There are many definitions of hypnosis and the definitions have changed and evolved over time as our understanding of the hypnotic state has grown, from Franz Mesmer’s beliefs in the 1700s that a ‘magnetic fluid’ surrounded the body, through James Braid’s development of and coining of the phrase ‘hypnosis’ and the growth of the psychoanalytic movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through to the work of Milton Erickson and Dave Elman
The online information source Wikipedia states that ‘hypnosis is often thought to be a wakeful state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility and diminished peripheral awareness’. Therefore it is a focussed state that can occur spontaneously, such as happens when driving or walking when a person ends up at a destination without any clear recollection of how they arrived there or when someone becomes very caught up in a television programme that they are watching, or can be induced by a hypnotist. In this state of focussed attention the hypnotist can give beneficial suggestions that will be taken on board more readily as the state of hypnosis allows for a greater suggestibility and there are no outside distractions filtering through.
Dave Elman stated ‘Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed, and selective thinking established’ [Dave Elman, Hypnotherapy, 1964:26].
This mirrors the US Federal definition. This is probably one of the best definitions of hypnosis, as our critical factor come into play with our very earliest thoughts and our self-image is formed by the age of four. Our conscious minds cannot remember or retain every memory or piece of information that we are presented with on a daily basis, so the Reticular Activating System in our brains rejects things that the subconscious mind is not prepared to accept. These include all the things that do not fit in with our belief systems, so that if we hold a belief that we are overweight and destined to remain so, any comments on how slim we are looking or what a good figure we will be filtered out. It is very difficult to get someone to change their view of themselves purely through addressing the conscious mind. Hypnosis can be used to bypass this ‘critical faculty’ and to embed more positive suggestions in the subconscious that will better serve the hypnotic subject in life.
Another definition of hypnosis is that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. The subject has to allow them self to go into the trance state, and the hypnotist is the navigator. The subject is the one who chooses to stay in the trance and can emerge from it at any time if they want to. With this definition it is the subject who chooses to respond or not respond in the trance, and to have a positive outcome the subject must be motivated and willing to succeed. Therefore, if a subject comes for hypnosis to be able to lose weight and have control of their body weight, they must first have to have a strong desire to be the size that they desire and a positive belief that the hypnosis will be able to help them. In addition, no hypnotist could make a subject do or believe something that they do not want to, as they are ultimately in control in the trance at all times.