How to assess hypnotic trance depth?

Hypnotic trance depth can easily be conceptualized by comparing the trance state to a swimming pool. There are people who enjoy swimming only on surface of the water; others like to swim under water anywhere between the surface and the bottom of the pool. The persons who swim on the surface are shallow subjects. Those who swim between the surface and bottom are anywhere from medium to deep hypnotizable subjects. Generally the deeper a subject is in hypnosis, the more quickly he is likely to accept post-hypnotic suggestions; also he would tend to exhibit more and more hypnotic phenomena measured by various tests1.

n this post you would find comprehensive instructions and suggestions for assessing trance depth of a person after delivery of instructions for hypnotic induction. We are routinely using trance depth assessment through Aron’s Master Depth Rule. You may conduct your observations for your convenient methods which could be elaborated in this post or you could devise your own based upon the understanding you would gain.

  1. After deepeners, the depth of trance need be tested.

  2. The persons who have high hypnotizability are called as ‘highs’ and the persons with low hypnotizability are called as ‘lows’.

  3. Highs enter the deepest level of hypnotic trance and lows may even fail to enter the light state of hypnotic trance.

  4. Majority of persons would attain medium trance level.

  5. The trance depth of every subject should be tested as a routine.

  6. It takes about 5-10 minutes to gauge trance depth of an individual.

  7. Assessment of trance depth may be skipped for analytical subjects.

  8. Assessment of trance depth provides objective evidence to the subject and the hypnotist that the subject was under hypnosis. It convinces both and facilitates healing work.

  9. It must be remembered that while tests are performed all the induced phenomena should be reversed. If there is any failure in reversal of induced phenomena, it may persist after trance termination and cause problems to the subject.

  10. There are many scales for assessment of trance depth; but in routine practice Arons Master Depth Rule is applied.

  11. The assessment through Arons Depth Scale proceeds from Level-I to Level-VI. If a subject fails at any level; you may discontinue with the test for higher levels. However, it may be possible in few cases that a subject failed at lower level but passed the higher level.

  12. It is a myth that deeper level of trance is essential for healing under hypnosis. Even light state of hypnosis can be used for healing.

  13. The tests in Arons Master Depth Rule are objective.

  14. Before applying objective tests of Arons scale; one can do covert testing. In covert test, a subject does not become aware that he is being tested for trance state.

Trance depth is inferred based on various subjective, behavioral and physiological changes in the subject. James Braid identified following levels of trance depth – ‘sub-hypnotic’ ‘full hypnotic’ and ‘hypnotic coma’2. Jean-Martin Charcot after extensive experiments on hypnosis identified three levels of hypnotic trance which he labeled as Lethargy, Catalepsy and Somnambulism2. In early 20th Century, more sophisticated and comprehensive ‘hypnotic susceptibility’ scales were developed. Several of them are listed in this chapter and salient details are provided for some scales. For clinical purposes it is recommended that Arons Master Depth Rule may be applied routinely on every patient. For research purposes, the scale most suitable to the purpose of the research may be used. The trance depth is usually labeled as Hypnoidal, Light, Medium, Deep or Somnambulistic, an even deeper trance is termed as Plenary, Coma or Esdaile.

Covert Testing: In covert testing, tests of hypnotizability are conducted without a subject becoming aware of that he is being tested. Covert tests are used so that failure of the test does not reduce the confidence level in the client because reducing the level of confidence reduces suggestibility. Asking a subject to count backward from 100 with a suggestion that numbers are fading away and when the numbers fade away his left hand index finger would be raised, is an example of a covert test.

Overt Testing: In overt testing a series of explicit tests of hypnotizability are conducted to know whether an individual has entered a hypnotic trance and also to map the depth of his hypnotic trance. Hand clasp, arm levitation are the examples of overt test.

Hypnotic Convincers: The meaning of a convincer is, to bring by the use of argument or evidence to firm belief or a course of action. The hypnotic convincers are used to provide an evidence of trance to a hypnotized subject so that he becomes convinced about the occurrence of trance in him. A convincer facilitates trance deepening and it leads a client to conviction which is an important factor in attaining therapeutic results. A convincer is usually a test used to demonstrate to a client that he is hypnotized.  Convincers are tests that the hypnotist expects the subject to pass because he has already been tested for a deeper state of hypnosis, or has exhibited hypnotic phenomena associated with a deeper level of hypnosis. If a subject has attained a somnambulistic trance state, it is very likely that he would pass tests and exhibit phenomena of lighter state of hypnosis. For a person in medium trance, Eye catalepsy, arm catalepsy tests would serve as good convincers. The convincers convince a subject that he is in a trance state; and his focus of attention turns inward and probability of bypassing the critical factor increases. Hypnotic convincers also serve following purposes: they enhances acceptance of hypnotist’s suggestions; create a mental set of success, would facilitate removal of many myths of the subject, would set the ground for serious therapeutic work and compliance on the part of the subject. It is recommended that these tests be performed after trance induction and before therapeutic utilization of the trance in order to build conviction in the subject.

Arons Master Depth Rule3: In Arons Master Depth Rule, the first four levels – hypnoidal, light trance, medium trance and profound trance, are termed as Mnesic or memory retaining levels. The last two levels – Somnambulism and Profound Somnambulism, are termed as Amnesic Levels as the subject emerges from the trance with spontaneous amnesia. He does not remember what happened with him in the trance state. About 20% subjects attain only first two levels – hypnoidal and light trance; 60% people enter up to 3rd and 4th levels – medium trance and profound trance; and approximately 20% subjects can go deeper into 5th and 6th levels – Somnambulism and Profound Somnambulism.

Trance Levels Observed Phenomena
01: Hypnoidal Lethargy, relaxation, eye catalepsy
02: Light Trance Arm catalepsy, catalepsy of isolated muscle groups, heavy or floating feeling
03: Medium Trance Complete muscular control, smell and taste changes, number block (aphasia), partial amnesia
04: Profound Trance Post hypnotic suggestion, glove anesthesia, amnesia through strong direct suggestion, pseudo-age regression, analgesia, automatic movements, automatic writing, positive olfactory and gustatory hallucinations, name or address Block
05: Somnambulism Post-hypnotic amnesia without suggestion, anesthesia, positive hallucinations of all sensory modality, Age regression, bizarre post hypnotic suggestions
06: Profound Somnambulism Anesthesia (no feeling), negative hallucinations, plenary or comatose, trance via suggestion.

Guidelines for Arons Master Depth Rule:

  1. It is recommended that Arons Master Depth Rule be applied routinely on each and every patient especially when hypnotized for the first time.
  2. It takes about 5-10 minutes even lesser in some cases to complete the rule
  3. One may discontinue application of the rule on failure at one level. However, in the beginning it is recommended to apply the complete rule. In some cases it may be observed that a subject failed on a lower level but successfully completes the higher level of trance. The divisions of hypnotic trance are arbitrary.
  4. Always remember to reverse the instructions at each level without fail.
  5. Remain confident and comfortable while applying the rule.
  6. Remember that there are individual differences in hypnotic susceptibility. Majority of the subjects would be performing at any level below the 6th one.
  7. Appropriate therapeutic work can be done even at Level -1 and Level-2. It is not necessary that each and every subject should enter the deep trance for psychotherapeutic applications.
  8. It is not essential to conduct tests for each and every phenomenon on a depth level. In clinical practice, it should be suffice to conduct only one test for each level.

Level 01- Hypnoidal:

Test of Eye Catalepsy: In the context of hypnosis catalepsy refers to the state of inducing rigidity in body parts of hypnotized subject. Eye Catalepsy refers to an inability to use eyelid muscles through suggestions. Also called as eye lock phenomena.

Suggestions: Your eyes are closed tightly… it is not possible for you to open your eyes … the harder you try… the more tightly they are closed … you can see it by trying … they will remain tightly closed ….(allow the subject to try it only for about five seconds)

Removal: Now relax and forget about your eyes…your eyes have restored to their normal functions…. Go deeper and deeper into sleep… Good

Note: If a subject opens his eyes take it as natural, he may either be an analytical subject or need another attempt for trance induction. Upon opening the eyes, tell him to close his eyes and give relaxation instructions suitable for critical subjects.

Level 02 – Light Trance:

Test of Arm Levitation and Arm Catalepsy: Levitation is the phenomenon of a person or thing rising into the air without any physical object as the medium to rise. In arm levitation, any or both arm of the subject is raised only through suggestions without any deliberate efforts on the part of the subject. In arm catalepsy, rigidity in arms is induced via suggestions or actions of the hypnotist.

Suggestions: your left arm is loose and light…. I am going to count 1-5… with every count … your arm is going to lift up towards ceiling … one ….. two … three … four….. five….. Good! … Now your arm is locked … it is stiff like a steel rod …. If you try to move your arm …. It becomes stiffer … you can see it by trying …. It will remain stiff … ….(allow the subject to try it only for about five seconds)”

Removal: Now relax and forget about your arm…your arm has restored to its normal functions…. it is unlocked and stiffness has gone away …the arm is falling back to the resting and normal state…. Go deeper and deeper into sleep… Good

Note: A subject may not be able to raise his arm because of deep relaxation and lethargy …. Non-lifting of arm should not be taken as an indication of no-trance. One should move to next level of assessment.

Level 03 – Medium Trance:

Test of Number Block or Alphabet Block: A subject will not be able to recall a digit or an alphabet in response to the suggestions.

Test-1 Number Block: go deeper and deeper into sleep …. In a few moment, I am going to ask you to count numbers from 1-10… while you count, you are going to forget the number that comes between five and seven ….if you could understand … you can either node or raise index finger of your left hand ….O.K … go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deeper (repeat the suggestion if necessary, after getting confirmation, and having eyes closed of the subject, ask to count numbers from 1-10)

Removal: go deeper and deeper into sleep …. now you remember all the numbers as usual …including the number that comes between five to seven… go deeper and deeper ….

Test-2 Alphabet Block: go still deeper … in a few moment, I am going to ask you to recite alphabets … while you recite, you are going to forget the alphabet that comes between F and H …. if you could understand … you can either node or raise index finger of your left hand ….O.K … go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deeper (repeat the suggestion if necessary, after getting confirmation, and having eyes closed of the subject, ask to recite alphabets).

Removal: go deeper and deeper into sleep …. now you remember all the alphabets as usual …including the alphabet that comes between F and H … go deeper and deeper ….

Level 04 – Profound Trance:

Name Block: A subject forgets the first, middle or last name as per the suggestions.

Suggestions: go deeper and deeper into sleep ….. in a few moment, I am going to ask you to tell me your first name, middle name and last name …. while you tell me your name … you are going to forget your last name …. if you could understand … you can either node or raise index finger of your left hand ….O.K … go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deeper (repeat the suggestion if necessary, after getting confirmation, and having eyes closed of the subject, ask to tell his first name, middle name and last name)

Removal: go deeper and deeper into sleep …. now you remember your first name, middle name and last name as usual … … go deeper and deeper ….

Address Block: A subject forgets any part of his address as per the suggestions.

Suggestions: Go deeper and deeper into sleep ….. in a few moment, I am going to ask you to tell me your name, father’s name, and full address …. while you tell me … you are going to forget your father’s name …. if you could understand … you can either node or raise index finger of your left hand ….O.K … go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deeper (repeat the suggestion if necessary, after getting confirmation, and having eyes closed of the subject, ask to tell his name, father’s name and full address)

Removal: go deeper and deeper into sleep …. now you remember your name, your father’s name and full address as usual … … go deeper and deeper ….

Level 05 – Somnambulism:

Test of Positive Hallucination: In positive hallucinations, a subject perceives an absent object.

Positive Visual Hallucination: go deeper and deeper into sleep … in a few moments; I am going to ask you to open your eyes ….. you will remain deeply asleep while your eyes are open … you would be looking at my hands …. I am holding a beautiful teddy bear…. you are going to see it very clearly … when you see the teddy bear … you would describe in detail…. if you could understand … you can either node or raise index finger of your left hand ….O.K … go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deeper (repeat the suggestion if necessary, after getting confirmation, ask the subject to open his eyes, and describe in detail what is there in your hands)

Removal: Formal removal is not necessary … just ask the subject to close his eyes … and drift deeper into sleep.

Positive Auditory Hallucination: go deeper and deeper into sleep … while you were entering into the deep sleep … one of my friends has entered the room …. He wants to ask you your name and address …. When you listen to his voice … just answer him the questions he asks … now I am handing over you to him … he is asking you the questions ….

Removal: Formal removal is not necessary … just tell the subject to drift deeper and deeper into sleep.

Level 06 – Profound Somnambulism:

Tests of Negative Hallucination: In negative hallucination, a subject fails to perceive an object which is present in response to the suggestions.

Negative Visual Hallucination: go deeper and deeper into sleep… still more deep… continue to drift deeper and deeper…. In a few moment, I am going to ask you to open your eyes ….. while you open your eyes … you will remain deeply asleep … there would be no changes in your level of sleep … I will ask you to tell me what I am holding in my hands …. you would see my hands empty if you could understand …. either confirm by nodding or raising your left hand index finger ….. go deeper and deeper into sleep … still more deeper …(after getting confirmation, hold any object in your hands, ask the subject to open his eyes and tell what is there in your hands …).

Removal: Formal removal is not necessary … just tell the subject to drift deeper and deeper into sleep.

POST HYPNOTIC SUGGESTIONS

A post hypnotic suggestion is given to a subject in the trance state, when the subject comes out of trance, he tends to execute the suggestion in response to a predetermined cue. At least Level-04 trance is required for successful execution of a posthypnotic suggestion. At Level-05 and Level-06 even bizarre posthypnotic suggestions can be executed. Before giving, a posthypnotic suggestion, an assessment of the trance depth is carried out through Arons Master Depth Rule (or any other scale). If trance is at profound level (level-04) non-bizarre posthypnotic suggestion is given. If trance is somnambulistic or profound somnambulism then a bizarre posthypnotic suggestion can be given. However, professional and high ethical standards must be maintained for suggesting a posthypnotic act. To implant, a posthypnotic suggestion a cue is identified and the subject is suggested a behavior which he would execute in response to the cue, he is suggested that he would forget that he was told to behave in such a manner in response to this cue, a confirmation through ideomotor signal is obtained. The subject is awakened after a few moments of giving posthypnotic suggestion; he is presented the cue and observed if he executes the suggested act. It may be remembered that a subject may retain memory of posthypnotic suggestion especially at Level-04 and may not execute the suggested act. A sample of posthypnotic suggestion is provided below:

  1. Go deeper and deeper into sleep….still more deep….after some time you would be coming out of sleep when I tell you to do so …. when you would be out of sleep …. I will show you my mobile phone …. as soon as you see my mobile phone … you would hand over your pen (or any belongings such as purse) to me ….. you are forgetting that I am telling you to do so …. If you understand … confirm by raising index finger of your left hand…Good! .. go deeper and deeper … (To test, awaken the subject, after a few seconds/minutes, show your mobile phone to the subject in a casual and indirect manner and watch for execution of the suggested act).

PLR in Mumbai Mrs. Shalini Verma MO: 09819284072

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