I was recently asked, “What happens if you get stuck in hypnosis?”
I always feel briefly speechless when I hear this question, because it is an old myth with no basis in reality. You cannot get stuck in hypnosis, because hypnosis is not a place where you go (metaphorically speaking).
Let me explain.
Hollywood has popularised the idea that hypnosis is an odd, mystical state where you are fast asleep, completely unconscious, while the hypnotist has complete and utter control over you. What he says, you do, without hesitation or question.
You remain in this state until the hypnotist “unhypnotises” you; if he were to suddenly have a heart attack and die, you’d remain in this unconscious state until someone found another hypnotist to wake you up.
Then, when you “awake” from hypnosis, you have complete amnesia of the event.
Stage hypnotists like this myth, because it enhances the entertainment value of their shows. That may be why they usually use the command, “Sleep!”, even though hypnosis is not sleep.
It’s an interesting idea and makes for great movies and plots.
The myth is further enhanced by the fact that hypnotherapists and stage hypnotists usually initiate (“induce”) hypnotism while getting the subject to relax deeply.
The appearance, then, is that hypnosis starts off with a sleep-like trance. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary defines hypnosis as, “Artificially produced sleep: esp. that induced by hypnotism” (2015).
But that’s the appearance.
The facts are different.
The required state
Sleep is not required.
I have hypnotised people sitting in a chair, wide awake and fully responsive the entire time. I hardly ever get amnesia from a client, and when it happens it is spontaneous and for brief sections.
Volunteers have been hypnotised standing up, and even while using a gym exercise bike!
At stage shows, the hypnotist has normally begun hypnotising his subjects quite some time before he says, “Sleep!”
The only state required for hypnosis is that you are alive, awake and responsive.
(Some people claim that you can be hypnotised while asleep, although I personally have never come across this.)
Sleep in hypnotherapy
Hypnotherapists often use deep relaxation (not sleep), because, especially with anxious clients, relaxation is in itself therapeutic and helps to put aside the irrational fears that get in the way of therapy.
What happens if the hypnotist doesn’t “unhypnotise” you?
If you were to be hypnotised to go into a deep sleep, you would be in, well, a deep sleep.
What happens every night after you have had your deep sleep?
You wake up!
As an example, one hypnotist was bugged by two salesmen at the front door of his home. Now, I don’t condone the hypnotist’s behaviour (in fact I consider his behaviour unethical), but this is what happened:
The hypnotist did a rapid hypnotic induction (standing up, no sleep involved!) on one of the salesmen. This took several seconds — yes, hypnosis can happen that fast. He had the salesman close his eyes and go into a trance, with his colleague standing, mystified, next to him; and he went inside and closed the door.
Watching from the window, he saw that after a few moments, the salesman opened his eyes; the two colleagues briefly talked; and they walked away, realising that they would get no sales from that door.
As you can tell, the salesman was not “stuck” in hypnosis. He would have been aware and awake the entire time. I know this, because the hypnotist explained which induction he’d used. I’ve used the same induction on a number of my clients, who have all been aware and awake the entire time.
The hypnotic seal
There is one case where, I suppose, you might consider being “stuck” in hypnosis, although that description is misleading because the hypnotic seal is the opposite.
Briefly, a hypnotic seal is where a hypnotist puts a block to prevent you from being hypnotised. It can be qualified to restrict you from being hypnotised only by certain people or under certain circumstances. In all the cases that I have read about, these were done by unscrupulous people without the subjects’ permission and often without the subjects’ conscious awareness.
Fortunately, a hypnotic seal can be undone, usually fairly easily, despite the original hypnotist’s most malicious intents.
- You cannot get stuck in hypnosis.
- Hypnosis has nothing to do with sleep.
- If the hypnotist does get you to sleep and then leaves you, you’ll wake up by yourself.
- It is rare to have amnesia from hypnosis.