Hypnotic Induction

In the classic model proposed by James Braid, hypnosis begins with an attempt to fatigue the eye muscles. The hypnotist holds a shiny object slightly above the subject's eye level. The hypnotist intones, "You are getting very, very sleepy...your eyelids are getting heavy...so heavy that you cannot hold them up." This is called sleep talk. It works because when somebody maintains a steady gaze at an object above eye level, the eyelids do get tired, so the subject's experience confirms the hypnotist's suggestion: "Your eyelids are getting heavy." The hypnotist continues with statements like, "You cannot keep your eyes open any more...you are falling into a deep sleep..." and the subject's eyelids droop. The subject has started down the road to hypnosis by following simple suggestions.

What is a classic induction procedure introduced by Braid?

Next the hypnotist makes a series of slightly more demanding suggestions. For example, the subject may be instructed to intertwine the fingers of each hand. The hypnotist then says, "You are unable to separate your hands." Sure enough, the subject's hands feel glued together. If the subject gets this far, the hypnotist can begin to make even more challenging suggestions that result in deeper hypnosis.

What are typical steps in hypnotic induction using "sleep talk"?

Ever since Braid, sleep talk has been the most common way to induce hypnosis. Here is one version of sleep talk from The Key to Hypnotism Simplified (McBrayer, 1956).

Now just relax. Settle back in your chair. Take a deep breath. Relax your arms. Relax your legs. Relax your nerves. Relax all over. Look at the center of this disk [any object will do] I am holding in my hand. Do not look off. Do not say anything. Keep your mind on my words. Think of nothing else. Gaze right at the center of this disk. Soon your eyes will get heavy, and you wish to close them and go to sleep.

Your eyes are getting heavy, very heavy and tired. You are getting very sleepy. Soon you will be sound asleep.

The hypnotist keeps this up while watching for signs of fluttering in the subject's eyelids. When the subject appears to be responding, the hypnotist tries to deepen the trance, while testing to see if the subject is truly hypnotized.

You are now asleep. You can hear me. Go deeper asleep, deeper asleep. Take a deep breath; relax and go deeper asleep. I am going to lift up your right hand and when I drop it, you will go deeper asleep.

(Raise his right hand and release it. If it drops back into his lap like a wet rag, he is asleep. If not, he is not asleep. Proceed with more sleep talk...) (p.47)

If the subject's hand drops limply, which is hard to fake, then a slightly more demanding suggestion is made, for example, that the arm will stick out straight and the subject will be unable to bend it. Gradually the suggestions are made more difficult, so the subject is drawn into a greater and greater degree of compliance or willingness to follow orders.

Must sleep talk be used, to induce hypnosis? What are the essentials of hypnotic induction?

There are many variations of sleep talk, but sleep talk is not necessary to induce hypnosis. The essential thing is that the subject be placed in a compliant state of mind, with a willingness to let go of mental control and concentrate on the suggestions of the hypnotist. A subject can be told to concentrate on a certain topic, or simply to "let your imagination go." Then the hypnotist suggests a few easily imagined changes in consciousness. As they come true, they confirm and strengthen the state of suggestibility.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey