I’m sometimes asked if hypnosis can make people do things they would never normally do. The simple answer to this question is no! But to explain it in a bit more detail….
On the technical side of hypnosis, when in the deeply relaxed state, the brain enters what we call alpha state. Whilst this may sound a little scientific, it is very common to us all because it is the state we are in just before we go to sleep. It is the bit between being fully awake and falling asleep. In this time we are fully conscious, and we know this because if someone said our name, we would probably respond immediately. It’s also the state the brain is in (for most of us) until we reach the age of 4 or 5. the point is, it is not an unusual state to be in.
After this semi-conscious state when we first fall asleep, our brains go into theta state. This is the start of the sleep process in which we become unaware of what is going on around us – if we fall asleep in front of the TV, even though we may still hear the sounds, we have no recollection of what was said and do not respond to any of it – we are effectively zoned out!
I mentioned before that when being hypnotised the brain enters alpha state (the same as when we are between the states of being fully awake and asleep). If a client relaxes too muchand falls asleep, they enter theta state. At this stage, in the same way that we would not respond to the TV if we fall asleep in front of it, a client that has fallen asleep will not respond to the suggestions being made in the therapy session.
The therapist’s job therefore is to keep the client in alpha state (and therefore in a state of relaxed awareness) and to ensure that theta state (being asleep and unaware of what is going on) is never achieved. It is for this reason that we can be assured that when hypnotised, we cannot be made to do anything we would not usually want to do, because we are fully conscious at all times. If we were to fall asleep, no amount of suggestions will have any impact on us.
I think the important point here relates back to my worries about acting like a monkey under hypnosis – if I were to be hypnotised and enter the relaxed-but-aware alpha state, I would simply not allow myself to behave like a monkey (unless of course I choose to do so of my own free will….but oddly enough, this is not something that happens on a regular basis!). There is therefore no way that hypnosis could get me to do anything that I would not choose to do myself in any other situation.
Similarly, if I happened to fall asleep under hypnosis, I would not be able to behave like a monkey because I would….simply be asleep (and to my knowledge, I tend not to behave like a monkey when sleeping…I just kind of lie there motionless….but then in a strange way I am behaving like a monkey as monkeys lie motionless when they sleep too! Er…well….you get the idea!).
So now that we know hypnosis cannot result in us doing anything we would not do of our own free will, the question must be asked – does hypnosis ever result in someone falling sleep? To be honest, I have had clients experience such deep states of relaxation that they have effectively been asleep, but in reality they are just in a very deep trance.