What is a hypnotic trance?
The old view...
In the old view of hypnosis, a lot of focus was placed on the “depth of trance”. It was taught that the hypnotist’s role was to guide the hypnotic ‘subject’ down through a number of layers of trance state, starting with a ‘light trance’ and moving down towards an ‘Esdaile state’, which is almost comatose. It was believed that certain outcomes required a certain depth of trance. The Esdaile state, for example, is named for James Esdaile, a 19th century Scottish doctor operating as a surgeon in India. He used hypnosis for surgical anaesthesia in hundreds of major operations – and he sought a level of trance close to complete unconsciousness.
There are parallels here with the application of chemical anaesthesia – the anaesthetist can apply either a local or general anaesthetic, and will administer only what is required for the patient to reach the required level of ‘unconsciousness’. Until the middle of the 20th century, hypnotists were all medical doctors, so it makes sense that they would develop a model of hypnosis paralleling what they already knew from other branches of medicine.
That is the old view of hypnosis and hypnotic trance. Now consider this:
In every moment, you are 'filtering' your experience...
Our senses are continuously bombarded with information – sounds, sights, smells, etc. – far more information than we could ever process. If we are to make any sense of our world, filters must be put in place to allow some sensory information through, but block most of it. We are able to hold a conversation with someone in a crowded and noisy bar or café – in other words, we ‘tune out’ most of the auditory signals that are clamouring for our attention; we somehow place these unwanted signals in the ‘background’ of our awareness where they become just ‘noise’, while we focus of the voice of the person we are chatting with. A similar process is taking place all of the time, for all of our senses. Most of the things in our sphere of vision are ‘peripheral’ and only become clearer when we focus our attention on them. A perfumier is trained for years to focus on the details of the information they can sense nasally. Similarly, wine tasters work to develop focus in taste and smell. Braille readers develop great sensitivity of touch in their fingertips. For most of us, smell, taste and touch are developed only to the level of peripheral senses, unless a particularly powerful input thrusts itself upon our notice.
You are already in a trance – but is it the best trance for you?
The natural, everyday, instinctive process of filtering our experience of our world, focusing on some things while excluding others, is a hypnotic trance. Do you see? All of us are in (hypnotic) trances all of the time, which means we do not experience the reality of what is before us. Two people witnessing the same event have different experiences because they are in different ‘trances’. One person might focus on the darkness of a cloud; another might appreciate the uplifting beauty of the silver lining. The second person is likely to be much happier in the face of the same experience.
Shape your trance, shape your experience of life...
The job of a hypnotherapist is therefore not to induce a trance in ‘their subject’ and patronisingly make changes. Rather, it is to help you, the client, change the trance you are already in – switching from an unwanted or unhelpful trance (focusing on the darkness of the cloud) to a desirable, supportive trance (focusing on the silver lining). Then the next time you come across a cloud, your experience will be different and instead of oppressing you it will make you stronger. Very often, this ‘switch’ can take place without having to go into deep, semi-unconscious, unaware states. You, the client, can therefore be more ‘aware’ of the process of making the switch – and this too can help you as you move forward; it can show you how much power you have to shape the world of your experience... Shape your trance, shape your experience of life.