If you think you know what defines depth of hypnosis, you are most likely wrong. The current “wisdom” among hypno-experts is that reduction of brain waves or the ability to produce anesthesia is what hypnotic depth is all about. I’m going to strongly disagree. Being able to measure neural frequencies (e.g., detecting that a subject has moved from Beta, through Alpha and then to Theta) or finding that a medical or dental procedure can be performed without pain or discomfort may be a measure of depth and yet not really define it. Now, before my trusted friends and colleagues start complaining about me again splitting semantic hairs, let me explain.
In the 1950’s stage hypnotist and radio personality turned hypnosis medical and dental trainer, David Elman, said that the essential elements of hypnosis are a suspension of the critical faculty AND the allowance of selective thinking. By studying Elman scripts and listening to tapes of his original courses, after many years I came to the epiphany that it is all about “selective thinking.” Brain wave levels and the state of anesthesia are merely the results of a successful hypnosis, not “essential elements.”
Having worked with Gerald Kein, the world’s leading authority on Elman hypnotherapy in conjunction with my other studies and writing about Elman, I became fascinated with the fact that hypnosis does not require trance. In fact, I soon came to realize and appreciate that any result that can be had in trance work can almost always be obtained without a trance induction. Just consider waking hypnosis, for instance. Although almost all of Elman training focuses on short, rapid or instant trance induction, rarely does anyone fully relate this back to hypnotic phenomena.
Trance and relaxation DOES NOT equal hypnosis. It may coexist and facilitate the hypnotic process, but it IS NOT a requirement. It is high time that hypnotists (of course, other than the stage hypnosis variety most of whom already understand this idea) wake up from their “trance” and finally learn what hypnosis is all about. Let’s look at the classical Elman Technique.
In his standard protocol Elman would suggest relaxation, ask the subject to close their eyes and then ask them to relax their eyes to the point where they cannot open them or ask them to pretend that they cannot open them. (That final statement serves both to help them suspend their critical faculty and to begin selective thinking.) The follow on suggestions of physical relaxation, compounding, and mental relaxation are further examples of iterative selective thinking. My point is that the “deeper” the subject goes the more effective selective thinking becomes. Once the therapy portion begins (to include the use of post hypnotic suggestions) selective thinking involves suggestions related to the session’s intent.
How does this relate to Ericksonian hypnosis? If you carefully look at his techniques such as linking and splitting, confusion, metaphors, and advanced linguistic patterns, you will see that like Elman’s suspension of the Critical Faculty, Erickson’s methods also tend to inhibit the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This again allows the therapist to guide the patient through selective thinking. The rivalry between these two masters was probably based too much on ego, pride and semantics and not on genuine differences.
Is selective thinking merely suggestion? Yes and no. Selective thinking is a process; suggestion is the content. Therefore, I “suggest” that you look at the state of hypnosis as being a sliding variable on a straight line continuum with the resistance of the critical faculty (i.e., the “tyranny of the left prefrontal cortex”) on one end and the level of effectiveness of selective thinking on the other. As critical dominance wanes, selective thinking becomes more potent. Any resultant trance, brain wave frequency diminution, or anesthesia is merely a resulting phenomenon of hypnosis rather than a requirement. Looking at it this way gives us the possibility understanding the true power of hypnosis. (This is why waking hypnosis works. It is predicated on a rapid reduction – or destruction – of the critical faculty and an equally rapid development of a high level of selective thinking.)
So, why is this important? Don’t we get the same results? Again, yes and no. The real power of hypnosis has to do with brain sector inhibition and the unleashing or the uncovering of dormant potential AND the improvement of the mind/body connection. The understanding of the potential capabilities presented by focusing on improving the effectiveness of selective thinking to consciously inhibit and/or unleash mental and physical phenomenon just may very well define the future of hypnosis as a healing art.