June 12

Is All Hypnosis Self-Hypnosis?

Testing & Polishing Techniques


The idea that “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” is a hotly debated topic.  This is mostly due to the entertainment industry.  Stage hypnotism and Hollywood have given the impression that the hypnotist has all the power.  And this contributes to fears and misconceptions about hypnosis.

The most common movie depictions of hypnosis are of a person submitting their will to another.  So, the person being hypnotized is usually shown as being weak-willed or gullible. 

The hypnotist plays the part of either an unscrupulous person, or a nefarious villain who uses his special mind-controlling powers for evil purposes. 

Mwah-ha-ha ….

Svengali, The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari, The Manchurian Candidate, Stir of Echoes … These are just a few examples of movies that depict hypnosis as being under the control of the hypnotist.  This generates a fear of loss of control. 

If you’ve ever seen a stage hypnosis act – it certainly looks like the people on stage are under the control of the hypnotist.  Depending on the quality of the show you’re subjected to, the behavior of the participants on stage can range from an astonishing display of talent to downright embarrassing. 

This is what the general public is being exposed to. 

Based on these impressions, it’s easy to see how a person would argue against the idea that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.  

But here’s the thing . . . What most people don’t realize is that stage hypnotism is entertainment.  The people on stage are volunteers.  And the people who are invited up on stage have been carefully selected, based on their ability to enter into hypnosis very quickly.

A stage hypnotist has to be very skilled at getting a person into hypnosis very quickly.  To do this, they need people who are hypnotically talented.  The stage hypnotist is there to entertain.  And watching someone do a long, drawn-out induction process is like watching paint dry.  It’s boring.  

This means the hypnotist needs people from the audience who are highly suggestible.  To select these people, the hypnotist will conduct a couple of tests before asking for volunteers from the audience. 

Hypnosis is an ability we all have. 

It’s a skill that can be developed through practice.  It’s just that some people are more hypnotically talented than others.  And for the purposes of a stage show, the hypnotist needs a person who can go into hypnosis very quickly. 

The purpose for conducting a test is to gauge two things.  First, it’s a test to see how willing a person is to accept suggestions because the person needs to be willing to go into hypnosis.  Second, it’s a test for imagination. 

The more imaginative a person is, the better.  So, a common test that stage hypnotists use is the hand-clasp test.  This is where you imagine that your hands are stuck together like glue. 

A person who can concentrate and imagine to the point that their hands are stuck together like glue is the perfect volunteer for a stage hypnosis show. 

They’ve just demonstrated that they’re highly imaginative.  And they’re willing to follow the instructions that the hypnotist will give them.  That’s the first criteria.

You must be willing to follow instructions.

The second thing a stage hypnotist is looking for is volunteers.   The people who get up on stage are not lured by an unscrupulous villain.  They’re not submitting to anyone’s will but their own.  They’re there to have a good time.  And when they volunteer to get up on stage and bark like a chicken it’s because they’re willing participants.  So, they really are the show.

The movie version of hypnosis is great story telling.  And the stage hypnosis version is great entertainment.  But neither is a reliable source of education on the facts about hypnosis.  But because they give the illusion of control, they generate fears about hypnosis that have no basis in fact.

To answer the question, “Is all hypnosis self-hypnosis?”, you need to understand two things:

  1. How the Mind works
  2. How hypnosis works

If you’re a trained hypnosis practitioner, you already know these things.  But most people do not.  So, here’s what you need to know . . .

First, the term “hypnosis” is used to refer to both a state and a process.  So, there’s the state of hypnosis, and then, there is the process of inducing the state.  That can be achieved through either self-hypnosis or hetero-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is, obviously, something you do yourself. Hetero-hypnosis is facilitated self-hypnosis.   

When you’re being guided into hypnosis by another person, you are actually inducing the state yourself.  And you do this by following their instructions.  It’s like following a recipe to make a cake.  If you want a delicious cake to enjoy, you need to follow the instructions.

The same is true of hypnosis.  The hypnotist can guide you through the steps.  But to experience the hypnosis, you need to be willing to follow their instructions.  So, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

If you want it, all it takes is the willingness to follow instructions, and you can have it.   Some people are more skilled than others.  But it’s a skill you already have.  And like any skill, it’s an ability you can develop through practice. 

What is hypnosis? 

The US Department of Education has defined hypnosis as "the by-pass of the Critical Faculty of the Mind and the establishment of acceptable selective thinking."  If you’re a hypnosis practitioner you need to understand these concepts.   But for the average person, this definition is just too fancy-pants.   All the average person needs to know is that hypnosis happens - when we let it. 

Hypnosis is simply a shift of attention where you go from focusing on external things to focusing inwardly. Critical Faculty By-pass is a natural by-product of doing this, whether you’re doing it on your own, or being guided by someone else.

The Conscious Mind

The conscious mind operates at the surface of awareness.  This is our everyday awareness that takes in information from our external environment.  And it does this through our five senses. 

The conscious mind makes decisions based on our perceptions of what’s happening in our environment.  And it tries to organize information in a linear way to help us make sense of things.  This is what gives us a sense of control in life. This is the conscious mind’s primary concern – order and control.  It accomplishes these things by using reason, and logic, and analysis - to make sense of things. 

The Subconscious Mind

The subconscious mind operates below the surface of conscious awareness. Its primary concern is with our safety and security.  This is the Part of us that is responsible for all our feelings, and emotions, and memories.   But, unlike the Conscious Mind, it is non-linear and non-rational. 

Between the conscious and subconscious mind is the part of our Mind that holds onto our beliefs.  And its primary function is to compare new information with what we already know.  This is the Critical Faculty of the Mind. 

The Critical Faculty of the Mind

The Critical Faculty of the Mind is a semi-permeable barrier that sits between the conscious and subconscious areas of Mind.  The Critical Faculty’s primary function is to reality-check our perceptions against our beliefs.  If something doesn’t match your already-held beliefs or values, it going to be rejected as unacceptable.  This means that if imagining that your hands are stuck together like glue is unacceptable – it’s not going to happen. 

By the same token, if imagining yourself as a non-smoker, or 30 pounds lighter, or feeling calm and relaxed while you’re making a presentation is not congruent with how you see yourself, you’re going to struggle to change that.

This is why it can be so hard to create change consciously.  It’s because, if it doesn’t fit with your already-established beliefs or values, your Critical Faculty is duty-bound to throw up blocks. That’s good - if you believe that you deserve all the goodness that life has to offer.  The problem is that most of us don’t.  Most of us are holding onto false belief, and erroneous beliefs, that prevent us from being as healthy, and happy, and successful in life as we want. 

Obviously, if you have beliefs that you don’t like, you need to change that.  And hypnosis gives you a way to do that by allowing you to “by-pass the Critical Faculty.”  And this gives you access to the Part of the Mind that has the Power to create the kind of change you want. 

This is the purpose of therapeutic hypnosis.

The purpose of therapeutic hypnosis is not to entertain.  It’s to create real and lasting change through a process of facilitated self-hypnosis.  And research shows that the best subjects for hypnotherapy have three common traits.

These people tend to be of higher intelligence, are highly imaginative, and more self-aware. These are the people who are most successful at creating permanent change for themselves through hypnosis.  The problem is that the movies have managed to hypnotize a lot of people into the false belief that hypnosis is dangerous or evil. 

What’s interesting is that the fear, itself, can actually prevent a person from entering into a state of hypnosis.  The Critical Faculty of your own mind will block you from entering into a state of hypnosis if it’s perceived as a threat.  This is why a stage hypnotist conducts a suggestibility test. 

You need to be a willing participant in the process. 

This is doubly true for therapeutic hypnosis because healing hypnosis is an interactive process.  And you can’t participate in the healing process if you’re unconscious.

It takes consciousness to change consciousness.   So, you’re always aware, which means you’re always in control.  Nothing is going to happen without your consent.  So much for Svengali!

Hypnosis is a natural ability that we all have.

In fact, we go in and out of hypnosis throughout the day.  But most people don’t realize that it’s happening.  And it happens every 70 to 90 minutes. What happen is that the mind shifts from being very active to a more diffused, relaxed state, during which the mind just wanders off into Lah-Lah Land for a few minutes.  So, you get lost in a daydream for a little while because your attention is focused elsewhere.

You may notice this happens when you’re sitting in the classroom or driving in the car.  It’s not that you’re falling asleep.  It’s just that your mind-body system takes a much-needed break.  This is a natural healing cycle that kicks in automatically. 

When you’re falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning, you pass through a state of hypnosis.  When you’re falling asleep, it’s called the hypnogogic state.  When you’re waking up, it’s called the hypnopompic state

Hypnosis gets its name from the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos.  You’re not asleep, however.  You’re aware of everything.  But as you’re falling asleep, your mind is slowing down and relaxing in preparation for sleep.  And when you’re waking up, you emerge from sleep though this same state, again.  That’s hypnosis.

The term, hypnosis, was coined by a Scottish surgeon by the name of James Braid.  He was doing research into the therapeutic applications for the state.  And he observed that a person in hypnosis appears to be asleep. He later discovered that hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep.  But by then, the name had caught on.

As a result, we continue to refer to both the state and the process of inducing it as “hypnosis.”  But it has nothing to do with sleep.    Hypnosis is a state of suspension between being fully awake and fully asleep. 

Hypnosis is completely safe. 

You’ve already done it a thousand times.  You’re doing it as you wake in the morning.  You’re doing it as you fall asleep at night.  And you’re doing it throughout the day.  It’s a naturally occurring state that can be used for entertainment - or for healing.  And it’s completely up to you because all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

Now, if you’re a hypnosis practitioner, there’s another argument against the “all hypnosis is self-hypnosis” axiom that you need to consider.  And it has to do with trauma. During a traumatic experience a person will enter into a state of hypnosis.  Obviously, they haven’t consciously agreed to go into hypnosis.  It just happens.  So how could “all hypnosis be self-hypnosis”?  

The answer has to do with feelings. 

The Subconscious Mind is the emotional Mind.  It’s where all our feelings and memories are stored.  When a person is experiencing a strong emotion, they have stepped into the Subconscious level of Mind.  And that, by definition, is hypnosis. 

When you’re in a state of overwhelm, the feelings are a response to what’s happening in your environment.  Those feelings are not coming from outside of you.  They’re coming from within.  They’re self-induced as a response to environmental cues.

The stronger the emotion, the deeper the hypnosis.  So, in a situation of trauma, where the person is feeling overwhelmed by intense emotions, they enter into a state of deep hypnosis.  

Deep hypnosis induces a natural state of analgesia.  This may have to do with evolution but one of the things that can happen during a traumatic episode is that the mind kind of leaves the body.  The person “checks out.”  And the body goes numb.

This is called dissociation. 

Dissociation is good.  It’s a self-protective escape mechanism that’s there to protect you.  If you’re in danger of being eaten alive, numbing out is a good thing.  It means you won’t be able to feel it.  Where it becomes a problem is when the response becomes habituated. 

This natural, biological response is the basis of a shock induction.  A shock induction is not traumatic in the least.  In fact, it can feel really good.  But what it does is it triggers a mini-flight response that by-passes the Critical Faculty.  It’s like the Critical Faculty has this brief Homer Simpson Moment where it says, “I’m outta here!”  When that happens, you have Critical Faculty By-Pass.  That’s hypnosis.  

To maintain the state, however, you need to deepen it immediately.  If you don’t, the person will emerge themselves right away.  So, this is the purpose of deepening suggestions.  It’s to guide the person to a deeper level.  And for a person to access those deeper states, they must agree to continue to follow your instructions. 

So, that’s it.  What do you think?  Is all hypnosis self-hypnosis?

Consider these 5 concepts ….

1. Hypnosis is both a process and a state. 

Both require a focusing of attention.  So, whether you’re doing it on your own or being guided by another person, you have to be willing to pay attention to enter the state.  It requires your participation. 

You’re doing it yourself.  So, that’s self-hypnosis,

2. Hypnosis happens – when we let it. 

It’s not so much something we do as something we allow by following instructions.  It requires your consent.  To induce the state of hypnosis, you must be willing to follow instructions.  And to maintain the state you must agree to continue following instructions.  So, you’re doing it yourself. 

That’s self-hypnosis.

3. Hypnosis is a natural state that we all experience throughout the day. 

Whether you realize it or not, you’re going in and out of hypnosis on your own, each and every day.  If you’re doing this on your own, that’s self-hypnosis.

Now, it’s true that hypnosis can be triggered by external cues, especially when it involves strong emotions.  But it’s still a self-induced state.  It’s not something that’s happening to you.  It’s an internal response that is being self-generated. 

So, that’s self-hypnosis.

4. Hypnosis can be used for entertainment or for healing. 

Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has misled a lot of people into believing that hypnosis is some kind of mind-control.  But even stage hypnotism depends on a person’s consent.  That’s why they ask for volunteers.  They need people who are willing to participate.  It’s because all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

Now, it’s true that some people are more hypnotically talented than others.  But it’s a natural skill and ability that you already have.  And, like any skill, you can develop this ability through practice. 

5. Hypnosis is an ability you already have.

Whether hypnosis is something you are doing on your own, or is being guided by another person, you can use this wonderful ability, that you already have, to create real and lasting change – from the inside out. 

And the research shows that the people who are most successful using hypnosis to create permanent change are highly intelligent, imaginative, and self-aware.

Just like you. ; - )

About the author 

Wendie Webber

With over thirty years of experience as a healing practitioner, Wendie brings a broad range of skills to her approach to regression to cause hypnosis. She combines a gentle, yet commanding way of presenting with a thorough, clear and systematic approach to helping healing practitioners to make sense of regression hypnotherapy.