The subjective experience of hypnosis
The therapeutic use of hypnosis can involve a wide range of versatile subjective experiences. We can think of hypnosis as a state of heightened suggestibility (receptiveness) with increased absorption in inner experiences. Consequently, the subjective experience of hypnosis will be determined by the nature of the inner work that the therapist and client engage in.
So for example, if this state of increased openness and absorption is used to let the client imagine vividly a beautiful, special place where she can reenergise and get in touch with her inner resources and strengths, then the subjective experience will be profoundly relaxing with a sense of safety and comfort.
On the other hand, if this hypnotic mindset is utilised to e.g. let the person ‘practice’ in his mind giving a presentation, while evoking a sense of self-confidence, passion and healthy excitement, then the experience will have a more active and energised subjective quality to it.
However, there are some (more or less) universally experienced features of going through a therapeutic hypnosis procedure. Hypnosis is most often accompanied by relaxation: a general lower muscle tone and heart rate, a slowing and calming down of the nervous system. So basically it feels like resting in a peaceful physiological and mental state. The direction and the quality of attention changes as well: We pay attention inwardly, rooted in the present moment, with a sense of openness and effortless, yet powerful focus. Slowing down and shifting the attention this way disengages the mind from the regular patterns of functioning, hence opening up space for the possibilities of change.
Hypnosis can also feel very interesting and amusing, even surprising in a way. The client can be taught to create certain changes in his perceptions to demonstrate him the power of the mind (the power of attention, thoughts and imagination). So for instance, we may induce phenomena like hand levitation: By accepting suggestions, one starts to feel that his hand begins to rise from his lap and is moving up towards his face, feeling like it is all happening by itself. This sense of dissociation or disconnectedness from certain bodily movements can be really interesting. Many other perceptual changes can be induced as well, such as warmth or numbness in certain areas of the body, the passage of time slowing or accelerating. By experiencing these amusing phenomena, we demonstrate the client the power of her mind, so that she can use this hypnotic mindset to create personally meaningful therapeutic changes as well.
Contrary to the misconception, hypnosis doesn’t feel like losing control or being unconscious. People keep their ability to control their behaviour and they are always able to refuse to respond to suggestions if they wish to do so. Amnesia about the hypnotic experience is quite rare as well, and can be easily prevented by providing suggestions to remember.
Hypnosis doesn’t necessarily feel that mysterious or out of the ordinary as people would often think. Moreover, It is not something completely novel to learn. When one becomes so absorbed in a book or movie that he loses track of time, we can say that he is in a naturally occurring hypnotic state (with heightened focus and receptiveness).
In hypnosis we learn to utilise this natural, yet powerful capacity of our attention and imagination. It is an empowering mindset that we can learn to create and use for various personal benefits.