Hypnosis has a long history, so it is no surprise that there are a lot of terms and ‘key words’ associated with it. Some of the most common terms are discussed here. However, not everyone uses these terms in the same way, so you may find different ‘labels’ being used for the same thing. So what does all this hypnosis terminology mean?
It might seem simple to start with the term ‘hypnosis’, although it is anything but simple. As yet, the profession has not come together with a single definition or description. If you were to hypnotise 100 people and then ask them what they experienced, it is likely that a range of experiences will be reported. Common descriptions include ‘feeling relaxed’, ‘being focused’, and ‘feeling absorbed’. A popular description of hypnosis is that of ‘focused state of attention’. The American Psychological Association (APA) has ranged in its definition of hypnosis, with revisions in 1993 and 2003, prior to the current 2014 version, which considers hypnosis to be:
“A state of consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness characterized by an enhanced capacity for response to suggestion”
(Elkins et al 2015).
The APA suggest that there is some discussion whether it is necessary to use the term ‘hypnosis’, and that some people consider it essential (APA 2003) and this is certainly supported by the Gandhi and Oakley (2005) research.
Hypnotist / hypnotherapist?
A ‘hypnotist’ is a person who uses ‘hypnotism’ to ‘hypnotise’ a client, subject, patient or participant, to create hypnosis. Even in this basic example of hypnosis terminology, some of the terms can be varied. Whilst many practitioners who see clients for therapeutic purposes tend to call themselves ‘hypnotherapists’; some do use the term ‘hypnotist’, particularly if that was on their first qualification.
A ‘hypnotherapist’ tends to use psychotherapeutic techniques, together with hypnosis; the hypnosis often helping to enhance the therapeutic aspects, whether with shorter duration of therapy, or greater benefit. An additional term growing in popularity is that of ‘practitioner’, thus the modern combination ‘hypnotherapy practitioner’ was coined.
A ‘clinical hypnotherapist’ or ‘clinical hypnotist’ is a term used by practitioners who have training that enables them to work with medical issues. They will often liaise with a GP, consultant, or another healthcare professional. Another view is that a clinical hypnotherapist is a psychologist, psychiatrist, anaesthetist, surgeon, dentist, or doctor who has hypnosis training. However, some medics may instead use the term ‘medical hypnotist’ or ‘medical hypnotherapist’.
‘Clinical hypnotherapist‘ is a term that is sometimes misused by hypnotherapists who do not in fact have the training or ability to work with medical issues, but simply want to appear more ‘professional’ – that said there are some highly respected ‘clinical hypnotherapists’ working today, but they are a much rarer breed than your standard hypnotherapist.
Stage hypnosis / street hypnosis?
Although this blog focuses on hypnosis from a therapeutic perspective, there are some other terms that are useful to understand, as clients may have an understanding of them. The first is ‘street hypnosis’ which is performed by a ‘street hypnotist’. These terms tend to be associated with ‘ad-hoc’, informal demonstrations of hypnosis in a public or private environment, for entertainment. The second term is ‘stage hypnosis’ which is performed by a ‘stage hypnotist’. Although it might be reasonable to assume that this is hypnosis on a stage, it actually refers to the use of hypnosis for the purposes of entertainment – no stage required! Both stage and street hypnosis tend to involve demonstrations of hypnotic phenomena such as suggestbility testing, or other more profound phenomena such as amnesia (forgetting a name) or hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t actually there). Stage (and street) hypnosis is generally performed for entertainment purposes, so the demonstrations of phenomena are intended to be funny or informative (about the power of the human mind).
An emerging term is ‘stage hypnotherapy’ performed by a ‘stage hypnotherapist’. This is where hypnotherapy, instead of being conducted in the privacy of a consulting room or other location, is presented in a more public environment for the entertainment of the public. For example, conducting some hypnotherapy (e.g. for a phobia) as part of a television show or radio show. This could certainly bring up confidentiality issues, among other things…
Hypnotic induction / deepener?
To create ‘hypnosis’ a ‘hypnotic induction’ is used. This is a formal ‘procedure designed to induce hypnosis’ (APA 2014), to enable someone to become ‘hypnotised’. This takes the form of some suggestions to promote the focus of attention and often, although not always, includes some suggestions for relaxation. These inductions range from lengthy, gentle, ‘progressive relaxation‘ focused approaches, to quicker ‘rapid inductions‘ or ‘instant inductions‘. It could be suggested that they all fall into one of two categories: Those that fatigue the nervous system, and those that overload the nervous system. However, an induction could have both effects. After an hypnotic induction, a ‘deepener’ or ‘state deepener‘ is often used to intensify the hypnosis.
Finally, the term ‘hypnotic suggestion’ relates to the guidance, directions or instructions given by the hypnotherapist in order to generate a response, which is often a change in subjective experience, behaviour, perception, emotion, thought or sensation. For example, suggesting to someone that they may start to notice their arm getting lighter and lighter. Often the suggestion will involve engagement with the imagination or an aspect of involuntariness, so frequently a subject will find their arm lifting without even thinking about it…
Thanks for reading this blog on hypnosis terminology and we hope that it has been useful for you. Do feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks