Hypnosis Part 3 - The Hypnotic Phenomena

Perhaps the most well-known hypnotist today is Milton Erickson M.D. who set the course of hypnosis in the direction and form it takes today. He believed that if you gave him a subject and all he did was to teach them how to go into hypnosis and replicate all the hypnotic phenomena, then most of their problems would vanish.

The Hypnotic Phenomena

In hypnosis there are a collection of phenomena called 'hypnotic phenomena'. These are replicable experiences that the hypnotist through suggestion can get the subject to perform. Although seemingly amazing, all the hypnotic phenomena can be replicated without hypnosis. However their elicitation and their utilization during hypnosis can assist in many ways. They can act as a 'convincer' to the subject that they are indeed in hypnosis. They can be a measure of the depth of hypnosis that someone is in and they can be used in a metaphorical or direct way as learning for both the conscious and unconscious minds.

Ideomotor responses

An “ideomotor response” is the involuntary or unconscious capacity of the client to respond to suggestions and questions given by the hypnotist using established formal signals. For the most part a yes/no signaling system is set up (sometimes the addition of don't know or don't want to tell you signals are set up as well).

These signals are always established with the client’s unconscious and are completely independent of conscious interference and thought processing. Ideomotor signals can be established through either direct or indirect suggestion and have important use and significance in hypnotherapy. Firstly they establish a direct communication link to the unconscious. Secondly they allow clear communication to take place between the clients unconscious and the therapist.

Using ideomotor signals establishes clear conscious/unconscious dissociation allowing the unconscious to communicate freely and without the boundaries that the conscious mind might have around the problem. This allows for new resources to come forward as well as establishing possible reasons for the problem in the first place.

Examples of ideomotor responses are yes/no finger signals, and simple nods and shakes of the head.


Catalepsy occurs when balanced tonicity is existent between the agnostic and antagonist muscles. In hypnosis it is used to explain the condition where the client is unable to voluntarily move a certain part of their body. This is sometimes denoted as a 'waxy flexibility'.

We can see it happen when someone is smoking and they take a drag then hold the cigarette away from themselves paying it no attention until the next inhalation is required. During inhalations the cigarette and the hand/arm holding/supporting it maintain a state of catalepsy. Another example is when someone is eating and gets involved in conversation whilst the fork is travelling toward their mouth. They stop in mid-air to finish what they were saying. When they hold it suspended for a prolonged period of time in the same position as they listen and talk they are experiencing catalepsy.

It is useful in therapy to demonstrate a number of things to the client. Dissociation, eye catalepsy to measure trance depth, induction of trance, deepen trance, provide ideomotor signaling (arm levitation for example). It is an excellent convincer for the conscious mind.


Analgesia is the absence of pain and the ability to still sense pressure if applied. Two naturally occurring examples are taking an aspirin and a `sleepy limb'. For therapeutic uses it is useful for pain control and elimination when the client needs to know that the limb/problem is there but does not need to experience the pain attached to it. As pain is a signal that there is something happening in the body that needs attention, if analgesia is introduced, a suggestion needs to be made to the unconscious as to warn in the event of problems.


Anesthesia is the total lack of sensation including the inability to sense pressure. We see this occurring in strong medication and when someone has been out in the freezing cold. Exposed for too long, they lose all sense of pain and sensation. In therapy this can be used for surgical operations and tooth extraction when sensation is not needed or beneficial.


Amnesia is the inability to recall. This is a common everyday experience, for example, when we know someone's name but when introduced we cannot remember it even though we recognize their face. Another may be, forgetting where you put your car keys when you came in, unable to find them in spite of an extensive search.

In therapy amnesia is useful, allowing for the client to not consciously remember what happened during the therapy so that they do not interfere with the change process.

Hypnosis can allow us to imagine and pretend that certain things are(n't) there.

Positive Hallucination

Positive hallucination is seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting something that other people would agree is not there, or to perceive objects that have no physical reality. Two examples would be when someone mentions the name of a food that is not present and you can taste it or smell it, another would be when someone has seen a scary movie and they are stimulated by the normal touch of someone or something and overreact thinking that it was actually something from the movie. In therapy this can be used to stimulate a strong recall of a moment, for aversion therapy (anchoring/swishing tastes/smells/feelings etc.) and or to help clients learn skills such as confidence and capability.

Negative Hallucination

Negative hallucination is the opposite of positive hallucination. The individual cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell something that everybody else would agree is there.

Examples are putting the car keys down on the side table and when it comes to picking them up again you cannot see them, even when they may be straight in front of you and paperwork that just decides to hide from you even though you swear you know just where you put it down! In therapy it can be used to de-potentiate negativity, as a convincer (negatively hallucinating their arm), for dissociation among others.


Dissociation (or disassociation) is where the client has the sense of being detached from a part or from all of their body, circumstance or scene.

It occurs frequently in our dreams when we are seeing ourselves only in our minds, seeing ourselves in a mirror or window, and seeing ourselves on videotape. In therapy this skill can be used to eliminate phobias, pain and trauma.

Age Regression

Age regression is the complete re-accessing and revivification of past memories and/or the complete accessing and return to an earlier period of development. Examples are when we respond to someone or something in our present life in the same or similar way in which we responded to parents, teachers or authority figures when we were much younger. So a follow up example would be classroom-learning situations. In therapy this can be used to change personal history, find the root cause of a concern, find and capitalize on pre-existing skills, desensitize trauma and negative experiences and assist with memory recall.

Hypnosis allows us to relive a memory in the present moment.


Revivification is the virtual reliving of a memory in the present moment. Examples are when specific questioning gets us to fully associate with a memory and or experience that we have had. It is useful in therapy to assist in the build up to trance or change work because the questions leading to revivification can seem so innocuous. It is also useful both to gauge feedback from the client and to access useful resources when needed.

Time Distortion

Time distortion is the ability to experience time as faster or slower than `normal time'. Examples would be watching a great movie that seems to go by so fast and waiting in line in a queue for the bank teller and time seems to slow down nearly to a stop. In therapy time distortion is very effective for pain relief (taking eight hours of pain and experiencing it in one minute). Also maximizing great experiences by staying in them longer and speeding up negative experiences so that they are over quicker. In sport it is useful enabling the participant to have a clearer ability to experience what is happening (slowing the ball down in baseball or the fist in martial arts).


Not a hypnotic phenomenon as such, fractionation is the continual inducing and taking someone out of trance so that a deeper trance state can be obtained. If you have someone go into and out of a light trance a few times, it won't be long before they develop medium to deep trance when you induce them next. The theory is that the more often you go into hypnosis the quicker and deeper you will go into next time. A person can be fractionated within one session to enable a deep trance experience.

Summary of Part 3 - The Hypnotic Phenomena

In this Part we covered the hypnotic phenomena and the various benefits any person can receive through their application. Let's summarize them in the table below:

The Hypnotic Phenomena with description.

Would you like to experience the hypnotic phenomena for yourself? Contact us here for free 30 minute session and let's discuss it together.

The Part 4 of the series about Hypnosis focuses on the differences between Conscious and Unconscious mind. Continue with Part 4 here.

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