What is it really like to move from an ordinary waking state of consciousness to a hypnotic one? Many people ask that question.

It can be difficult to give a general answer to the question of how hypnosis is induced because there are different hypnosis methods that result in different types of altered states of consciousness. But I can describe how I experience it myself when my hypnotherapist Peter guides me into hypnotic states. Of course, my experience changes from time to time as my behavior changes and Peter adapts to this.

I sit or half lie in a comfortable chair with my feet on a stool in front of me and Peter sits down next to me. We are in a small house out of sight and hearing of other people. The chair is the center of the world that is now beginning to be created. F. island there is basically just a desk and bookshelves in the room.

Peter asks me to make myself as comfortable as possible in the chair and then urges me to concentrate on noticing everything that happens and is around me both inside and outside my body. He tries to direct me to take what he calls observing positions towards all that spontaneously appears in the form of sensations, thoughts, feelings, inner images, body movements and reactions. He speaks calmly and distinctly, and what could become a series of monotonous repetitions instead become nuances and variations of the same theme.

I have my eyes closed but not because Peter asked me to close them but because it feels like they want it that way. Peter has explained to me that the principle “let what happens, happen” does not only apply to the eyes, but also other things such as eg the breathing, ie that I feel that I let my body breathe exactly as it wants to. I have had to revise a lot of my previous ideas about hypnosis. Peter is not urging me to relax, not to fixate on any particular point, not to breathe in any particular way. The only thing he asks me to do is to concentrate on observing what spontaneously happens.

As I listen to him

I feel my field of attention shrink as if I am entering an ever narrowing funnel. It is by no means unpleasant, but not the opposite either.

Many wonder if you are “gone” when you are in hypnosis. It depends on what you mean by gone. Gone is the experience of time, and so does the room I’m in. It’s as if I moved from one room to another, from an outer to an inner room. Peter’s voice is initially intensely present, but gradually fades into the background as I no longer need as much guidance to go even deeper. I only understand fragments of what he is talking about. Still, I feel wide awake. At the same time as my field of attention shrinks, my attention is sharpened by concentrating so hard on observing everything that comes up. In my case – this may not apply to everyone else – it starts with my physical body becoming the center of my attention as if all the spotlights were directed at it.

“Let what happens happen,” repeats Peter, and so I consider everything that happens from my vantage point as an observer and try not to intervene in it either in thought or action. Peter constantly makes sure I follow this basic rule and reminds me when I show the slightest sign of deviating from it.

Little by little, after a number of times, I recognize his message so well that I don’t really need to actively listen. As I concentrate on “letting what happens happen”, his voice becomes like music or poetry, something in the background, soothing and beautiful.

In my experience, there is no simple connection between the hypnoinduction and my hypnotic state. There is an intermediate point here, something within me that needs to be activated in order for me to enter into this collaboration with Peter. What he actually does is that he awakens in me a desire to put myself in a hypnotic state. Once this will is awakened, I accept to follow his instructions and I can focus on concentrating on being an observer. I need to be strongly motivated, which of course I am when I start to understand that I can get help.

The ability of humans to willingly put themselves in different states of consciousness such as eg sleep, meditation and hypnosis are something extremely fascinating. What exactly causes me to go into a hypnotic state? What is it that wakes me up from this? How can I create my own state? We can perhaps describe the consequences of what in English is called “directed mental force”, but can we ever explain it?

When I feel that it is actually myself who –

Admitted initially with Peter’s help – can put myself in different states of consciousness, the anxiety I felt at the beginning about being exposed to something unpleasant and uncontrollable decreases. Before experiencing this, you feel a completely understandable fear of “losing your grip”. Lose your grip on what? To begin with, I had a very vague idea about that. Actually, I had already lost control of my behavior as I was affected by completely incomprehensible phobic symptoms. By observing my behavior in the hypnotic state, I would eventually realize that, on the contrary, I got a better grasp of it in hypnosis.

But confidence in my own ability to do this is based on confidence in my coach/therapist and his method. We develop a basic trust in ourselves and our abilities, in other people and in life and existence in general as we build up a trust in the one or those who take care of us and make sure we get what we need. Trust is something you build up together with those closest to you and with your coach and therapist. I need to feel seen and accepted and to be assured that he is competent enough to help me and wants me well.

An introductory conversation always precedes the actual hypnosis session and, if necessary, we also have a closing conversation. These play an important role, not only because they deepen my knowledge, but also because they develop and strengthen the collaboration between us. They are “self-enhancing” ia in the sense that they strengthen my belief in my own ability to work through my problems.

The way I enter hypnotic states changes and evolves over time. The induction itself is getting shorter and shorter because it takes less and less for me to enter these states. Sometimes Peter just needs to say a few words that I recognize from previous sessions. They act as a so-called trigger that sets my process in motion. It has even happened that it started immediately after I sat down in the chair, which in itself can be a trigger.

Like the induction, the outer frame adapts to where I am in my process. I can, if I wish, lie on a mattress on the floor instead of sitting or half-lying in the chair. Likewise, the length of the sessions can be varied as needed.

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I will not go into what my inner world of experience looks like here. It is individually colored by what each of us carries with us in the baggage of thoughts, feelings, past experiences, etc. Thoughts, images and feelings appear, flutter past like film sequences that I try to view from the outside. At the same time, my body lives its own life without me intervening.

My way through the “funnel” that I previously described happens gradually faster, sometimes almost imperceptibly. Once I have reached the bottom tip of the funnel, it is as if I continued into another funnel that is now reversed, ie I enter an inner world of experience that is constantly expanding. When at the end of a hypnosis session I enter an almost improbable calm, the walls of the funnel that surrounded me disappear and I only experience a free space and a previously unheard of inner peace.

Vivi Endo

1 Jeffrey Schwarz & Sharon Begley: The mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. NY: Harper Collins Publ. 2002.

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