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Progressive Relaxation: The Most Reliable Hypnosis Technique

Aug 17, 2007
People have many different ideas about what hypnosis looks like. Some think of a hapless hypnotized volunteer at a Las Vegas show clucking like a chicken. Others think of crime witnesses being hypnotized by police psychologists. Still others think of horror movies where a hypnotized person became little but a mindless zombie, obeying the commands of his hypnotist no matter how dreadful.

What is Hypnosis?

The truth is far less glamorous. Hypnosis is merely a fancy word for a light trance, a state somewhere between waking and sleeping. There are many hypnosis techniques available to help induce this trance. While in this trance, hypnotized subjects tend to be highly attuned to some stimuli (e.g., the hypnotist's voice) while ignoring other stimuli altogether (e.g., not realizing whether the room is hot or cold). People in hypnotic trances are also more suggestible and may have decreased inhibitions. A hypnotic trance, however, is easily broken, and at no time is a hypnotized person ever completely out of control of his or her behavior.

How is a Person Hypnotized?

There are many hypnosis techniques to induce a hypnotic trance. Some hypnosis techniques involve using props like a constantly moving spiral or a glittery gold watch. The most simple hypnosis technique, however, is called progressive relaxation and requires nothing more than the hypnotist's voice.

To use this hypnosis technique, the subject should sit or lie down in a posture he or she finds comfortable. Soft music may be played in the background if this is agreeable to both hypnotist and subject.

In a soft but firm voice, the hypnotist should then draw the subject's attention to the major muscle groups, starting with the feet. The subject should be asked to tense the muscles in his or her feet, hold them for a count of three, and then relax them. The hypnotist should then move up the subject's body, focusing on calves and knees, thighs, buttocks, etc. After every few muscle groups, the hypnotist should remind the subject to maintain the relaxed state (e.g., "You are now completely relaxed from your stomach to your toes")

As the hypnotist reaches the subject's neck and face, additional suggestions of sleepiness can be given (e.g., "You're so relaxed that your eyelids are heavy. Let your eyes close as you lie there and listen to my voice.")

What Next?

Once this hypnosis technique has been used to induce trance, the hypnotist can ask questions, suggest visualizations (e.g., having the subject visualize him or herself turning off the "pain" switch in the brain), or implant post-hypnotic commands (e.g., "When you wake up, you won't feel like smoking").

Some people slip naturally from trance to a sleep state from which they awaken calm and refreshed.

The best hypnosis technique, however, is to awaken the subject. One common way to do this is by counting from ten to one, giving the subject cues on how his or her body is waking up. (For instance, "Ten. You are starting to wake up. Nine. Your feet are light and ready to dance or walk. Eight. Your legs are ready to carry you wherever you want to go. Etc.)

After a hypnotic session, be open to feedback from your subject. No matter how skilled a hypnotist you may be, there is always room to improve!
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