‘Hypnotic phenomena’ refers to the types of responses that you can create in a person whilst hypnotised (and sometimes that happen by themselves, without suggestion). Most hypnotic phenomena can be used during the hypnotherapy process in order to help facilitate therapeutic change. It’s also worth noting that the majority of hypnotic phenomena that you can use within the hypnosis process (with the exception of ‘post-hypnotic suggestion’) can be achieved naturally outside of hypnosis, in the normal awake or alert state. This means that most people will be able to achieve every type of hypnotic phenomena, on some level. So, alongside the ‘hypnotherapy applications’ of each phenomena, I’ve provided a ‘real-world (out-of-hypnosis)’ example too!
Here’s a run-down of the different types of hypnotic phenomena that a hypnotherapist might use (whether directly or indirectly) and how said phenomena might appear/be used within a hypnotherapy session. The list is provided in alphabetical order, just for the sake of ease:
Amnesia refers to the act of ‘forgetting’. Now, obviously all of us are capable of forgetting, and some of us are better at it than others. Hypnotic amnesia, though more commonly used in entertainment hypnosis (to make someone ‘forget their name’, for example), can also be used by the hypnotherapist. Amnesia can be used effectively in order to have a client forget what happened during a hypnotherapy session. The reason that some hypnotherapist might choose to do this, is to stop a client from trying to analyse or ‘unpick’ the work that was done during the session. However, there are limitations on what a person can be ‘made’ to forget. Many hypnotherapists get enquiries from clients who wish to be hypnotised to ‘forget their ex’ (it’s quite a common one actually). However, due to the complexity of memory and the amount of memories an ‘ex’ would be involved in, using hypnotic amnesia to remove all memories of a significant person is not likely to work very well (if at all). That said, there are many other ways to help such a client with their relationship goals that can be learned on a good hypnotherapy training course.
In contrast, hypermnesia is the act of remembering more than normal (enhanced recall). Hypermnesia can also be used by hypnotherapists, often to help clients remember past events, to attain further details about a known past event and can even be used to discover locations of lost objects. Hypermnesia suggestions are often delivered by hypnotherapists in conjunction with ‘regression therapy’ (which is covered further on down the list). However, simply being in hypnosis whilst recalling past events can naturally produce the hypnotic phenomena of hypermnesia, without it being directly suggested by the hypnotherapist.
Analgesia is the reduction of pain and anaesthesia is the removal of all pain and sensation. Outside of hypnosis, a person might accidentally cut themselves without realising, and not experience pain (due to not focusing on it). This self-generated pain control can be recreated in the hypnotherapy session using hypnotic suggestion. A hypnotherapy client can benefit from this pain reduction/removal hypnotic phenomena for various different conditions, such as headaches, IBS, dystonia, pregnancy and even for pain relief in hospitals and in emergency situations. Many people have undergone surgery using only hypnotic anaesthesia for pain management (and no drugs whatsoever). However, the level of hypnotic pain reduction/removal that can be achieved using this hypnotic phenomena can rely on the subjects receptiveness to the suggestions.
Here’s an example of hypnotic anaesthesia in action, where I stick a piercing needle through the skin on the back of Kate’s hand. I give suggestions for hypnotic anaesthesia and also to stop any bleeding. She didn’t feel a thing and there was no blood at all:
Catalepsy refers to the rigidity or immobility of muscles. Out of hypnosis, this can happen naturally in a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ situation, where your mind is telling you to move, but your body is stuck in place. This type of hypnotic phenomena is often used by hypnotherapists in the induction/deepening process (such as with an eye catalepsy/eye lock test). It is also an approach that might be used when working with hypnotherapy clients for psychogenic sexual issues, such as erectile dysfunction or perhaps even for insomniacs who move around too much in their sleep.
Dissociation is a naturally occurring hypnotic phenomenon, as hypnosis in and of itself is a dissociative state. ‘Dissociation’ means to be removed from the situation in which you are currently in. Hypnotherapist often use dissociation techniques with clients who have fears, phobias and who want to get over past traumatic events. Dissociation helps a client to experience imagined negative situations (in hypnosis), whilst not feeling as if they are actually there ‘in the moment’. It’s kind of like watching a memory of yourself on a TV screen, rather than seeing it through your own eyes. This dissociation helps to reduce overly emotional responses, so is a highly useful therapy tool. Dissociation can naturally happen when we’re experiencing traumatic events. Some people will ‘go to their happy place’ in order to dissociate from what’s happening in the here and now.
Future-pacing, sometimes known simply as ‘mental rehearsal’ is a hypnotic phenomena that’s frequently used in hypnotherapy. Future pacing often involves ‘visualisation’. It’s where the hypnotherapist guides the client through various ‘future options’, to prepare them for success and the realisation of their therapy goals. It can also be used to help people to overcome potential obstacles that may happen on their journey to success. We all use future pacing in our day-to-day lives, sometimes for positive things that are going to happen (imagining yourself at a future holiday destination, sipping cocktails on the beach), and sometimes for negative things (imagining an upcoming speaking engagement going completely wrong in every way possible). Future pacing is a powerful tool, so if you’re doing it outside of hypnosis (whilst just daydreaming), make sure you’re using it to rehearse what you want to happen as opposed to what you don’t want (there’s a ‘law of suggestion‘ about what you concentrate on being what you are likely to get)!
This hypnotic phenomena can be split into various different parts. Hallucination means to experience something that is not actually happening, but experiencing it as if it were happening. Technically that’s known as ‘positive hallucination’ (where you ‘add something in’ that isn’t there). Such as imagining you see a creepy shadow outside your window at night time (and it turns out to be nothing). Conversely, ‘negative’ hallucination is where you ‘take something away that is there’. For example, you might hunt all over your living room for your house keys, and they’re lying right there on the coffee table in plain sight the whole time. It’s where your mind just ‘doesn’t see’ something that’s actually there.
Also, hallucinations don’t need to just be ‘visual’. A person can hallucinate any of the senses, such as imagining an itching sensation when you think of creepy crawlies… Imagining your phone is buzzing in your pocket, when in fact it isn’t… Thinking that someone called your name, when no one was actually speaking… Hallucination is most commonly used for entertainment hypnosis purposes, but can be used by hypnotherapists too, such as with ‘aversion therapy’, where the therapist would have the client hallucinate a terrible smell or even that they’re holding a bucket full of horrible, gross substances in order to link that nasty imagine/smell to a habit they wish to stop doing (such as smoking or nail-biting).
Ideo-motor response (IMR) & Automatic writing
Ideo-motor response when literally translated means a movement in response to an idea. So, this basically means having a person move in response to a suggestion given to them in hypnosis. This hypnotic phenomena is more commonly used in hypnotherapy, than on stage. Hypnotherapists often use ‘IMR signals’ to communicate directly with the subconscious mind, with a finger that moves for a ‘yes’ response and another that moves for a ‘no’ response. The hypnotherapist can then ask the subconscious mind questions and get direct responses from it. This is a great way to communicate with that deeper part of the client that is not inhibited by the critical conscious mind. IMRs happen in real life too. Ever been in the passenger seat of a car where the driver seems to brake right at the last minute, and had your foot slam down on the floor as if trying to use an invisible brake pedal? Yes, that’s an IMR.
Automatic writing is another type of IMR, whereby the subject is given a pen/pencil/crayon and told that the subconscious mind will write the answer to any questions, without any conscious effort required. This can be used for insight gathering in hypnotherapy, and can often provide interesting results whilst the client is completely oblivious to what their hand is writing.
Post-hypnotic suggestion refers to any suggestion given to a client that they are to continue responding to after the hypnotherapy session is finished (post-hypnotic). All hypnotherapy relies on post-hypnotic suggestion, because if a suggestion only worked during the hypnotherapy session itself, then hypnotherapy wouldn’t be very effective! Post-hypnotic suggestions can be either temporary or permanent, depending on the type of suggestion and the criteria set by the hypnotherapist.
Regression is the hypnotic phenomena that allows a client to vividly imagine going back in time to a past event (whether positive or negative, important or mundane). There are 2 types of regression, they are known as regression and revivification. ‘Regression’ is where a subject experiences a past event, but they are aware that they are not actually there, and are just imagining it. ‘Revivification’ is where a subject completely ‘re-lives’ an event, as if they were there at the time (and without their current knowledge). May people experience revivification every night, in their dreams. Some subjects will regress, others will revivify. Revivification often requires a more profound state of hypnosis and responsiveness to suggestions, however both types of regression can be utilised for hypnotherapy purposes. Regression can be used for many different types of condition/issue, however it is most commonly used for working on phobias (which often start during childhood).
Whilst on the topic of regressions, past life regression is simply another form of regression, but to a supposed ‘past life’. Past life regressions can be used for therapy purposes, but are also frequently used for entertainment (I would personally advise avoiding that, for safety reasons). For those hypnotherapists who are not believers in past lives, you might think of a past life regression as a metaphor. They can sometimes be useful to create change in therapy clients.
Time distortion is another naturally occurring phenomena that can happen in hypnosis without it being suggested. Some people, when in hypnosis for a couple of minutes feel like an hour has passed… Some who’re in hypnosis for an hour or more may think it’s only been a few minutes. Your subjective measuring of time can be altered simply by being in hypnosis. This hypnotic phenomena is the same as the natural time distortion effect that you might get when you’re either enjoying yourself or waiting for something. For example, an intense 10 minute treadmill workout might seem more like an hour, whereas 7 days on a luxury holiday in Greece might seem to just fly by! Time distortion can also be used for various therapy applications too. For instance, you might make a nervous plane passenger believe that they’re on the plane for less time or perhaps extend the perceived time of someone on a diet, enjoying a small snack (instead of extending it real-time by just eating more of the same snack).
So, there are lots of different therapeutic applications for each type of hypnotic phenomena. As a hypnotherapist, sometimes you are limited only by your creativity in where you apply them! We hope that this blog on the topic of ‘hypnotic phenomena’ has been helpful to you. If you have any more questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Rory Z Fulcher