This is a question I have thought about a lot over the years – and the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Here’s where I am with it now.
I know that many people use the presence of deep trance phenomena as an indication that hypnosis is occurring and not ‘something else’. However, such phenomena are not adequate markers because so many of them are ‘everyday’ phenomena. For example, most people have experienced ‘negative hallucination’ – a phenomenon where you do not see something that is right in front of you. Have you ever lost your car keys only to find them sitting in a prominent and visible place you had already ‘searched’? This is really common and is a naturally occurring negative hallucination.
The only real difference between naturally occurring and hypnotic versions of these phenomena is a matter of intensity – and therefore only a question of where one draws the line. Unfortunately, in my experience, this varies from client to client.
Arguments based on brainwave frequency are also inconclusive – Rossi’s work on the ultradian rhythm, where we pass through these alpha and theta states regularly throughout the day, shows that trance states occur naturally.
I think a big part of the problem is disentangling state from process. So we’re back to the ‘process vs. state’ argument of hypnosis that has been going on for a while now.
My distinction is that hypnosis is a deliberate, purposeful set of behaviours that access distinct states of mind.
There’s a lot of fluff in that statement, but as a definition, it screens out other behaviours that access similar states (such as certain types of meditation), naturally occurring or accidental access of those states, certain pharaceutical effects and allows us to distinguish between different hypnotic frames (e.g. clinical vs. stage hypnosis).
The defining characteristics of hypnosis are therefore:
- deliberate access
- purposeful access
- magnification of specific phenomena
- subject undertakes actions passively to some extent
- deliberate return from hypnotic state
In short, trance states can be naturally occurring to some extent, while hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) is an intentional and purposeful accessing and utilisation of those states.
This definition may seem to restrict the behaviours defined as hypnosis, yet if you think about it, it really opens up the scope of actions that might be hypnotic in nature.
I hope this provides some food for thought. Feel free to comment below.How do I know I'm really doing Hypnosis? by firstname.lastname@example.org