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Hypnotherapy and hypnotisability: a ‘Dionysian and Apollonian’ view

Hypnotherapy and hypnotisability a ‘Dionysian and Apollonian’ view

We know that people have considerable differences in their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. There are many, many different ways in which to categorise people according to their cognitions and actions. One such way is using the ‘Dionysian’ and ‘Apollonian’ distinctions. These are particularly relevant for hypnotherapists, hypnotists and other talking therapists who might engage in hypnotic and imaginal work, as there is a relationship between low (Apollonian, cognitive), medium (Odyssean) and highly hypnotizable (Dionysian, affective individuals.

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The Dionysian, being ‘heart-oriented’, emotional and chaotic, tends towards engagement with their imagination and passion, being spontaneous, and rebellious, with an inclination towards excess. The Apollonian contrasts, ‘head-oriented’, being logical, civilised and disciplined, with a focus on rules, reason, control and order, using research to seek clarity, and with a disposition more focused towards moderation. Whilst it might be considered that Dionysian personalities are so compliant that they are natural followers, depending on other factors, such as social and corporate status, and support systems and structures, they may hold roles of authority and influence themselves.

apollo dionysus greek god hypnosis hypnotherapy hypnotisability

Although the distinctions between Dionysian and Apollonian are most commonly referred to, there is a middle point, that of the ‘Odyssean’. With many personality traits, some aspects of opposites can exist harmoniously. For example, in one situation, an Odyssean may be more sceptical, critical and seeking rational explanations, whilst in another situation they will be more accepting and trusting of information provided. Generally, there will be a more balanced synthesis between cognitive and emotional aspects. However, there can also be a somewhat ‘approach-retreat’ approach to situations. The Odyssean may fully engage in or immerse themselves in an activity, situation or relationship, and then step back and start to critique it. They also appear as moderately trusting, rather than to any particular extreme. However, unlike the Dionysian or Apollonian, they are able to maintain an awareness of the past and the future as well as the present, without ignoring the influence of the past, the potential of the future, nor the actualities of the present.

Generally, more highly hypnotisable people fit into the Dionysian category, they consider feelings, emotions and behaviours to be more important and valuable than reason and rationalisation. So, a Dionysian may more easily accept ‘conflicts and paradoxes of logic’ when explaining their rationale, yet an Apollonian would find these perplexing, seeking order, consistency and clarity. The Dionysian is far more able to cope with the perceived logical incongruities, clashes and conflicts that may occur in hypnosis and hypnotherapy (and especially stage / entertainment hypnosis).

The ability to accept logical and cognitive inconsistencies and incongruences is often a required characteristic of those who respond best to the hypnosis / hypnotherapy process. However, the Dionysian is less able to tolerate emotional (affective) dissonance and incongruities. They can experience crises when given conflicting instructions from authority and ‘high-value’ people (to whom they have an emotional response or connection), and tend to resolve such a crisis either by alternating between each position of conflict (such as ‘wanting to quit smoking’ and cutting down occasionally, yet, at other times, smoking more due to peer pressure), or by seeking support and information from a person perceived to be a higher authority.

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The Dionysian (more highly hypnotisable person) tends to readily comply with a suggestion, and then rationalise the meaning of their behaviour, not recalling the suggestion or linking to its relevance in the process. They will be less interested in the reasons for a new behaviour and more interested in the resultant action. In contrast, the person who is hypnotisable at a lower level (Apollonian), will comply with a suggestion in a more inflexible and systematic manner and is more concerned in having a rational explanation for their actions and behaviours.

There are a number of character trait differences between Dionysian’s and Apollonian’s, and their associated engagement and performance in therapy, that are relevant to the hypnotherapist.

Firstly, people differ in their awareness of themselves and the space around them (‘spatial awareness’), with concentration divided between focal and peripheral awareness. At some times we are more peripheral, at other times we are more focal, depending on our situation. Hypnotic trance tends to move us away from peripheral and towards focal awareness (the ‘concentrated focus of attention’). The higher hypnotisable Dionysian tends to be more able to focus intently even without formal trance, such as getting totally absorbed in a book or movie. In contrast, the awareness of an Apollonian tends to be broader, more dispersed, and, as a result tends to be less easily distracted to the same extent that a Dionysian may be.  For example, the Dionysian may find background noises during hypnosis to be far more distracting than an Apollonian. As a hypnotherapist, you may find a need to utilise more reactive manipulation of distractions during therapy for a Dionysian.

There are notable differences in ‘time-focus’ between the two groups also. The highly hypnotisable Dionysian tends to be more absorbed by the present, and less focused on the past or future. Yet, the Dionysian can often recall details from their past in fine and graphic detail. That recall is often ‘revivification’ of the past, reliving it and experiencing it as though they were there in the present. As there tends to be less past or future influence, the Dionysian is often less of a worrier about future possibilities, or the consequences of the past.  In contrast, the Apollonian tends to take their past and future very seriously, and will consider options, alternatives and consequences, with a higher predisposition towards worry.

From a Locus of Control perspective, with Dionysians being more emotion (affective) focused, they do tend to be more influenced by the emotions of those around them, and can be more ‘External’ in their Locus of Control, whereas Apollonians tend to be more focused on their own feelings and are influenced less by the emotions of those around them, and thus are more ‘Internal’ in their Locus of Control. This is further supported by individual relationships, with Dionysians being more ‘gut instinct’ and letting others choose their own path, whereas Apollonians seek reasons and explanations, and prefer to be in control in their relationships, rather than let others make decisions for them.

These differences also extend to levels of interpersonal trust. Whilst Dionysians can be more uncritically trusting and accepting of the ideas of others, Apollonians are far more critical of others and tend to explore alternatives, rather than simply accept other people’s ideas without challenge, reason or support. These individuals also tend to be those who indicate they are sceptical of hypnosis or question its efficacy, either generally or specifically for themselves.

skeptical unsure critical man hypnosis hypnotherapy hypnotisability

The differentiation between these two classifications can also be applied to how people learn. From a hypnotherapy student perspective, the Dionysian student will soak up new material, new techniques and approaches, totally immersing themselves in a course and easily absorbing new concepts. The Apollonian student will be the one who sits back and evaluates what is being taught, learning systematically and methodically, gradually assimilating their knowledge and seeking additional or supporting information. Generally, the Apollonian student will ask far more questions than the Dionysian. When it comes to making use of that knowledge and turning learned knowledge into usable practice, the Dionysian student may appreciate more help in taking the theory into practice, whereas the Apollonian student may appreciate help enabling them to connect to the material on a deeper level, rather than just factual. Another factor for learning, is that the Dionysian student may prefer kinaesthetic input, including practical engagement with taught material, whereas the Apollonian student tends to be more visual, such as looking at training material and observing demonstrations. Also, the Dionysian student tends to mull over ideas in their mind, synthesise ideas and create new concepts, whilst the Apollonian student will prefer a clearly defined and consistent process. Furthermore, the Dionysian student will often absorb more by listening to information being presented, and the Apollonian student will prefer the information in a printed format, clearly and logically presented.

The Odyssean learner is generally more accommodating, both allowing themselves to change during the learning process and also keen to transform their theoretical knowledge and understanding into a more practical and usable format, being comfortable with watching demonstrations, absorbing printed notes and engaging in practical activities, and able to both replicate formal processes, and synthesise and adapt ideas and concepts.

Finally, for the hypnotherapy client, their capacity for change and their selection and engagement in therapy can also be considered from this perspective. The Dionysian tends not to select their treatment plan from a critical judgement perspective. They may accept a treatment strategy using ‘gut instinct’, but then may not follow through, getting distracted or side-tracked by alternatives. The Apollonian tends to be less flexible than either the Dionysian or Odyssean, and can be more critical in the conditions for change, seeking a high level of information about the proposed treatment options and asking many questions. They can be hesitant to commit to a specific treatment strategy. However, when they do eventually commit to a particular treatment plan, they are likely to follow through the change process and less likely to be swayed by other influences or perspectives (so are not likely to jump from one treatment plan to another, seeking the next ‘new thing’).

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The Odysseans have both the positive and less ideal traits of the other two groups. Whilst they may not be as easily side-tracked or diverted as the Dionysians, nor as critical as the Apollonians, they may not as easily or freely adjust to and engage with a new treatment strategy as the Dionysians. They tend to be mid-way between two groups in terms of flexibility to change and their ability to support and maintain change.

As a hypnotherapist, we will encounter all three types of client, and as I’m sure you are aware, levels of hypnotisability, suggestibility, Locus of Control and commitment to change vary and fluctuate from client-to-client. In an ideal world our clients would be as open as the Dionysians, as committed as the Apollonians and as flexible as the Odysseans. However, in reality, you may only get one of the above!

References & Further Reading

Orne, M.T. (1959) The nature of hypnosis: artefact and essence. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 448, 277-299.

Spiegel, H. (1974) The grade 5 syndrome: the highly hypnotisable person.  International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 22(4), 303-319.

We hope this blog Dionysian and Apollonian hypnotherapy perspectives has been helpful, and if you have any questions relating to this blog, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!

– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
(HypnoTC Director)

Dr Kate Beaven-Marks HypnoTC the Hypnotherapy Training Company

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