the de-demarcating of the intrapersonal boundary that defines ordinary consciousness. When you are in trance, you stop distinguishing your conscious self as “the thinker,” separate from your thoughts; as “the perceiver,” separate from your perceptions; as “the feeler,” separate from your emotions. During hypnosis, your conscious awareness isn’t marking itself as distinct, claiming credit and authority for all your “cognitioning” and “emotioning”; instead, you experience the mindfulness of your body and the embodiment of your mind.

The etymology of the word trance is identical to that of transit (trans, across + ire, to go), which the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines as “the action or fact of passing across or through.” If you think of hypnosis as the active crossing of the boundary between your conscious awareness and the rest of you, then trance becomes a useful term for characterizing the perception of that boundary becoming, for a period of time, indistinct.

The word hypnosis, coined by James Braid, a Scottish surgeon, in the 1840s, comes from the Greek hupnos, meaning sleep. As EEGs have shown, the phenomenon the word names has nothing to do with sleep, save for the outward appearance of some of the people experiencing it. A far better word would be concordance, the Latin root of which—concorde—the OED defines as “of one mind” (from con, together + cord-, heart: concorda-re, to be of one mind). If this term were to catch on, the practitioners of concordance would be known as concordists rather than hypnotists.

Despite my fondness for the word trance, I’m not a so-called “special-state” theorist. I agree with the critics who say that defining hypnosis as an altered state of consciousness is an exercise in tautological reasoning. Self-referential nonsense results when the “state” of hypnosis is used to explain the existence of hypnotic phenomena, which, in turn, are used to define the hypnotic state.

It makes more sense to view hypnosis as the creation and maintenance of a special relationship with oneself and/or another (or others), where, to varying degrees, the distinctions common to conscious awareness—demarcations between mind and body; self and other; inside and outside; etc.—become more or less irrelevant. The associative aspect of cognition becomes highlighted and the mind-body gap is bridged, making possible a variety of changes in

    • the everyday boundaries of the conscious “self”
    • the exploring and experiencing of ideas, images, and possibilities
    • the functioning and experiencing of emotions and body processes

The author Evan S. Connell once said that “most great ideas come to people in transit.” He was referring to people moving physically through space, but his comment applies equally well to people moving mindfully across the boundary between self and other, as well as moving mindfully across the boundary between their conscious awareness and the rest of their body-and-mind. Great ideas—and fascinating changes—come to people in trance.

Hypnosis becomes hypnotherapy when therapist and client make use of this changed-relationship-to-self as a means of entertaining and experiencing a changed relationship to the client’s problem. Most of the difficulties clients face have something to do with the dissociative way they are relating to their problem. Striving to feel better by negating or controlling what makes them feel bad, they ask for help in furthering their dissociative efforts to restrict or eradicate it: They wish to achieve X by negating Y.

Clients’ dissociative attempts to control, keep in check, or eliminate their problem tend to create a constricted connection to it, maintaining or even heightening it’s significance. The hypnotherapist’s job, then, is to associatively create a relaxed separation from the problem, which only becomes possible when clients can embrace and/or lose track of or interest in the problem, allowing it to become boring or irrelevant or otherwise unremarkable.

To find out more about hypnosis, read Of One Mind and/or check out the following web sites:

If you are a mental health professional and you’d like to get trained in the use of hypnosis, you can attend one of my hypnosis workshops in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and/or attend workshops through The Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, The American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, and The Milton H. Erickson Foundation.