Inducing the state of hypnosis is known as an “Induction.” There is no limit on the type of inductions that can be used to induce hypnosis.
There are literally hundreds of ways to bring on a hypnotic state, probably even thousands. The vast majority of hypnotherapists use just their voice, but there are all sorts of other methods. We could, indeed, just swing a pocket watch, in the same way that popular imagination suggests. Or we could have somebody stare at a light – which may be flashing or not – a crystal, which may be moving or stationary, a mechanical spiral device, or even at some sort of repeated pattern on a computer screen.
A hypnotic induction can be as long as thirty minutes or as short as a few seconds. It can be authoritarian, sometimes referred to as ‘Paternal’; or permissive, sometimes called ‘Maternal’. The authoritarian induction, where someone is told what to do as opposed to allowing them to do what is suggested, is what you may have seen stage hypnotists perform. An example of this type of induction is the postural sway, which involves a person standing with their feet together, hands at their sides with their heads tilted back. They then fall backwards, into the hypnotist’s arms and onto the floor, which looks pretty dramatic from the audience’s perspective.
A truly skilled hypnotist has the ability to guide an individual into a very deep state of hypnosis, without them even being aware that this was the case. There once was a very famous hypnotherapist by the name of Dave Elman, who was so confident of his skills that he could hypnotize people by shaking their hand, drinking a glass of water, or smoking a cigarette. Those people truly DID go into a state of hypnosis, there is no doubt about that. They went into a state of hypnosis that allowed them to develop instant anaesthesia in any part of their body – and anaesthesia that could be properly tested using medical or surgical instruments to do so. And here’s a nice little irony. Elman’s classes consisted mostly of medical professionals – yet he had no medical training whatsoever.
Hypnotizing people ‘off the cuff’ and/or using instantaneous inductions is fraught with all sorts of uncomfortable possibilities and requires total confidence. Within the realms of clinical hypnosis, you are unlikely to see such inductions. They are just not necessary.
The progressive relaxation induction
We use a progressive relaxation induction within our self hypnosis sessions and this particular style of induction is in use in hypnotherapists’ consulting rooms all over the world. Delivered properly, it usually takes around six or seven minutes or so and it is guaranteed to hypnotize just about everybody who is hypnotizable, though it will not necessarily produce a deep state in everybody. But that’s okay, the depth of trance it can produce is enough for our work.
How does it work? Well, if you listen to one of our self hypnosis recordings you will first be asked to close your eyes and take a few deep breathes. Then you will be asked to focus on specific areas of your body, starting from the head and working down. We usually focus first on the forehead and facial muscles, then slowly move down through your neck and shoulders, all the way to your feet and toes. Guided imagery is used along the way, with hypnotic suggestion to deepen the state. It is a very pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable experience.
There are many different variations that can be used. In terms of a body awareness type induction, I much prefer to work down through the body rather than up. I believe this is not only more effective, but also works as a metaphor for hypnosis. We associate going down with relaxation, whereas moving up tends to inspire energy and movement. As we work our way down through the body, concentrating on each body part, the body automatically relaxes and when the body relaxes, so too does the mind.
While there are many types of inductions that can be used to bring about hypnosis, in a therapeutic context progressive relaxation is without a doubt the most effective. It is a simple approach and every individual working with hypnosis in any form should be confident in the use of the progressive relaxation. It is the ‘bread and butter’ method that is always suitable.
The only reason why a hypnotherapist might use another method is to achieve a greater depth sooner – perhaps to give more therapy time within a session. Sometimes, too, therapists need to be sure that a person will achieve the deepest state possible, which might require a different type of induction.
Of course, an induction is merely the process for bringing about the state of hypnosis. It is what we do afterwards, within the hypnotic state, that is most important.