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The Hypnotic Soul


Geoff Sweeting 2009

Hypnos speaks: “For Nyx (night) brought me not forth to be the lord of the lyre, nor to be seer or leech, but to lull to rest men’s souls.” (From Plutarch, On Love 15.758B)

What does it mean to be a clinical hypnotist in today’s world? There is a current trend in opinion, even coming from within our own ranks claiming there is no such thing as hypnosis. No trance, no altered state of consciousness or hypnotic state, just suggestion and getting people to follow those suggestions. Some claim it is merely relaxation plus suggestion, whilst others reduce it to simple influence. If there is no such thing as Hypnosis, then by that logic, there is no such thing as Hypnotists or Hypnotherapists. So who are we, and what is it that we do? What are we to even call ourselves? I have felt a sense of the soul of our art becoming lost in recent years, and have wondered deeply as to the possible ramifications both to our industry and our clients. In searching for the ‘soul’ of my art of hypnosis, I have come to understand that for me at least, it dwells in the understanding of both the role of the Hypnotist that I represent in society, and the philosophical heart of the actual work I do. I have attempted to give a sense of what I believe these areas encompass through the two short essays below. They do not, (and cannot) speak directly of all I know and sense at the deepest level, yet perhaps they can gently begin to point the way.

I am always an advocate for public education about the efficacy, safety and professionalism of our art, but when our own people are advertising the concept of how to avoid using terms such as ‘trance’, ‘hypnosis’, ‘Hypnotist’, ‘Hypnotism’ and the like in the practice of Clinical Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy, then I begin to wonder. I say to those who find these terms unsavoury, then please feel free to advertise yourself as a ‘Relaxer’, ‘Therapeutic Suggester’, ‘NeuroLinguistic Programmer’, ‘Autogenic Trainer’, ‘Subconscious Mind Healer’, ’Un/Subconscious Counselor’ or some such other title that you feel comfortable with. All of these are wonderfully interesting and meaningful titles when they reflect the type of work those practitioners are doing, but the ‘Hypnotist’ when professing him/herself as such, needs to be aware of the archetypal soul that they are stepping into, at least in the public’s view. The same way that over-mystification kept many of the public away from seeking valuable help through hypnosis, in attempting to completely demystify the art for political, medical or other institutional acceptance, there exists the danger of taking it to an extreme point that may well dilute and in fact disempower the very profession we love.

I cannot imagine who, in all honesty, would be excited about the prospect of healing or transforming a major challenge in their lives at the ‘Relaxation Suggester’, the ‘Autogenic Trainer’ or the ‘Influencer’. It just doesn’t quite have the same powerful connotations of possibility that the ‘Hypnotist’ carries. And with good reason. Hypnosis carries a long, rich and quite exciting history, beginning with the earliest shamans and traditional healers, the healing sleep temples of ancient Egypt, right up to animal magnetism, mesmerism, hypnosis and hypnotherapy. It is quite a different inflection, and indeed a different public perception when presenting yourself as hypnotherapist, as opposed to counselor or psychotherapist. It is there, it does exist, and it lies deeper in the public’s unconscious than any ‘rational’ explanation of “relaxation plus suggestion”. Imagine the power of expectation, of something being able to happen seemingly outside of an individual’s current conscious capabilities, a magical or dreamlike process through the ritualized form of hypnosis, being reduced to ‘relaxation plus suggestion’. Is it really in the public’s (your clients and mine) best interest to have the archetypal power of hypnotist and hypnosis completely reduced to ‘relaxation plus suggestion’, ‘Influence’ or even ‘Therapeutic Suggestion’? To explain to someone coming for hypnosis, “Oh, there’s actually no such thing as hypnosis” ?

I say all of this, without even mentioning the fact that ‘relaxation plus suggestion’ is not even what many of us, including a wealth of research, understands is happening during a hypnotic experience. As a Hypnotist, I do believe in a ’hypnotic state’ through my own observation and experience, and through the research I have read, so that is the philosophical approach out of which I work. The name hypnosis carries certain preconceived connotations that extend back through the pantheon of the gods. There exists many inspirational passages relating to Hypnos to be found in our ancestral mythology such as the following; “O free his soul from such monstrous ills, free him, ye gods and turn to better things his darkened spirit. And do thou, O Somnus (Hypnos) vanquisher of woes, rest of the soul, the better part of human life....thou who dost mingle false with true, sure yet gloomy guide to what shall be; O Thou (Hypnos) who art peace after wanderings, haven of life, day’s respite and night’s comrade, who comest alike to king and slave, who doest compel the human race, trembling at death, to prepare for unending night--sweetly and gently soothe his weary spirit; hold him fast bound in heavy stupor; let slumber chain his untamed limbs, and leave not his savage breast until his former mind regain it’s course.” ( Seneca, Hercules Furens 1063 ff) Even earlier practices of unconscious healing echo our work of hypnosis today; Diodorus of Sicily wrote; “The Egyptian Priests were wont to assert that Isis deigned to manifest herself to men during their sleep to inform them of the different remedies and methods of healing; and that by implicitly following her counsels patients, despaired of by the doctors, were saved.” This closely resonates with the spirit of the early self-prescribed healing methods of animal magnetism subjects, and even our current understanding of the unconscious mind of an individual containing the very resources required for that person’s change, healing or transformation (Jung, Rogers and Erickson).

In the early formative days of modern therapeutic application of reconnecting with, honouring and trusting our unconscious, the art of hypnosis, then known as animal magnetism or mesmerism, held powerful sway over the minds, conversations and imaginations of European society. From royalty and the medical fraternity to the common laymen, the practice, observation and utilization of the art was a matter of great curiosity and no little importance. The Magnetist was viewed as one possessing a mysterious power, the power to sway, to influence, to change and heal at the deepest level of a person. When mainstream medicine tossed and turned on itself over the idea of therapeutic hypnosis, stage hypnotists have been directly responsible for keeping the very concept of hypnosis and the role of hypnotist alive and well in the general public’s eye. There are many Hypnotherapists who feel uncomfortable being associated with some of the onstage antics of hypnotic performers, yet we must admit, that these stage hypnotists have played a major role in continually capturing the public’s imagination of what possibilities lay in the unconscious mind. Through the work of untold magnanimous souls (those of both the lay and medical professions), ultimately that ‘power’ or skill, has grown to be generally regarded as one that could inspire change and healing within another. For better or worse we have had hundreds of years of clinical practice, literature and entertainment at the centre of which stands the figure of the intriguing Magnetist or Hypnotist. And at least some of this vivid and valuable ancestry is ingrained and still resonates in the psyche of the general public today. Even after Braid, Liebeault and Bernheim, we had the likes of Milton Erickson and Ainslie Meares standing up for the further reaches of unconscious potential through the state of altered consciousness referred to as hypnosis. All these major contributors believed in the existence of the hypnotic state, and were themselves, types of ‘Outsider- Insiders’. In this era, these hypnotherapists were pushing for interest and research on the value of therapeutic application, yet primarily remained clinicians devoted to the practice of clinical hypnosis. And, even with some amount of professional acceptance they remained suspect in the eyes of a lot of the medical establishment, and yet loved and highly utilized by the public who sought their help.

Through these figures we are still adding to and expanding the mythos of the Hypnotist, now with an added professionalism and acceptance in broader categories of society. But, I believe we may go too far in our yearning for acceptability. I ask who we desire acceptance from? We have always stood outside the ‘regular’ frame of medicine and mainstream health, and perhaps always will because we deal with the unconscious. We, as the guides to the unconscious, the connecters to inner self, deal with what seems to be ‘apart’ from regular consciousness. That is our realm, what lay hidden. Those areas that people sense are there, what feels like something deeper down yet is shadowy and veiled. Apart from dreaming, hypnosis is the recognized way of accessing this ‘other’ self. And so we are, as Hypnotist, one whom archetypically represents and stands for this other, this hidden and more unconscious aspect to the human way of being. We are the carers of the unconscious. The Hypnotist then, stands as a ‘mythic’ figure in society representing a sense of all that has come before them. Not just the great modern era doctors who embraced and added to the value of hypnosis as a therapeutic agent, but all the ancient shamans, traditional healers and even stage hypnotists that made use of trance for the benefit of society. The hypnotist is one who can entrance, who holds in their knowledge the ways to the mysteries and possibilities of the deepest unconscious self. Early shamans, healers, mesmerists and magnetists understood this and used it to affect the most powerful of healings and transformations in their healing work. It is why Grinder and Bandler called their early books ‘The Structure of Magic’. People seek help from a hypnotist (and indeed why they attend a stage hypnotist’s show), for this very reason. It is the expectation of something possibly inexplicable that is out of their current frame of reference and conscious control, happening through the work. In clinical hypnosis this sense of expectation is of course a powerful force in helping to produce positive therapeutic outcomes. I suggest that in taking on the responsibility of being a clinical hypnotist, we will have to make some sacrifices or compromises to the public perception of the mythical representation of the role. Perhaps we could factor in the need for that role by the public, (societies’ need for a figure representing the role), as well as our own personal beliefs about the definition or ‘reality’ of the functional processes that may ( or may not) be occurring during our professional work. When we take on the profession of ‘Hypnotist’ we are stepping into, in fact embodying a previously existing mythological role that still contains much of it’s ancient and ancestral past, in the deepest level of the psyche of the public whom we serve.

Even as a practitioner, think back to what first moved you to investigate, and then pursue the role of hypnotist. I am sure you too will remember that it was some aspect of the mystery and mythos behind the art that intrigued and motivated you also. Something you saw, heard or experienced done by a hypnotist, intrigued and captured your imagination. It is this mythological aspect of the role that I believe is it’s very ‘soul’, and by denying it’s ancestry we are in real danger of diminishing it’s power at the unconscious level of the public (including practitioners). As a practitioner, how many times have you found your results ‘amazing’ or ‘magical’, or ‘awe-inspiring‘, even when you believe you know how it was achieved? How much even more so to the patient themselves? We all know the therapeutic power that happens through an experience of something unrehearsed and alive happening through the client’s hypnosis session. For much of the general public we seem to be embodying the role of shaman, priest, healer, guide and magician to the deeper and more mysterious aspects of unconscious mind and being. It is the same way a police officer represents, whether they really do or not, the good guys who are out there fighting the bad guys for us. In the public psyche the police are those who, through choosing the role and putting on the uniform of that profession, are saying that they choose to defend and uphold the law for the welfare of us all. We in a sense are servants to this public perception also, and in fact should be so. That is not to say that we are acting out a part or pretending to be something that we are not. But we are stepping into, and embodying something that we have chosen to represent. It is the chance to become something, to represent something that includes a larger myth enabling us to transcend our immediate ego. We will always be ourselves, and work in our individual ways, but, we also have the opportunity to take on the responsibility of fulfilling the role of a wider archetypal need in modern society. And so, I maintain the use of the words ‘trance’, ‘hypnosis’ and ‘hypnotic state’, and accept the role of mesmerist, magnetist, therapist and hypnotist.

I enter this realm, with all it’s associated myths, because there still exists the need for this in current society, as it does in my own psyche. I do it as a willing act, in answer to my calling, and in trying to embody my chosen profession. When I meet some therapists in our field, I sometimes get the feeling that they are afraid of the pressure of having to perform feats of ‘mesmerism’ and ‘hypnotic trance’ with their clients. They seem to shun away from what they perceive as having to be the highly confident and knowledgeable ‘magician of the mind’. But that is a part of the public perception of our art. You will be tested. And this is an element of the challenge, the quest and the risk in accepting the role with all it’s mystery and surprise, of answering the call of the Hypnotist. Even in these times, with better informed clientele espousing they know the ‘truth’ about hypnosis, patients still expect something unique or unusual to happen. They, at heart, still desire a hypnotic experience. If they truly only sought a quiet setting for a nice chat or relaxation, then they could visit any number of massage therapist, float tank, or relaxation centre. If they are seeking narrative therapy in a relaxing environment, then they could just as easily spend time with any counselor, psychologist or other psychotherapist. There exists, always, even if only at the unconscious level, the possibility, that just maybe, something out of the ordinary, something different, will occur during their time with the hypnotist. Perhaps they will have a gentle experience of clinical magic, of something not quite logical, and to deny this in our role, is to deny our clients their hope of possibilities, and of our profession it’s soul.


essay 2

In the practice of Hypnotherapy there seems to be a growing tendency toward compact techniques of psychotherapeutic methods and linguistic tricks coming to replace the use of acquiring the best hypnotic trance possible and utilization of the resulting unconscious search. Practitioners anxiously entertain the idea that for every symptom there is a nice, neat little trick of a technique to fix it. Amidst the current obsession with techniques, we are losing sight of being carers of the unconscious, of realizing that the hypnotic state is the primary technique, and instead strive to give answers or stay ahead of the client with intellectual knowing. Hypnosis is being reduced to mere methods of technique, another contemporary trend of over-simplifying, controlling and functionalizing the way of being. Everything mechanized and systematized, in an attempt to master and control life. An illusion which we are taught to buy into and believe, that the ever flowing, changing mystery of life and being is one that can be controlled, harnessed and turned to every whimsy of human thought. There is move to excessive professionalism in our art that places great strain upon the very tenants of caring for the soul in our society. This push to complete respectability and overt professionalism is moving us into being followers of pre-confirmed techniques, and away from the basic concepts of trust in our inner selves.

As Carl Rogers termed it “ ....learning to trust in our own inner experiencing as the basis for living.” This is also the foundation behind Erickson and Meare’s work. Bringing us into contact with more of ourselves. We seem to be losing the essence of personal inner search of the unconscious. Of connecting with the unconscious, and ‘stumbling’ onto and into the soul as James Hillman suggests. I believe there exists a noble, authentic and powerful place for the hypnotist in today’s society and in fact, that we are becoming more necessary in the way that modern life is progressing. Joseph Campbell talked of the essential need in modern society for; “..a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation.” Hypnosis can offer that place, that space allowing us to bring forth more of what we are and what we might be. Where primitive humans made use of the caves of initiation for creative incubation and rebirth, the hypnotic state offers that same link to the unconscious. A state that permits connection with, exploration and discovery of the inner self. The Hypnotist stands now at the entrance to this way, waiting for seekers who have felt the weight of disconnection and separation. Those who feel fractured or apart, who sense an incompleteness within. And so, the hypnotist offers, as the embodiment of the role, and with all that is of their own unique life experience, the key to that doorway leading through the unconscious ‘underworld’ to where learning truly occurs. To me, hypnosis is a bridging ritual designed to help the individual slip out of his or her ‘normal’ waking consciousness and enter the vast resources of their unconscious self in order to access deeper knowing. It is a ‘Ritual of Difference’, and by that I mean a movement that leads an individual’s consciousness outside the box of everydayness, and into a ‘different’ realm. An effective Hypnotist making full use of both their archetypal and personal role, can work in an almost shaman-like manner. Travelling into the world of the client, to meet them there and enter their worldview as deeply as they are able. To gain a sense of the soul’s position of being, and to inspire them from that position. The hypnotist is not sympathetic to the point of losing themselves, rather he maintains the integrity of his role, the heart of being a Hypnotist, offering it as an inspiration or more precisely as an invitation to the unconscious of the client to shift into a new movement. The Hypnotist, continuing to embody the role in this journey, stands as a structure of support for the client in their deeper realm. Enabling the client to utilize the hypnotists ‘inside yet outside’ position for balance as they create new learnings and healing connections.

I see my role of Hypnotist as not being one who gives answers, advice and commands on how to live and what to do. I have a sense of the Hypnotist’s way being not that of saviour or redeemer, but one of guide and usher. One who sees that freedom lies within, as a recognizer of what lies there already, hidden deep within another. One who respects the mystery of that unseen person. An usher who helps escort another into the journey, deep inside their unconscious, where dwells in his dark cave of unknowing the god Hypnos who “lull’s to rest men’s souls” and is the “Tamer of cares, to weary toil repose, and from whom sacred solace in affliction flows. Thy pleasing gentle chains preserve the soul, and even the dreadful cares of death control.” The host who extends an invitation to the Isis within, so that she may preach her cures and help lead us through the healing discoveries that exist deep in the dark of our subconscious selves. The custodian in my soul of the sacred ‘sleep’ that aids us. To help another dream those dreams, that as Jung wrote assists a human being in recovering his whole nature; “All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of the primordial night. There he is still whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from Nature...” (C.G Jung) To be a healer is really to be an inspirer. A healer works in ways, through words, actions and intention that inspires a movement within the individual. Through the use of the hypnotic state, I feel there exists the opportunity to inspire a movement at the deepest level of being. To get past that critical consciousness, and have greater access to previously hidden resources.

The use of the hypnotic state, can act as a bridge to that aspect of self in which we have access to the ‘soul’ level of our clients. To support a person’s efforts to reach down deeper than before, to work a movement in a new way, and at a new depth of being. As Hypnotist I am aware of the process in which my client and I are putting aside time (and putting time aside) to journey into that deeper knowing that exists in a more pure- being state. And so I believe, this becomes ‘sacred’ time. By ‘sacred’ I am making use of one of it’s classical definitions; “ Dedicated to or in honour of somebody” . The time is sacred because we are dedicating it to the honouring of the person’s unconscious self. So that even the very act of entering into the hypnotic state brings with it the opportunity to journey away from current external happenings of the individual’s life circumstances. This includes the society, times and conditions they are presently living in. Erickson referred to the state of hypnosis as a ‘not knowing, not doing’ condition, in which case it simply leaves us with being. Without self critique, without judgment, even without apology, the hypnotic state itself offers a temporary experience of more pure being. Temporarily journeying to rediscover that timeless, connected and ‘archaic’ (in the Jungian sense of being original and primal) perhaps even ‘immortal’ sense of human being. It is the chance, not just to escape, but to remember that there is more.

More to both themselves in mind, body and spirit, and also to their connection and interaction experience with the larger world around them. Mesmer, Puysegur, Liebeault, Bernheim, Braid, Meares and Erickson all let subjects simply connect with their unconscious and dwell there in the hypnotic state for some time without narrative content before terminating trance. They all understood the healing act of simply reconnecting with the mystery of deeper unconscious. They learnt to trust, honour and have faith in that mystery being. Trusting that soul to deliver the growth, healing and new learning required. Not from the healer to the client, but from a deeper part of the soul, of the very being of the individual to their conscious self. James Hillman wrote; “The unconscious then is the door through which we pass to find the soul. Through it, ordinary events suddenly become experiences thereby taking on soul; through it, meaning becomes vivid again as emotions are stirred. And it is through the unconscious that many people have found a way into love and a way into religion and have gained some small sense of soul.”

As Hypnotist, I believe we can offer more than just relaxation or symptom removal. That our way is not that of being boxed into habit changer, or becoming the patron saint of phobics and smokers. I sense that we can be of wonderful value and service both on the inside and the outside of societies’ mainstream. Standing as the new guards to Hypnos’s cave of deeper knowing and healing. Carers of the unconscious holding sacred time to honour the inner potential of our clients. To embody all of our past, our present, and to have a balanced future that is not fearful of the pressure of current complete medical or professional conformity. Nor accepting the idea of being designated as mere relics of the past or curiosities of entertainment. That stands within it’s own identity of being a unique art of healing and personal search of being. A practice that draws on it’s ancient roots and funnels it through history bringing with it the echoes of practitioners both lay and medical. Filtering the rich and valuable offerings that all have made to Hypnos. Offerings that have entered his deep cave of unknowing to draw out greater possibilities of helping all members of society to alter, transform and uncover their lives through the path of their unconscious.

To help inspire a movement that restores a wholeness within, and that may well carry with it the sacred possibility of helping another ‘stumble’ into their soul; “I have hoped to hint that through the unconscious one also stumbles upon the soul. Patterns emerge, meanings are discovered; one senses a vital connection to the past, one’ s own past and that of one’s family and people. One’s own myth, that of father, hero, follower or master, or healer, shepherd, servant, trickster, merges with the symbolical, mythical images of the whole human race, and through emotion one is moved to experience that things matter, matter very much indeed! And choice counts. And what we do with ourselves, our bodies, our hearts and minds, counts so much that personal worth, dignity, and the importance of my own individuality, my own person, grow from each new bout with the unconscious. In other words, through experiencing the unconscious I gain soul.” (James Hillman).