The Human Brain Uses Trance States All the Time — Why Not Use Them to Conquer Your Fears?

by Tony Burkinshaw

Do hypnotherapists really need to hypnotise you at all?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay



Lying on an old leather sofa in a victorian terrace in Derby, my first experience of hypnosis began typically enough:

“You’re relaxing even more deeply…with each breath in……letting all that tension go……as you breathe out……relaxing more…”



Until my over-active imagination joined in with…

“Get Down…Deeper…and…Down…”

And there I was, lying on a therapy couch with Status Quo strumming away in my head.

Instead of easing me into a deep trance, I was suppressing a giggle at the absurdity of this quiet mid-Atlantic voice spouting pop-rock lyrics from my youth.

It was even weirder because thirty seconds earlier he’d been chatting away in a broad Derbyshire accent. Apparently, a good hypno-trance needed a change of accent.

Needless to say, my subconscious resisted all attempts at reprogramming and my smoking habit stayed resolutely intact. I joined the ranks of the hypno-sceptics & took some pride in knowing I had an impenetrable mind.

That was way back in 1985.

Times change.

35 years later, after being made redundant in my fifties, I’m far less sceptical. So much so, I now run a hypnotherapy practice in Harley Street.

Even so, I’m still not a fan of deep trance and hypno voices.

In hypnotherapy, there’s a lot of emphasis on the depth of trance. These days, it’s fashionable to create a deep trance quickly. These ‘rapid inductions’ bring on a trance state pretty much instantly & are swiftly followed by ‘deepeners’ to, well, deepen the trance to a therapeutic level.

There’s something about deepeners that I find hard to take seriously. A ‘deepener’ is a form of words that encourages your mind to settle into a deep trance state.

For me, they always seem so obvious I find it difficult to believe people react so well to them. And that’s the thing. They do work. (To be fair, the one I’ve quoted above is a pretty obvious and literal version from the 1980s. These days most of them are far more subtle and skillful).

Let’s talk about trance

This is where the debate opens about how hypnotic trance is used in therapy. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to trance. Traditional hypnotherapy models use deliberately induced trance together with deepeners to put you into a deeply hypnotic state.

This deep trance gets your conscious mind, the seat of your critical faculties, out of the way. The hypnotherapist then uses overt or subtle therapeutic suggestions to re-programme your now highly suggestible subconscious. It’s been done for many, many years.

It works.

The problem is, ever since my Eighties hypnosis disappointment, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with induced trance. It always seems too contrived and detracts from someone’s ability to fix themselves. I’ve always been more comfortable in the role of coach rather than guru-cum-mind-mechanic.

Natural trance states

So here’s the other school of thought: the hypnotherapist leaves the trancework up to you. You see, you don’t actually need to be put under by a hypnotherapist. Trance states are an everyday aspect of being human.

Anytime you’re not fully present in the moment, you’re in some form of trance.

We daydream. We zone out.

Time speeds up when we’re having fun and slows down when we’re bored.

We forget where our keys are…and then can’t see them when they’re right in front of us.

We don’t hear our name being called when we’re engrossed in Twitter / Medium stories / Netflix, or simply lost in thought.

Unseen triggers control our behaviour:

That look from your boss makes you feel like you’re being told off by a teacher.

When that certain someone’s in the room, you giggle like a child or get tongue-tied & can’t speak.

And every time you think about presenting to those clients, you break into a sweat and your heart races.

These are all trance states. We do them every day.

Mostly they work well for us, helping us get through the day by showing us what’s important & letting us filter out what isn’t.

But sometimes they’re counter-productive. We suffer from stress, anxiety, phobias, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome and countless other symptoms & labels.

The point is, just by being human, you’re already a master of trance.

How does this help?

Because you already do trances for yourself, you can let therapy or coaching take centre stage instead of hypnosis. Your hypnotherapist, (or hypno-coach, if you like) can focus on helping you improve. Helping you fix yourself. Your mind brings whatever trance state works best for you.

By learning how to blur the lines between critical thinking and automatic ‘click-whirr’ responses, you engage with your unconscious mind using its own language.

Daniel Kahneman, (Nobel prize-winning psychologist), calls these two ways of thinking ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’.

System 1 is a lightning-fast, auto-pilot, rule-of-thumb process that’s excellent at getting you out of danger. Unfortunately, it’s useless at solving complex problems because it relies so much on quick and dirty assumptions.

System 2 is slow, deliberate, careful thinking. It’s great for problem-solving. It takes its time, analysing information and arriving at well thought out conclusions. Sadly it won’t keep you alive for long. It’s far too slow.

Consider this for a moment: conscious reality is a full half a second behind actual reality. You can’t consciously perceive anything until all the data’s been processed, filtered and assessed. Then your brain gives your mind the relevant edited highlights that we think of as ‘this instant’. Unfortunately, those edited highlights are already in the past.

This doesn’t matter at all unless there’s a threat. In which case we need to react instantly, not half a second later.

Half a second’s the difference between finding lunch and becoming lunch.

System 1 and System 2 are two entirely different mechanisms. It’d be like trying to use Twitter to write a Medium storyline. Or cooking a five course roast dinner for twelve in a single microwave oven.

Using System2 to edit System 1

However, if you could find a way to meld System 1 and System 2 thinking, you create the opportunity to reprogramme your own mind.

You could use slow, deliberate, analytical System 2 thinking to spot and amend errors in the quick & dirty assumptions your unconscious mind uses every day in System 1.

You could rewrite scary scenarios like fear of public speaking into empowering scenes full of enthralled listeners.

You could identify and change the emotional triggers your unconscious mind’s been using since childhood.

This is what trance states allow to happen. Trance states are when the boundary between conscious and unconscious thinking gets blurred. And when your mind brings the trance, you can be sure it’s the right one for the job in hand.

A word of caution.

Changing the triggers or the emotional & behavioural auto-responses doesn’t change the reality of an event. Speaking to a room full of important people is still a room full of important people. You can only use the skills & knowledge you currently have.

But it can make a massive difference to how you feel, to how you think, to the skillset you bring to bear. Using the full range of your public speaking skills gives a far better chance of success than using the full range of your fight or flight skills!

So rather than allowing your unconscious to throw you into an unwelcome negative state, you stay in control of your own internal narrative.

An empowering mindset set is often far better than a defensive one. Especially if the threat was a fiction created by your mind.

Doing it for yourself

Like any new skill, you can try to pick it up yourself. There are plenty of YouTube videos or mp3 or books out there on the internet.

Maybe you’d choose a professional to help you learn. If you’ve got a particular task in mind, like overcoming anxiety or boosting self-confidence or doing a presentation without quaking in your boots, then professional help makes all the difference. (Disclaimer: It’s what I do for a living!).

For now, simply consider the possibility that you’re already a master of your own hypnosis.

Notice the times you find yourself daydreaming, re-reading the same paragraph, arriving somewhere without really remembering how you got there.

Start spotting all those times you find yourself thinking or behaving or feeling in ways that aren’t pleasant or don’t help. Especially if you keep doing them even though you don’t want to.

These are all times you’re using your own powers of trance.

Once you realise that your mind does trance anyway, it makes learning how to engage with it and redirect it, much more of a possibility.

And the real advantage?

You’re learning to become your own hypnotherapist. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Hi, I'm making this website as a hobby that I'm hoping will grow into something that I can leave behind that'll benefit family and friends and anyone else who it touches. I find it very therapeutic and relaxing, and I hope I can help someone along the way. Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions.

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