Just exactly why is it that so many hypnotists, hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners insist on referring to hypnosis as being a ‘trance’??
I suppose that many of the well-known NLP and hypnosis trainers call it trance and therefore, their students and graduates learn to refer to it as that too.
When you look at actual definitions for the word trance, it is a heavyweight version, it states the following:
Any mental state in which the person is unaware or apparently unaware of the environment, characterised by loss of voluntary movement, rigidity, and lack of sensitivity to external stimuli.
It does also offer up other variations, to do with being stunned or dazed, a state of mystic absorption and also pertaining to spiritualism, whereby one has temporarily lost consciousness and can be controlled by a greater intelligence… Then of course the reference to trance music.
On this page at Wikipedia, the term is referred to as:
Trance denotes a variety of processes, ecstasy, techniques, modalities and states of mind, awareness and consciousness. Trance states may occur involuntarily and unbidden.
Ok, I had better start here… It is my belief and a result of my own experience and reading, also supported with much evidence, that it is vitally important for anyone about to experience hypnotherapy, to have any misconceptions ironed out, overcome and set straight. Espeically if they have picked up snippets of information from the media.
Many people still believe that hypnosis is something which is done to them, rather than something they do to themselves. They think that being hypnotised renders them under the control of the hypnotist, that they will have some monumentally large altered state and may even fear being unable to come out of that state and also that they won’t be able to remember any of it.
This and similar myths get perpetuated boringly all over the place.Controlled research in hypnosis has since led to a more accurate understanding of hypnotic phenomena and I have discussed this in depth in other places, it is not the central focus today.
I think an accurate account of hypnosis should be explained to someone before embarking in hypnotherapy and before hypnosis is employed in any way.
The idea that hypnosis involves (or is even the same) a trance state is one of the most destructive and harmful of these misconceptions about hypnosis according to some authors..
Let me start by saying that decades of research have failed (absolutely failed) to confirm any theory that people positively responding to suggestions are anything to do with them being in an altered state of some kind. As such, the vast majority of researchers, scholars, authors and good quality trainers have abandoned the idea. Refer to the work of Kirsch and Lynn in 1995 for a more accurate summary of this. (On pages 846-858 of the American Psychologist entitled “The altered state of hypnosis: Changes in theoretical landscape.”)
Most of these people now reject the term trance due to it being misleading or at the very best, any who use it refer to it in the same way you’d refer to being absorbed a television programme or when daydreaming. Yet among hypnosis practitioner and hypnotherapists (and especially NLP practitioners) it is still used.
There are many who believe that relating hypnosis to a trance state could actually inhibit the success of hypnosis and hypnotherapy interventions. I encounter many people who have no previous experience of hypnosis that are afraid of the notion of going into a trance state. Lots of hypnotherapists or hypnotists may thrive on that notion, but I don’t want fear in my hypnotherapy consulting rooms, part of my job and purpose is to help people shed that stuff!Some fear loss of control that this idea of trance instils.
On a practical note, if people do fear the hypnotist or hypnotherapist, they may resist the suggestions that are being given and basic levels of rapport may be very difficult to establish.
My big issue with this notion though is not that I get fed up with hypnotists loving the self-centred notion of being some awe-inspiring, fear-inducing all powerful being who wields hypnosis in this way… But that when they enforce this idea, the client or patient ends up believing that they only have a passive role to play in the hypnotherapy. They sit back and get zapped and all the good stuff happens to them when they are in this trance state… they wake up and exclaim ‘hallelujah’ and all is better…. ???
In hypnotherapy, the hypnotherapists getting the results know that those results depend and rely upon a collaborative approach. This is an approach where therapist and client work together, both knowing their roles and responsibilities. Those roles are equal in number for the client and the therapist!
When you educate the hypotherapy client properly and inform them that hypnosis is not a trance state, they can relax and be involved in the process and learn that such involvement is evidence of the hypnosis being successful… This takes so much pressure away from the client and enables them to be much more responsive to suggestions given by the hypnotherapist.
Let me support this a bit more… In 2002, entitled “The effects of an induction and defining hypnosis as a trance vs. cooperation: Hypnotic suggestibility and performance standards” and published in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis Lynn, Vanderhoff, Shindler and Stafford discovered that participants who were told that responding to hypnosis meant they had to enter a trance were less suggestible that the participants who were told that responding to hypnosis required them to be actively involved in the process.
Do I need to say more?
So how about it folks? How about we stop referring to hypnosis as a trance? Go on, you can do it…
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Couldn’t you use exactly the same arguments for hypnosis. Just swap the words “hypnosis” and “trance” in your article and you are arguing equally coherently for not referring to the word “hypnosis” when you work with clients.
Andrew, whilst I like your thinking and appreciate you wishing to bathe with beelzebub in this matter, I think that the answer to your question is simply this… No.
Of course, you could easily reverse the words if you wanted to, but the argument would not be coherent or the same. because that would mean, you’d have to be a ‘trance therapist’ and not a hypnotherapist.
Hypnosis is not trance. Suggesting it is so is proven to negatively impact upon the efficacy of your suggestions.
This is more than just pedantry. It is literally examining what each word means and the way peoples attitudes and feelings are forged as a result of the use of such words.
Good hearing from you Andrew.
Thanks for this Adam, very thought provoking reading indeed.
I still believe there’s times when reference to ‘trance’ would be useful to certain clients(and if you use the word you (re-)define to them specifically what it means). This is something I haven’t considered until now.
Like the metaphor of unconciousness (unconscious mind) vs a part of you (parts therapy) or just stating that you are one mind with lots of connections that perform many different functions, some voluntary (ie under your control) and others involuntary (autonomic). There is however no such thing as ‘an unconscious mind’ because it’s just you. It is however easier to explain to a client this way rather than saying the medulla oblangatta does such and such (we’d be in therapy for hours and Freud’s sessions would seem too short!)
Maybe it’s not such a great idea to make a general reference to ‘trance’ without first defining ourself to the client what we mean by it (like my introduction to hypnosis which could do with a going over for use beyond training). Much like when you refer to the unconscous mind instead of ‘subconsciuos’ or sleep as a command – the defination of what that word means is important to explain.
Hi Andy, thanks for that.
I agree that it is important to explain what your words mean, especially if there is a risk of problematic ambiguity.
Though it is equally as simple to omit the word trance and just explain what hypnosis is and is not correctly.
The word “trance” was never used by the founders of hypnotism, Braid and Bernheim, to explain how hypnosis works. It wouldn’t have made sense to them. In Victorian medicine “trance” was used synonymously with “coma”, it implies a state of being “half-dead”, i.e., in “transit” (to the afterlife). Neither Braid nor Bernheim would have accepted that their subjects necessarily entered a “half-dead” state in order to respond to suggestions, of course. The word also, always, carried supernatural connotations.
Over the years the term became watered down enormously until you find modern Ericksonians saying we’re in “natural” trances all day long, when reading, driving, watching films, etc. Critics point out that this is nonsensical. How can our normal state of consciousness be an “altered” (abnormal) state of consciousness??? Doh! It’s mincing words, in a way that just confuses clients and alienates hypnotherapy from other professions and mainstream psychology.
Technically, cognitive-behavioural theories of hypnosis, as they’re called, replace the concept of trance or altered state of consciousness with the notion of a “cognitive set”. Because clients aren’t usually familiar with the word “cognition”, I tend to use the more common term “mind-set”, which means the same thing. So hypnosis is primarily a mind-set, or set of attitudes, including motivation, expectation, trust, etc., rather than an altered or abnormal state of consciousness.
Even my old friend, Gil Boyne, used to say that hypnotism simply involves building expectation, exciting the imagination, and executing the (any) induction ritual. That makes no reference to an altered state and sounds like it could have been taken straight from the pages of Ted Barber, the leading skeptical or cognitive-behavioural theorist. Most stage hypnotists talk about trance onstage, like special state theorists, but talk more in terms of ordinary suggestion and social compliance offstage, behind the scenes, like skeptical / cognitive-behavioural theorists.
See my article on the history of the word “trance” below…
The word “hypnosis” is vague enough to encompass a social construct, i.e., someone entering a socially-defined role, like that of doing comedy or being in love, rather than a specific altered state of consciousness, as implied by the word “trance.” “Hypnosis” can also potentially denote a cognitive set, as required by cognitive-behavioural theories. We can say “hypnosis” is just a set of attitudes in which you focus your attention on the expectation of certain responses happening in a “hypnotic” (seeming automatic) manner. That’s different from saying it’s a trance.
Don, thank you hugely… Very much appreciated that contribution.
I confess that in my former years as a hypnotherapist, as a result of my own training, I referred to ‘trance’ in the way you mention and have moved massively in my stance over recent years.
I have to agree (at least in part) with Andrew here. We are talking about how people construe words – their connotations and associations – and I think people have just as many misconceptions and unhelpful expectations about the word ‘hypnosis’ as ‘trance.’
Sometimes I even wonder about the value of calling myself a ‘hypnotherapist’ because there can be as many problems and issues with the word as there are ‘non-deceptive mega-placebo’ benefits.
I think it’s interesting that the word ‘trance’ has come to mean something passive and receptive (and also abnormal) in the post-Christian West when, in earlier times and cultures, trance was often seen as a way for a person to take active responsibility for making changes. There is a difference between practising trance and being ‘entranced.’
I notice that Stephen Gilligan uses the word ‘trance’ in the same way that you’re suggesting using the word ‘hypnosis,’ Adam. I understand why you choose not to use it and I prefer not to use it myself these days. But surely the most important thing is for the therapist to use the words which make most sense to the client – and help the client to engage in the process that is most meaningful to them? Our discussion here might be quite culturally biased.
Sophie, I hear you 🙂
But why call hypnosis something that it is not? And why not educate the client about what our working model of hypnosis means and we have no issue.
I suspect Stephen Gilligans use of the word is heavily influenced by his Ericksonian links… Erickson used the term heavily.
As you said at facebook… It is marvellous that we get to engage and discuss elements of our field in this way… Open debate is essential to furthering our understanding.
Though just for the record… Anyone who disagrees with anything I say or write… Is clearly wrong.
There are data from surveys which overall tend to show that ordinary subjects feel the words “trance” and “altered state” just don’t match their experience of hypnosis. Why don’t CBT practitioners depend on this concept when they’re often doing very similar things with very similar (or better) results?
Sophie, I should perhaps have said, “The word ‘trance’ in Victorian medicine denoted an unusual and abnormal death-like or comatose state, and that is how it was originally employed in the context of Braid’s hypnotism.”
Isn’t language wonderful? We can have two words with an apparently common derivation that can be used to mean completely different things. As Donald says above, the word “trance” in Victorian medicine denoted something quite unusual and sinister while writings of the same era used the word “entrance” to mean, “to fill with delight, wonder, or enchantment”.
Just when a couple of your students and I were speaking about this very same subject this weekend. One had felt during an hypnosis exercise that the word ‘hypnosis’ was having a counter-effect on her experience and the consensus was that for her ‘trance’ would have been more gentle.
In fact we agreed that the word trance is very hypnotic (:
I agree with Andy – get an understanding of your clients needs first and that will clarify an appropriate use of language for them. – are these called ‘Trance words’? (:
You can’t get me Adam – I’m too far away
Don, I didn’t see your comments here until I’d already posted mine. Completely agree that ‘cognitive set’ is an excellent way to describe what we’re helping our clients to develop and practise. And I suppose that is why I sometimes find myself questioning my use of the terms ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotherapist.’ There is such a long tradition of misconception, from Victorian times onwards…
Adam, Gilligan’s use of the word ‘trance’ is, I’m sure, influenced by Erickson but also, as I understand it, by his research and work in other cultures, particularly with people in Indonesia. So clients in other cultures might understand ‘trance’ in a different way.
Did I also not say that, of course, you are right, Adam. Of course you are. Absolutely. 🙂 Sometimes. 😉 Ha ha ha…
Goddammit, this is tantamount to mutiny! Both my fellow trainers are publicly disagreeing with me… This is not allowed ladies!
As I have been writing in the members forum here, I was actually taught to use the word trance. My first training was 15 years ago now and I hope that my teacher has continued to develop and grow and update his work in the same way I have.
My issue is also this… What is wrong with explaining the correct meaning of the word ‘hypnosis’ and then ensuring that the client is comfortable with that? It is hypnosis we use, do we need to rename it ‘trance’?
We are not ‘trancenotists’ are we? Though I suspect there is someone out there buying up the rights to http://www.trancenotist.com as we speak!
Plus, there is much evidence to suggest the word trance can affect suggestibility detrimentally. I understand and appreciate that many people will have exceptions to this, but I like to appreciate empirical research findings too.
ps. Plus it is great marketing to get everyone a tad heated with these discussions!
As Irving Kirsch says, Hypnosis is not therapy. So perhaps it doesn’t matter what you call it, hypnosis, trance, deep relaxation, only that you create the appropriate mind-set, attitude, beliefs to support the actual therapeutic intervention to follow.
If we are seeking this goal of a ‘suggestable client’ surely we do not want to rely on words where the client can attach such a wide range of possible internal representations, meanings? It does seem to me that if we use either of these words – hypnosis, trance – we immediately have to explain them!
Thank you, hurrah to the mutany!! 😉
Actually, I’m starting to think hypnosis might be better conceptualised as a “meta-cognitive set”. It’s actually primarily a set of attitudes towards autosuggestions, which are thoughts themselves, so cognitions about other cognitions. “Depth of trance” could arguably be replaced simply by degree of belief in the power of suggestion, and certain attitudes about how suggestions work and what type of responses to expect. That’s a bit like the old idea that “If you believe you’re in hypnosis then you’re in hypnosis”, altered/trance state or not.
I think Prof. Kirsch seems to be moving toward a “metacognitive” model of hypnosis,
So why do hypnotherapists bother using the induction/relaxation and overloading techniques they do instead of using NLP/Cognitive techniques? What IS ” the correct meaning of the word ‘hypnosis’” then?
A bit late to the party again, but there is a quote from Alan Sugar from when IBM PCs were just beginning to take off in the word processor market (paraphrased)
“Yes, I’ll put in fans in my computers, and if they want it purple with white polka dots, I’ll do that too. What’s the point of me banging my head against a brick wall and saying ‘You don’t need the damn fan, sunshine?'”
For me, therapy is about knowing where your client is starting out and being behaviourally flexible enough to move to where they are. If their (perhaps naive) expectation is that there is such a thing as trance, then explaining the process in terms of a trance metaphor is probably useful.
Hartlands book also describes the usefulness of the trance metaphor for anaesthesia and analgesia, in contrast to building up the expectation of suggestibility for change work.
So, I would like to think that I will use the word trance where and when it’s useful, although that doesn’t prevent me from tutoring the client in more useful metaphors as we go along
Thanks for that Andy, very nicely put.
I really love that Alan Sugar quote.
Good hearing from you.