Hypnosis refers to the trance state itself and hypnotism refers to the act of inducing this state. The two main terms for the people who use hypnotism are the hypnotist who is someone who induces the state of hypnosis, and the hypnotherapist who induces hypnosis to treat physical or mental illnesses in a patient.
The term itself is derived from the Greek word hypnos, meaning sleep, it is a social interaction in which one person responds to suggestions given by another person while in a trance like state and that can promote accelerated human change within that person. While under the effects of hypnosis we can create desired changes in behaviour and attitude on a subconscious level that manifest themselves on the conscious state.
Science has yet to fully explain how it actually works and what exactly happens to a person while in this state, the main reason for this is the human mind and its complexities, scientists have yet to figure out how the brain functions, there is knowledge and study on this subject and how the conscious and subconscious fit in the picture, but a lot is theory and speculation, the higher functions and capabilities of the brain are still a mystery and may be for a long time to come. The humanity, consciousness or essence of a person cannot be determined by science and therefore how and why certain things affect the brain is not understood.
There are without doubt large individual differences in people and therefore in the response to hypnosis, the responses and effects on a person have more to do with the individual's aptitude towards the experience rather than the technique of the hypnotist. Most people are susceptible to hypnotism and only a small number of people cannot be hypnotised at all. The talent of the hypnotist really lies within the person who is being hypnotized and their state of mind at the time.
What we term as modern hypnotism began with Franz Anton Mesmer an Austrian physician, he believed hypnosis to be a mystical force flowing from the hypnotist into the subject and theorized that disease was caused by imbalances of this force, he called it animal magnetism his theory was of course discredited. The term mesmerism results from his name and today carries the intonation of showmanship rather than science, James Braid a 19th-century Scottish surgeon is credited with originating the terms hypnotism and hypnosis. Braid and other scientists of the time theorized that hypnosis was not a force inflicted by the hypnotist but a combination of psychologically mediated responses to the suggestions given to the subject while in the relaxed state.
When a typical hypnosis session begins it does so with what is termed an induction procedure, the person is asked to focus their eyes on a fixed or fixation point (this could be a point on the wall, a coin or even the old swinging pocket watch), they are told to relax, and concentrate on the voice of the hypnotist. Once relaxed the next step is to deepen the relaxation and focus usually incorporating eye closure to enhance the state, suggestions are offered to stimulate the imaginative process, such as the heavy limb feeling or raising of the arms as if weightless, all of these techniques help the person to experience the hypnotic condition. This is by no means the only way to induce hypnosis; there are quicker and more active ways. When hypnotized, people feel uninhibited and relaxed and are highly receptive to the suggestions of the hypnotist and what they are saying, contrary to popular belief the hypnotist cannot get the subject to do anything they do not want to do or that goes against a deep moral belief, but as we do not understand the subconscious mind fully there may be different views on this matter. The person is in a highly suggestible state so many things that the conscious mind would protest against might be produced from the subconscious (acting like a chicken on stage or believing they are being chased etc). Once the subconscious has been accessed verbal and visual suggestions can become quite real to the subject and have an impacting effect. Post hypnotic suggestions may also be given to the person to allow responses to occur after the hypnosis state has been terminated, these could include posthypnotic amnesia, so the person has no conscious memory of the events and experiences that took place during hypnosis or a physical reaction to something seen or experienced, such as a feeling of nausea if smelling tobacco, it may also include a quick return to the hypnotic state at a touch or suggestion from the hypnotist even after the person is no longer in an hypnotic state. Post hypnotic suggestions can last for a long time and in some cases many years.
The hypnotist serves as coach or tutor to help the person become hypnotized, this actually means that a person hypnotizes themselves, in a way most people while awake fall into a hypnotic state every day, if you consider day dreaming or staring into space, these are a form of the hypnotic trance and it is common for all of us to do this quite regularly. Waking hypnosis is what this action is called and is quite often described as tuning out or the common phrase "I was miles away" even you must have experienced this an countless occasions.
Hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself or herself without the assistance of another person is self-hypnosis or autosuggestion, this can be helpful for people who wish to diet or stop smoking or even overcome phobias, there are many different ways to induce self hypnosis ranging from simple concentration methods to use of music and machines. It is a skill that can be improved with practice and help and may produce very good results.
The Hypnotic Eyes
Scientific experimentation on hypnosis has proven that the individual in the hypnotic state is very much awake and the brain patterns that occur prove this, this obviously shattered the myth that you are asleep while under hypnosis, it is more likely from the brain waves produced that you are both hypersensitive and hyperactive while in a trance (that is to say that your brain is and therefore your sensory systems), this makes the suggestions given to the subconscious mind very real.
Hypnotism has also been used for regression therapy where the person is regressed back in time through their subconscious memories and even to another life many years in the past, there is no scientific proof that this real or that it is a factual representation of a previous existence, the subconscious can in traumatic situations form new and very real false memories of things that never actually happened to the person, this could because of a trauma or other situation that the mind does not want to remember but fills in the gap with a new memory.
The mind is without doubt a very powerful thing and we actually know so little about it, we may never know why or how things like hypnosis work or why the mind can be so suggestible in these states but we do know that a suggestion can be as powerful and as real as slap in the face so we must always be a little wary of what our minds are doing.