The Instant Handshake Induction

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The Handshake Induction is one of the instantly recognisable images of hypnosis that we have become accustomed to seeing. It seems to be a favourite with magicians and Hollywood producers alike, the notion of someone having almost supernatural powers to control other human beings is too much to resist.

Although the Handshake Induction is quite tricky to master, it undoubtedly works, and is a very powerful tool in the hypnotists toolkit. The key to success is having the persona of a very confident and skilful hypnotist (to yourself if no one else), and to an extent picking the right person to use it on (for some reason, for example, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorders are very susceptible to the technique).

You really need to hone your "ordinary" hypnotic skills prior to trying this, and then to make sure that you know the handshake technique inside out and also, perhaps, test it out on a few willing volunteers prior to trying it on someone unsuspecting.

I can think of no better way to explain the technique than to use the description and thinking of the great Milton Erickson himself. He did after all devise the method originally.

The following is taken from Ericksons own writings:

The Handshake Induction:

"Initiation: When I begin by shaking hands, I do so normally. The "hypnotic touch" then begins when I let loose. The letting loose becomes transformed from a firm grip into a gentle touch by the thumb, a lingering drawing away of the little finger, a faint brushing of the subject's hand with the middle finger - just enough vague sensation to attract the attention. As the subject gives attention to the touch of your thumb, you shift to a touch with your little finger. As your subject's attention follows that, you shift to a touch with your middle finger and then again to the thumb.

This arousal of attention is merely an arousal without constituting a stimulus for a response.

The subject's withdrawal from the handshake is arrested by this attention arousal, which establishes a waiting set, and expectancy.

Then almost, but not quite simultaneously (to ensure separate neural recognition), you touch the undersurface of the hand (wrist) so gently that it barely suggests an upward push. This is followed by a similar utterly slight downward touch, and then I sever contact so gently that the subject does not know exactly when - and the subject's hand is left going neither up nor down, but cataleptic. Sometimes I give a lateral and medial touch so that the hand is even more rigidly cataleptic.

Termination: If you don't want your subject to know what you are doing, you simply distract their attention, usually by some appropriate remark, and casually terminate. Sometimes they remark, "What did you say? I got absentminded there for moment and wasn't paying attention to anything." This is slightly distressing to the subjects and indicative of the fact that their attention was so focused and fixated on the peculiar hand stimuli that they were momentarily entranced so they did not hear what was said.

Utilization: Any utilization leads to increasing trance depth. All utilization should proceed as a continuation of extension of the initial procedure. Much can be done non-verbally; for example, if any subjects are just looking blankly at me, I may slowly shift my gaze downward, causing them to look at their hand, which I touch and say "look at this spot." This intensifies the trance state. Then, whether the subjects are looking at you or at their hand or just staring blankly, you can use your left hand to touch their elevated right hand from above or the side - so long as you merely give the suggestion of downward movement. Occasionally a downward nudge or push is required. If a strong push or nudge is required, check for anaesthesia.

There are several colleagues who won't shake hands with me unless I reassure them first, because they developed a profound glove anaesthesia when I used this procedure on them. I shook hands with them, looked them in the eyes, slowly yet rapidly immobilized my facial expression, and then focused my eyes on a spot far behind them. I then slowly and imperceptibly removed my hand from theirs and slowly moved to one side out of their direct line of vision. I have had it described variously, but the following is one of the most graphic. "I had heard about you and I wanted to meet you and you looked so interested and you shook hands so warmly. All of a sudden my arm was gone and your face changed and got so far away. Then the left side of your face, until that slowly vanished also." At that moment the subject's eyes were fixed straight ahead, so that when I moved to the left out to his line of vision, the left side of my face "disappeared" first and then the right side also. "Your face slowly came back, you came close and smiled and said you would like to use me Saturday afternoon. Then I noticed my hand and asked you about it because I couldn't feel my whole arm... you just said to keep it that way just a little while for the experience."

You give the elevated right hand (now cataleptic in the handshake position) the suggestion of a downward movement with a light touch. At the same time, with your other hand, you give a gentle touch indicating an upward movement for the subject's left hand. Then you have his left hand lifting, right hand lowering. When right hand reaches the lap, it will stop. The upward course of the left hand may stop or it may continue. I am likely to give it another touch and direct it toward the face so that some part will touch one eye. That effects eye closure and is very effective in inducing a deep trance without a single word having been spoken.

There are other nonverbal suggestions. for example, what if my subject makes no response to my efforts with his right hand and the situation looks hopeless? If he is not looking at my face, my slow, gentle out-of-keeping-with-the-situation movements (remember: out-of-keeping) compel him to look at my face. I freeze my expression, refocus my gaze, and by slow head movements direct his gaze to his left hand, toward which my right hand is slowly, apparently purposelessly moving. As my right hand touches his left with a slight, gentle, upward movement, my left hand with very gentle firmness, just barely enough, presses down on his right hand for a moment until it moves. Thus, I confirm and reaffirm the downward movement of his right hand, a suggestion he accepts along with the tactile suggestion of left hand levitation. This upward movement is augmented by the fact that he has been breathing in time with me and that my right hand gives his left hand that upward touch at the moment when he is beginning an inspiration. This is further reinforced by whatever peripheral vision he has that notes the upward movement of my body as I inhale and as I slowly lift my body and head up and backward, when I give his left hand that upward touch."

This description of the Handshake induction should hopefully illustrate the need to practise the technique and to know it thoroughly in order to be able to perform it correctly.

It is easy to imagine that it is simply a matter of shaking hands in a "special" way, but the handshake itself is only the vehicle used to propel the subjects attention inwards and into a trance like state.

There is a great deal of skill involved to use such a bold method to induce a trance, and it involves being fully aware & in control of not only your own actions, non verbal gestures, and movement, but also of your subjects too.

This interruption of a normal pattern of events stuns the subject monetarily and provides the opportunity to focus their attention inwards whilst they struggle to understand and come to terms with what is happening. This momentary lapse provides the opportunity to offer suggestions leading to trance, whether they are verbal or non verbal in nature. These techniques are also known as "Pattern Interrupts" (see "hypnosis & Mind Control" for a demonstration and example).

You will probably also find the following useful in understanding the Handshake Induction:

Exercises in Nonverbal Approaches:

The following are excerpts from Erickson M.H., Rossi E. & Rossi S., "Hypnotic Realities : The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion", pg.111.

"The keys to learning nonverbal approaches to trance induction are observation, patience, and learning one step at a time. One can begin learning the handshake induction by developing a habit of carefully observing a person's eyes and face as you are shaking hands with them in a normal way.

The next stage might be to practice releasing the hand a bit slower than usual. Then learn how to definitely hesitate in releasing the hand, carefully watching the subject's face to "read" the nonverbal responses (e.g. confusion, expectancy) to your hesitation.

As your experience develops, even at this level you will begin to recognize who may be a good subject by the degree receptivity to your hesitation. The subject who "stays with you" and allows you to set the pace of the handshake is evidently more sensitive and responsive than the person who rushes off.

The next step might be only to release the hand halfway, so the subject is momentarily confused. You can then practice letting go of the rest of the hand so gently that the subject does not recognize when the release took place, the hand remaining momentarily suspended in midair. You can sometimes heighten this effect by speaking very softly so the subject's attention is further divided."

Some other points taken from Hypnotic Realities in order to practice the handshake induction are:

a) Develop a habit of carefully observing the subject's eye and face as you shake hands;

b) Practice releasing the hand a bit slower than normal, leading up to hesitating on the hand release, as you observe your subject's non-verbal facial expressions to your hesitation;

c) A subject who "stays with you" and allows you to set the pace is considered a better candidate for this induction;

d) At this point practice releasing the hand only half way to provide for and notice signs of confusion;

e) Then practice releasing the hand so gently that the subject's hand remains suspended not realizing that a release took place (this can be enhanced by speaking very softly to your subject at the same time).

f) This final stage is learning to add directing touches as stimuli for catalepsy and/or hand levitation.

Steven Gilligan, in his book "Therapeutic Trances" has broken down the handshake induction into five steps and makes it more easily understandable:

1) Creating Contact and Expectancy - here the hypnotist absorbs the subject's attention while moving into position. This is done by showing a genuine desire to greet the person.

2) Initiating the Pattern - at this point you move towards the person as you stretch out your hand, indicating the desired greeting, which prompts the subject to automatically extend his hand. At this time, you continue to look into your subject's eyes and maintain his attention by maintaining verbal communication.

3) Interrupting the Pattern - occurs when the hypnotist is about four feet away from the subject. At this point, the hypnotist - still walking forward with right hand outstretched - suddenly but gracefully accelerates to lift his or her left hand under the subject's outstretched hand. Continuing with one graceful motion, the hypnotist uses his or her thumb and index finger to lift the subject's hand to about shoulder level. This lifting should be done with minimal pressure and graceful gentleness, so the subject does not feel intruded upon or dominated. The hypnotist merely guides the already lifting hand of the subject; this is done rather quickly, so that the element of surprise is present.

During this time the hypnotist's right hand (which has continued to lift, albeit at a slower rate than the left hand) rises to about the subject's eye level and points toward the subject's face (a good distraction and interruption technique); then quickly, in conjunction with the whole body, it swings around to point at the subject's now lifted right hand. The hypnotist, who has been looking at the subject in a surprised, intense, and absorbing fashion, now gazes with incredulity at the raised right hand of the subject. This typically will deeply disorient and surprise the subject to effect a rapid dissociation, evidenced by a lightness in the lifted right hand, a "frozen" look and posture, dilated pupils, restricted breathing, and so forth.

4) Amplifying the confusion - instruct the subject in a meaningful tone, pay very close attention to all of the coloration changes beginning to occur in the fingers of your lifted hand. This statement, which sounds perfectly logical but is, to say the least, rather unusual, usually further disorients the subject while fixating attention on the hand. Because the disorientation will enhance both a willingness to follow simple directives and an ability to develop perceptual alterations, subjects will often begin to actually perceive coloration changes. These hypnotic developments can be facilitated by touching the fingertips of the lifted hand very lightly, which should produce tingling sensations, whilst simultaneously naming the touched digits.

5) Utilizing the confusion - the hypnotist continues to accelerate the finger touches, and as he speaks he can intersperse trance developing suggestions such as "dropping down deeper now". This is all done while holding the client's hand up with your own left hand. At any time the hypnotist can begin to lower his own left hand which often leaves the subject cataleptic. If catalepsy isn't yet ratified simply lift up lightly again.

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