Definition of the Process of Hypnosis and Trance States
American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association
APMHA Consumer Information January 2000
Hypnosis is a process during which an individual, usually with the aid of another, allows themselves to become more suggestible. One can experience changes in sensations, perceptions, thoughts, or behavior. Hypnosis is generally established by an induction procedure. Although there are different hypnotic inductions, they are based on imaginative involvement with focused attention and concentration.
People respond to hypnosis in different ways. Some describe their experience as an altered state of consciousness. Others describe hypnosis as a normal state of focused attention, in which they feel very calm and relaxed. Regardless of how and to what degree they respond, most people describe the experience as very pleasant. A person’s ability to experience hypnotic suggestions can be inhibited by fears and concerns arising from some common misconceptions. Everyone has a conception of hypnosis. It probably comes from depictions of hypnosis in books, movies or on television.
Those who have been hypnotized do not lose control over their behavior. They remain aware of who they are and where they are, and unless amnesia (the inability to recall past events, in this context the inability to recall what has occurred during the hypnotic session), has been specifically suggested, they usually remember what transpired during hypnosis, the only exception to this is what is called a somnambulist. A somnambulist is an individual who has the ability to go very deeply into hypnosis. A somnambulist will have total amnesia.
Hypnosis makes it easier for people to experience suggestions, but it does not force them to have these experiences. Although scientists have different theories about the nature of hypnosis, all seem to agree that hypnotized people report changes in the way they feel, think, and behave, and these changes are in response to suggestions. People vary in their of responsiveness to hypnotic suggestions, what is called their hypnotizability or hypnotic susceptibility, but most people can be hypnotized to some degree.
Hypnosis is a naturally occurring phenomenon. We go in and out of hypnosis constantly, while watching an interesting program on television, reading a book, driving a car, or day dreaming, just to name a few. People who appear to be low in hypnotizability often can improve their response to suggestions with practice. If an individual is unable to use all of their hypnotic ability during a testing session, it might appear that they are a poor subject, but with improved rapport, many are able to improve hypnotic ability. Most clinical uses of hypnosis have been designed for the average individual, and a deep state of trance is not usually needed for most clinical treatment.