Hypnotic induction

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Hypnotic induction is the process undertaken by a hypnotist to establish the state or conditions required for hypnosis to occur.

Self-hypnosis is also possible, in which a subject listens to a taped induction or plays the roles of both hypnotist and subject.[1]

Traditional techniques[edit]

James Braid in the nineteenth century saw fixing the eyes on a bright object as the key to hypnotic induction.[2] A century later Freud saw fixing the eyes, or listening to a monotonous sound as indirect methods of induction, as opposed to “the direct methods of influence by way of staring or stroking”[3]—all leading however to the same result, the subject's unconscious concentration on the hypnotist. The swinging watch and intense eye gaze, which are the staples of hypnotic induction in film and television, are not used in reality as they would be distracting rather than focusing.

List of techniques[edit]

Here is a short list of the most common hypnotic inductions.[4]

  • Rapid induction technique
  • Pace and Lead technique
  • Physical posture technique
  • Sensory overload technique
  • Stealth technique
  • Visualisation technique
  • Eye fixation technique
  • Mirroring technique


Hypnotic induction may be defined as whatever is necessary to get a person into the state of trance[5] - a state of increased suggestibility, during which critical faculties are reduced and subjects are more prone to accept the commands and suggestions of the hypnotist.[6]

Theodore X. Barber argued however that techniques of hypnotic induction were merely empty but popularly-expected rituals, inessential for hypnosis to occur: hypnosis on this view is a process of influence, which is only enhanced (or formalized) through expected cultural rituals.[7] Oliver Zangwill pointed out in opposition that, while cultural expectations are important in hypnotic induction, seeing hypnosis only as a conscious process of influence fails to account for such phenomena as posthypnotic amnesia or post-hypnotic suggestion.[8] Evidence of changes in brain activity and mental processes have also been associated experimentally with hypnotic inductions.[9]

Faster methods of hypnotic induction[edit]

In early hypnotic literature a hypnosis induction was a gradual, drawn-out process. Methods such as progressive muscle relaxation were designed to relax the hypnotic subject into a state of inner focus (during which their imagination would come to the forefront) and the hypnotist would be better able to influence them and help them effect changes at the subconscious level.[10]

These are still used, notably in hypnotherapy, where the gradual relaxation of a client may be preferred over faster inductions. Generally, a hypnotherapist will use the induction they find most appropriate and effective for each individual client. However, through development of the modern Western understanding of hypnosis, newer and faster methods have been formed. Modern alternatives to the drawn-out muscle relaxation methods include the Elman Induction, introduced by Dave Elman,[11] which involves having the subject imagine that their eyes are too relaxed to open, so that the harder that they try to open them, the harder it becomes to open them (otherwise known as a double-bind); followed by an arm-drop deepener; and lastly, to have the subject visualize clouds and numbers within those clouds, as they blow away (each number that blows away increases the effect of the trance) until the subject is too tired to think of any more numbers. This process takes several minutes, but has been known to be effective enough to prepare patients for certain types of surgery. However, there are even faster instant hypnosis inductions (such as 'snap' inductions) which employ the principles of shock and surprise. A shock to the nervous system of the subject causes their conscious mind to be temporarily disengaged. During this brief window of distraction the hypnotist quickly intervenes, allowing the subject to enter the state of intense, hyper imagination and inner focus.[citation needed]

Literary examples[edit]

  • Billy Prior, the protagonist of The Eye in the Door, develops a form of self-hypnosis for himself: “I was watching the sunlight on a glass...I went into the shine on the glass”.[12]
  • In George du Maurier's Trilby, we are told of the hypnotist Svengali that “with one look of his eye – with a word – Svengali could turn her into the other Trilby”.[13]
  • The Erickson handshake induction plays an important role in Michael Koryta's novel Last Words (2015).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baryss, Imants (2003). Alterations of Consciousness. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. p. 109. 
  2. ^ O. L. Zangwill, 'History of Hypnotism' in R. Gregory ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 331
  3. ^ S. Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 158-9
  4. ^ Most Common Hypnotic Inductions Explained.
  5. ^ Baryss, Imants (2003). Alterations of Consciousness. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. p. 110. 
  6. ^ Keys To The Mind - How to Hypnotize Anybody and Practice Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy Correctly - by Dr. Richard K Nongard and Nathan Thomas
  7. ^ O. L. Zangwill, 'Experimental Hypnosis' in R. Gregory ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 330
  8. ^ O. L. Zangwill, 'Experimental Hypnosis' in R. Gregory ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 330
  9. ^ M. R. Nash ed., Oxford Handbook of Hypnotism (2011) p. 387
  10. ^ Time Distortion – A Comparison of Hypnotic Induction and Progressive Relaxation Procedures: A Brief Communication - Clement von Kirchenheim & Michael A. Persinger
  11. ^ A. Jain, Clinical and Meditative Hypnotherapy (2006) p. 10
  12. ^ Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door (1994) p. 249
  13. ^ Du Maurier, quoted in J. Pintar/S. J. Lynn, Hypnosis: A Brief History (2009) p. 1

Further reading[edit]

  • T. X. Barber, Hypnosis (1969)
  • A. Barabasz/J. G. Watkins, Hypnotherapeutic Techniques (2005)