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Defining Hypnosis

Below you will find an explanation for the hypnoidal state, along with a few of my favorite, and most well known definitions of hypnosis. Feel free to just read on about the hypnotic state and then read on through to the definitions of hypnosis, or click the link above to take you straight to your topic of choice.

The Hypnoidal State

To begin, the first understanding that we should have is that trance, or hypnosis is simply a level of mind. So what do we mean by a level of mind, it's simply this: the frequency at which your brain is operating. The faster it operates, the higher the frequency, and the more wide awake one tends to be.

There are basically four levels of mind of which we speak, with many levels in between, but the primary ones are, Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta.
Beta: is our normally wide awake state of consciousness at which we operate throughout the day.
Alpha: is the first level of trance we experience, and is considered the mildest, yet still useful level of hypnosis.
Theta: is considered a deeper level of hypnosis, and also has a few other terms of which you will learn about within other sections here at Hypnotic Advancements.
Delta: is a level of deep sleep which the body uses for tissue repair and recovery. The interesting thing about these levels, is that we experience them every day of our lives. Once we get going in the morning we are in Beta, and as we head off to dream land at the end of our day, we pass through both the Alpha and Theta levels as we fall asleep soon entering REM, our dream state, and then Delta, then cycling through REM and Delta until we awaken again.

Now, the hypnoidal state refers to precursors of hypnosis, usually induced by non formalistic hypnotic techniques. Through fixation of attention, for example, the monotonous stimulus of a white line on a highway induces a tiring effect upon the driver. This eventually leads to some degree of dissociation that can produce a hypnoidal effect, and this, in turn, can merge with true sleep. Depending upon the degree of dissociation, it resembles hypnosis. The hypnoidal state is characterized by some detachment as well as by physical and mental relaxation. The attention span fluctuates more toward abstractional states. Since critical thinking is reduced, enhanced suggestibility results.

Our lives are full of hypnoidal contacts and relationships that are referred to by psychologists as waking hypnosis. Repetitive radio, television commercials, advertising propaganda, and good actors heighten the attention span in a meaningful manner and enhance our suggestibility. When watching an interesting motion picture, our attention is focused on the screen, and we soon enter into a hypnoidal state. Varying degrees of emotion are registered as we identify with the action in the film. Whenever the necessity for consensus reality thinking is obviated, a type of waking hypnosis occurs. Without realizing it, we are in a hypnoidal state and on the way to being effectively hypnotized. Waking hypnosis here occurs as the result of utilizing ordinary experiences.

Mass suggestion, mass hypnosis, subliminal projection, brainwashing, propaganda, and evangelistic appeals leading to altered behavior are also produced by non formalistic hypnotic methods. Thus knowledge of the everyday aspects of scientifically applied suggestion – hypnosis – has profound implications for an understanding of all mental functioning.

Though different, animal hypnosis, or immobility reflex, displays some of the hypnotic phenomena noted in humans. A chicken placed in a horizontal position develops a tonic immobility characterized by an extensor rigidity of the limbs known as catalepsy , when a line is drawn from the eye that is closer to the ground. The immobility may be due, in part, to restriction of activity. Other illustrations of seemingly hypnotic phenomena are seen throughout the animal kingdom. The female spider, which is much larger than the male and ordinarily kills him, is rendered immobile by stroking her belly just before copulation. A snake is hypnotized or charmed by the to-and-fro movement of the flutist; and the bird that sings the most sweetly attracts the preferred potential mates.

Older literature posits a similarity between animal hypnosis and a hypnoidal state, the latter being a primitive type of resting state noted in animals. The more primitive the animal, the more apparently hypnoidal is its sleep state. From a philogenetic standpoint, sleep and hypnosis may have evolved from primitive hypnoidal mechanisms. However, it should be stressed that the capacity of a human to enter into hypnosis is due primarily to the social and interpersonal relationships induced by the symbolic or experiential meaning of words and other stimuli. In animals, on the other hand, hypnosis is produced chiefly by physical manipulations, such as restraint which leads to fear, torpor, and regressive behavior.

Defining Hypnosis

Firstly, is hypnosis a clearly definable state?
The question of definable, I believe to be one truly of a personal nature. It first must be understood that our minds are simply manifestations of our own subjective experience, forever changing, and hopefully growing with every impression engraved within by all of our doorways of perception (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell).

When Bruce Lee, the late unstoppable master of the martial arts lived, he developed a fighting technique. The brilliance of the man caused him to be on a never-ending journey, forever searching out the best within all styles. Eventually he developed what I would prefer to term a formula, rather than any specific technique. His suggestion was to always keep an open mind, and use anything that works, because what works on someone today will be different tomorrow, yet always, something will work somewhere. Then at times one will encounter an adversary with abilities so profound, that you must let him into your space, taking his inflicting damage in order to put him down. The man, like a god, was virtually unstoppable.

Eventually, he was asked the big question, "what do you call this technique of devastation", and for the longest time he refused to answer. Bruce Lee was afraid that if titled, the essence of what he did would be devastated, for the truth of what it was, was adaptation to whatever worked.

I truly believe that a definition could only demoralize, reduce, and possibly, put a stop to what I believe is a knowledge that I feel even the best, the late Dr. Milton H. Erickson, barely spoke a whisper of. As its very own categorized name proved defiantly wrong. Hypnosis, meaning sleep surely doesn’t fit, but a wonderful ring it certainly has.

Can hypnosis be defined, certainly, but characteristically only by the specific subject’s present experience. I state this because, although I have found many similarities within my own experience, they are always yet so different, and the reader will find that book after book, there are as many definitions as there have ever been hypnotists. So below I have provided the reader with a few of the most popular definitions to date along with my favorite elaboration composed from Milton H. Ericksons notes.

In Krasner’s “The Wizard Within”, pg. 2, 1999, he states:
I believe hypnosis to be a process which produces relaxation, distraction of the conscious mind, heightened suggestibility, and increased awareness, allowing access to the subconscious mind through the imagination. It also produces the ability to experience thoughts and images as real.

In Ormond McGill’s, “The New Encyclopedia of Stage Hypnotism”, pg. 12, 1996, one finds:
Basically, hypnosis can be regarded as a state of mind produced by the transference from one level of consciousness to another; a state with capacities for mental activities distinctly its own directly keyed to the automatic nervous system rather than the sympathetic (central nervous system) productive of the state of mind of somnambulism, i.e. subconscious behavior.

And we couldn’t possibly leave out Dave Elman’s, “Hypnotherapy”, pg. 26, 1964:
Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed, and selective thinking established.” Continuing that, “the critical faculty of your mind is that part which passes judgment.”
Personally I must add that I far prefer Topher Morrison’s (Instructor for the Accelerated Hypnotherapy Certification Weekend Seminar put on by APU) interpretation of the critical faculty as “the part of you that cares to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

In Stephen Gilligan’s “Therapeutic Trances” he states:
Hypnosis is conceptualized as an experientially absorbing interactional sequence that produces an altered state of consciousness wherein self-expressions begin to happen automatically, without conscious mediation." (Gilligan, Stephen, G., 1987)

And finally from our dearly beloved Dr. Milton H. Erickson
In “The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson, Volume I" page 113, Dr. Erickson is quoted as stating:
The hypnotic state is an experience that belongs to the subject, derives from the subject’s own accumulated learning's and memories, not necessarily consciously recognized, but possible of manifestations in a special state of non waking awareness”. And one of my favorite explanations can be found within The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson, Volume IV of the same series, page 224, “It is a state of consciousness – not unconsciousness or sleep – a state of consciousness or awareness in which there is a marked receptiveness to ideas and understandings and an increased willingness to respond either positively or negatively to those ideas. It derives from processes and functioning within the subject. And is not some mystical procedure, but rather a systematic utilization of experiential learning's– that is, the extensive learning's acquired through the process of living itself.
For those preferring something very easy to remember, from “Experiencing Hypnosis”, pg. 187, 1981, Erickson so eloquently states:
All hypnosis is, is a loss of the multiplicity of the foci of attention.

To define hypnosis myself, I would have to say that it is all this and much more yet to be understood.
From my experience, I would define hypnosis or trance as a state of mind ranging within a multitude of depths that allow for greater learning, and astounding control of one’s body and mind. I believe that every state of mind is a trance of a sort, but when concentration is directed to thought, or focused within, profound realizations occur. Levels of acceptance to hypnotic suggestions are heightened.
At deeper levels of this trance phenomenon, it seems that all one has left, is “mind”. Now, what really is mind, but a myriad of thoughts, images, internally heard sounds and sensations, all possibly occurring at once. Yet still being far off, who knows where this “mind” is, seemingly everywhere and anywhere all at one time, one still remains connected, and grounded by the soothing voice of their dream weaving guide.
Hypnosis, on one’s own termed self hypnosis, at times can also be quite profound and similar to the experience above. At times the mind seems to go for a ride, a voyage, riding a killer whale while feeling the ocean spray and wind, yet being able to redirect one’s own thoughts and work with one’s goals, whether they be learning, healing, or simply changing our patterns, so come now, and take a magical trip with me, to that mystical, magical place within your mind, using that magical tool, hypnosis.

With all said, I must add a quote I find cherishable for the clinical hypnotherapist by Milton Erickson, from “Hypnotic Realities”, pg. 20, 1976, as to the definition of a successful session.
A successful clinical hypnotic experience, then, is one in which trance alters habitual attitudes and modes of functioning so that carefully formulated hypnotic suggestions can evoke and utilize other patterns of associations and potentials within the patient to implement certain therapeutic goals.

So how would I define hypnosis? If asked again I am sure that my answer would grow more profound. My answer simply put is that hypnosis is really and quite truly the most profoundly misunderstood phenomena of mind, consisting of ummeasurable qualities and possibilities. If you have a definition for hypnosis, I would love to read about it, and if you like I might even puplish it here, along with your name below it, with your permission of course, so just click the link found here below, and tell me your thoughts, titled "Hypnosis Definition".


Mailing address:
Dr. Frank Valente
Hypnotic Advancements
3126 McCarthy Court
Mississauga , ON
Canada L4Y-3Z5

© 2004, Dr. Frank Valente DCH

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