Just How Real Is Hypnosis, Anyway? - Part I

From: L. Michael Hall
Meta Reflections – 2010 – #14
March 29, 2010

You may have notice a little comment that I tucked away in the last Meta Reflection, many did. And quite a few wrote and asked me about it. What did I really mean by the comment that “too many people think that hypnosis is real”? How come you don’t refer often to Milton Erickson since he was a key contributor to NLP? The one I liked best was: What does your unconscious mind think about hypnosis? :)

First a little historical trip down memory lane. At the beginning, NLP did not begin with Erickson, but Perls and Satir and as the co-founders attempted to model “the magic” that they were doing with their words in terms of effecting tremendous transformation in the lives of people. And they began their modeling by using two models from Cognitive Psychology. Did you know that? That, by the way, is why and how NLP is a Cognitive Psychology Model.

First they used Noam Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar (TG). Actually, Mr. G. was looking for some way to popularize his understanding of TG. Just two years prior to “The Meta-Model of Language in Therapy” (today simply referred to as the Meta-Model) Mr. G. wrote with Suzette Haden Guide to Transformational Grammar: History, Theory, Practice.1 Read that book and discover for yourself that in it are nearly all of the distinctions in the Meta-Model. So when John met Richard who was mimicking Perls and Satir, he found a great context for using and promoting TG.

The second source of NLP in Cognitive Psychology was the extensive use of George Miller’s Plan and Structure of Behavior (1960) which is where B. & G. got the TOTE model. And both of these men, George Miller and Noam Chomsky are credited with founding the Cognitive Psychology Movement in 1956. From modeling how the original magicians did their magic came the two volumes of The Structure of Magic (1975, 1976).

It was only after these original formulations of the NLP Model that Bateson pointed B.&G. to Erickson as someone they should meet. And from this came the next two books, the two volumes of Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson (1976, 1977). Now at first Mr. B. said that “everything is hypnosis” and Mr. G. said that “nothing is hypnosis.” And they were both right.

So what is hypnosis and is it real? Hypnosis is simply a state of mind— a highly focused state of mind. That’s why it is actually an everyday occurrence for everybody. Hypnosis is also an altered state, again, something that we all experience everyday. That’s why a trance state of hypnosis occurs when we drive on the highway, step into an elevator, wait for a traffic light, find a seat in a movie theater, etc.

Now for the tricky question, Is it real? Ah, “real!” Do you mean that it can be quantified by the same science that has brought us most of the technological marvels of the Industrial and Information Ages? Then no, it is not real. We can’t even prove the existence of the “mind” by quantitative science let alone a focused or altered mind. Do you mean that the hypnotic state is a subjective phenomenon that you and I can experience and learn how to experience more fully to obtain various results? Then yes, it is real in that way.

But NLP is not hypnosis. NLP modeled hypnotic processes, language patterns, and numerous hypnotic states for healing, psychotherapy, wellness, sports excellence, and the genius state of flow. NLP as a Communication Model has used, and continues to use, various hypnotic linguistic and non-linguistic patterns. All of the 77 NLP Patterns that I put in The Sourcebook of Magic Volume I are essentially hypnotic processes, so are the 143 Meta-State patterns in Volume II.

Hypnosis mostly works by words, by language. Yes, there is pacing and leading using breath and movements and posture. Yet the most powerful hypnotic tool that you can learn and use lies in language. Now by words you can do all kinds of magical things. By words you can invite people on various kinds of inner journeys and that is the power of “hypnotic language patterns.”

We can use words that carry ourselves and others away to wild and wonderful places— places of enchantment, places of excitement, possibility, wonder, value, meaning, and sadly, we can also take people to places of mediocrity, boredom, skepticism, irritation, anger, depression. We can induce all kinds of hypnotic states.

Yet none of these things or places are real— you can’t call up your favorite travel agency and book a ticket on United or Lufthansa or Virgin or Singapore Air. Nor is there a train going there or a Cruise ship. Instead, they are entities of the mind— “the communication world” (to use Gregory Bateson’s terminology).

While it is not externally real, hypnosis does describe the very real subjective states that can enhance or diminish our lives. In fact, given all of the unresourceful and sabotaging states we humans create and live in, this is why de-hypnotizing is ever bit as important as hypnotizing (probably more so). After all, it is by certain words and linguistic expressions that so many people today are living out various post-hypnotic suggestions that they heard or invented in childhood which is making their lives living hells: “You’ll never amount to anything!” “What’s wrong with you? You must be stupid or something!” “You don’t deserve to succeed!”

How real is hypnosis? Empirically, not real at all. It doesn’t exist. Subjectively, it is one description, one model, one theory, one way to map out how our minds-emotions work. It is not a panacea; it can’t do everything. It is just a way of talking about our states and meta-states. And when you know that, you know about the power of meta-trance which also isn’t real, but can be a powerful tool for actualizing your highest and best.


1Grinder, John T.; Elgin, Suzette Haden. (1973). Guide to transformational grammar: History, theory, practice. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. “We had intended to call this book The Demystification of Transformational Grammar.” (p. xi)


L.  Michael Hall, Ph.D.

(ISNS) International Society of Neuro-Semantics
The International Meta-Coach System

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Clifton, CO.  81520 USA







2010 L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. All rights reserved.