Becoming an excellent subject follows the same general rules for becoming proficient in any other endeavor. It depends upon your motivation, persistence and willingness to devote time and study to the subject. Let us agree that most individuals can learn to play a musical instrument to some degree. This degree is usually sufficient for their own needs. To become a virtuoso, however, it is necessary to study the instrument and devote a great deal of energy and time to practice. The same example could be given for most undertakings. Anyone can learn to hit a golf ball, but being able to control the direction and distance and become a skilled golfer is quite another matter.
If you have been successful in accomplishing the first five tests, you can consider yourself a good hypnotic subject. Becoming an excellent subject entails following the same procedure used in accomplishing the first five tests. Some may proceed very easily into the somnambulistic state, and others may have a difficult time reaching this deepest stage. Understanding some of the psychology involved and assuming the right psychological frame of mind for the attainment of the somnambulistic state is more important than just working blindly in an attempt to get the somnambulistic tests to work. Being irritable, disgusted and despondent because of your inability to go further into hypnosis is not the answer and will only lead to frustration and failure. The reader is not to assume he will be a difficult subject. If you have come this far, you’ll be able to continue in the same manner. The topic under discussion now is brought up to prepare readers for any contingency that may arise. It’s like having a life preserver on a boat. You hope you never need it, but you should be prepared to use it in case of an emergency.
It is natural to assume that if you are willing and trying to go into the lethargic, cataleptic or somnambulistic state, you will be able to do so in a relatively short period of time. Unfortunately, this is by no means the case. Many of the principles of learning and conditioning can be applied to hypnosis, but with many subjects these laws do not seem applicable. Let us assume you wanted to learn to become an excellent typist. This is a reasonable goal and all that is necessary is to continue practicing until you have reached the proficiency you set out to achieve. This proficiency would, as a rule, follow application of the laws of learning and conditioning.
This isn’t always so in a subject’s attempt to become somnambulistic. When the subject progresses from one stage to another in a classical manner, the theory works admirably, but what happens when a subject cannot seem to progress any further? He has reached a plateau and is unable to climb higher. He seems to have reached a psychological impasse or stalemate. It is easy to say that the subject is thwarted by a subconscious block and let it go at that. This, however, doesn’t help him in his dilemma. It’s like telling the stranded motorist that the reason his car has stalled is because the motor isn’t running. The following information will be helpful to those who haven’t been able to reach the first stages of hypnosis, as well as those who apparently can go only so far. Actually, the same principles are involved.
If the subject doesn’t respond or responds to a limited degree, there evidently is a cause or reason for this poor response. In order to continue this discussion, it will be necessary for us to agree that the resistance can be either conscious or unconscious. If the subject insists that he is trying to “let go,” has nothing to hide, is not afraid of hypnosis, understands what is involved and has strong motivation, we can only assume that the resistance must be unconscious. Usually, it will be necessary to work through this unconscious resistance before the subject responds. If the subject is conditioning himself, this will involve a great deal of introspection, and even then it is an extremely difficult job. One doesn’t usually have proper insight into one’s own emotional make-up. The end result is that one can only rationalize about his behavior.
Let us explore some interesting aspects of hypnosis with a view toward helping you if you are having difficulty responding the way you desire. I have had the following paradoxical situation happen many times. A subject calls my office, requesting to be conditioned for self-hypnosis. He further requests that he be allowed to bring along a member of his family or a friend for the hypnotic session. These individuals usually ask if I object to this procedure. I interpreted this request as a sign of distrust during my early career as a professional hypnotist. I was affronted by the idea of the unspoken insinuation verbalized by this request. Didn’t they trust me? Between trying to defend myself and assuring them that there was no need for another person being present, since my secretary could observe the procedure, I usually “won” the argument but lost the client. As I developed understanding into the needs of these persons, I began to realize that the request was not directed at my integrity, but was a safeguard for their ego.
Here is an interesting sidelight that has happened frequently in regard to the foregoing situation. I would request the subject to sit near my desk and tell the onlooker to sit in back and to the side of the subject, away from the subject’s view so as not to distract him. In this situation, I invariably place the hypnodisc on a spinning, portable phonograph turntable and turn it upright for the subject to look at. The hypnodisc, which is made of stiff cardboard, looks like a 12-inch phonograph record and has concentric heavy lines drawn on it. As it spins, the subject feels he is being pulled toward the center. At the same time, it causes his eyes to become very tired. I have included a drawing of it on this page for those who are not familiar with this hypnotic device. The revolving hypnodisc causes a physiological reaction and must work with everyone. You feed back certain known physiological responses for the successful attainment of hypnosis.
The onlooker has no choice but to look at the hypnodisc as well. As I suggest to the subject that his eyes are becoming heavy and tired and that soon he’ll have an irresistible impulse to close them, the onlooker is naturally hearing the same suggestion. Because this person feels apart from the hypnotic situation, there can be no conscious resistance. Since these defenses are not hampering the attainment of hypnosis, the onlooker may readily fall under hypnosis. More than once, the onlooker has confided to me that he was getting a better night’s sleep, was feeling wonderfully well or had derived other benefits since coming to my office as an “observer.” The exact situation happens when the stage hypnotist is hypnotizing subjects on the stage. Many times a person in the audience who had no intention of becoming hypnotized becomes influenced in the same manner. Incidentally, these individuals make the best subjects.
There are interesting theories as to why a subject responds or does not respond to hypnosis. I think the reader would find some of these theories interesting and perhaps gain some insight into his own hypnotic behavior. These theories are based primarily on a psychoanalytical approach to hypnosis.
The most prevalent theory is that the hypnotist represents either the father image (paternal or fear hypnosis) or the mother image (maternal or love hypnosis). The father usually represents an authoritarian figure. The subject’s identification can be on a conscious or subconscious level. Let us suppose the subject has ambivalent feelings toward his father. Because of this, he may no respond. Here is an opportunity to frustrate the authoritative (father) figure. The only trouble with this theory is that if there is an excellent relationship between the father and subject, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the subject will respond easily. The stage hypnotist invariably uses a strong, authoritative approach with a great deal of success, but this approach generally does not work best in private practice.
I have found that for the majority of subjects the maternal approach works best. Perhaps the process of hypnosis awakens early unconscious memories of being put to sleep as a child. Some techniques that are used in hypnosis are quite similar to this. The subject, who is lying down, is told to close his eyes and is spoken to in a quiet, reassuring, monotonous tone of voice. The hypnotist is seated near him.
The hypnotist even uses the same words that the subject has heard as a child: “Sleep. Go to sleep. When you awaken, you’ll feel wonderfully well.” In fact, I use some special music that I had recorded for inducing hypnosis. The first musical selection is Brahms’ “Lullaby.” Children’s music boxes invariably contain this selection, and the melody cannot help but activate a pleasant nostalgia. It is a memory associated with love and tenderness. This brings us to the fact that hypnosis may offer the subject a chance to escape from the reality of pressing problems into a state of complete irresponsibility. In fact, one theory of hypnosis equates the hypnotic state as a form of unconscious regression and need for submission.
The male subject may have a strong, positive identification with his mother rather than his father. It is part of the unresolved Oedipus complex. He sees his mother as a kind, loving individual, always ready to help. Even if the mother did something socially unacceptable, the individual would defend her vehemently. The father who might do something wrong would rarely be excused. Just the opposite is true with the female subject. When asking the female child, “Whose girl are you?”, the answer is invariably, “Daddy’s girl.” When asking the male child, “Whose boy are you?”, the answer is invariably, “Momma’s boy.” We accept this transference of identification as a normal process of growing up. When it isn’t normally resolved, it can account for severe personality problems. One might assume, therefore, that a woman hypnotist could better hypnotize a male subject, and a male hypnotist could better hypnotize a female subject, but this is not true except for cases such as we have just mentioned.
One school of thought feels that there is a strong submissive tendency in all of us and hypnosis gratifies this wish. The individual’s need for dependence is also met. In this case, the hypnotist becomes omnipotent, being able to alter feelings that ordinarily distress the individual. Normally, adults, when confronted by a particularly upsetting experience, might want to be held closely by an intimate friend or member of the family. Don’t we frequently put our arm around a friend in grief trying to comfort him? The inner strength which is created by hypnosis within the total personality structure of the subject lessens dependency upon the hypnotist, much in the same fashion that we need the doctor less as we start to recover from an illness. Self-hypnosis further lessens dependency for no authoritarian figure is used.
The subject’s attitude towards authority is important to know. It is well-known that officers in the army are more difficult to hypnotize than noncommissioned men. The enlisted man, by a process of indoctrination and conditioning, is taught to obey and follow orders without reasoning. The transference of authority to the hypnotist is readily accomplished because of this conditioning process. The army doctor, when treating patients psychologically, replaces his army jacket with a regular white medical jacket to increase rapport.
One interesting theory is that the subject responds as he thinks the hypnotist would like him to. This is termed “role playing.” When asking a subject under hypnosis his name, you usually get a very slow, deliberate answer, as though the subject were in a trance. You tell him that he can answer in a normal speaking voice and tempo and his further replies are to be in the same manner as his waking state.
Another theory along these lines is that the subject acts as he believes a hypnotized person would act. This, too, is role playing, but it does not explain analgesia, such as when the dentist hypnotizes the patient and proceeds to drill a tooth. No one (with the possible exception of a highly neurotic psychic masochist) is going to endure excruciating pain just to please the doctor.
One theory about hypnosis states that it allows the subject an opportunity of identifying with the hypnotist, whom he sees as a powerful figure. Through this identification, the subject is able to gain inner strength. On the other hand, the subject might rebel against the submissive nature of the hypnotic setting. This could easily create anxiety which, in turn, could create hostility resulting in resistance of various kinds. As a result of this, the subject might begin to criticize the hypnotist, find fault with the way he (the subject) is being handled, question the judgment of the hypnotist, or doubt the effectiveness of the hypnotic procedure.
Many investigators assert that the “rapport,” meaning the relationship between the subject and hypnotist, is all important. This is true and the relationship can and does have many ramifications. In psychotherapy, the term “transference” is used to denote this relationship. The relationship is further described as a good or bad transference. There is also a countertransference which indicates the reaction of the therapist to the patient. Naturally, in order for the subject to respond, there must be good rapport.
I have tried to indicate that there are complexities that may arise in the hypnotic setting. There are many conflicting theories as to why a subject does or does not respond. There are no set rules to follow, and one’s intuition, experience and judgment help solve any problem that arises.
Let me relate another frequent incident. I have had subjects come to me after they were unable to be hypnotized by several other professional hypnotists. They have complained that the hypnotists weren’t “good hypnotists” because they couldn’t hypnotize them. After all, they ask, hadn’t they been willing subjects? My usual answer is that the fault, if there is one, is not with the hypnotists and really not with the subjects. It is a matter of exploring what has happened and then deciding on a course of action to insure success.
I am firmly convinced that the subject responds when he is positively, without equivocation, ready to do so. He keeps testing the response to make sure he is in control. He fears a reduction in his voluntary level of reality attachment and control. Unresponsiveness proves to him that he has this control. As long as he does this, which is a natural response, he never lets go sufficiently to attain hypnosis. Hypnosis, as we know, is a very sensitive state. It requires complete faith and trust in the hypnotist. If it is lacking, the subject never does respond. The phenomenon of hypnosis is entirely subjective in nature, and its success lies within the total personality structure of the subject. If there is resistance to hypnosis itself or to deepening the state, the subject by his own honest evaluation and verbalization of his resistance can do much to become a better subject. Hypnosis must begin with the acceptance by the subject of certain basic fundamentals that we have already discussed rather than of the forcefulness of the hypnotist. The deepening of the hypnotic state lies in the intensification of the conditioned response mechanism once it has been initiated.
You should not expect to achieve immediate results although sometimes this does happen. As you continue to work with perseverance, intelligence and enthusiasm, you will definitely achieve the goals that you have set for yourself. It is well to remember that you guide yourself toward the somnambulistic state, depending upon your belief and acceptance of those principles that have been outlined for you.
I have attempted to point out some of the salient points and theories to keep in mind in your attempt to develop into an excellent hypnotic subject. Some of these only pertain to the situations where the hypnotist works with the subject. Many of the problems inherent in this setting are not applicable to the situation where the subject is hypnotizing himself. Both settings have their advantages and disadvantages. As long as you proceed to follow the instructions given you, you can feel assured that you will finally achieve self-hypnosis.
It should be emphasized that it is vital to adopt the right frame of mind in your attempt to achieve self-hypnosis, particularly a deep state. If you approach hypnosis with a “prove-it-to-me” attitude, nothing is going to happen. Self-hypnosis requires practicing a set of mental exercises or mental gymnastics. To acquire the ultimate from this training requires systematic conditioning. The word “training” is used quite extensively in hypnotic literature. The use of the word implies that hypnosis can be attained by a training period. The literature speaks frequently of a subject being trained to respond in a certain way. Obviously, this means over a certain period of time. It also means you train yourself to become a good hypnotic subject. It is a skill that all can acquire.
There are four books dealing specifically with self-hypnosis that I would recommend to you for further reading. They are: What is Hypnosis by Andrew Salter, Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis by Bernard Hollander, M.D., Autogenic Training by Johannes H. Schultz, M.D., and Self-Hypnosis—Its Theory, Technique and Application by Melvin Powers.