One of my favourite films is called American Beauty. it won a bunch of awards, though gets a few dissenting critics deeming it pretentious. I can understand why, but love the film nonetheless. My favourite character is Ricky Fitts:
He records things on his camcorder that he finds interesting and beautiful, yet others may find the same things ordinary, even mundane – this is depicted wonderfully as Ricky watches a plastic bag blowing around in the wind against a wall and he thinks it is lovely to watch.
It is this idea of finding beauty personally that I want to start with in this hypnosis blog entry today and then relate such ordinary psychological processes to how we define what hypnosis is. Let me explain…
Last night I was sat in bed with my kindle in my lap, reading a sic-fi novel. It was pretty early by most people’s standards as I had just put my 2 year old son to bed. Katie was getting our baby daughter to bed. As I sat there, I could hear him humming, gently singing in his high pitched voice, and offering up some of the loveliest random, seemingly tuneless “la-la-la’s” that I have ever heard. I put my kindle on my lap, turned the light off, leant back against my propped up pillow and just listened as he sang and drifted off to his own little dream world.
To me it was majestic and utterly heart warming. I have been to listen to the dawn chorus of the birds in the New Forest here in Dorset in the early hours of the day. I have had the pleasure of listening to my good friend playing lead cello for the London Symphony Orchestra. I have delighted in live recordings of Iggy Pop singing ‘Search and Destroy’ – all of which I thought were wonderful and among my favourite things to listen to, but all paled in comparison to how much I adored listening to my son singing himself to sleep last night.
Likewise, my baby daughter recently fell asleep in my arms this week and as her breathing changed as she fell deeper to sleep, her little snores got louder and sometimes even had a squeak to them! She would then pause in her breathing and sigh as she exhaled and carried on with her dinky snores. I have slept in a room with some snoring noises of mammoth proportions before – on floors with drunken University friends, in bedrooms with family members and on trains with total strangers – and none have been anything other than grating and distracting. Yet my daughter gently snoring in my arms is a delight.
At the beginning of January, I wrote this on my Hypnotherapy School Facebook page:
“Ran my first Sunday long run of 2014 this morning as part of my Spring marathon training… Up and out the door at 6am… Car windows iced over, the stars were clear in the sky and my first few miles spent being mindful and warming up, enjoying running… Onto the dark sea front with a hint of a red glow in the backdrop, I listened to the waves crashing in on the sea front and pushed my pace some, engaging in some self-hypnosis for altering my perceived level of effort… I spent the final 3 miles of today’s 14 listening to drum and bass music, totally dissociated… Got home in time to clean up and cook my wife breakfast… As with hypnosis, the ordinary psychological processes can seem (and truly are) really magical at times… 2014 is off to a magnificent start.”
I do not always delight in these things when I am up at dawn and out running, and I know for a fact that the vast majority of runners don’t necessarily enjoy the seemingly mundane aspects of their runs when they are running 5-6 times a week.
Why am I indulging myself on my hypnosis blog in this way today then, and what is this connection with hypnosis? Well, it is not at all as tenuous as you might think. You see, I find these afore-mentioned things to be beautiful. Others may not. I do.
I find them magnificent because of my own personal attitude towards them. I have a particular mindset that flavours my responses and relationship with these occurrences. These things are all very ordinary, yet they yield truly magical outcomes and experiences to me.
I’ll connect this to hypnosis and self-hypnosis:
Hypnotism was discovered by James Braid in 1841, and entailed a more common sense psychological explanation of the apparent effects of Mesmerism (a historical precursor of hypnotism).
Braid defined hypnotism as “focused attention upon an expectant dominant idea or image” (Braid, cited in Robertson, 2008). Later, Hippolyte Bernheim, a very important figure in the history of hypnotism, said that there was no such thing as “hypnosis” other than heightened suggestibility, and named his approach “suggestive therapeutics” (Bernheim, 1887).
Hypnotism is essentially the art and science of suggestion, and not that of inducing “trances” or altered states of consciousness.
A 1941 paper written by the personality theorist, Robert White, entitled “A preface to the theory of hypnotism” is considered by many to be the beginning of the non-state, cognitive-behavioural approach to hypnosis. Research cited by White in this seminal article suggests that responses to hypnosis are primarily a result of the conscious attitudes and voluntary efforts of the individual. As a result, he redefined hypnosis as follows:
“Hypnotic behaviour is meaningful, goal-directed striving, its most general goal being to behave like a hypnotised person as this is continuously defined by the operator and understood by the client” (White, 1941).
White took the perspective that “hypnosis” is actually a verb rather than a noun. That is, it is a skill that the individual does and it is not a passive state that seems to automatically ‘happen’ in a mechanical fashion in response to something a hypnotist does. White supported the notion (though it was not the first time this notion was supported) that all hypnosis is, to some extent, self-hypnosis. Or a process of hypnotising oneself.
Nonstate theorists apply healthy scepticism when explaining hypnosis, they look at it in rational terms and with Braid’s original approach of Scottish common sense.
In contrast to the popular “trance-state” way of explaining hypnosis, based on extensive scientific research, we explain hypnosis in terms of a hypnotic “mind set” comprising of ordinary processes, such as our beliefs, our imagination, our expectations, our attitude toward hypnosis, our level of motivation, the depth of our engagement with the role of being hypnotised and some other factors too.
The term “hypnosis” then, simply refers to a set of attitudes and behaviours that facilitate hypnotic responses, and not an “altered state of consciousness” or “hypnotic trance” of some kind (Barber, Spanos and Chaves, 1974).
To add some meat to the bones of this, you can go and grab a copy of my book The Science of Self-Hypnosis: The Evidence-Based Way To Hypnotise Yourself – because there is a great deal more to this discussion and explanation than I can offer up in a simplistic blog post.
To experience hypnosis (or self-hypnosis), you simply need to engage in a hypnotic mindset. A ‘hypnotic mindset’ simply means that you will be motivated to hypnotise yourself, you will be confident in your ability to respond, optimistic about the hypnosis process, and that you will expect to automatically experience the responses being suggested or imagined. If you adopt this mindset, you will derive more benefit from hypnosis and become more responsive to hypnosis.
This hypnotic mindset may seem sobering and a far cry from the magical way hypnosis is often presented. Some people do not like having the magic whipped away from them. However, one important consequence of this is that the role of the hypnotic subject, and the role of the self-hypnotist has now been demystified and made more easily learnable. In order for you to be a successful hypnotic subject or self-hypnotist, you learn further evidence-based hypnotic skills and apply therapeutic, beneficial protocols and adopt this hypnotic mindset throughout.
Today I conclude, that hypnotism is basically about inducing a set of attitudes or mind-set. The self-hypnotist or hypnotic subject learns to adopt a favourable attitude, to “get into the right mind-set”, prior to engaging in hypnosis.
You can see then that my own set of attitudes, expectancies and mind-set effects my responses to things (like my son singing himself to sleep, my daughter snoring, the way I perceive the environment of my long runs during marathon training) which are fairly ordinary in the perspective of others, yet becomes magical to me. The same as Ricky Fitts finding a plastic bag a beautiful thing to watch. Likewise, engaging in ordinary processes with a particular set of attitudes can create what we know as hypnosis which can be magical in many ways too.
I’ll be back soon.
Barber, T., Spanos, N. and Chaves, J (1974) Hypnotism, Imagination and Human Potentialities.
New York: Pergamon.
Bernheim, H (1887) Suggestive Therapeutics. New York: Putnam’s Sons.
Robertson, D. (2008) The Discovery of Hypnosis: The Complete Writings of James Braid.
National Council For Hypnotherapy, UK.
White, Robert W. (1941). A preface to the theory of hypnotism. Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology 36 (4): 477–505 (498)