In 1958 the senior author gave Ernest Hilgard and Jay Haley a demonstration in hypnotic induction at Stanford University. A videotape or 16mm film of this demonstration is available from the publisher (Irvington Press, 551 Fifth Ave., New York, New York, 10017). Although both the visual and auditory qualities of this old record are poor, it is nonetheless the best visual record we have of the senior author's uses of a variety of nonverbal approaches to catalepsy and an unusually complex form of ideomotor signaling in trance induction during an exciting period of his work as a teacher. The analysis of this visual record in this section contains his commentaries on the puzzling use of a reverse set to confound the learned limitations of everyday thinking to facilitate the experience of mental flux, creativity, and therapeutic trance.
After being introduced to the subject, Ruth, Erickson made a few conversational remarks to initiate the idea of "automatic movement" to her and then began a hand levitation approach. As her hand approached her face, Erickson introduced another task: to discover the difference between her thinking and doing. In what follows we have a transcription of how Erickson proceeds to facilitate a dissociation between her thinking and her doing as a means of deepening trance and establishing a reverse set.
In this ingenious procedure Erickson arranges matters so that her doing (an initially voluntary head signaling that gradually becomes more and more involuntary) can be true or false. Circumstances are arranged, however, so that her thinking will always be true. Her thinking will be true even if she needs to go through a private mental maneuver of believing the reverse of what she does with her head signaling.
The outer movement of head-nodding or -shaking and the inner process of thinking are usually associated together in a body-mind pattern of agreement in everyday life. Here Erickson separates or dissociates them, so they now have a significance that is the reverse of each other. By having her head signal the reverse of what she obviously knows to be true, Erickson establishes a reverse set within her. She develops a set to think the reverse of what her head signals. The critical point comes when he has Ruth shake her head No to indicate she is not in trance; but the reverse set that has been activated within her reverses this so she must think, "I am in trance." Erickson thus arranges what she actually thinks by utilizing a mental mechanism (the reverse set) within her own mind.
This example is the clearest, verbatim illustration of the evocation and precise utilization of a mental mechanism for trance induction that the junior author is aware of. It has been analyzed in this section in almost painful detail because it is so subtle a process that it can easily be lost or misunderstood. Difficult though it may be to grasp initially, we believe this process of activating and utilizing mental mechanisms is actually the essence of the hypnotherapeutic process. Erickson's 1948 paper "Hypnotic Psychotherapy" contains his original formulations of this approach of utilizing—rather than simply analyzing—mental mechanisms.
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These techniques will work for stage hypnosis or hypnotherapy, however, they are taught here for information purposes only. After reading this book you will have the knowledge and ability necessary to hypnotise people, but please do not practice hypnosis without first undergoing more intensive study.