Hypnosis and Theory

So, what is hypnosis and how does it work? I think most hypnotists accept that hypnosis is caused through the communication of ideas from the hypnotist to the subject, and that this communication does not need any paranormal means – in other words, talking and body language are sufficient. If you think that an energy flows between hypnotist and subject or that telepathy is somehow involved, then I’m sorry, but this article probably isn’t for you. In the simplest of cases, the hypnotist talks and the subject listens and as a result, the subject experiences hypnosis.


What do we mean when we use the word hypnosis? This is important to nail down because hypnotists often tend to disagree over exactly what is and what isn’t hypnosis. The lay person knows what hypnosis is, it’s making people do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done, whether that be quitting smoking or dancing like Beyonce.

There are two ways of defining hypnosis, the first is ‘hypnosis as process’ and the second is ‘hypnosis as product’. Hypnosis as process is what I described in the previous paragraph – the hypnotist talks and the subject becomes hypnotized – in the case of waking hypnosis (including James Tripp’s excellent Hypnosis Without Trance), there is no obvious induction and the process appears to only consist of an introduction followed by a series of suggestions. This is actually the definition The Oxford Handbook presents – an Introduction followed by a First Suggestion; the first suggestion could be an induction but the definition doesn’t preclude non-induction approaches to hypnosis. This is important to note: The Oxford Handbook considers response to suggestion without a preceding induction as hypnosis.

The next question is “How do we know when hypnosis has happened?” and that is wrapped into definitions of ‘hypnosis as product’. It is possible, although unlikely, that everyone that has ever responded to a suggestion was simply playing along for their own...