Psychotherapies Without Feeling

by Dr. Arthur Janov

Posted June 2005 on

Chapter 3: The Nature of Hypnotic Suggestion

Not everyone can go into a hypnotic trance, salivate at the "sight" of imaginary fudge, or be hypnotically transported into the past. For those who can go into a hypnotic trance, there is great variation in the depth and type of trance manifested. What produces a trance in the first place? What accounts for what occurs during the trance and for variations in it? Furthermore, how to explain age regression and so-called past-lives regression in hypnosis subjects? It seems to be a matter of the giving of suggestion and the degree of responsiveness to suggestion, also known as suggestibility.

In hypnosis, suggestion refers to statements made by the hypnotist intended to influence the hypnotic subject. The most obvious of these are the suggestions used to induce the hypnotic trance itself. Suggestion is also the basis of a hypnosis subject's belief that hypnotism can help him in some way. Suggestibility is defined by Yapko, a leading hypnotherapist, as "an openness to accepting new ideas, new information."[1] It refers to a person's capacity to be influenced by another person, that person's words, or by hypnotic techniques employed. In the ongoing controversy within the psychotherapeutic community over the retrieval of repressed memories of childhood abuse, suggestibility is central to the question of how to distinguish between a real memory and a "pseudo-memory" which may have been elicited, "implanted," or suggested by a psychotherapist.

In a 1982 study, Robert A. Baker showed how easily most "normal human subjects" can be hypnotized as well as "persuaded" to "remember" their prior incarnations. Sixty undergraduates were hypnotized with the intent of age-regressing them to previous lifetimes. They were divided into three groups of 20 each. Prior to being hypnotized, members of each group had been told they were participating in a study of relaxation and had listened to taped suggestions either supportive of or condemning the idea of past-lives therapy. Of the group exposed to supportive comments, 17 of 20 later reported returning to "another life" while under hypnosis. Of the group members exposed to a taped message which ridiculed past-lives therapy, only two did so. In discussing this study, Baker came to a number of conclusions:

* If subjects expected to have a past-life experience, they did, and if they did not expect to have one, they did not;

* The idea of having lived before seems both appealing and powerful;

* Most hypnosis subjects are highly suggestible and easily influenced by the hypnotist's tone of voice, manner, and attitudes; and

* Rather than evidencing the reality of reincarnation, past-lives regression is "the result of suggestions made by the hypnotist, expectations held by the subjects, and the demand characteristics of the hypnoidal relationship."[2]

Suggestion is the hypnotherapist's principal tool. Suggestibility on the part of the subject makes him "open" to the hypnotist's suggestive ideas. In the absence of suggestibility, a hypnotist cannot induce a trance, much less utilize the trance state for specific ends.

Using Suggestion to Induce a Hypnotic Trance

While the neurological and psychological mechanisms responsible for a successful response to suggestion are not yet established scientifically (though we may surmise what they are, as discussed below), the external effects of suggestion can be validly described:

The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist. He seems to respond in an uncritical, automatic fashion, ignoring all aspects of the environment other than those made relevant by the hypnotist. Apparently with no will of his own, he sees, feels, smells, and tastes in accordance with the suggestions in apparent contradiction to the stimuli that impinge upon him. Even memory and awareness of self may be altered by suggestion, and the effects of the suggestions may be extended (post-hypnotically) into subsequent waking activity.[3]

Hypnosis is supposedly "induced" by the giving of suggestion. Because of this, much ado has been made in the last several decades over discovering and developing efficient hypnotic induction techniques. Of the leading hypnosis researchers, only Barber believes hypnotic induction procedures are irrelevant. The more common belief is that the techniques play an important role in establishing rapport with the subject,[4] which in turn affects how responsive the subject is to the hypnotist's later suggestions.

Ordinary hypnotic inductions begin with simple suggestions for relaxation that are easily accepted and acted upon by the subject. "You are falling into a deep sleep" is the suggestion which most readily comes to mind, with the subject's eyes focused on a shiny object dangling from a string and swinging back and forth. In the study on past-life regression mentioned above, the induction procedure began with the subject being told to fix his gaze on a spot above a ceiling lamp, while it was suggested that a "warm light globe" in the center of his head was moving slowly and systematically through his body, "warming and relaxing the muscles and melting the tension as it moved."[5] Once relaxation is evident, the hypnotist attempts to "deepen" the hypnotic trance, such as by suggesting increasing distortions in perception and memory. For example, an earlier suggestion to the subject that "Your eyelids are becoming heavier and heavier until they finally close," may now become a "challenge" suggestion than "Your eyelids are shutting tight... tighter... tighter. You cannot open them even if you try."

The next step is "utilization," or using suggestion to make the subject do certain things or be transported in a certain direction, such as to regress him into his own past. Perhaps the hypnotist says, "I want you to go back in your mind, back to a time long ago, when you first rode a bicycle, keep going back and back and back..." and so on. In one approach to inducing age regression, known as the "television technique," the subject is told to imagine a TV screen in his mind on which he will soon see a recording of an event in his life long ago. He will also be able to stop the picture if he wants, reverse or fast forward the event, and zoom in on particular details.[6]

In order to prolong a desired hypnotic effect, the hypnotist may give post-hypnotic suggestions for the subject to respond to at a later time. Post-hypnotic suggestion usually combines amnesia with the suggestion so that when the person later responds to the suggestion he has no conscious understanding of why he is doing so. For example, the subject may have been instructed to re-enter a trance state whenever he sees the hypnotist scratch his chin, wherever and whenever that may occur. Erickson reported many a subject or patient lapsing into a trance state upon encountering him at a later date – sometimes involving several years – in some unexpected social situation such as a conference or a cocktail party.

Views of Suggestion

While suggestion is necessary for trance, it also occurs outside of hypnosis. Most of us respond consciously and unconsciously to suggestions on a daily basis and throughout our lives. For instance, we buy certain products and choose certain brands for reasons we are not aware of, having been influenced by hypnotic suggestion used in advertising. Most children's personalities are shaped out of direct and indirect parental suggestion. The parent tells the child to "be good" or "keep quiet," or throws her a look to the same effect. The child obeys "if she knows what's good for her." Trying to please her parent or to avoid punishment, she cooperates. She is no longer spontaneous; instead her behavior adheres to the parent's instructions. Many of us grow up "not ourselves," more intent on "not making waves" and catering to other people's desires than on expressing our own individuality.

Barber contends that the fact that suggestion operates in everyday life is precisely the point which invalidates the concept of a special hypnotic state. Yapko agrees: "The trance state is a state differing from everyday mental experience only by degrees and not kind...there are no clear demarcations from the usual state to the trance state."[7] "Trance logic," or the hypnosis subject's unquestioning acceptance of suggested reality, no matter how illogical it may be, also occurs outside of hypnosis. It happens when a person lacks the critical thinking ability to objectively analyze whether something is "real" or not, such as when someone fervently believes in Heaven or in his guru's prophecy that Armageddon is coming.

According to Barber's research, trance is not necessary to elicit hypnotic-type responses – but suggestion and credibility are:

When hypnotic induction procedures are helpful, it is not because the subject is in a "trance" or "hypnotized" in the popular sense of these terms. Instead the evidence indicates that they are helpful when they reduce the subjects' critical attitudes toward the suggestions and thus help them accept the suggestions as believable and harmonious with their own ongoing cognitions. Although hypnotic induction procedures are effective in reducing critical attitudes in some subjects, more ordinary procedures are often equally effective. Non-hypnotic procedures that have been shown to produce a high level of responsiveness to suggestions, presumably by reducing critical attitudes, include (a) exhorting subjects to try their best to imagine those things that are suggested ("task motivational instructions") and (b) urging subjects to put aside their critical attitudes and to let themselves "think with" the suggested themes."[8]

For Barber the essence of suggestion as a behavior-shaping force is credibility, and credibility requires a reduction in critical and evaluative abilities. Thus, any technique which achieves this – be it exhortations, urgings, or mild advice – could be called a hypnotic induction technique. Charismatic politicians, among others, can induce a sort of waking trance in some people, making them feel hopeful when a sober analysis of reality might lead to very different emotions. Barber additionally reports that suggestion has been shown to successfully block the skin reactions normally produced by poison ivy-like plants; to give rise to localized skin inflammation that had the specific pattern of a previously experienced burn; and to cure warts and stimulate breast development in adult women. He hypothesized that "'believed-in suggestions,' which are incorporated into ongoing cognitions, affect blood supply in the localized areas" to produce the above phenomena. Here the key term is "believed-in suggestions." I shall discuss the role of ideas in altering behavior in subsequent chapters.

For Erickson, suggestion was an important element in inducing trance. He agreed with Barber that suggestions had to be believed in and incorporated in order to be effective. But he focuses not so much on getting the subject to believe as on evoking and utilizing the subject's own innate potentials. In contrast to Barber, Erickson viewed hypnotic suggestion as something qualitatively different from non-hypnotic suggestion – a means of communicating new, therapeutic ideas that would block or alter old, non-therapeutic ideas:

Ordinary, everyday, non-hypnotic suggestions are acted upon because we have evaluated them with our usual conscious attitudes and found them to be an acceptable guide for our behavior, and we carry them out in a voluntary manner. Hypnotic suggestion, by contrast, is different in that the patient is surprised to find that experience and behavior are altered in a seemingly autonomous manner; experience seems to be outside one's usual sense of control and self-direction.[9]

For Erickson, trance is a special state that facilitates the acceptance of suggestion. For Barber, trance is a fallacious term for procedures that reduce critical faculties and thereby facilitate the acceptance of suggestion. However, both view the acceptance of suggestion as a process involving the reduction of conscious mental processes in one way or another. Suggestion, therefore, is a matter of the mind, of suspending the subject's critical thinking. The trick is to word and present suggestions in such a way that they are accepted by the mind and then acted upon by both mind and body – so that the hypnosis subject will begin salivating as she gets ready to take imaginary pieces of divinity fudge from an imaginary tray.

Views of Suggestibility

The degree to which a person responds to suggestions is variously termed suggestibility, hypnotizability, hypnotic responsiveness, and hypnotic susceptibility. Research in this area has gone in two particular directions: attempts to develop scales that reliably "measure" hypnotizability, and attempts to correlate degree of hypnotizability with specific personality traits and characteristics (such as intelligence, mental status, and imagination). Interestingly enough, there has been some success in developing reliable measurement scales but almost no success in correlating personality characteristics with hypnotizability.

Measurements on the scales that have been developed to measure “hypnotizability” – The Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale, and the Barber Suggestibility Scale – seem to indicate that most people are susceptible to minor hypnotic phenomena, while about 1 out of every 4 persons is capable of a profound hypnotic response. Gender makes no difference in responsiveness, but age does. Apparently we are most hypnotizable when children, so surely characteristics particular to childhood (such as an active fantasy life and a willingness to follow directions) must play a role in hypnotizability. According to Hilgard, this is true. Although the evidence is sketchy and contradictory, it seems that the factor of imagination can be correlated with hypnotizability: people who were highly imaginative as children are more easily hypnotized as adults.[10] Hilgard explains:

The hypnotizable person is one who has rich subjective experiences in which he can become deeply involved...He is interested in the life of the mind...He is willing to accept impulses from within and is not afraid to relinquish reality testing for a time. He does not appear to be a weak or dependent person; evidence indicates that more troubled, withdrawn, or neurotic individuals do not generally make as good subjects as normal outgoing individuals.

...Interviews with hundreds of subjects, before and after induction of hypnosis, have pointed to the importance of early childhood experiences. Experiences of a particular kind appear to either generate or maintain the abilities that enter into hypnotizability. A capacity to become deeply involved in imaginative experiences derives from parents who are themselves deeply involved in such areas as reading, music, religion, or the aesthetic appreciation of nature.[11]

But that's not all. Hilgard goes on to mention (and "mention" is all) that adults who were abused as children are also more hypnotizable:

A history of punishment may produce hypnotizability in either (or both) of two ways: first, through instilling a habit of automatic and unquestioned obedience; second, through a tendency to escape the harassment by moving off into a realm of imagination, thus practicing the dissociations that are later to be used in hypnosis.[12] [Italics added]

Hilgard's point of view here provides a very interesting polarity regarding hypnotizability. On one hand there is the very healthy individual who "has rich subjective experiences in which he can become deeply involved." On the other hand is the severely abused individual who allows hypnosis out of the habit of "unquestioned obedience" and dissociative responses still lingering from childhood.

Barber's views on hypnotizability are quite different from Hilgard's. He points out that of the 60 or more studies that have investigated personality characteristics in relation to hypnotizability, the results are either negative (no relationship between personality and hypnotizability) or conflicting (one study finds a relationship, another does not). For example, one study found a positive correlation between "neuroticism" and hypnotizability (i.e., the more neurotic, the more hypnotizable), while another study found a negative correlation (i.e., the more neurotic, the less hypnotizable). Several other studies found no relationship whatsoever (i.e., neurosis does not affect hypnotizability in either direction).[13] Moreover, Barber does not agree with Hilgard that imagination or any other personality characteristic contributes to hypnotizability. For Barber, the research indicates only that (1) two people with very different personalities may be equally hypnotizable, and (2) two people with very similar personalities may vary drastically in their susceptibility to hypnosis. To explain this dilemma Barber suggests that either we don't yet have the tools to tap the aspects of personality related to hypnosis, or personality plays only a very minor role in it. Perhaps, he suggests, it is the situation rather than the personality that ultimately determines degree of hypnotic responsiveness.

It seems that Hilgard and Barber are presenting opposite viewpoints. Hilgard's view of hypnotizability is an intradynamic, static one: the person's internal imaginative capacities largely determine a degree of hypnotic responsiveness that remains fairly constant over time. Barber's view, on the other hand, is an interdynamic, fluctuational one: the hypnotic situation, together with what the person wants, feels, and expects in that situation, determines a responsiveness that varies from one situation and time to the next.

Erickson's view of hypnotizability combined some of both. Although he stated that "anyone who can be socialized can be hypnotized," he also believed that external factors such as the skill of the hypnotist and the amount of time taken for hypnotic "training" were important considerations. More important, however, was the subject's own willingness to experience hypnosis. This willingness constituted the single most important factor in the acceptance of suggestion. In fact, willingness was more important than trance in the matter of suggestibility. "Trance," wrote Erickson, "does not ensure the acceptance of suggestion"[14] – but willingness does.

Yapko discusses a related factor: the relationship between self-esteem and hypnotizability. In his view a person with low self-esteem is more likely than someone with high self-esteem to give another person power to influence him, such as through the use of suggestion. Lacking a strong sense of self, this individual's high suggestibility makes it easy for him to be strongly influenced by someone else's values or dictates.[15] Yapko also mentions the "need for acceptance," which may be particularly strong among those with low self-esteem and which may predispose them to be good (suggestible) hypnosis subjects. The subject has sought the hypnotist's help and implicitly believes that hypnosis can be helpful. Since he views the hypnotist as an authoritative individual who can offer perspective, advice, and possibly solutions for what ails him or her, he is predisposed to accept the hypnotist's suggestions.

Also to be taken into account is the hypnotist's reputation, which can contribute to suggestibility. People would come from all over the world to be hypnotized by Milton Erickson, for instance. According to Yapko, "Many of them came thousands of miles to be put in a trance by him, and into a trance they went!" Furthermore, there is an emotional component to an individual's expectations regarding hypnosis. "The more emotional investment the person has in that expectation," writes Yapko, "the less likely he is to experience anything that contradicts it...When people invest money, hope, and time in something, they desperately want it to work, even if 'only a little.'"[16]

My Interpretation of Suggestion and Suggestibility

Statements such as, "You feel drowsy," "Your eyes are getting heavy," and "You are going into a deep sleep" have no inherent power to cause or induce drowsiness. So why do they have this power in the hypnotic setting? It seems that a number of conditions have to be operating for this to occur.

First, the subject has to trust the person offering the suggestions. Second, the subject has to want it to work (Erickson's willingness factor, Yapko's "investment" of time, money, and hope). And third, he has to believe that the hypnotist's pronouncement of the words will produce the expected result. It appears that hypnotic suggestions are accepted only when there is a predisposition to accept them.

But why would a person wish to put himself at the disposal of another's suggestion? Most neurotics are simply bone weary. The chance to relax in the safety of another's care is just too enticing to bypass. Indeed it might take more effort not to succumb to hypnotic suggestion than to do so. When presented with an authority figure whose very demeanor speaks to unmet need (it is simple, soothing, reassuring, direct and directing), the critical brain may have a very hard time staying out "in front" or "on top." Having someone else do the thinking and the suggesting are pleasures for which most neurotics have waited a lifetime.

Moreover, accepting suggestion may be all that many people have ever done. Hypnosis simply provides another situation in which to re-enact and perpetuate their suggestibility (which is really their dependency). Surrendering to a parental figure who you feel has some quasi-magical ability to do things for you without your having to think for yourself may represent the chance to finally have something which was denied when it was more appropriately needed – as a child. In fact the actions and suggestions of the hypnotist conjure up in my mind the picture of an attentive, caring, loving parent sitting on the child's bed at the end of a day and encouraging him to "Go to sleep...sleep well...sweet dreams."

As a child is the key because the hypnotized person is childlike. As Erickson noted earlier, the hypnotic subject is naive, pliant, open to direction, literal-minded, non-analytic, and uncritical. The crucial question is, does hypnotic suggestion actually create childlike behavior, or does it simply elicit the child still inherent in the adult neurotic? I take the latter position because, as I have argued, you have to be psychologically still a child to be hypnotizable in the first place.

Still being a child means still being run by the needs of childhood which were neglected, denied, or abused. It doesn't matter how seemingly adult the person may be in everyday life. Indeed, seemingly adult behavior may only be a way of defending against the pressing childish need. Even though two people react differently to deprivation in childhood and have radically different personalities, they may both be susceptible to hypnosis because of the deprivation.

The neurotic is "not all there" in his everyday life. To be fully present would mean feeling his repressed Pain. To avoid this he becomes heavily engaged in living out the post-hypnotic (post-dissociation) suggestions of his childhood. These suggestions were usually given indirectly, sometimes as much by what was not said as by what was. They stick in the mind, prodding away at us from the inside: "You're worthless, " "You'll never be good enough," "Lie because if you tell the truth you'll be punished," "Take care of Mommy," "Touching is for sissies," "Big boys don't cry," and on and on. These "post-neurotic" suggestions run our lives; they continue to guide us long after they were uttered or otherwise communicated to us. Susceptibility to suggestion is based on a lifetime of experiences with the subsequent dissociation needed to defend against Pain. I do not believe it is possible to hypnotize a person who is in full possession of himself, who enjoys a state of inner connection, whose thoughts are not dissociated from his feelings, and who is not engaged in battling Primal Pain and need with repression. Such a person is not in the neurotic's trance and cannot therefore be susceptible to hypnotic suggestions.

Levels of Consciousness and Hypnosis

The third level of consciousness is the most "plastic" area of the brain. Because of this plasticity, it can be easily "deceived." It can accept as true an idea from the outside – that "Mommy loves you," or that "God is watching over you" – even when that idea is false. The first level of consciousness is not so plastic or malleable; it deals with survival functions and therefore is not as susceptible to change imposed by fluctuations in external circumstances. For example, if it were possible (which it is not) to program someone to have a continuing pulse rate of 250 through hypnotic suggestion, that person would soon die. This imperviousness of the first level is clearly a survival mechanism. As one moves up the levels of consciousness, however, the functions become more alterable, more susceptible to outer influences, and more adaptable. This, too, is in the service of survival.

It is the function of third-level processes to provide us with external orientation. This means that the third level must be able to perceive as well as adapt to new conditions, events, and ideas. This adaptability can work against us as easily as it works for us, depending on what we must adapt to. The neurotic has been forced to adapt to an unreal world, a world at odds with his deepest needs and feelings. He has had to adopt false concepts about himself and the world in order to survive. For instance, for a child who does not feel loved by his mother, due to the way she treats him, it may be necessary to believe her when she says she loves him, because the full realization that his mother does not love him would be emotionally shattering. Many of us appear to have adapted well to false ideas and sick values, but there are always telltale signs that this is not really true: symptoms and illnesses, nervous habits and compulsions, depressions, anxieties, and unhappiness. Indeed we can adapt, we can continue to function – but at what price?

The second or feeling level of consciousness ideally acts as a safeguard against the plasticity of the intellect. Through our feeling responses we can evaluate and discriminate which ideas, values, courses of action, etc., we want to accept and which we want to reject. But the second level doesn't "know" in the same way that the third level knows. The second level is intuitive rather than cognitive; it is global rather than specific; and it is immediate rather than mediated. When we allow the second level its proper function, our feelings occur first and then our minds come along afterwards to articulate the feelings. In many ways, the third level of consciousness is meant to serve the second, for it is the second level that provides us with a personal sense of self. For example, it provides us with a kind of global "gut response" to such questions as, "Is this person right for me?"; "Do I want to follow this career?"; "Do I agree with this idea and want to act on it?"; "Do I want to live the way I've been living?", and so on. The third level can then articulate the gut response via specific ideas and concepts.

When we are cut off from our gut responses – when there is a split between second and third levels – we no longer have an inner, personal source of evaluation. We are at the mercy of ideas (suggestions) with little or no way to screen them. This is why the intellect can believe it is well-adapted even when it is not, and it can believe its owner's needs are fulfilled even when they are not. This pattern of deceptive adaptation is usually well established in childhood. As children we are fed ideas that we are happy when we are not; that the family is ideal when it clearly is not; that Daddy loves us even though he is never home; that Mommy wants us even though she doesn't act like it. Out of necessity we accept these ideas, which are really commands, and we continue to function despite great Pain. Eventually we may come to believe our parents' ideas about our reality rather than believing our own experience of it. This happens because it is simply too threatening for the child to challenge the parents' views (on these matters most parents are usually quite defensive); and then it becomes too conflicting for the child to suspend himself between his own felt reality and the false reality "suggested" by his parents. At this point he gives up personal feeling for so-called parental love. He responds not to gut feelings, which have been repressed, but to what his parents tell him he should think and feel and do.

Without a solidified third level – that is, without the reality concepts adults have – children are easily able to accept someone else's version of reality. That is precisely why fairy tales are so effective for children: they love entering fantasized worlds in which reality changes with each word. Whether it is harmless fantasy or harmful parental attitudes, the child is wide open to believing it. The fact that children are more hypnotizable than adults also suggests that for the adult hypnosis depends upon third-level disengagement.

 In the adult a false reality can be imposed over actual reality via the same mechanism that allows parents to impose false family realities on their children: third level disengagement.[17] Indeed, the adult becomes more childlike when hypnotized precisely because the hypnotist is addressing the intact child-brain without the interference of the reality-oriented adult brain. What this really means is that the hypnotic relationship re-enacts the neurotic paradigm: the hypnotist speaks to the subject and asks him to follow his instructions and suggestions, just as the neurotic parents did when the person was a child. This is similar to what occurs in any dominant-subordinate, leader-follower relationship in which the authority figure is able to appeal to the follower's unfulfilled childhood need. With his critical thinking abilities suspended, driven by the need to be accepted and loved and felt worthy, the follower parrots the leader's ideas, no matter how bizarre, and becomes an instrument of the leader's will. In extreme cases – Jonestown, Waco, and so on – followers have been known to enact their leader's hypnotic suggestions, to the point of giving away their spouses and even killing at the leader's behest. Thus the Taliban are willing to behead a poor, helpless woman who may have unwittingly shown too much ankle or leg. In one sense, the military in reproducing monotonous behavior, marching back and forth, turning on a dime together, shouting out certain phrases over and over, are hypnotizing soldiers to behave and not ask why. It is a good parallel to hypnosis. “Yours is to do and not ask why.”

There is one point to clarify. Although our childhood brain is contained within our later-developing adult brain, it is not this fact alone which makes us hypnotizable. It is the fact that, through neurosis, the child brain retains the functional quality of childishness. Hypnosis addresses the child brain of a person who in many ways is still a child – which is precisely what makes it possible to link up with or uncover the child brain in the first place. In an adult whose history was one of healthy integration, addressing the child brain would have little or no effect. A fully-integrated self could not be delineated along the lines of child self and adult self. Every aspect of the developing selfhood would have been incorporated to form a seamless, whole self which functioned as such. Thus although the child brain would retain its neurological identity, it would not manifest as separate or differentiated at the psychological and behavioral levels.

What is suggested by the hypnotist to the child-psyche of a neurotic person will have an unconscious effect later on precisely because the neurotic paradigm of imposing a false reality over the truth is so well established. This explains why post-hypnotic suggestions can work: the new parent-authority (the hypnotist) has put information into the second level or child-brain, which it obediently receives and later acts upon out of habit.

Because the hypnotic subject is unaware of what is going on outside of him, we have the notion of a magically altered state of consciousness. From the Primal viewpoint, however, it is neither magical, special, nor altered; it is simply different. The hypnotized person is operating from a lower (different) level of consciousness than is usual in the waking state. The same situation occurs in the dream state. While we are dreaming we are unaware of what is happening in the room we are in; we are unaware of the whirring of a fan or the noises emanating from the television. We are also unaware of what is happening in our own body; we do not feel the headache we had when we went to bed. Within a few minutes upon awakening, however, we again perceive the room, we again feel the pain. This is because the third level is disengaged during sleep in order to block out external, waking realities. When it re-engages upon awakening, it immediately resumes its job of attending, perceiving, sorting, and responding to waking realities – and hence, we experience a renewal of sensory inputs and pain. To go to sleep is to become unconscious which is the same in hypnosis. As I said, we cannot get well unconsciously.

In neurosis, the innate adaptability of the third level is taken advantage of as a means of repressing and dissociating from pain. Third-level disconnection helps to keep the pain from being felt because, as I have pointed out, one needs all levels of consciousness for true feeling. Instead of mediating adult realities, as it should be, the neurotic adult brain is still heavily involved in mediating a child' s reality. A third level working for a child will be drawn to external situations which serve a child's needs, such as psychotherapies or religions which are reassuring and quell a child's Pain. False ideas – such as that you can relive and resolve a past trauma in hypnosis, or that God will save and protect you – will be accepted because they suit these defensive purposes, and because falsification is already firmly established.

Hypnotic suggestion, then, takes advantage of an innate third-level plasticity and an established state of disconnection which it both reveals and amplifies.

Resistance to Suggestion

We have given attention to the question of susceptibility to suggestion but we have not addressed the issue of resistance to it. Some people simply do not possess the willingness to "go under" which is so necessary for the induction of a trance state. Interestingly, the very factors which make for hypnotizability in some people evoke resistance in others. To some people, the surrender of reality to another's care could not be more welcome, while others cling to their possession of reality with an iron grip. Submission, passivity, passive acceptance of suggestion, and dependency serve the defensive purposes of one sort of neurosis, whereas to another they are threatening. Some people do not want to lose control by placing themselves in someone else's hands; it makes for too great a vulnerability. They may be afraid of revealing things (as they feel it) involuntarily. Guardedness to the point of paranoia may be at work.

So, just as neurosis makes some people highly susceptible to hypnotic procedures, it makes others highly resistant.

There is another class of people who, though not susceptible to hypnosis, cannot be characterized as resistant. Resistance denotes an active defensiveness. A simple lack of susceptibility, however, may nullify attempts to hypnotize some people. When there is nothing for hypnosis to key into – when there is no pre-existing dissociation – then it is a case of the proverbial water off a duck's back. The suggestions have nothing on which to hook themselves. To an integrated self – one which is free of unresolved Pain and repression – hypnotic suggestion makes no sense.

It is only the unreal self which allows a person to be fooled about reality because that is precisely why the unreal self exists: it was created by a falsification of the child's real world. This is what happens when our needs go unmet when we're little. For instance, a small child cannot understand and certainly cannot accept the fact that his mother does not love him. Repression rushes in to keep the Pain of rejection from consciousness. Perhaps the child remains docile and agreeable, but deep inside a whole other reality churns.

Hypnosis is non-dialectic; it does not address this sub-surface reality, which is the source of the patient's neurosis, and often the generator of somatic symptoms as well. Instead, it utilizes the neurotic split in consciousness. In short, as I pointed out, it targets symptoms of neurosis rather than the neurosis itself, which makes it ultimately non-curative.

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[1]_Yapko, M.D., Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis. (New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1990), p. 88.

[2]Baker, Robert A., "The Effect of Suggestion on Past-Lives Regression." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 25(1), July 1982, 71-76.

[3]Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, 1981.

[4]"The process of discovering what your client wants and how to best reach him is the process of acquiring rapport," writes Yapko, "arising when your client feels you have an understanding of his experience." Trancework, p. 102.

[5]Baker, op cit., p. 73-74.

[6]Council on Scientific Affairs, "Scientific Status of Refreshing Recollection by the Use of Hypnosis." Journal of the American Medical Association, 253(13), April 5, 1985, pp. 1918-1923.

[7]Trancework, p. 140.

[8]T.X. Barber, "Hypnosis, Suggestions, and Psychosomatic Phenomena: A New Look from the Standpoint of Recent Experimental Studies," American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 1979, _____, pp. 13-25.

[9]Erickson, et al., Hypnotic Realities, p. 20.

[10]Lynn and Nash (Jan. 1994) maintain that "increased fantasy and decreased objectivity" underlie suggestibility. ("Truth in memory: ramifications for psychotherapy and hypnotherapy." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36(3), 194-208.) In a study by Segal and Lynn (1992-93), it was asserted that a link exists between imagination, fantasy, and dissociation. ("Predicting dissociative experiences: imagination, hypnotizability, psychopathology, and alcohol use." Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 12, 287-300.) According to Lynn and Rhue (1988), the majority of fantasy-prone persons are highly hypnotizable." ("Fantasy proneness: hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology." American Psychologist, 43, 35-44.

[11]Hilgard, et al., Introduction to Psychology, pp. 175-176.

[12]Ibid., p. 176.

[13]Barber, Hypnosis, p. 93.

[14]Erickson, et al., Hypnotic Realities, p. 228.

[15]In some instances, responding to suggestions (while hypnotized or awake), people have even confessed to crimes they did not commit. "When persons are uncertain about what they did or did not do and come to distrust their memories," write Lynn and Nash, "they are particularly vulnerable to suggestive and coercive influences." ("Truth in memory: ramifications for psychotherapy and hypnotherapy." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36(3), Jan. 1994, 194-208. Edwin adds: "It is well known that people are suggestible in the waking state and more so in hypnosis, and alert or in trance they can produce a "memory" that is called for or suggested by an authority figure. This is suggestion, not therapy." ("Many memories retrieved with hypnosis are accurate." American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 36(3), Jan. 1994, 174-176.)

[16]Trancework, pp. 127-128, pp. 91-98.

[17]In very young children it would be more accurate to say that the third level is undeveloped rather than disengaged.