Every hypnotist gives a different answer when you ask how they define hypnosis. Some believe it is a state. Others believe it is something we naturally do every day. The truth is that science is still discovering how to define hypnosis, what it does, and how it accomplishes those feats. This makes defining hypnosis very difficult
Still, words and definitions are important and we cannot ignore them. Humans struggle without clear definitions of words. It is true that we do not have a perfect definition of hypnosis. But I think, if nothing else, we at Hoosier Hypnosis can explain our definition and why we believe in it.
What is Hypnosis?
Ask 20 hypnotist and each will explain the phenomena differently. There may be similarities, but each answer will be different. A good place to start may be this simple one from the Society of Psychological Hypnosis (Div. 30 of the APA):
Hypnosis: A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.
While this definition is not entirely correct. It isn’t wrong. I would argue it’s missing some further explanation. But we will come back to that in just a bit.
Imprecise Half Answers
However precise this definition appears, it’s not a complete story. We are still learning which parts of the brain cause hypnosis to occur. Nor do we know why we get the exact effects that we do. Neuroscience has theories on much of it with the advent of neuroimaging, but very few definitive answers. As appears to be common with many concepts related to the mind and consciousness.
The imprecise definition inaccurately describes what we do and adds to many of the misconceptions and myths about hypnosis. Let’s take this definition from Webster. They currently are defining hypnosis as “a trance-like state that resembles sleep but is induced by a person whose suggestions are readily accepted by the subject” and “any of various conditions that resemble sleep.” I would argue that is grossly inaccurate. While sleep may be the best word we have to use for an induction, hypnosis is not sleep. We are not in a heightened sense of awareness during sleep as we are in hypnosis.
As you can see above, the words we use to define something can confuse it with sleep. The same is true of the term hypnosis itself. The man who coined the term (James Braid) very quickly realized that he should have called it monoideism instead. Where hypnosis comes from the Greek word “hypnos” (meaning sleep), monoideism boils down a focus on one idea which is far more applicable. Not only to how hypnosis works in practice but as to how subjects experience it.
Defining Hypnosis: Our Definition
Let’s get back to that original definition at the top. A state of intensified focus on lessened peripheral awareness. As far as I can tell this is the most accurate and precise definition I’ve seen to date. However, it still gives me pause.
A more accurate definition would be:
A state of intensified focus in which one bypasses the conscious mind, characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion.
This is a subtle but important difference.
Why Change Such A Small Detail?
The easy answer is that it is not a small detail. The full answer is a bit more complicated. I entirely agree with Braid’s definition, but hypnosis is more than just a focus on one idea. There is also the point about the suggestibility. I would also tend to agree with the APA definition. However, I would argue that the subject is less aware of peripherals around them.
It is my experience that the opposite is true. Have you ever been in a room, even the most quiet room, closed your eyes and heard noises you missed before? In hypnosis you are in a heightened state of awareness. When a client hears an outside noise I have to build that into the trance or preempt it during the deepening process. If I did not they could end up focused on that one idea instead of on the work we are doing.
Clients tell me all the time that they heard this or that noise in the background only to be brought back to the task at hand by my voice. They are not less aware of those peripherals. They just are not focused on them at the moment. Their unconscious is still taking those things in and filtering them back out just as we always do throughout our daily lives.
I also believe it is important to mention the role of bypassing the conscious mind. We often forget or don’t even know that our unconscious mind sees and hears all the stimuli around us. I see it like the secretary who takes all the calls, manages the portions the boss doesn’t need to handle and then gives the conscious mind what it needs to do its job.
We can see this in the way our unconscious manages our heart rate. Or how our brain steps forward in an emergency, seemingly going into autopilot. Or when you are focused on a thought in the car and don’t remember how you got home. It is the part of our brain that acts when our conscious mind is otherwise preoccupied by stress, anxiety or other thoughts.
At Hoosier Hypnosis we believe that we use hypnosis to bypass the conscious mind. Defining hypnosis and how we do that We work directly with your unconscious to enact massive and fast-acting change in your life. This is why we can help someone quit smoking in only a few sessions or change a lifetime of habits.
For further information see our All About Hypnosis page for more topics.