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Hypnosis Explained

Updated on August 17, 2012

Taking the Mystery Out of Hypnosis

Hypnosis in itself has always been a mysterious. From its beginnings, people have been awed and others have been skeptical. Frank Mesmer (where we get the term mesmerize) thought hypnosis had something to do with magnetic fluids, while today many people think hypnosis is a tap into the subconscious. Consequently, when asking what hypnosis is also depends on who is asked. More subjective people will explain it in more phenomological terms. On the other hand, more objective people will explain it in more behavioral terms. Analyzing hypnosis comes down to two schools of thought: special state and non-special state.

Special State

For those who believe in special state, hypnosis is a way to tap into a trance that is unattainable otherwise. For example, a person can lift 30 more pounds than they normally can while in a hypnosis induced trance. Articles have been published claiming that a person in a trance has different brain waves than that of a person in a normal state. Others have opined that these reports are media friendly and exaggerated.

Non-special State

Skeptic and some scientist explain hypnosis has simple acts of human behavior in certain situations. For one thing, compliance can play a big role in hypnotic feats. As in stage hypnosis, the subject may want to cooperate with the hypnotist. On the other hand, some subjects may actually believe that they are in a trance, and this belief may be enough to perform strange phenomena such as eating an onion on stage effortlessly. Tests actually show that people who are encouraged to do something without being in a trance perform just as well as people who are in a trance. What this means is, as in the earlier example, a person being prompted to lift 30 more pounds than usually can do so in a normal state.

Inducing a Trance

With the two schools of thought out of the way, there are staples in what needs to be done during a hypnotic process. The first step would be getting the person into a relaxed state. You can do this by telling him to simply relax. Next, a good hypnotist would do what is called pacing and leading. Hypnosis is not about magic words but is actually about making the person feel as if they are entering a trance. An example of pacing and leading would be to raise your hand above the subjects head, forcing them to stare up. Knowing that this will cause increased blinking, the hypnotist will tell the subject that the deeper they go into the trance, the more they will start to blink (pacing) and that their eyes will grow heavier and heavier until they close completely (leading). The pacing, or telling the subject something will happen that is normal and attributing it to a trance, causes the subject to feel as though he is going into a trance and therefore will accept the leading of closing the eyes all together.

The next step is to deepen the trance. This is done by even more relaxation. A good way of doing this is for the hypnotist to count down and tell the subject with each decrease in numbers, he will feel even more relaxed than the number before. This should get a responsive subject into a state where suggestion can be elicited.


Theory of hypnosis is divided between two groups and is hard to explain with great confidence, but there will always be techniques that are essential to put someone into a trance state. Hypnosis really comes down to relaxation and the ability to lead the subject in a trance state. The mystery of hypnosis is demystified by understanding it may not be exactly as spectacular as once thought. It may even be considered the ultimate placebo.


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