Classical Hypnosis

NOTE: There's a lot of debate about how hypnosis really works. Sociocognitive folks like Nicholas Spanos would take issue with this classic take on things. What follows is the traditional view.


Classical (or traditional) hypnosis is a method of inducing trance states to access the unconscious mind. It goes back to the work of Franz Mesmer, an 18th-century German doctor who developed the theory of "animal magnetism." Mesmer thought that an invisible energy, called animal magnetism, flowed within the body and could be manipulated to treat various ailments.

In the mid-19th century, Scottish surgeon James Braid coined the term "hypnosis." Braid dismissed the concept of animal magnetism in favor of the power of suggestion. He observed that people entering trance states exhibited heightened suggestibility and focus.

Principles of Classical Hypnosis

  1. Suggestibility: At the core of classical hypnosis is the idea of heightened suggestibility of a person in a trance state. During this state, it's the idea that the unconscious mind is more receptive to suggestions, allowing the hypnotist to introduce positive affirmations or address underlying issues.
  2. Focused Attention: The induction of a trance-like state involves guiding the individual to concentrate deeply on a specific focal point or idea. This increased focus enables the unconscious mind to become more accessible, paving the way for therapeutic interventions or behavior modifications.
  3. Relaxation: Classical hypnosis often incorporates relaxation techniques to induce a state of deep relaxation. This relaxation not only contributes to the overall effectiveness of hypnosis but also helps alleviate stress and tension.

Classical Hypnosis Techniques

Classical hypnosis employs techniques to induce and deepen the trance state. While responses vary, these are the techniques many hypnotists use.

  1. Progressive Relaxation: The hypnotist guides the individual through a series of relaxation exercises, typically starting from the toes and gradually moving upward. This progressive relaxation eases tension and promotes a state of calm conducive to hypnosis.
  2. Eye Fixation: Focusing on a specific object or point, people are encouraged to maintain steady eye contact. This technique, inspired by Braid's original observations, helps induce a trance-like state characterized by heightened suggestibility.
  3. Deep Breathing: Controlled and rhythmic breathing is a common component of classical hypnosis. Deep breaths not only enhance relaxation but also serve as a focal point for the individual, directing attention inward.
  4. Visualization: Encouraging people to create vivid mental images can deepen the trance state. Visualization allows the unconscious mind to engage more actively, making it a valuable tool for addressing specific goals or concerns.

Applications of Classical Hypnosis

Classical hypnosis finds applications across a spectrum of fields, ranging from therapeutic interventions to performance enhancement. Understanding its versatility sheds light on the broad impact classical hypnosis can have on individual well-being.

  1. Therapeutic Hypnosis: Hypnotherapy, a branch of classical hypnosis, is widely used for therapeutic purposes. It addresses issues such as phobias, anxiety, smoking cessation, weight loss, and chronic pain. By accessing the unconscious mind, hypnotherapy aims to uncover and resolve underlying psychological issues contributing to these conditions.
  2. Performance Enhancement: Classical hypnosis is increasingly utilized to enhance performance in various domains. Athletes, musicians, and public speakers often turn to hypnosis to overcome performance anxiety, improve focus, and optimize their mental state for peak performance.
  3. Stress Reduction: The relaxation techniques embedded in classical hypnosis make it a valuable tool for stress reduction. People experiencing high levels of stress can benefit from regular hypnosis sessions (self or guided) to promote relaxation and develop coping mechanisms.
  4. Behavioral Modification: Classical hypnosis is effective in facilitating behavioral changes. Whether it's breaking undesirable habits, such as nail-biting or overeating, or instilling positive habits, hypnosis provides a platform for reshaping behaviors anchored in the unconscious mind.

Debunking Myths Surrounding Classical Hypnosis

Despite its proven efficacy and widespread acceptance in academic circles, classical hypnosis is often surrounded by myths and misconceptions (see previous page).

  1. Mind Control: One common misconception is that hypnosis involves mind control, with the hypnotist manipulating the thoughts and actions of the subject. In reality, hypnosis is a cooperative process where people willingly enter into trance states and remain in control of their mind and body.
  2. Loss of Consciousness: Another myth is that people under hypnosis lose consciousness or awareness. It's not sleep. People in a trance state remain fully aware of their surroundings and can choose to accept or reject suggestions made by the hypnotist.
  3. Revealing Secrets: Hypnosis is not a truth serum, and people cannot be forced to reveal confidential information against their will.

Classical Hypnosis Academic Research

  1. The Neuroscience of Hypnosis” by Ran D. Anbar M.D. covers how classical hypnosis can be used as a tool to deliver therapy that allows people to relax, detach from feelings of self-consciousness and suspend judgment. The article highlights research showing the efficacy of hypnosis in treating pain, anxiety, depression, headaches, and IBS.
  2. Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy: The Role of Traditional Versus Alternative Approach” by Mikail Hudu Garba and Mohammed Mamman provides an overview of the traditional and conventional approaches used in hypnosis. The authors discuss how hypnosis can be used to cure a lot of psychological health problems, such as stress, addiction, and phobia. It can also assist in managing physical problems like pain reduction.
  3. An uncredited article from the Cleveland Clinic discusses the scientific evidence for benefits of hypnotherapy. The strongest evidence supporting the use of hypnotic treatments comes from research on hypnosis for treating pain, IBS and PTSD symptoms.

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