Kev Sheldrake

Caveat: I wrote this article in 2012; it's presented here verbatim; I might not stand by all of it today.

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Free Your Mind Part 1 - Popular Models of Hypnosis

When Josh mentioned that some of his subscribers had asked about The Automatic Imagination Model I immediately thought "Great! That will be quick and easy to write about." However, once I started thinking about where and how to introduce it, I thought back to where we were 2 years ago and realised just how much we have changed in terms of our mind sets and approaches to hypnosis in that time. What we now think about hypnosis would have been unrecognisable to us back then - we thought we knew at least something about how it might work when in actuality we only knew something about how to do it (witnessed by our ability to quickly teach others). In this article I will review the popular models of hypnosis, in the next part I will introduce the science and in the final part I will explain our own model of hypnosis, The Automatic Imagination Model, and explain why we're confident that it works.

First things first, one of the best hypnosis resources that you should consider owning is The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis (2008) by Nash and Barnier (Oxford University Press). It's not cheap but it is large and comprehensive; compared to purchasing access to just a few of the numerous academic papers it references, it is a steal.

So, what is hypnosis and how does it work? I think most hypnotists accept that hypnosis is caused through the communication of ideas from the hypnotist to the subject and that this communication does not need any paranormal means - in other words, talking and body language are sufficient. If you think that an energy flows between hypnotist and subject or that telepathy is somehow involved, then I'm sorry, but this article probably isn't for you. :) In the simplest of cases, the hypnotist talks and the subject listens and as a result, the subject experiences hypnosis - I've done this over the telephone and via Skype text chat so I'm pretty confident that the words alone are sufficient to cause hypnosis.


What do we mean when we use the word hypnosis? This is important to nail down because hypnotists often tend to disagree over exactly what is and what isn't hypnosis. The lay person knows what hypnosis is, it's making people do things they wouldn't otherwise have done, whether that be quitting smoking or dancing like Beyonce. There are two ways of defining hypnosis, the first is 'hypnosis as process' and the second is 'hypnosis as product'. Hypnosis as process is what I described in the previous paragraph - the hypnotist talks and the subject becomes hypnotised - in the case of waking hypnosis (including James Tripp's excellent Hypnosis Without Trance), there is no obvious induction and the process appears to only consist of an introduction followed by a series of suggestions. This is actually the definition The Oxford Handbook presents - an Introduction followed by a First Suggestion; the first suggestion could be an induction but the definition doesn't preclude non-induction approaches to hypnosis. This is important to note: The Oxford Handbook considers response to suggestion without a preceding induction as hypnosis.

The next question is "How do we know when hypnosis has happened?" and that is wrapped into definitions of 'hypnosis as product'. It is possible, although unlikely, that everyone that has ever responded to a suggestion was simply playing along for their own reasons, knowing they weren't hypnotised and fooling the hypnotists in the process. How would we know? A more relevant scenario might be that most capable subjects respond to suggestion hypnotically but that your last subject was simply playing along. How would you know that they weren't? They could slump in the same way and they could act in a fashion that simulates response to suggestion, including feigning amnesia for what they had done. It appears fair to suggest that the only person that knows whether they were hypnotised or not is the subject, as they are the only one who knows whether they did the things that happened or whether the things that happened appeared to happen to them by themselves.

In essence, we are interested in whether the subject felt that they were hypnotised and, as they are usually a lay person, this usually translates to whether they feel that the hypnotist made them do something that they didn't intentionally decide to do. This leads us to the 'classic suggestion effect' - the situation where the hypnotist suggests a particular effect (hand stuck to table, for example) and then challenges the subject to defeat it ("Try to lift your hand") and they fail (the hand remains on the table). This is 'hypnosis as product'; the product being the subject's sensation that something happened automatically or involuntarily and that the cause was the hypnotist or the hypnosis.

Suggestions are often grouped into three categories: ideomotor, where physical movement is caused; challenge, where the subject cannot defeat the suggestion; and cognitive, which includes the realms of emotion, amnesia and hallucinations. Now we know what we are talking about: hypnosis looks like the hypnotist introducing themselves and giving the subject suggestions, resulting in the subject feeling like the suggestions are happening to them rather than them being the cause of the resulting behaviour. By not specifying the form of the process, we are including approaches to hypnosis that vary in how they look as long as they result in this directed, subjective sensation of automaticity or involuntariness.

Given this relatively broad definition of hypnosis, let's now look at the popular models that attempt to describe how hypnosis might actually work.

Erickson, Elman and Estabrooks

The Ericksonian model of hypnosis (as described in Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D, Vol. 1 - Bandler and Grinder) features two minds (often referred to as the 'two minds model'): the conscious mind that is logical, rational and limited and the unconscious mind that is abstract, emotional and expansive. The model claims that when the conscious mind is bypassed, the unconscious resources can be accessed and directed; it is essentially a dissociative model whereby the conscious mind is dissociated from the unconscious mind, preventing it from interfering with the functioning of the suggestions.

The Elman model of hypnosis (Hypnotherapy - Elman) features three minds and is reminiscent of Freud's model of mind. Elman's model focused on the role of the 'critical faculty' which, he claimed, decides which suggestions to take. The aim of hypnosis in this model was to bypass the critical faculty and establish selective thinking. It too is a dissociative model whereby the critical faculty is dissociated from the unconscious.

Both the Ericksonian model and the Elman model feature hypnosis as a state or trance that subjects enter; typically it would be the induction that causes the subject to enter the state or trance, within which they would take suggestions. Both models feature a 'watchdog' of sorts (unconscious mind in the Ericksonian model and critical faculty in the Elman model) that supposedly protects the subject from taking suggestions that would be detrimental to them. In contrast, Estabrooks (Hypnotism - Estabrooks) did not outline a model as such (referring to the two minds model as unscientific), but he did appear to believe that a hypnotic state was induced and that this provided the ability to give suggestions to the subject. A significant difference was that he believed that capable subjects would take suggestions that were detrimental to them and did not appear to believe that there was an inherent, 'best interests' protection mechanism to prevent this.

Hypnosurvival tested a few of these ideas:

Direct link to video on YouTube.

The Elusive State and the Illusion of Consciousness

State theories of hypnosis get quite a beating in academia, although there are still academics that appear to believe in the basic notion of state, as a shift of processing away from that which is considered 'normal', unhypnotised behaviour. The main reason that state gets a beating is because, regardless of the considerable effort expended looking for reliable physiological markers of the hypnotic state, none have been found. Brain imaging can determine when a subject is acting upon a specific suggestion and when they are simply acting, but the confounding nature of inductions being made up of suggestions (if only the suggestion to enter hypnosis) means that attempting to study 'neutral hypnosis' where a subject is hypnotised but no suggestions are given, has proved difficult. In other words, physiological markers for state are very difficult to separate from physiological markers for specific suggestions and this has been compounded by the fact that different inductions involve different suggestions, producing different physiological markers. In short, there is currently no reliable and consistent evidence from brain imaging that an independent hypnotic state or trance exists.

It's true that hypnotised subjects look like they are in a hypnotic state or trance and often report supportive statements, but it's also true that subjects that cannot remember their names look like they cannot and also often report the same if questioned. We accept that name amnesia is suggested, so why do we not accept that the state or trance is also suggested? Lynn and Kirsch (Essentials of Clinical Hypnosis: An Evidence-Based Approach) highlight the case of how the unanimous Mesmeric 'crisis' was replaced by Puysegur's 'artificial somnambulism' simply because one of his subjects was entirely unaware of Mesmerism and its usual effects; when Mesmerised, the farm hand didn't fit and convulse for over an hour but instead went still and silent. Puysegur preferred this and all his subsequent clients achieved the same effect; Lynn and Kirsch concluded that the effect of Mesmerism was suggested and that it was mistaken for a state. It would be unwise to ignore this observation and assume that our subjects are in a trance just because they look like they are and report that they are, especially given the lack of physiological evidence to back it up.

If that hasn't rattled your cage, then I expect the next observation to do so, that is unless you are already a step ahead of me. This video, produced as part of a programme for the BBC in the UK, features Marcus du Sautoy (the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science) getting his head well and truly blown apart by a simple experiment featuring a couple of push buttons and an fMRI brain scanner. In case you fancy recreating it yourself, here is the likely Amex bill: There do seem to be some things that money can't buy, and access to an fMRI scanner is probably one of them. Unless you're Alan Sugar - "You're a neuron; you're fired!" (Alan Sugar is a very successful British entrepreneur and the 'boss' on the UK version of The Apprentice.)

Seriously though, watch the video; it's amazing.

Unfortunately, the video has been removed from YouTube

In the video, Marcus du Sautoy has his brain scanned while he is lying in the fMRI scanner. All he has to do is wait, then decide to push one of the two buttons (he has one in each hand), and as soon as he has decided which button, he is to push it. Then wait, then repeat, and again and again, etc. After calibration, it was possible to determine six seconds before Marcus pushed a button, which button he would push. Six seconds. Marcus concludes that the consciousness of the person operating the scanner could tell six seconds before Marcus' own consciousness could tell, which button he would push. This implied to him (and to us) that the conscious awareness of decision making lags behind the actual decision making by a sufficiently significant delay that the conscious awareness cannot in any way be considered 'in charge' or a 'decision maker'. It simply becomes aware of decisions that have already been made - there is no free will. Further implications of this are that conscious awareness must be generated by the unconscious and that the conscious mind is therefore an illusion. You're still you, but the sensation you have of thinking and deciding is not real; it has been generated by the biological computer that is your unconscious mind, otherwise known as your brain.

Anthony obliges me to make our standard caveat at this point which is to say that whatever you do with this information is still your responsibility. If you decide to rob a bank to either demonstrate your belief in your own free will, or alternatively because you believe you actually had no choice in the decision and that robbing the bank was inevitable, then you are deluding yourself. You've existed thus far without robbing a bank (most of you) and nothing has changed other than possibly your perception of where decisions are made and how you become aware of them. So don't rob a bank, but do question multiple-mind models, such as those of Erickson and Elman.

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)

In the late 1970s, John Grinder and Richard Bandler modelled some great therapists. Out of this modelling process came methods for modelling excellence and methods for causing hypnotic change. NLP consists of solution focused, brief therapy, using language patterns and reframing processes to change clients for the better.

In 2011, Professor Irving Kirsch presented at change | phenomena, the hypnotism conference, and included research on NLP. He described studies that showed that the one-session phobia cure as outlined in Frogs Into Princes (fast phobia cure) was less effective than one session of a five session cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) course of treatment; that subjects' use of representational system predicates in language were not consistent with their thinking styles; that eye-accessing cues were not reliable; that age-regression did not work because it required human memory to work in a way that wasn't consistent with the evidence; and that the 45-minute double-induction, that was claimed by Bandler and Grinder to hypnotise the most number of people and to the greatest depths, was less effective than a 15-minute, tape-recorded, basic progressive induction delivered by a radio DJ who wasn't a hypnotist.

In short, the assumptions on which NLP is based are flawed, regardless of whether you have experience of the change patterns working. These Head Hacking articles are interested in how hypnosis works, rather than whether a particular approach to therapy works in general. I'm not asking you to change what you are doing, but I am suggesting you may want to examine the reasons why you believe the approaches work.

The Human Givens model

Human Givens (Griffin and Tyrrell) is a therapy model that is based around nine human needs and how well they are being fulfilled in each aspect of the client's life. It uses the rewind technique, a variation of Bandler and Grinder's fast phobia cure, to reduce emotion connected with a past event or imagined future event. The model of hypnosis presented by Griffin and Tyrrell does not use a multiple-minds model; it simply talks of firing the 'orientation response', which fires up the 'reality generator' or 'dreaming brain', and then providing content in the form of suggestions. This definition avoids dissociation and state, although it is, in reality, a 'special process' model of hypnosis. Special process in this regard refers to the concept of hypnosis triggering or causing a brain process that isn't otherwise running, or modifying one that is (or stopping one that blocks hypnosis).

Special process models have sometimes been regarded as 'state by the backdoor' as the presence of the special process (if it exists) could be used to distinguish between unhypnotised and hypnotised modes of operation, otherwise referred to commonly as states. Regardless, at Head Hacking we found the human givens model of hypnosis to be useful in terms of allowing (or forcing) us to question the various aspects of hypnosis as process. The lack of depth in the model meant we could dispense with deepening techniques and we found no change in our results, other than that things took less time. The idea of the reality generator or dreaming brain provided a more tangible vision of who/what was taking the suggestions, which allowed us to change how we approached a hypnotised subject: instead of talking to a 'sleeping' subject, we were talking to a 'dreaming' subject and painting their dreams for them. Suddenly (to me, at least) the practice of telling a subject that in a moment they'll be dancing like Beyonce didn't seem quite so ridiculous.

Firing the orientation response could be seen as an induction, and rapid and shock inductions could easily be viewed as triggering or firing a process; conversational and progressive inductions could potentially achieve the same ends through a more gradual or sneaky process with the reality generator being drawn into action gently rather than as a response to the orientation response. As well as opening the door to an infinite number of ways of creating inductions, it also provided another way of viewing the model: that maybe you could fire the orientation response without using an induction.

In 2006, we worked on the pilot of I Know What You Did Last Friday - a game show that features a hypnotised contestant with amnesia for the events of a particular day. You can see a 9 minute fun-packed trailer here, courtesy of Eyeworks:

Unfortunately, the video is no longer available on YouTube

During a break in filming, Anthony asked our subject if he could lift up a bottle that was on the table - he expected that he would be able to do so; he was then going to ask him to put it down and focus on it and then to "try and lift it and find you cannot". Gaining or directing the subject's focus had become one method of induction by that time. Instead, our subject found that he could not lift the bottle, simply in response to Anthony's initial question. Anthony seized upon it and had the guy hallucinating in moments. After the location filming we had a break of three weeks where we did not have contact with the subject. Our next meeting was in a great (for fish lovers) restaurant in Amsterdam ahead of the studio filming. Anthony repeated the exercise with the bottle with the same results and Permanosis (as we called it) was born: this was the idea that, once hypnotised, a capable subject remains permanently open to suggestion. I should add that when Ant was two suggestions in, I dropped in a ninja suggestion that his hand was stuck to Ant's arm; I hadn't hypnotised the subject before myself, which meant that there didn't need to be a pre-existing hypnotic relationship with the subject in order for suggestions to be taken. (Ninja hypnosis is the practice of stealing other hypnotist's subjects, while they are in the act of delivering suggestions. It's a lot of fun - you just need to be more of a hypnotist than the current hypnotist.)

Summary of Popular Models

In summary, the most popular models among working hypnotists are state-based, multiple-minds models where hypnosis is caused by an induction (Ericksonian, Elman and NLP models). Neuroscience suggests that the conscious mind is an illusion and not the source of decision-making, therefore causing multiple-minds models to look less likely. There is a lack of evidence for state or trance per se, although there is good evidence to show brain function changing in response to suggestion. The Human Givens model dispensed with depth and allowed us to dispense with the induction with subjects that we knew were capable.

In part 2, I'll introduce the science and in part 3, I'll describe The Automatic Imagination Model.

Please check out our products at headhacking.com/products and follow us on Twitter @headhackinglive.

Head Hacking has closed it's doors but you can still find many of the products at Anthony Jacquin's website.

Kev Sheldrake, Hypnotist
Head Hacking

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