Hypnotizability is the ability to experience hypnotic trance, usually via self-hypnosis or under the instruction of another person, such as a hypnotherapist. People vary in their ability to go into trance at will and on purpose. As a human trait, hypnotizability seems to be “normally” distributed throughout the population. In other words, statistically, the distribution of hypnotizability in the general population follows the bell-shaped curve. This means that a small percentage of people, about 10%, are highly hypnotizable and access trance quite easily. They seem to have a natural, inborn ability to go into trance. At the other end of the continuum, there is a small percentage of people for whom accessing trance (at least on purpose or at someone’s instruction) is difficult. The rest of the population, about 80%, are in the middle of the continuum of hypnotizability—they are low average, average and high average. In this sense, hypnotizability varies from person to person, just as other naturally-occurring traits, such as intelligence or height.
Certain psychological, social, and physiological factors correlate with hypnotizability, and may actually contribute to hypnotizability. When a hypnotherapist conducts formal or informal “tests of hypnotizability” he or she is asking the client to perform some simple exercises designed to elicit one or more of the factors that correspond to hypnotizability. According to Dr. Steven Gurgevich in his Self-Hypnosis Home Study Course (Sounds True, 2006) there are many common indicators of hypnotizability. These factors, or indicators, of hypnotizability are discussed below in the following paragraphs.
Ability to Follow Instructions
Some people follow instructions willingly when they believe it is in their interests to do so–and are very compliant with a hypnotherapist’s instructions. These people will have go into trance more easily than other who do not like being told what to do and will often have a compelling drive to disobey or ignore instructions, just to maintain their own sense of self-direction and independent thinking. People in the latter category (independent) can be hypnotized, as long as the hypnotherapist does not use an authoritarian approach.
The authoritarian approach usually will not work well with independent thinkers. To have success with independent thinkers, the hypnotherapist must reinforce the client’s own decision-making capabilities throughout the hypnosis process, and allow the client to consider options on how to best use and respond to the hypnotic process.
Capacity for Daydreaming and Deep Concentration
If you easily slip into daydreaming, and you get easily absorbed in movies, books, and video games, then you probably have a good level of hypnotizability. If you are distractible and find it hard to sit still for even a few minutes, you will probably have less hypnotizability.
If you have a good ability to visualize and imagine new possibilities, then you are a good hypnotic candidate. The success of hypnosis often relies on your ability to imagine carrying out new behaviors. If you are lacking in imagination, your hypnotizability may be less than optimal.
The Eye-Roll Phenomenon
In the 1960’s Dr. Herbert Speigel conducted studies that showed a strong correlation between the ability to tilt one’s eyes up toward the forehead, and hypnotizability. The more white area one can show on the underside of the raised eyeball, the higher the hypnotizability. No one is sure why this correlation exists.
Interest in How the Mind Works
People with an interest in the mind and how it works usually become adept with hypnotic trance. People with an interest in the mind are those who often seek self-improvement by attending seminars, reading self-help books, listening to self-improvement CDs and DVDs, and spending time in activities such as meditation, journaling, yoga, relaxation, and hypnosis. People who have little interest in the mind will usually not even consider hypnosis as a viable option for solving a personal problem or for self-improvement.
An Open Mind
People usually succeed with hypnosis when they maintain an open mind about the process. They are curious and willing to explore what hypnosis is and how to use it. They maintain a positive expectation that hypnosis will be a pleasant, perhaps beneficial experience. People who are dead set against hypnosis or who want to prove that hypnosis doesn’t work or won’t work for them will usually not succeed with hypnosis.
Ability to Think Non-analytically
A person who thinks only in a logical, analytical manner will not have high hypnotizability. People with high hypnotizability can easily shift between analytical thinking and intuitive, creative, imaginative thinking.
It is a common misconception that hypnotizability is usually linked to mental weakness or gullibility. Actually, the opposite is true. Those with high intelligence are often very good candidates for hypnosis.
A Word about Control Issues
Some beginners who don’t know much about hypnosis are reluctant to pursue hypnosis, and difficult to hypnotize, because they worry that hypnosis will cause them to give up self-control. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hypnosis actually helps people acquire more control over their thinking, actions, and emotions. In fact, many people seek hypnosis because they are habitually engaging in some behavior that is out of control (smoking, overeating, gambling, etc.). A person with control issues will do best in hypnosis with a thorough understanding of the process in advance.
Paper and Pencil Tests
There are some paper and pencil tests of hypnotizability, but not all are well-documented for predictability and msny have not been subjected to rigorous scientific analysis as to what they actually measure. The tests that are well-documented are usually used in scientific studies in which hypnotizability is a variable. Hypnotherapists rarely use these tests in actual practice because:
1) The tests are time consuming and expensive.
2) Most people are hypnotizable under the right circumstances, regardless of what the tests might show.
3) Hypnotizability also depends on one’s own expectations. If you think you are hypnotizable, your chances of going into trance are improved. If a test says you have low hypnotizability, it may lower your expectations and your low expectations may actually reduce your ability to go into trance.
Other Factors that influence the Success of Hypnosis
There are other factors that influence the success of hypnosis. Rapport with the person conducting hypnosis is one. Even if you want to be hypnotized, if the hypnotist or hypnotherapist working with you doesn’t seem completely trustworthy, or sincere, or skilled in working with you, you may encounter difficulty accessing trance. If you don’t feel comfortable with the individual conducting hypnosis with you, some part of your mind will be on guard.
Motivation is a very important factor in hypnosis. Motivation is highest when the individual sees benefit to accomplishing the goal, is willing to engage in the processes and steps that lead to the accomplishment, is totally congruent about wanting the accomplishment, and believes in his or her own capability to accomplish the goal. The most hypnotizable people are those who sincerely want to be hypnotized, expect hypnosis to work, and who want real results from hypnosis. A person who is not motivated to make a change will not be easily persuaded to do so with hypnosis.
If you feel half-way motivated to make a change, but still have some concerns or conflicts, it may be necessary for you to do extra work with your hypnotherapist to get satisfying or lasting results with hypnosis. Your conflicts may be due to:
o Competing goals: You can have result A or result B but not both.
o Competing values: The goal is linked to a significant personal value or belief, but having it also violates another significant personal value or belief.
o Wanting the goal, but not the work or steps required to achieve it.
o Wanting the goal, but not the attendant problems and/or responsibilities that might come with the accomplishment.
o Wanting the goal, but not knowing how to accomplish it.
o Wanting the goal, but feeling blocked by fears, inhibitions, and limiting beliefs rooted in past experiences.
To complicate matters, the exact source of the conflict often resides in the subconscious and is not available for cognitive, conscious analysis. In this case, the conflicted individual has to contend with dread, procrastination, or self-sabotage, without actually getting at the heart of the matter.
Reaching resolution on one’s own is tough. A psychotherapist who is also a hypnotherapist can use a variety of hypnotic processes to help you identify the type of conflict you may be encountering and can assist you to work through it, reach resolution, come to terms with it, and put it behind you.
What to do if You Think you have Low Hypnotizability
Surprisingly, belief in one’s own hypnotizability does not seem to be a significant factor in hypnotizability. I’ve had several clients who came to my practice doubting, for one reason or another, that they could be hypnotized. Yet, once I explained the process to them, and worked with them, they easily accessed trance. I’ve also had a few clients who were told by other hypnotherapists that they were not hypnotizable, or who found they could not access trance with previous hypnotherapists. Many of these clients have also accessed trance, under my guidance and instruction. Most people can access trance once they understand the hypnotic process, and they truly have motivation to be hypnotized.
If you think you have little hypnotizability or believe you could be a poor candidate for hypnosis, don’t give up. Find and work with a skilled hypnotherapist with whom you feel comfortable. Sometimes people with low hypnotizability require a few sessions of practice before they can access trance. A skilled hypnotherapist will experiment with different approaches and inductions to find the methods that work best for each client.