To explain how hypnosis works we must first talk about the two parts of your mind, the conscious part and the other than a conscious part. The conscious and other than conscious is a model of how the mind works. It is not truth. Just as a map from Rand McNally is a model of the land it represents, it is not a true representation. It is useful, however. For example, you can use the map to determine the distance between two places, without having to actually drive the distance. So too, the conscious/other than conscious mind model is a useful map of how your mind works.
The conscious part is what you are aware of all the time. It’s your thinking mind, the part that makes decisions and that doubts. It is made of your internal dialogue and very short term memory.
Also, in the background, is the part known as the other than conscious. You are not aware of it directly, but you do know it by its effects.
Your long term memory is part of the other than conscious mind. Compare that to the memory of the conscious mind. Consciously, you are able to track only 7 plus or minus two items of information at any given time. You're other than conscious mind has thousands and thousands of facts, figures, dates, and places all recorded. All I have to do is mention something that you are not thinking about right now, something that you probably have not had in your conscious mind for some time, such as your social security number, and instantly is pops into your conscious mind.
All automatic behaviours originate in the other than conscious mind. Things like how to tie your shoelaces, eating with a knife and fork, or driving a car.
Compare how it was when you first learned to drive. You drove quite consciously and it was a lot of work to keep track of everything you had to do. However, now driving is a breeze because it is handled by the other than conscious mind – you don’t have to think about how to do it. It just happens on its own.
Feelings, emotions, and dreams originate in the other than conscious mind. You don’t consciously decide to dream a certain dream or have a specific emotion. It just happens.
The contrast between the conscious and other than conscious is especially clear when considering most problems that clients bring to the hypnotist. The client consciously wants to lose weight and the client’s other than conscious mind keeps creating cravings for chocolate cake.
Or the client who consciously wants to be free of cigarette smoking while his other than conscious mind keeps producing the craving for a smoke.
Consider the client who wants to feel confident when giving a public speech while his other than conscious mind produces feelings of fear and dread.
In working with you I give suggestions to your other than conscious mind. A suggestion is defined as an idea that is impressed on your mind in such as way as to get a specific and automatic response. The fact that it has to be automatic is important. If you were my public speaking client, I would want you to just automatically feel confident; you should not have to think about it.
So, in the case of the fearful public speaker, suggestions are given that suggest that the client’s other than conscious mind can feel confident, fearless, and courageous when giving a public speech. There are many, many ways to do this. The desired result is that the client just naturally begins to feel confident when giving the speech.
There is one problem with this, however. Your conscious mind has what we hypnotists call the critical factor. This is your conscious mind’s propensity to doubt, be pessimistic, and disparaging of anything other than the status quo.
If you are fearful of public speaking and I was to tell you that you can have fun and enjoy the experience, your mind would immediately go into overdrive. You probably would have lots of internal dialogue about how there is no way that could ever happen and that I was not thinking clearly to suggest such a thing. However, there is a way to set the critical factor aside. And that way is to have you be in a trance. When in a trance, your conscious mind’s propensity to doubt, criticise, and be pessimistic is significantly diminished.
A trance is defined as a natural, highly focused state of mind in which the other than conscious mind is free to act without interference from the conscious mind.
Very young children very easily go into a trance all the time. Witness young children watching their favourite TV show – perhaps Sesame Street or Barney. They are completely and utterly entranced or mesmerised by the show. (The word mesmerise come from Anton Mesmer, a famous and very skilled hypnotist of the 19th century)
If you would like your young child to make some behavioural changes, just watch TV with him, perhaps holding him in your lap in such as way as to be able to easily whisper in his ear. When he is completely entranced by the show, just whisper suggestions into the ear, repeating it over and over. Not loud enough that you distract his watching of the show. “You really like brushing your teeth, you really like brushing your teeth.” Over and over. Do that several times and you will see a change in his behaviour.
As we grow up into adulthood, we largely forget our ability to become entranced.
Although as adults it sometimes does happen naturally. Perhaps you have experienced being entranced when that tall, dark, and handsome stranger enters the room (or if you are a guy when the really beautiful girl walks into the room) and momentarily you are struck speechless.
Or when you see a beautiful sunset or hear a beautiful piece of music and your thoughts momentarily slow down and you get lost in the experience. That is a trance
Or if you are into sports, being entranced is like being in the zone. Time seems to slow down. It is my belief, that being in the zone (being entranced) is the main reason a lot of people engage in sports. Trance is a nice state to be in.
What I want to suggest with these examples, is that trance is a very natural, normal occurring everyday experience.
In my office, I will talk to you in a way that captures and focuses your attention – that is to say, help guide you into a trance. After the trance has reached sufficient depth I will make suggestions to you that will take hold in your other than conscious mind. By watching your non-verbal automatic behaviour (that is, behaviour that originates with your other than conscious mind) I can tell if my suggestions are being received favourably or not by your other than conscious mind.
One of the main primary roles of the other than conscious mind is your protection. Sometimes, your other than conscious mind does what it does as a way to protect you. For example, giving you fear as you think about giving a speech. In a situation like that, simple suggestion won’t do. I have to enter into a dialogue with your other than conscious mind, helping it to choose other, better ways of protecting you than what it is currently doing.
Please note, that when in a hypnotic trance, you do not go unconscious, you are always awake and aware – just in a very focused state of mind. It would be like the basketball player being in the zone while he is about to make a free throw. He is awake and aware, but very unlikely aware of the noise from the audience. And probably even unaware of the people behind the basket.
It is impossible to get stuck in a trance. If left on your own, you would come out of it. Typically, for the beginners at trance, holding and maintaining a trance takes some work on the part of the hypnotist.
Even though in a trance, the critical factor never completely lets its guard down, it is never not fully functional. This means that if some suggestion were made that goes against your moral values, the critical factor would instantly come alive and not let that suggestion in and you would probably immediately come out of a trance. In other words, I can not hypnotise you to go out and rob a bank!
Some people think that they become out of control while in a trance. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, being in a trance gives you more control, because while in a trance you can direct your other than conscious mind to do things that normally you would not be able to do. An example of this is pain control. In a trance, the other than conscious mind can be directed to just turn off the pain. This is something you normally can not do, on a conscious level.
Many people say they can not be hypnotised without even having tried it. While it is true some people are more reluctant than others to go into a highly focused state of mind, everyone, except people of very low intelligence, can be guided into a trance with the proper skills. Sometimes, people will need several sessions to learn to let go enough to go into a trance.