This page exists for Derren to inform you about skills and areas of knowledge that are of interest to him, or relevant to his work. Here you can find suggestions for further reading and resources. Derren has written in more detail about some of these areas in his book Tricks Of The Mind, and will continue to add to this page as he finds material that he thinks may be of interest to you.
I began my career as a hypnotist after developing an interest in the craft as a student, and, as I had little interest in earning a living as a therapist or making grown men dance like ballerinas, have since looked for more creative ways to incorporate hypnosis (overt or covert) and forms of suggestion, in my work.
I neither believe that hypnosis is anything magical, not that it can be entirely dismissed as role-playing or fakery.
It seems to me that it is best understood as a process by which the subject allows herself to become highly responsive to the hypnotist, in a way similar to the responsiveness that we tend to exhibit when we go to a doctor or interact with most authority figures. We quickly adopt ideas given to us by these people at a level which is not necessarily conscious: hence a doctor’s words and attitude can lead to our recovery due at least in part to the placebo effect rather than the active ingredients in the prescribed drug itself, and we might find our tastes or thoughts regarding a subject affected by the opinions of an authority figure we respect in that area.
Likewise, it might be helpful to see the hypnotist as another authority figure, and a responsive subject as someone who has allowed herself to become very suggestible around him. It seems to me that there is a personality trait of responsiveness which, broadly speaking, we either have or don’t have when it comes to being hypnotised. It’s not a fixed trait, in that we may not respond well to hypnosis but become very ‘starry-eyed’ or suggestible in other situations or in certain company, but an individual’s responsiveness to hypnosis seems to be relatively reliable, and indeed can even be classified according to the Harvard Scale.
It’s one thing to test and see that a person is a ‘good subject’ for hypnosis, quite another to describe what is actually going on in her head during the process. Over the years there has been much debate and broadly two schools
emerged: those who believed it to be a ‘special state’ and those who saw it in terms of a kind of role-playing and compliant behaviour. For example, a person under hypnosis hallucinates an elephant in the room: a ‘state’ theorist
might say that something unique was happening in the brain of the subject to cause a ‘real’ hallucination, whereas someone in the ‘behaviour’ camp would say that the subject was merely playing along to please the hypnotist, and this would carry on even to the point of the subject insisting to the hypnotist it was real when asked afterwards whether they were playing along.
More recently there two sides have found common ground, and the grey area in the middle is being explored. The consensus, and certainly my own model, seems to be as follows: nothing can be done under hypnosis that a person cannot achieve when not hypnotised. When we are highly motivated, for example, we can sometimes do extraordinary things which we would find extremely hard, if not impossible, to carry off in a ‘normal’ state. I think here of a friend wanting to prove a point that you didn’t need to be hypnotised to eat a raw onion and enjoy it (a classic stage hypnosis stunt). He went to my fridge, and tucked into a raw onion with, as it were, relish. Motivated by that desire to prove a point, he was able to do something that would have been hugely uncomfortable otherwise. His breath was also considerably improved.
Pain responds well to hypnosis: you may be aware of storied of hypnotised patients undergoing invasive surgical operations without anaesthetic. It can seem extraordinary, as they can often answer questions while cut open on the operating table. Again, though, there is a correlation in real life: pain is hugely subjective and we do not need hypnosis to be made unaware of it. We might cut a finger and not feel any pain until we see that it’s bleeding, or, commonly for performers, forget a pain that has been bothering us all day when we step out on stage. However, the mind of a highly suggestible subject is an extraordinary thing: at one point in The Assassin, which formed part of my C4 series The Experiments, my hypnotised subject Chris happily sat in a bath full of ice, at least until I cleared the suggestion.
Both I and the scientists who had arranged the test with me, were surprised by the fact he seemed happy to stay in the bath indefinitely. Although I knew that Chris could only draw on his reserves of what his could achieve outside of hypnosis (albeit in a state of extreme motivation, high adrenalin or otherwise), the fact that he was so relaxed yet able to do this made me question the ease with which I had presumed that nothing really extraordinary could ever be achieved through hypnosis.
A paper regarding attempts to define hypnosis and its relationship to suggestibility – written by a team that includes Profs Zoltan Dienes and Stuart Derbyshire who took part in The Assassin programme.
Profs Dienes and Derbyshire’s paper looking at the relationship
between hypnosis and meditation.
Here is a list of links to other scientific papers on hypnosis:
Sadly hypnosis lends itself to all sorts of vacuous literature that runs the full gamut from empty self-help, through positive thinking and improve-your-golf to the joys of reincarnation. I can’t bring myself to recommend any of them, but knock yourself out if that’s what you like. (Though I draw a line at reincarnation). Likewise I can’t offer any thoughts on the teach-yourself-hypnosis books that are out there as frankly I’ve never read them.If you’re looking to learn, I’d suggest the normal route of Amazon recommendations and you’ll find something to get you started.
A very comprehensive book on the latest research, and itsapplications to therapy
Erickson is to many the father of modern hypnotherapy. A delightful read about this seemingly extraordinary chap and his methods. Though probably best read with a pinch of salt.