Learning how to hypnotize someone sounds like one of those skills that are either complete scams or little more than a stage magic gimmick. Hypnosis has a negative reputation that, while underserved, is based on years of fraudulent claims made by quack doctors. So it’s no surprise if you think that hypnosis isn’t actually real. Some of you reading this might even be here just for the sake of learning a magic trick.
Here’s the thing, though: hypnosis is real and it works, but not in the way you think it does.
Forget the pocket watches and commands to act like a chicken, this guide on how to hypnotize someone has everything you need to know about hypnosis, its effects on the psyche, the hypnotic process, and even extraneous factors and side effects that you need to look out for to make sure that the person you’re hypnotizing stays safe throughout the process.
What Is Hypnosis and How Does It Work?
Hypnosis is used to describe a deepened state of mental relaxation and awareness that opens people up to hypnotic imagery and suggestions. This seemingly esoteric practice is often used in therapy rooms and rehabilitation clinics as a way of helping clients “rewire” the way they respond to their environment.
People in hypnotic states tend to describe it as a state of somehow being both mentally unaware, yet hyper aware of their environment — an effect of the altered mental state that effective hypnosis induces in its participants.
Hypnosis traces its roots as far back as the year 1,000 with the first mention of the hypnotic state of mind, trance, being in the work of Persian thinker Ibn Sina a.k.a Avicenna. I say “thinker” because it’s hard to think of anything that Ibn Sina did not think about.
The man was a mathematician, philosopher, physician, and a bunch of other things that are too numerous to mention. One of the goals of his work was reconciling theology and religion. In the process, he ended up talking about trance.
In “The Book of Healing,” the doctor-philosopher discussed early methods of hypnosis that induced trance as a way of treating emotional disorders. Hypnosis and trance’s history are entrenched in religious and spiritual practices because, really, that’s where they originally came from. For one reason or another, there is an alternate state of cognition in the human mind that can be accessed using relaxation through ritual or meditation.
Avid readers of self-help books will know trance through a sister mental state called flow. In his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presents flow as a genuinely satisfying state of consciousness where creativity flows naturally out of the person involved in the process.
What it has in common with trance is the oneness a person feels during the height of the activity. In trance, you become less aware of the outside environment and more in tune with your inner thoughts, just like flow.
Think of it this way: have you ever felt a sudden rush of relaxation while you’re doing something productive? A moment where a switch turns on in your head and the act of doing feels like something that your body is performing autonomously, without your actively thinking about it, but at the same time in perfect harmony with your thoughts?
For the creatives out there, it’s the strange urge to create that comes out of nowhere and disappears almost as quickly as it came, but during which you feel perfectly in tune with your ideas and tapped into the creative well of your mind.
That feeling is flow at work and it’s similar to what a real trance feels like when you’re under hypnosis. No pocket watches are involved. Just a deeply meditative state.
It’s this kinship between trance and flow that allows for hypnosis to be used as a way to unlock a more creative, productive, and competitive side of you. Of course, because I dislike quack claims as much as the next person, here’s a study on how hypnosis has been shown to improve the performance of golf players. Good hypnosis helps activate specific neural pathways in the brain.
In all honesty, though, there are still disputes about the neurological effects of hypnosis and whether it actually works. One study even suggests that hypnosis decreases in effectivity when it’s not called hypnosis. But that might have something to do with the fact that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.
Yup, you heard it here, fellas. There is no such thing as being coerced into hypnosis. The entire process of going down into a trance state requires active participation. You essentially hack your brain into making it believe what you want it to believe which is something we’ll be going into later.
For now, you must be wondering why you should even try learning how to hypnotize someone if it isn’t the magic bullet it’s presented to be.
What Are the Benefits of Hypnotherapy?
Hypnosis is used by some mental health practitioners to help their clients talk through problems and by medical professionals as a way of relieving pain. I never had the chance to try hypnotizing someone back in my psych clinic days.
It was a Gestalt psychology-oriented practice that primarily used Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. But there’s a thing in Gestalt psychology about the oneness within the self, between oneself and others, and with the world at large.
One of the ways to achieve oneness with the self, to integrate one’s experiences, was to meditate, another method of inducing trance states. To be more specific, it’s guided meditation that bears a closer resemblance to hypnosis as both make use of guided imagery in order to unlock memories and alternative perspectives.
What the two differ in is that hypnotherapy is done with the express purpose of curing or, at least, alleviating mental distress. A study on the functional changes in brain activity of patients with specific phobias who underwent hypnotherapy found that hypnosis was successful in lowering the reactivity of the brain’s fear response. It gets even more specific with its application. If you have a fear of dentists, you might find a hypnotherapy session or two helpful in managing that fear.
There are also benefits to psychotherapy for clients with physical rather than psychological woes. One meta-analysis showed that 75% of clinical and experimental participants that suffer from ailment-related pain experienced substantial relief thanks to hypnosis. If you’re wondering, yes, it works for both acute and chronic pain.
The great part about using hypnosis to manage pain is that it’s insanely cheap compared to traditional pain relief methods. You don’t have to pay to visualize relief.
This application of hypnotic techniques is called hypno-analgesia and has been observed to reduce not just the pain and discomfort people feel because of their illnesses, but also the feelings of helplessness and doom and gloom mentality that comes with it.
Now that you have an idea of what hypnosis can and can’t do, let’s jump right in on how to hypnotize someone.
How to Hypnotize Someone
1. Understand Your Subject’s Needs
You can think of hypnosis as a directed form of guided meditation. It’s directed because it’s used for the purpose of addressing a problem. This problem can either be physical or psychological, though it’s admittedly easier to create positive psychological effects with hypnosis as a practitioner.
When starting out with a subject, preferably someone you already know and have a good rapport with if you’re new, make sure to ask them questions about their life. Keep an open mind and an observant listening ear so that you’ll be able to identify areas of interest.
Maybe they mention that they’re having trouble finding the energy needed to paint after work or that they’re having a hard time getting over a bad breakup. You can use these as talking points for when you start the hypnotic process.
2. Prepare a Rough Outline of Your Hypnosis Session
Hypnotizing someone is a pretty open-ended experience for the person guiding the subject so it’s important to come prepared. Have notes ready on how you’re going to bring your subject into a relaxed state. Beginning with deep breaths, doing a mental body scan, and visualizing a comfortable space are common ways to start.
While you need to come up with a rough outline, you need to also prep notes on what else you can do or discuss if the subject happens to grow uncomfortable with the path you’re taking.
For example, a subject that needs help with cutting unhelpful emotional attachments to an ex might not want to talk about that right now. That’s okay, you can come back to that later once you build enough rapport with the subject.
Remember that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Your goal here is to guide the subject, there is no forcing them into hypnotizing themselves if they’re not ready.
3. Bring the Subject Into a Relaxed Mental and Physical State
You do this when you’re actually hypnotizing someone. Hypnosis is done to bring the subject into a heightened state of awareness and clarity. This can only be accomplished when your subject is fully relaxed so ask them to pick a comfy chair or couch to sit on. You may even direct them to lie down on a bed.
If you’re doing this in real life, you can enhance the experience with dim lights, scented candles, humidifiers, and incense. It sounds gimmicky but the goal is to relax the subject first and that means both physically and mentally.
Once you’ve put them in a comfortable position, begin tuning them out from the outside environment. Here, you shift from physical to mental relaxation. Give suggestions like “Forget what it is you need to do later. Right now is a moment for you to relax and fall into a deep, deep sleep.” or something along those lines.
4. Hypnotic Suggestions and Imagery
There’s no fixed way to do this but it helps to go with natural associations like asking your subject to see their consciousness as a river where, for example, silvery fish are swimming and the fish are their thoughts. Get what I’m getting at? You’ll then want to build on these mental images as you guide your subject through the hypnotic process.
You can also give suggestions that involve changing their perceptions of self and physicality such as gradually dissociating the subject from, say, their hand, and telling them to think and believe that it is your hand. It’s you using your hand to pat their shoulder, congratulating them on a major life milestone. Feel free to play around with your suggestions and hypnotic imagery to develop your own inventory of visualizations.
5. Restore the Subject to a Non Trance State
At the end of the session, remember to restore your subject to a trance-free state. In the same way that you bring them down into trance at the start, you must also bring them back “up,” reintroducing them to the sounds and sights of the outside environment and reversing suggestions.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. You can simply do a count down with each number associated with a step in the “returning” process. For example, “When I say 4, you’ll become more aware of your fingers, your toes, the rest of your body.”
Some Things to Keep In Mind When You’re Learning How to Hypnotize Someone
Hypnosis is a subjective experience. While it works for a lot of people, some don’t respond to hypnotic imagery because they’re unable to visualize imagery, a phenomenon called aphantasia.
Additionally, some subjects may report feeling dizzy or sleepy after the session, if they aren’t properly brought back “up.” Some subjects may also panic and experience anxiety or paranoia about hypnosis itself if you don’t make it clear that they are in control of the experience. When you’re learning how to hypnotize someone, make sure that both you and the subject are aware that they decide whether they accept a suggestion.