James W. Duncan, C.Ht

James W. Duncan, C.Ht

By: James W. Duncan, C.Ht, and IMDHA Diplomat

I was recently interested in a discussion regarding the standard mantra among hypnosis practitioners of, “all hypnosis is self hypnosis” and how this may not be quite truthful. The twin statement to this is, “No one can be hypnotized if they don’t want to be or to do anything against their morals, ethics or will”. These two phrases are a part of this discussion whenever it arises. How are we to address these concerns of control or being unwittingly coerced with the public when these same questions are presented and argued by our own peers and what may often seem like very convincing debate?

The concepts of covert hypnosis and social hypnosis as well as the practices of advertising are often brought into the dialog when this topic is resurrected for debate, and the discussion is indeed an interesting one. There is one major issue to keep in mind so as to make this debate valid. When looking at any topic one must keep guidelines in mind about what is actually being discussed and in what framework we are going to view the arguments.

For this exploration in the framework of what we as practitioners refer to as “Hypnosis”, we begin with the framework of the dictionary definition.

hyp·no·sis – A trancelike state resembling sleep, usually induced by a therapist by focusing a subject’s attention, that heightens the subject’s receptivity to suggestion.[1]

We now have a framework to express views on the topic of whether or not a person can be hypnotized against their will or to alter actions based on established, morals, ethics and will. Hypnosis by definition is a discernable state. This too might be argued, but one must keep in mind that any well trained hypnosis practitioner can and should be able to notice even the subtlest of indicators of the hypnotic state when it is in play.

Now, I want to share that I am one of those practitioners who uses the mantra phrases with my clients or those who engage me in conversation regarding our profession. When I do so I am working within the framework of discussing “formal” hypnosis, in which a person chooses to engage in hypnotic process. I firmly believe that in this scenario free will and choice to accept or reject suggestion is and always remains with the client. I certainly would be open to any examples of this not being the case in the framework of formal hypnosis but in my years of practice, I have yet to be presented with such examples of loss of will or choice on the part of any person.

This discussion usually will move into the area of “social hypnosis”, which can include the topics of religious beliefs, political beliefs and/or propaganda, moral standards, societal norms, etc. To these arguments I fully agree that in some instances the thoughts, and beliefs of a person may be altered through time, especially during the formative years of youth by the suggestions or instruction of others, and indeed there may be times when “hypnotic techniques” may be employed knowingly or unknowingly, in this process of sculpting a person or societies thoughts or beliefs, but I offer that this is not hypnosis but rather, indoctrination.

in·doc·tri·nate – To imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view: a generation of children who had been indoctrinated against the values of their parents.[2]      To fill with a certain teaching or set of opinions, beliefs etc. Example: The dictator tried to indoctrinate schoolchildren with the ideals of his party. [3]

Can indoctrination include hypnotic techniques or suggestion whether purposefully or unwittingly? Sure, but is this persuasive teaching over extended periods of time actually what we honestly call hypnosis? And would we W ANT to call it hypnosis? I would have to say, no on both counts. Most often indoctrination comes from the sharing of beliefs or thoughts by someone of respect or perceived power and/or insight over extended periods of time through repetition and by leading through example. This would include parents, teachers, ministers, political leaders, etc. This is simple persuasion over greatly extended periods of time, and again, while hypnotic techniques may be utilized in an attempt to persuade a person or group, persuasion is not “hypnosis”.

per·suade – To induce to undertake a course of action or embrace a point of view by means of argument, reasoning, or entreaty: “to make children fit to live in a society by persuading them to learn and accept its codes” ( Alan W. Watts).[4]

Persuasion is also the key ingredient of advertising, which is also brought into this discussion in many instances. Advertising is a unique area of this concept as it often utilizes hypnotic techniques that are easily identifiable, such as music, repetition, seductive language and images or rapid successions of words and images that are difficult to recognize at a conscious level. Advertising is an interesting area of discussion in this debate since it often utilizes hypnotic techniques in an overt way and yet, in the Unites States anyway, it is illegal to use “hypnosis” in advertising. In other words, the hypnotic state is not formally induced. This brings us back once again to the framework idea that “hypnosis” is a discernable state. Just because someone has been persuaded does not mean they have been hypnotized.

In the framework of social hypnosis one must also consider the idea of brainwashing, which usually has more sinister implications. Brainwashing, it could be argued, entails many forms of hypnotic technique but this must again be viewed through the definition of indoctrination and persuasion, usually over extended periods of time in which physical or emotional stressors are utilized to break down resistance to the doctrines or ideology being presented. This process is what may be argued is what induces a more apparent hypnotic state of submission. I would argue that in the case of brainwashing, submission is not the same as willing acceptance of suggestion but rather a state of self preservation or suspension of beliefs as a way to end persecution or gain social acceptance. This process is rarely, if ever a simple process of inducing trance and changing beliefs and therefore, while using hypnosis in the process, it again is not “hypnosis”.

brain·wash – persuade completely, often through coercion; “The propaganda brainwashed many people”  submit to brainwashing; indoctrinate forcibly.[5]

The last area of this debate I would like to consider is the phenomenon known as “covert hypnosis” or “speed seduction”. There are many hypnosis practitioners and aficionados out there who make a lot of money spreading this concept. My personal opinion of this behavior is that it is damaging to our profession and based on unscrupulous and unethical behavior if it were to actually be effective, which I do not believe to be true.

The idea behind covert hypnosis is that through the use of hypnotic language, usually based in NLP language patterns that the practitioner/seducer can persuade anyone to do anything they want. This usually involves seducing a person in the social setting for romantic/sexual reasons. Many purveyors of this process will claim they can get any woman/man to do whatever they want. This idea is interesting and appealing to many people, but I offer that this area of “hypnosis” has a completely different angle than all the others already discussed and is not actually effective if it is at all, for the hypnotic reasons claimed.

Covert Hypnosis, while utilizing known hypnotic techniques, is in my opinion is a very flawed and virtually ineffective process. The flaw in the concept is that it is almost always used in an atmosphere or situation when the desired outcome for the seducer is usually already a part of the mind set of the person being “hypnotized”. In the social setting, it is suggested for use in bars and clubs where much of the clientele are there for the same reason as the seducer, and often are already in an “altered state” where judgment is questionable and so success based on the technique can never be anywhere near being verified.

Outside of the social gathering places covert hypnosis may indeed cause a subject to be intrigued through language to engage in extended conversation or even agree to meeting again based on a sparked interest, but it is my assertion that any person presenting themselves as something other than who and what they truly are will soon if not immediately be recognized and the beliefs, morals, ethics and choices of the “subject” will still rule out.

If considering Covert Hypnosis in the business setting we again have to recognize that in negotiating any area of business the end result for both parties is always to reach some form of agreement whether it seems that way on the surface or not. For instance, a manager may have to say they can’t offer a raise, or a purchaser may say they can’t agree to a vendor contract, but they may very well W ANT to or know that they are going to eventually either in the short or long term. Management often needs to ACT in ways that are against their personal beliefs or desires because they must act in the best interest of a business or more often then not, they must first present a picture to the employee or vendor to establish control of the situation. If the seducer presents something that fits into an agreeable framework for management, they may very well agree to the suggestion, not because of hypnosis but because it is good business and it may have been in the plan all along. One must remember that management has more information about a bigger picture than the seducer has and so belief that they have hypnotized the subject into agreement is a naïve one.

My assertion to how Covert Hypnosis and Speed Seduction may work is probably more in line with the truth. I believe that any success a person using these “covert techniques” finds is actually because they themselves are hypnotized. They are operating on a suggested belief that they have a secret weapon for success. This is strengthened by the fact that they are already accepting of the idea that hypnosis works otherwise they wouldn’t be using it as a secret weapon. In this self-hypnotic state, which they induce by studying the techniques and then anchoring each time they enter an area in which they are going to use those techniques they will exude confidence and self-assured ease. This in turn makes the “seducer” more attractive either in a personal or business framework. People will always respond more openly and accepting of someone with confidence and an air of calm and ease. This is what actually makes the technique effective, but it is not effective for the subject being seduced, it is effective for the practitioner who has successfully hypnotized THEMSELVES covertly. Interestingly enough, if this is indeed what takes place, the term “covert” is no longer accurate and it also destroys the argument that anyone, including the seducer is being hypnotized against their will, because the goal was always to use hypnosis to entice/seduce/persuade and they have done exactly that. It just happens to be SELF-HYPNOSIS .

So in the framework of Hypnosis, we must all recognize that hypnotic phenomena can be found IN many aspects of life. It can be recognized as factors in establishment and metamorphosis of social norms, political and religious beliefs, advertising and personal interaction. These are all influenced by degrees of persuasion ranging from simple advice to indoctrination, to even brainwashing in rare instances. The key to understanding the idea that “all hypnosis is self hypnosis” comes from first agreeing on what hypnosis is by definition. Then we must be wise enough to recognize that hypnosis may be found in persuasion, but persuasion is not hypnosis. Hypnosis may be found in indoctrination but indoctrination is not hypnosis. Hypnosis may be found in Brainwashing, but Brainwashing is not hypnosis. Elephants may be in the circus, but the circus is not elephants.

Social Hypnosis, Indoctrination, or any other terms that might be tossed around in discussion of whether or not a person might be hypnotized against their will or to go against morals, ethics, or choice are interesting and spark very beneficial discussion and critical thought, but as ethical practitioners of hypnosis we must always be careful not to call an elephant, a circus. It isn’t exactly true and it may PERSU ADE people away from enjoying the circus for what it truly is.

[1] The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 11 Apr. 2008.

[2] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 11 Apr. 2008.

[3] Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary. K Dictionaries Ltd. 11 Apr. 2008.

[4] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 11 Apr. 2008.

[5] WordNet® 3.0. Retrieved April 11, 2008, from Dictionary.com website

By: By James W. Duncan, C.Ht, and IMDH A Diplomat

© 2008

James Duncan, CHt, is the President and Executive Director of Infinity Institute International, Inc. a State Licensed School of Hypnosis. Celebrating 29 Years of World-Class Hypnosis & Holistic Education. James is a Life Fellow of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association & and former Chairman of Mentoring Programs for the IMDHA. He is known worldwide as a dynamic and innovative lecturer and teacher as well as keeping a busy in Private Practice in Royal Oak, Michigan. Visit on the web at www.DuncanHypnotherapy.com and by email at jduncan@infinityinst.com.