The more you wade through research exploring hypnotizability, the more you come to realise that none of it really manages to relate single factors of personality, gender or age to responsiveness to hypnosis.
What does become more and more obvious through experience and by examining the research, is that hypnotizability is of course due to a combination of factors. We cannot treat people in terms of being responsive or not. Hypnotizability is not some innate thing that we are born with or without and research suggests that people can learn to be more responsiveness through time with practice and due to certain conditions being met etc.
As clinical hypnosis professionals and hypnotherapists, we therefore want to look at what we can do to enhance the hypnotizability and responsiveness of the people we work with.
As those that examine evidence know, in order to test a number of factors in relation to hypnotizability, we have to standardise the conditions so each of the people that form part of any research are being spoken to using the same words, with the same tone and the same environmental situation. The method of inducing hypnosis must be the same and subsequent procedures with the session also.
When hypnotizability is then tested, we have our evidence. However, of course this is not the most balanced model for everyone. Those of us that advocate an evidence based approach strive to have scientific support and an aid to better understand this subject. However, many that advocate hypnosis as an art and not a science would argue with the usefulness of categorising people according to their responsiveness to hypnosis.
As with any therapy approach, hypnosis cannot be purely scientific, I concede that. We cannot take ourselves, as hypnosis professionals inherent within the client/therapist dynamic, out of the situation and therefore our judgment, value calls, approaches, thought processes, flexibility, depth of knowledge and experience etc, etc all come in to play when we work with people.
There needs to be balance with the science and artistry notions I think.
Responsiveness to hypnosis can be developed and enhanced. Although single factors of gender and age cannot be changed, we can help enhance the client’s ability to focus, be absorbed, stretch their imagination, enhance their relationship with them self and their belief in their capability to respond well.
The 1982 work of Nicholas Spanos and colleagues suggested a model of cognitive skills including absorption and expectation which could all be enhanced with training and practice. The work of Michael Diamond in the 70s and 80s has supported this and suggested in the very title of his paper in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 1989 that “hypnotizability is modifiable”. More recently, in the brilliant Handbook of Clinical Hypnosis (1993) Jeffrey Gfeller also offered up a cognitive skills model for enhancing hypnotizability. More recently still, in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis in 2000 Lynn and Sherman also showed and wrote about how responsiveness to hypnosis could be developed in their paper “The clinical importance of sociocognitive models of hypnosis.”
So there are plenty advocating and supporting the notion that responsiveness to hypnosis can be developed and enhanced.
We can also help to enhance expectancy, something that increases responsiveness greatly. The work by Professor Irving Kirsch has supported this notion greatly over the years. His “response set theory” of 2000 brings together a wide range of evidence and research to support the idea that an individual’s expectations about their ability to respond to suggestion greatly effects the way they actually do respond.
So when looking to advance and enhance responsiveness to hypnosis, our best approach is to treat each individual as just that – an individual. Someone with a unique response. Then be knowledgeable and flexible enough to develop the conditions required for the optimum response possible at that time.