Hypnotherapy Made Simple?

April 18th, 2012

To write a review of a book which was first published in 1967 and is no longer in print might seem a rather unusual thing to do. But this is rather an unusual book.

When the book was written, the author was a practicing hypnotherapist based in the West End of London. It offers basic instruction in hypnotic induction and trance deepening and also offers ideas and suggestions regarding the therapeutic applications of hypnosis. The book is rather like a highly condensed course in hypnotherapy – or, maybe, a condensed outline of a course. The book gives no instruction as to the treatment of specific issues, but neither do many “official” training courses in hypnotherapy. A huge amount of ground is covered in a mere 95 pages. Inevitably a huge amount is excluded.

This was the first book on hypnosis I had ever read. I was in my late teens when I came across this book, and its equally slim companion volume on self-hypnosis, quite by chance, while browsing through second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road. At the time, I had no thoughts whatsoever of becoming a hypnotherapist. The books were cheap and they excited my curiosity so I bought the pair of them.

Hypnosis is surely an interesting phenomenon, whatever one’s views of the subject may be. At that time, my interest in hypnosis had been aroused by a novel I had read. As a teenager I used to enjoy the novels of Dennis Wheatley (a taste which I quickly outgrew, I hasten to add). In one of these novels – I think it was The Haunting of Toby Jugg – the disabled hero was being held captive by a Satanist and he managed to escape by teaching himself hypnosis out of a book, hypnotizing a servant, and getting the servant to push him and his wheelchair to safety. I never regarded the occult elements in Wheatley’s fiction as being anything other than amusing “Hammer Horror” style entertainment. But the hypnosis element intrigued me. Was it really possible to use such techniques to gain such a level of control over another human being? Maybe Ousby’s book would contain the answer?

Ousby’s self-hypnosis book did prove to be of some practical value. I may write about that book later so I’ll leave the details for now. But I found The Theory and Practice of Hypnotism simply bewildering. It was too simple, too straightforward, maybe even too banal. There simply had to be more to it than that!

Well – there is more to the theory and practice of hypnotism than is contained in Ousby’s tiny book. But before discussing it further, I will give an overview of the book and its contents.

The book was devised as a practical course of instruction and was originally circulated privately – presumably issued to therapists and health-care professionals of one sort or another. It is not a book about hypnosis. The book says virtually nothing about how hypnosis actually works. It is essentially an instruction manual. Do what it says on the tin and you will become a competent hypnotist. Whether such an aim is actually achievable will be discussed later.

The first chapter of the book outlines some of the practical and therapeutic uses of hypnotism. Hypnosis can help with habit problems, confidence issues, pain control, and the usual issues which a practicing hypnotherapist will deal with. But Ousby also touches on some wider applications. Hypnosis can enhance performance and therefore can be of use in the professional sphere. Hypnosis can also be used in a domestic context, helping children with school or study issues, and so on. I fully agree with this. Hypnosis has so many uses. Possible applications in schools, universities, workplaces etc are almost limitless. Mention is also briefly made of the potential of hypnosis as a research tool.

Chapters two and three get down to the practicalities. These chapters are devoted to suggestibility tests – the swinging pendulum test which one can perform oneself, and tests such as “posture sway” test in which the body of a standing subject will be made to sway involuntarily by means of verbal suggestion alone. The purpose of these tests is two-fold: to give the fledgling hypnotist practice and experience in the offering of suggestions and to help to “condition” the subject to respond positively to suggestions offered by the hypnotist.

Chapter four deals with the preparation of the subject for hypnosis. The subject will probably have preconceptions or misconceptions about the whole process. A few works of advice are offered about the environment in which hypnotism is to take place. Even fewer words are offered about contra-indicators to hypnosis. Ousby’s advice is not to hypnotize people who are epileptic or hysterical.

Chapters five to seven outline – very briefly – some basic induction methods. Chapter five deals with eye-closure methods, chapter six discusses other methods such as arm levitation and limb catalepsy. Chapter seven touches on methods which no professional would ever use, such as “instant somnambulism” through physical disorientation, induction of trance-like states through drugs or pressure on nerves or veins.

Chapters eight and nine deal with trance deepeners. Ousby suggests that trance depth can be both “assessed” and enhanced by direct challenges – suggesting to the subject that they cannot open their eyes or that they cannot lower their arm. Chapter nine offers a script for a purely verbal deepener.

Chapter ten offers some very brief comments about demonstration and stage hypnosis. Chapter eleven contains instructions for formal trance termination and chapter twelve deals with the question of post-hypnotic suggestion, concentrating mainly on the sorts of suggestions to avoid.

Chapters thirteen and fourteen offer some comments on the subject of self-hypnosis. There is little here that is of practical value to the student and this subject is dealt with in greater depth by the author in the companion volume to this book.

The book ends with a brief chapter which returns to the issues of the therapeutic applications of hypnosis.

So – will this book turn you into a competent hypnotist? In theory, yes – in practice, highly unlikely. The suggestibility tests and most of the induction methods in this book are only suitable for people who have a fairly high level of suggestibility and who are able to respond positively to non-hypnotic suggestions. OK – suppose you, the fledgling hypnotist, manage to find such a person. You then have the problem of what you say to your subject and how you say it. The book contains very little by way of script to give you a helping hand. People learning hypnosis get tongue-tied, they forget what to say, their mind goes blank. Or they get the tone and the pace all wrong. They may speak too fast – a very common problem for student hypnotists. They may speak too softly, and the subject may not hear them. Or they may speak too loudly and come across as bossy and controlling. Nerves, uncertainty and lack of confidence come across very strongly in the voice of someone learning to hypnotize. I know – I’ve been there!

This is the main stumbling block. Hypnosis is all about practice and experience. An experienced hypnotist or hypnotherapist can use just about any induction method because they know what to say and how and when to say it. It is more like an art than a science or a technique. Different approaches are required for different subjects, and one really only finds this out by trial and error.

The techniques contained in this book also contain many dangers for the inexperienced hypnotist. With posture-sway or somnambulism the subject might lose balance or become disorientated. Nothing is said about abreaction. The advice on contra-indicators is woefully inadequate.

A book for the dustbin, then? Not at all. Although the whole approach as outlined in this book seems, to the modern practitioner, very outmoded and authoritarian, yet often many a baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Suggestibility tests are little used these days but re-reading this book makes me wonder whether this whole aspect of hypnotic induction requires a serious re-think. After all, suggestibility is the very essence of hypnosis. The suggestibility tests included in this book are rather crude and blunt, but surely more powerful and refined ones could be devised?

An experienced practitioner will find many stimulating ideas in this book. It was written with good intent and in the certainty that hypnosis is potentially a powerful force for good in the world. Shorter inductions, suggestibility tests, greater use of the post-hypnotic cue and self-hypnosis are all versatile tools – easy, practical and, for the most part, quite safe to use.

This is an interesting and (potentially) useful book for those with enough experience to derive use from it and to avoid so many unmentioned pitfalls. A do-it-yourself comprehensive course in hypnotherapy it is most emphatically not!

Ousby, W. J. (1977) The Theory and Practice of Hypnotism, Thorsons Publishers.

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