Hypnosis testing enables a hypnotist or hypnotherapist to find out how a client or research participant (subject) is likely to respond to hypnosis. It can give an indication of how well they accept suggestion (suggestibility), how open they are to suggestion (susceptibility), how they perform in hypnosis (hypnotisability), and whether / where they are in hypnosis (trance depth testing). Testing often involves either the production (do), or inhibition (don’t do), of either motor (movement) tasks or cognitive tasks, without deliberate conscious action on the part of the subject.
There are several common applications of pre-hypnosis testing:
- to establish levels of suggestibility or hypnotisability prior to hypnosis
- to determine the optimum approach for a client
- to eliminate unsuitable approaches for a particular client
- to check for compliance
- to act as a ‘warm up’ approach for a client prior to formal hypnosis
- to convince the client
In addition, testing can be conducted within formal hypnosis:
- to confirm compliance
- to check for acceptance of suggestion
- to confirm depth of trance
- to confirm presence or absence of specific phenomena
- to convince the client
Furthermore, testing can be conducted for after the hypnosis session, using post-hypnotic suggestions:
- to confirm compliance
- to confirm acceptance of suggestion
- to convince the client
Preparing for hypnotherapy
In preparing your client for hypnosis, you may wish to find out what their preferred ‘modality’ is, whether visual (see), auditory (hear) or kinaesthetic (feel/emotions/sensations) and which they respond most strongly to. You may also want to find out their preferred approach, whether direct (commanding / authoritarian) or indirect (choice / permissive / metaphorical) and how they respond to these approaches.
Testing prior to hypnosis
Checking how your client may respond to hypnosis will give you valuable information, that can then be used to enhance their hypnotic experience and outcomes. There are a range of tests in popular use and each give the hypnotist different information. It is generally advisable to frame these tests as ‘warm up’ or ‘imagination’ exercises, rather than as a pass/fail test for clients.
Magnetic fingers test: This indicates either acceptance of suggestion (if the client succeeds in having the fingers come together), or the possibility of resistance (if the fingers don’t move or are moved apart).
Bucket and balloon (heavy/light hands) test: The heavy hand descending indicates compliance with suggestion, the light hand lifting indicates engagement with imagination.
Chevreul’s pendulum test: This indicates whether the client is able to achieve ideo-motor response (unconscious movement in response to suggestion) and whether they are able to follow instruction / suggestion.
One potential criticism of these popular tests, is that they can be associated with street or stage (entertainment) hypnosis. A set of tests perhaps more appropriate for the therapy environment (if you worry about such things) is the Barber’s Creative Imagination Scale (CIS) [DOWNLOAD PDF]. Whilst other tests can be perceived to be rather authoritarian (commanding), Barber’s CIS is more permissive in its language. The CIS can be given to either groups or individuals, either without first inducing formal trance or after a formal induction, either as single elements or working through the range of ten tests which explore different phenomena, such as movement, hallucinations and time distortion.
Note: If you choose to use Barber’s CIS testing, we advise that you skip the ‘regression’ test, unless you are already proficient in using regression within your hypnotherapy sessions.
Testing within hypnosis
Depending on the intention of the hypnosis session, it may be beneficial to determine the depth of trance at a given point within the hypnosis session. For example, it can be useful to test for analgesia (reduction in pain) prior to working towards anaesthesia (removal of pain and sensation). Depth ‘scales’ often assess physiological, behavioural or perception (subjective) changes. Scales can vary from 2 levels (in hypnosis, not in hypnosis), through to a highly complex 50 levels. The most commonly used ones tend to be the basic three levels (light, medium, and deep). These are generally assessed by observable signs, such as slowed breathing and relaxed posture. There is also the popular Aaron’s scale of 6 levels. However, some clients are naturally more skilled in achieving some phenomena than others. As a reminder, some of the phenomena that can be achieved in hypnosis includes:
- Memory: Amnesia (forgetting), hypermnesia (enhanced recall), post-hypnotic suggestion (carrying out the suggestion after the trance)
- Movement: Catalepsy (immobility), ideo-motor response (unconscious movement), automatic writing (unconscious writing / drawing)
- Awareness: Analgesia (reduced pain), anaesthesia (loss of pain and sensation), hallucinations (all five senses, experiencing what isn’t there, or not experiencing what is there), dissociation (change of awareness)
- Time based: Regression (going back in time with current knowledge), revivification (re-experiencing as experienced at the time), future projection / future pacing (going forward in time), time distortion (slowing or speeding up of perceived time)
Researchers will often classify subjects by their level (high / medium / low) of suggestibility to test whether an intervention influences one group more than another. To do this they will often use either a group test, such as the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (HGSS) or the individual Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale (SHSS).
The HGSS [DOWNLOAD PDF] is a series of tests, progressive in difficulty, usually taking around 45 minutes to complete. A range of motor (movement) and cognitive tasks are presented to the subjects, with the opportunity for them to self-report. However, as the test is self-scoring it is vulnerable to external factors, such as social desirability, competition and other issues that may influence an individual’s performance.
The SHSS [DOWNLOAD PDF] is often performed by a technician or researcher, and a research subject. It is a long script (45 to 50 minutes) which is read word for word and provides a series of tests, increasing in complexity. At the point at which the subject does not ‘pass’ or perform the test, that is where the test stops. The most common version is the ‘Scale C’, with some tasks as motor (movement) and cognitive tests. The tests include catalepsy, amnesia, and a range of hallucinations. The score is recorded by the person administering the test, according to the performance of the subject.
Both tests are vulnerable to influence from the subject. If they do not want to be hypnotised, then they will generate a low score, even though they may, in fact, be highly hypnotisable. Furthermore, someone very keen to participate may over achieve consciously or deliberately, with the perception that they may be more likely to be selected for research.
So…To test or not to test…
Finding out the extent to which your client or research subject is suggestible and what works best for them, enables the hypnotist or hypnotherapist to finely customise the hypnosis work to best suit the individual. However, it is generally helpful to avoid using the term ‘test’ with a client or research subject… Rather ‘exercise’, ‘activity’, ‘warm up’ or other such term tends to reduce the risk of performance anxiety and thus giving a more accurate response from the individual. Furthermore, if it is relevant to the work being conducted in trance, then assessing trance depth and engagement with phenomena can enhance the effectiveness of the therapeutic interventions.
Thanks for reading, and do feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks