by David Christie-Murray
Hypnosis may be defined as the induction in a subject by the hypnotist of a state of heightened suggestibility with mental and, possibly, physical effects. The state may be induced by various techniques, and every hypnotist develops his own from a few prototypes. Nobody quite knows why hypnosis works in the way it does, and some authorities deny that it exists as a separate phenomenon at all - it is simply a special type of suggestibility, and there exist rare fantasy - prone personalities that can produce all hypnotic phenomena at will without it. Whatever one's views, it is a useful tool for psychical researchers and sufficiently important for the Society for Psychical Research to have had a special Hypnosis Committee in existence for almost a century.
With a definition of what hypnosis is before us, even though it may be a very incomplete one, we can look at misconceptions about it that still exist widely in the public mind and about which prospective subjects may need to be informed. Hypnosis is not a special gift, power or influence belonging to certain psychic characters, nor is there anything the slightest 'occult' about it. It can be used by anyone who takes the trouble to learn a technique. That is not to say that all who attempt it are equally good at it, and hypnotists vary from the very gifted to the mediocre. At the one extreme there are charismatic personalities such as the formidable Rasputin, whose very presence was hypnotic. It may be noticed that suggestibility is already at work where reputations exist - if one is told in advance that so -and - so has an hypnotic character, even the strongest - minded person who meets him will be on the look - out for the quality, if only to deny its existence. So there will be some who have a gift for hypnosis as some have a gift for playing the piano, and others who have neither. Most people can, however, pick out a tune with one finger, and most people can have a limited success at hypnosis with, perhaps, a few subjects. It may be added here that different hypnotists will succeed with different groups of people, that there probably exist individuals who cannot be hypnotised by anyone, that therefore no single hypnotist will succeed with everyone. Mass hypnotism is almost certainly a legend.
Hypnosis is not the subjection of an individual's will to the stronger will of another. The subject does not put himself into the power of the operator. A rider to this is that it is not a sign of weakness to be hypnotised, and, generally speaking, a good subject has to be himself strong willed to have at least enough will to concentrate on the hypnotist's suggestions and to co-operate with him. It is commonly said that a subject cannot be hypnotised against his will. The question will not arise with ASSAP investigators, as it does not with any normal hypnotherapist - if there is resistance for any reason to this type of therapy, the hypnotist will simply recommend his patient to another. The literature does contain references to mentally sick patients being strait-jacketed and hypnotised against their wills by doctors working for hours on end, but this situation is not one met with normally!
It follows that hypnosis is not an irresistible process, and a subject when hypnotised, will not become a puppet in the hands of the operator. Although I have come across a case in America where a college professor claimed to have used hypnosis to persuade a bank-cashier to hand over a large sum of money to him illegally (he gave it back afterwards), it is generally agreed that a subject cannot be made to do anything that would be against his moral code in a waking state. Even when he is deeply hypnotised there seems to be a part of his personality who watches over him and snaps him into wakefulness if he is told to forge a cheque or commit a murder. Such statements can hardly be checked experimentally, but the evidence that exists is strong enough to reassure subjects that they would not be at risk, and, again, the question will not arise with hypnotic investigations carried out under ASSAP auspices.
Returning to the study of what hypnosis is, there is required between the hypnotist and his subject co-operation and understanding which are strengthened by liking. A good hypnotist is someone who likes people and is (as a result, I think) generally liked by others. The stronger the liking and out-goingness, the better the hypnotist. This statement is probably true of all the helping professions. It follows that if a first meeting between operator and subject is one of dislike of indifference, both parties have to work towards a position of understanding and willingness to co-operate, and this may take time. Even when empathy is established, hypnosis may not be achieved the first time, and patience may be needed on both sides. It is, incidentally, often difficult to hypnotise from scratch - a subject needs reassurance, tranquillity and confidence, and has to have time to develop these with the hypnotist. A hypnotist must also expect to be constantly surprised. Although there are general principles of subject behaviour, individuals often react in unexpected ways, and every case is at least slightly different from every other. Subjects, too, may be surprised in that they are not conscious of having been affected at all, for hypnosis varies from pleasant relaxation in which they are fully conscious of everything around them by rainbow changes through a complete spectrum to deep unconsciousness or somnambulism, and different subjects reach different stages. Some never progress beyond the lighter stages which are, fortunately, probably the best for therapeutic purposes.
Techniques? There are many, although all that are basically needed is as complete physical and mental relaxation of the subject as may be achieved, and the human voice. Passes made by the hands, shining objects swinging on the ends of chains, revolving whirligigs, the fixing of the eyes on a point of light, may all be used to induce expectation, relaxation and suggestibility, especially if the subject has been led to look for them, but they are unnecessary. My own method is simply to encourage the subject to choose the most comfortable position, sitting or lying, he can, to talk him into tranquillity by asking him to concentrate on relaxing each area of his body from the feet upwards in turn (I do this in a sleepy monotone), then to imagine himself into a sleep-inducing situation (which I will have learned from him beforehand and describe as imaginatively as I can), and finally counting him into hypnosis from twenty backwards to one, with appropriate suggestions on the way. Counting from one to twenty, with suggestions of feelings of returning energy, health and euphoria, is the method of arousing him. After the subject has been hypnotised once or twice, a 'short-cut' formula may be suggested to him. Such as, 'When I say, "One, two, three, sleep," you will instantly pass into a state of hypnotic sleep.'
The uses of hypnosis for ASSAP investigators are manifold. Where a subject has had an alleged experience about which he has had amnesia or the details of which he cannot clearly remember because of, say, shock, he can be taken back to re-experience and be questioned on what happened. There are obviously precautions to be taken here and techniques learned to avoid reinforcing shock or other traumas, such as the suggestion, 'You will see the experience happening on a television screen, but you will be completely outside it, an onlooker feeling nothing but intense interest and able to remember every detail of it when you wake up.'
Then there is a wealth of hypnotic claims in the early literature of, for example, hypnosis at a distance, where operators, having once hypnotised a subject, claimed to have subsequently sent him into a trance at a distance of miles at a time without his knowledge, confirming the fact from his friends. Again, there are obvious dangers to be avoided in the modern world - one does not want to send someone to sleep at the wheel of his car! But if such claims could be proved today under the more stringent experimental conditions learned in a century of psychical research, further light might be thrown upon telepathy, ESP and the workings of the human mind. There are incidentally, many early experiments in the Journal and Proceedings of the SPR which ASSAP groups could repeat with rigorous precautions.
Much work has been done on alleged regression under hypnosis into past lives, and even the best cases have been at least partially 'debunked.' On the other hand, there are in them many tantalising snippets of accurate information which seems, in our present state of knowledge, as if they must have been acquired at least paranormally, if not remembered from past existence's. There is scope for investigation here and enquiry to be made into explanations other than previous lives - for example, evidence for or against General or Super-ESP could be gathered.
There are dangers in hypnosis, and no hypnotist should be unaware of the limits of his personal knowledge nor go beyond them, and he should always be adding to it by reading the very considerable literature that exists. An ignorant hypnotist, for example, may cure symptoms and bottle up the neurosis that causes them, for it to burst out catastrophically years later. He can fail to undo suggestions he has made, so that - to quote an example - he may bring back to his present life a subject blind in a 'previous' life who brought his blindness back with him, a condition that was, happily, immediately corrected. Had the hypnotist not known what to do, however, the result could have been disastrous. Nor should hypnosis be a party trick (I believe that ASSAP should set its face against stage-hypnosis). What could happen is that an amateur might amuse guests by suggesting to a subject that he should go to sleep whenever a certain tune was played, demonstrate this by playing the tune several times during the evening, and forget to reverse the instructions. A day or so later, the subject, driving his car, hears the tune on the car radio and.....
It is not possible in a short article to do more than touch upon the uses and dangers of hypnosis. I hope enough has been said here to show prospective operators the lines along which they should study and work.