Hypnosis: The Nature of Suggestion


Hypnosis is a set of effective communication techniques for shaping one’s beliefs, attitudes, thought-patterns, and behaviors. Often these communication techniques take advantage of direct or indirect suggestions, of which a participant may accept or deny, depending on their own free will or “condition of suggestibility.”

Hypnosis shouldn’t be associated with a particular state of consciousness or awareness. Different uses of hypnosis may call upon different mental states. A patient in hypnotherapy may be put in a deep sleep or trance state in order for the therapist to have better communicative-access to a patient’s subconscious mind; but a stage hypnotist allows his or her participants to keep their awareness focused outwards within one’s environment. Some hypnosis plays upon the imaginative and generative faculties of the mind, while other hypnosis utilizes the exploratory and perceptive faculties of the mind. So, there is no one mental “state” that hypnosis can be really associated to – this is why I keep its definition strictly in the realm of communication.

A hypnotist is essentially no different than a good communicator. A hypnotist must have a good sense of flexibility in his or her vocabulary, tone of voice, and body language in order to be the best communicator he or she can be. In other words, a suggestion that works on one individual does not necessarily work on another individual. This is due to the inherit subjective nature of language, meaning, and communication. There are some hypnosis techniques that are specifically designed to elicit this subjective information from the patient, and using this information a hypnotist can gain a better strategy on how to effectively communicate to that individual. Elicitation strategies are not always used by hypnotists, but they are especially common for hypnotherapists – those who are trying to reshape a participant’s underlying beliefs, attitudes, and thought patterns regarding a situation.

Stage hypnotists don’t need to do these elicitation strategies since many participants are volunteers and thus already have a high suggestibility or willingness to “play along” with the hypnotist. Another thing that plays a strong role in suggestibility during hypnosis shows is the social role of the hypnotist: he is the star and leader of the show, he has a certain aura of command within the room. Thus, it is easy to find obedient participants. And of course – these participants almost always have a fun time participating and using their imagination during hypnotist shows, so the entertainment aspect of hypnosis itself is always an enticing suggestion.

How do suggestions work?

Suggestions can work in the same multitude of ways in which we can learn. This can be through story-telling, analogies, asking questions, giving commands, providing information, evoking the imagination, encouraging contemplation, or a person’s body mannerisms and body posture – all of these are different mediums in which a suggestion can take place.

A third party does not even need to be present in order for a suggestion to be suggested. Instead, an individual may even suggest something to their own self and then try to convince this self that this suggestion is the right thing to do. This interaction is typically the conscious self speaking with the unconscious self. The unconscious self is best communicated to when it is brought into consciousness – this is why it is typically called “subconscious” (which is just a useful term for: mental activity than can be brought into conscious awareness. This is mental activity that is often ignored by the conscious mind, despite the role it plays in our thoughts and behaviors). Another way to describe it is our “conditioned self.” It is responsible for those actions we do that we continue doing, without question, because they have become second-nature.

Some hypnotists believe that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. In other words, the “suggestion” always originates in the mind of the individual in which it is being suggested, and then from there the individual either accepts or declines the suggestion.

The environment plays an important role in suggestibility as well. If a hypnotist tells you over a YouTube video to quack like a chicken it may not be as effective then if you were in front of a live audience who are all waiting for you to respond as a chicken. In reality, this is little more than social pressure and conformity, but it is all suggestion when it comes to the world of hypnosis. A good hypnotist must therefore keep a strong mind on the environment, and the varying ways this can affect a particular person’s response to a suggestion.

What effects the degree of suggestibility?

    A. The individuals preconditioned “map of the world.” In other words, his or her preconceived concepts, language tendencies, thought-patterns, attitudes, and behavioral tendencies to a given subject or situation.

    B. The environment in which the suggestion is being given (You wouldn’t take a puff of a blunt right in front of grandma, but you might do it in the presence of a bunch of your friends).

    C. The delivery of the suggestion: using effective verbal and reasoning skills, appropriate vocal tone, and congruent body language.

How can a hypnotist get better at giving suggestions and being an effective hypnotist?

    A. Be a good listener. Pay attention to others’ word patterns and language tendencies.

    B. Pay attention to universals behind the meaning of body language and posture.

    C. Read up on psychology, how the mind learns and creates associations, and how the mind and its environment interact.

    D. Keep practicing and gaining new experience. Experiment with different delivery styles and develop your own kind of niche for communicating effectively with others.

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