Author: David Kraft
For many years, psychologists have been trying to define hypnosis. During the 1980s and 1990s, there was a debate as to whether hypnosis was or wasn’t a ‘state’. Some theorists pointed out that hypnosis was clearly different to the normal waking state. During hypnosis, individuals tend to be less critical and analytical; they focus inwardly and some are able to imagine scenes which are not present. In fact, during hypnosis, some people are able to experience special place imagery, for example, as if they were actually there, while others are able to visualize less vividly. All people are different; some are able to process images very easily, while others seem to focus more on sounds, feelings, touch and taste. With this in mind, it doesn’t seem appropriate to label hypnosis as a state. It is clearly different from the normal waking state, and sleep studies have shown that hypnosis is not sleep. However, as people experience hypnosis in different ways, it is difficult for scientists to analyse what it is about hypnosis that makes it different from other instances during the day when people become focussed inwardly, or when they lose track of time. And, to complicate matters, there are people who are more susceptible to hypnosis to others. Furthermore, there are all sorts of confounding variables which may affect hypnotisability—for example, rapport, compliance, expectation and so forth. A non-state theorist might point out that our brains are changing all the time. While I am writing this page, for instance, I am reflecting on my knowledge of state/non-state theories in order to write a brief, critical synopsis of the topic; however, my brain would be accessing other areas if I were talking to some friends in a coffee shop or playing the violin.
Some non-state theorists would point out that, during the day, we go in and out of hypnosis during various reflective tasks or while doing something monotonous. These are called ‘every day trance-like states’ or ‘everyday trance-like occurrences’. Have you ever been engrossed in watching a film or reading a book? And, have you ever lost track of time during this process? This can be described as an ‘every day trance occurrence’, or something like that. This phenomenon has also been described as being ‘intense mental absorption’ (Rossi et al., 2008). In fact, it is probably worth thinking of consciousness and unconsciousness as being like a continuum: apart from at night, when we are asleep and clearly unconscious, we are involved with doing a number of tasks all of which have some unconscious mechanisms which take place. When we are driving a car, for instance, we might be having a conversation, focussing on our memory of a particular route or thinking about driving safely; however, we might not necessarily be aware of changing the gears, seeing a cyclist in the corner of our eye or indicating left or right. Other every day occurrences could include driving on the motorway, concentrating on listening to a speech or listening to a piece of music.
About the author
David Kraft is an experienced integrative psychotherapist with a special interest in hypnosis. He runs two clinics—one in Harley Street and the other in Enfield Town. David was trained originally by his father, Tom Kraft. During the early stages of his career, David was trained in psychoanalysis. After a period of time, he incorporated solution-focussed approaches, hypnosis and behaviour therapy into his treatment programme. David is a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and a member of the Section of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine. He is also a member of council for the British Society of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis (BSCAH), where he acts as Honorary Treasurer. David is involved in teaching doctors, dentists and psychologists in the use of hypnosis in clinical practice.