One of the things a client says most often after coming out of hypnosis is: “I didn’t feel like I was hypnotised.” This usually makes me giggle. If you have never been hypnotised before, how would you know what it was supposed to feel like?

There are many misconceptions about hypnosis and this supposed “feeling” that everyone expects is certainly one of them. When I first see a client for hypnosis, I always ask if this is their first time or if they have been through the hypnotic process before. If they have been hypnotised before, I explore what that experience was like for them and what the results were. Whether it’s their first time or not, I always take some time to go through a presentation in which I explain the theory behind hypnosis, using the Freudian model. I explain the difference between the functions of the conscious mind and how it differs from how the subconscious mind operates.

As part of this pre-talk, I explain that hypnosis is a natural phenomenon which we have all experienced before, such as when driving long distance and losing track of time, as your mind wanders far away from your driving, which happens automatically, because you have been driving for many years. Or when you get so engrossed in a movie that you may find yourself crying, even though what you are watching is not real, only flickering images on a screen.

I take great care to explain that hypnosis is not a feeling, but a process of communication. Yes, you may feel deeply relaxed, perhaps relaxing deeper than you have ever relaxed before, but there is no one “feeling” that one can be associated with hypnosis. Perhaps you may experience many emotions or using your power of imagination, find yourself engrossed in the experience to such a degree that you tune out of other stimuli, such as outside sounds or noises, perhaps even forgetting for a few moments where you are.

And yet, when a new client opens their eyes after a first session, the comment usually is: “I didn’t feel that I was hypnotised.” I then ask how long the session felt. Nine times out of ten the answer is: “Oh, about ten or fifteen minutes.” I would then smile, point to the clock on the wall and tell them the actual duration of our session, which normally is about one hour! The dumfounded look on their face is one of my favourite moments of such a session.

I suppose the idea that hypnosis must “feel” a certain way comes from popular culture. How many movies have we seen where hypnosis is used as a way to control people? How many stage or television shows have we seen where people do the most ridiculous things when hypnotised? Is this where we get the idea that it must feel a certain way? As if, when you go into hypnosis, you are supposed blank out and have no idea what is happening, and then when you emerge, you are a completely different person?

Let me make it as clear as I can: Hypnosis is not a feeling. Hypnosis is a process of communication. If you were to judge it by the preconceived “feelings” you thought you were going to experience, you will be sadly disappointed.

It is my contention that you should not judge the success of hypnosis by what you feel during the time you were “under” (another word I really don’t like – under what?). You should judge hypnosis purely by the effect it has on you in the days, weeks and months after the session has ended. What I mean by this is the following: You came in as a smoker. You went through a process with me because you decided to stop smoking. In the days and weeks that followed the session, did you change the way you think about cigarettes? Did you start to experience smoking as something unhealthy that you want to avoid at all costs? Are you finding new habits with which to replace the old, smelly and stinking habit? Did you perhaps even completely forget to smoke?

Or let’s say you couldn’t stop thinking about an ex-partner, having repetative and obsessive thoughts about that person that you could not get rid of, even months after the break-up. After our session, did those thoughts slow down or even stop? Did you start focusing on something else, perhaps making space in your life for a new relationship?

There are many such examples I could mention, but I trust you are getting the drift of what I’m trying to say. Remember, you may need more than one session to solve the issue, especially if it is a deep-rooted problem that requires analytical hypnotherapy to get rid of it roots and all.

Like any skill, hypnosis takes time for a client to learn and use effectively. A first session with me is usually a training session to give them some idea of what to expect, filled with many direct suggestions to get the process of change going. I would teach them a variety of skills, such as how to communicate with me through finger movements and how to use their imagination to the fullest so as to facilitate subconscious learning. It is a known fact that every time you enter the hypnotic process, you will go deeper than the time before and the results will start being more profound.

So my advice to somebody going to a hypnotherapist for the first time is to keep an open mind. You will need to learn to trust the person who will be guiding you in this process of change, a process that has the potential to have far-reaching positive effects on many aspects of your life. You need to give the process a fair chance and be prepared to do the work required to get to your outcome. It’s not magic and it is not done to you, you must be a willing participant prepared to make the changes required.

When you experience that feeling of success, having achieved your aims and goals, then you will truly know that you indeed have been hypnotised!