Hypnosis and Hypnoidal

March 6th, 2015

I began my hypnotherapy training twenty years ago this year. When I turned up at the National College training centre in London my first question was: what actually is hypnosis? It is a question I have been asked many times over the years and my answers to that question have changed over time. The definition offered by the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy on my very first day of training was along the following lines: hypnosis is a state of relaxation, which you allow yourself to enter and which produces a change of consciousness which allows suggestions to penetrate down to the unconscious mind.

Over the years I have agreed with that definition and disagreed with it. I have agreed with it because it describes much of what I do in actual hypnotherapy sessions. I have disagreed with it because there are many states of mind in which one can enter a state of heightened suggestibility. We become more suggestible when we are relaxed. But we can also become highly suggestible when we are in a conscious but totally absorbed state of mind, or when we are in a state of ecstasy or a state of panic. Therefore I have often thought that the National College definition was too narrow.

Definitions are useful things, and as the best place to find definitions is in a dictionary, let’s take a look at the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “hypnosis”. The OED actually offers two definitions:


  1. The inducement or the gradual approach of sleep
  2. Artificially produced sleep: esp. that induced by hypnotism; the hypnotic state.


You will notice the emphasis on sleep in both definitions. This is because the word “hypnosis” is derived from the Greek word “hupnos” meaning “sleep” and its cognate verb “hupnōssō” meaning “to be sleepy”. And yet neither of these definitions are totally satisfactory.Take the first definition: I agree that to enter what we call a “trance” state you need to move nearer to sleep. But this first definition is really defining the induction of hypnosis rather than the state itself. To define hypnosis as the approach of sleep is to suggest that hypnosis is something dynamic – a movement towards, rather than a stable or consistent state of consciousness.

The second definition simply begs the question. To define “hypnosis” as “that which is induced by hypnotism” or “the hypnotic state” doesn’t really tell us anything at all.

Another word I often use to denote states of suggestibility is “hypnoidal”. The adjective “hypnoid” (and, presumably, the cognate adverb “hypnoidal”) was first coined by Siegmund Freud and Josef Breuer in an article published in 1893. Here, the OED definition is a little more helpful. The adjective “hypnoid” is “applied to a state of consciousness characterized by heightened suggestibility or dissociation, such as occurs in hysterical conditions”. The OED also offer a quotation from a scholarly article published in 1921 which states that “a [half-waking] state can be produced artificially and is called light hypnosis or the hypnoidal state”.

“Hypnoidal” is therefore such a useful word because it can be used to denote any state of heightened suggestibility, not just trance states induced for the purpose of administering therapeutic suggestions. So, these days, I tend to use the word “hypnoidal” to mean any state, whether involving relaxation or not, which is conducive to higher suggestibility. As for “hypnosis”, I find myself once again returning to the National College definition – a state of mind, induced by relaxation, in which the unconscious mind becomes more responsive to positive and therapeutic suggestion.

The name of Jihadi John, aka Mohammed Emwazi, has been added to the roll-call of national hate-figures. There he stands, alongside Myra Hindley, Ian Brady, Ian Huntley, Harold Shipman, Jimmy Saville, and one or two others, condemned quite rightly for acts of subhuman barbarism.

What turns a person into a monster? This is one of the great unanswered questions about human nature. But answers to this question inevitably fall into two categories, the first stating that such people are born bad and are innately bad, the second that they are driven to the bad by external forces, powers and influences.

Mohammed Emwazi doesn’t appear to fall into the first category. Reports suggest that while he may have been a quiet and somewhat withdrawn young man he showed no early signs of sadistic or sociopathic behaviour. But if he was drawn towards evil, did hypnosis somehow play a part?

If we’re talking about formal hypnosis then I would suggest that the answer is a resounding NO, tempting though it may be to imagine Emwazi transfixed by the mad, fanatical gaze of a hate preacher. You cannot hypnotize someone to do something which they do not wish to do. If hypnosis was involved then it would have been at a more mundane level, the sort of hypnoidal state we are in and out of all of the time, rendering us more susceptible to suggestion than we would be if our full cognitive / analytical faculties were fully engaged.

Aristotle once said that everything we do is directed towards some good. If Emwazi was not a depraved monster from birth, and I’m prepared to believe that he wasn’t, then the “good” at which his actions were aiming at would have been a vision of an alternative way of life. In Emwazi’s case, and in the case of many like him, this positive suggestion gets reinforced to a level at which it overrides normal, commonsense, human morality. If the path to Utopia requires a few beheadings then so be it.

However abhorrent we find their ideology, however sickened we are by their brutality and callousness, we can, perhaps, understand why Emwazi and his ilk seek a wholly different way of living. Read the rest of this entry »

I turned the television on at around 6 o clock this morning. The first thing I saw was a video clip of Madonna falling over at the Brit awards. The TV has been on for two hours now. I have been busy doing other things but I have now seen that clip no fewer than nine times. This is on national television so this incident is obviously of national importance – isn’t it?

I began to study hypnosis seriously in 1995 (shortly after Madonna released Bedtime Stories) and I quickly realized that during every day of our lives we enter hypnosis-like states. The name usually given to these states is “hypnoidal”. In the broadest sense, a state of hypnosis is a state in which our normal critical or analytic faculties are bypassed. We become more open to suggestion. But the problem is that we don’t realize when or how this is happening.

The repeated showing of the Madonna clip reminded me of this. A pop singer falls over, and this event is deemed not only newsworthy but so important that the incident has to be shown over and over again. It has made the front page of at least one national newspaper. And we accept this without question. It doesn’t even seem absurd to us. Yes, this occurred at a major public event, the Brit Awards, and therefore was unlikely to pass unnoticed. But the singer was totally unharmed and simply carried on as normal. She no doubt suffered some embarrassment but, as I gather, this particular performer has a notoriously thick skin. She probably welcomed the mass publicity.

What suggestion is likely to bypass our critical faculties and lodge itself in our unconscious minds? The suggestion that Madonna is a figure of supreme importance and that everything which happens to her matters to all of us.

Is that really the case?

Madonna is a versatile dancer and singer of pop repertory. There is much to admire in her. You don’t get to be the biggest selling female artist of all time without having some drive and ambition. Her early work presented a very different kind of female performer to the world, not a docile singer of love ballads but a feisty, kick-ass “material girl” who was not afraid to look anyone slap-bang in the eye. I can’t comment on her work as a dancer because I don’t know anything about dance. But Madonna is a little older than me and is considerably more supple, so I am quite happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume that her work in contemporary popular dance is first rate.

As a singer, her recorded voice has the advantage of every kind of electronic enhancement known to mankind. Her voice is light and thin, with a pinched, nasal quality which young, female karaoke performers are able to imitate with ease. The range of the voice is clearly very restricted.

But – and here is the real problem – how are we to assess her value as a songwriter, and therefore as a creative artist? I’m not talking about the actual quality of the songs themselves. They are not to my taste but they clearly give great pleasure to millions of consumers so I will leave it to others to evaluate them. What is certain is that Madonna’s songs are not solely written by her. In an interview in Song Talk (Summer 1989, vol 2 no. 11), Madonna actually admits that both melodic lines and harmonic chord structures are provided by one Pat Leonard. It is, I gather, common practice for popular artists to claim writing credits from otherwise unknown songwriters. This is seen as two-way beneficial. The pop star gets his or her hit song and the unknown songwriter gets his or her work performed and, hopefully, earns a lot of money out of it. But this does put a very large question mark over Madonna’s role as a creative artist. A creator of what, exactly?

With the exception of Evita, Madonna’s forays into film have been panned by the critics. Her various book publications likewise. And, whoever she may get to write her songs, it surely cannot be doubted that Madonna’s best work is way behind her. As you will have gathered, I am not a Madonna fan, but I’m prepared to accept that there may be many aspects of her work which I do not perceive. Nevertheless, for me, Madonna is hardly a creative artist at all. She is an executive artist – a performer. A staggering successful one, may be, but still just a performer.

A great creative artist may perhaps deserve adulation. But a performer is just a performer, a medium for the creative genius of someone else. If a performer happens to trip over, it is not an event of major importance.

Madonna is for kids. It is time we grew up. Or woke up.


June 24th, 2013

When I first started my hypnotherapy practice, some 16 years ago, the way to get clients was to advertise via Yellow Pages. It was simple. The more clients you wanted, the bigger the ad you bought. Almost all practising hypnotherapists did this. And, when I first started, only about 2 % of the members of the National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists had their own websites. You didn’t really need one. Yellow Pages did it all for you!

That quickly changed. I got my first website about ten years ago and had it completely re-vamped in 2011 (many thanks Jel!). On my new website I wanted a page on which I could post things – articles, mainly, but also other short pieces, mostly relating to hypnosis and hypnotherapy but not exclusively. I called it my “Articles” page as I think that the word “blog” is one of the ugliest in the English language. This page also has a facility for posting comments. And here’s the bugbear.

From Day One I started to receive spam comments. These “comments” are usually a few lines of rubbish and a whole string of live links. None of these ever make it on to my articles page. Why? For the most part, the use of the English language is execrable, and yet it is fascinating how often the word “fastidious” turns up. Here are some examples:

Hi mates, fastidious paragraph and fastidious urging commented at this place,
I am actually enjoying by these.

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your views are fastidious in favor of new users.

What’s up buddy, what a quality is! For this YouTube video, I am genuinely impressed, because I have never seen fastidious quality YouTube video before,…

Mostly such “comments” try to get published by saying nice things about one’s writing. The problem is that such complements are either utterly banal or badly written to the point of incoherence. An example of each:

This is really something!

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seemed to be on the internet the simplest thing to consider of.
I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as people think about issues that they plainly do not recognize about.
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defined out the entire thing without having side-effects , other people can take
a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

Or they make a clumsy attempt to push some product or other:

what are the best lawn mowers (IP: ,

It’s not essential to raise a particular children finger that is when famous with Breville Juice machine Evaluates. Look at blender or food processor convenient to as well as reassemble. Without doubt mindset limited by making juice while using Rr Machine

Some are incoherent and yet vaguely obscene:

Go deep Shallow thrusting, simulated by the researchers inserting the artificial phallus halfway or less into the Fake Vagina,
it’s better used for navigating tighter menus than for inking. Het is ontworpen om een paren ‘sex
speeltje te zijn. See you there Read more here. During the marathon monologue, Paul asked,” What!

And sometimes the “comment” is simply a string of illiterate bilge:

Whаt a data of un-ambiguity and
preѕerѵеness of valuable experiеnce
regaгding unexрected emotiоns.

.Well – I suppose that spam is an unhappy part of modern life. It is a minor inconvenience – not the end of the world. It is rather akin to walking out of your front door in the morning to find that someone has stewn litter over your front path.

But occasionally a comment will really irritate me. This morning some imbecile sent me this:

582199 473615Hi, you used to write exceptional posts, but the last several posts have been kinda boring

Well, Yuro, if that is your name, if my posts are “kinda” boring then can I suggest that you get some “kinda” life – AND LEAVE MY B***DY WEBSITE ALONE??

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A Comprehensive Guide?

March 25th, 2013

James, T. (2003) Hypnosis: A Comprehensive Guide: Producing Deep Trance Phenomena, Crown House Publishing.

This book is by an American author and therapist. The approach to therapy outlined in this book is eclectic, to put it mildly. As a therapist, the author uses TimeLine therapy, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, and NLP. As this book is about hypnosis and hypnotherapy the main emphasis is on Erickson. Yet this book also contains a chapter on George Estabrooks and Dave Elman, whose work stands in marked contrast to that of Erickson. There is also mention of the eye-fixation techniques of James Braid, a 19th century pioneer of hypnotism.

The inclusion of such diverse figures and approaches in such a modest-sized book suggests that the author isn’t committed to any fixed theoretical framework when it comes to hypnosis. This is the first of two main problems with this book, and with so many similar books.

The bottom line is that this author, in common with so many other NLP and Ericksonian practitioners, believes – and wants us to believe – that there is no such thing as objective reality. What we regard as “reality” is really something which is mind-dependent. There may be some good philosophical reasons for taking such a view, but not for taking it so literally and simplistically as to imply that absolutely everything can therefore be changed if we only believe hard enough, or that everything bad that happens to us is somehow self-inflicted – our own fault. The subject of cancer is touched upon in the book, along with the suggestion that if we believe that our cancer can be cured then it will be cured. Therefore people who die of it simply don’t believe enough. The author doesn’t state this explicitly but the implication is clear enough. The author may believe this wholeheartedly. I find such suggestions dishonest, misleading and cruel. Dishonest because there isn’t a shred of hard scientific evidence to suggest that belief or faith, whether religiously or hypnotically induced, can have any impact on terminal cancer. Misleading because it suggests that hypnosis is a miraculous cure-all panacea – the language of magic crops up with depressing frequency in books about NLP and Ericksonian hypnotherapy. Cruel because it implies that people with terminal cancer have only themselves to blame for their condition.

For James, hypnosis and hypnotherapy seems to be about turning off the critical faculty. The argument seems to be that if nothing is “real” then anything which undermines the perception of the world as “real” will be sufficient to induce trance. James quotes Erickson’s statement that ambiguity in any representational system is sufficient to induce “trance”. Maybe there is some truth in this, but it is not the whole story. If it were, then trance would be induced by telling subjects that two plus two equals pink, or showing them some of Dali’s pictures of floppy clocks. The book included an “induction” which merely consists of a series of simple questions. I have been a hypnotherapist for long enough to know how utterly ineffectual such an approach would be with most clients one sees on a day-to-day basis.

Related to this is the other main problem with this book. Books about hypnosis and hypnotherapy inevitably contain “scripts” – sequences of suggestions which the hypnotist says to the subject. For an experienced hypnotist / hypnotherapist, reading such scripts can be tooth-grindingly boring. But these scripts have been compiled by an American therapist with American subjects in mind. Does this matter? Yes, because what is perfectly natural and effective for an American therapist and client will probably seem hopelessly false and phoney if delivered by a British hypnotherapist to a British client. Americans are often more emotional and expressive than British people. Inductions which might seem compelling and convincing to an American subject might well seem embarrassing, importunate or even repellent to a British or European client.

What the reader needs, then, is a clear explanation of the principles upon which the induction methods are based, and this is what is largely missing here. Why is it supposed to be effective to ask certain questions, to omit certain words or to phrase things in a certain way? With Erickson, such questions are very hard to answer because, consummate communicator as he was, one can be pretty certain that much of what was effective in Erickson’s own inductions was non-verbal – body language, tone of voice and verbal nuance, personality, charisma and a whole host of other things.

At the end of the day, it is not all about text and script. The poetry of Shakespeare or Keats may move us to tears if delivered by a great actor or speaker, or it may bore us to distraction or make us squirm with embarrassment if recited by someone with no talent or feel for the words at all. The same is true with hypnosis. The same text, script or induction methods may be supremely effective if delivered by person X and totally ineffective if delivered by person Y. Any experienced hypnotherapist knows this to be true but you will find nothing in this book to enlighten you as to why this is the case.

That said, the book is by no means without value. Anyone interested in Erickson might find this a useful introduction. It certainly contains a clear and concise summary of his methods, at least at the verbal level. Reading this book has reawakened my own interest in both Erickson and Elman and it has also reminded me of the power and importance of self-hypnosis and self-suggestion. For that alone the book was worth reading.

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