Formal hypnotic inductions are designed to introduce an experiential change in the subject. Although stage hypnotists nowadays use all sorts of spectacular-looking rapid inductions, and although there seem to be about as many (largely interchangeable) variations of those as there are hypnotists, the traditional hypnotic eye-fixation induction (as used by James Braid in the early days of contemporary Western hypnotism) is still the main technique used in research and clinical practice. It consists of having the subject stare at an induction spot slightly above their normal line of vision (the centre of the forehead, or a real or imaginary point in the distance or on the ceiling) with the eyes rolled up and back, until they naturally want to close. As the hypnotist notices signs of absorption in the subject, he positively reinforces their growing response expectancy with suggestions of deepening relaxation and breathing, tiredness, eyelid heaviness and sleep until the closure is achieved.

Hypnotherapists could of course quite simply ask clients to close their eyes, but if they do it with the thought that they are doing it because they want to go along with the therapist’s suggestions, and simultaneously in their own time, this somewhat heightens suggestibility because they can gradually ease into a cooperative frame of mind and because externally verifiable signs of absorption described by the therapist during the induction facilitate the therapeutic suggestions to follow. The technique appears to be dwindling in popularity, but this may be due to a lack of understanding as to its benefits: beyond moderate heightening of suggestibility it very much encourages detachment, relaxation and focused inward attention as it cancels out peripheral awareness. In other words, although the induced eye-closure (along with the suggestions of deep breathing and sleep) is merely what Dave Elman calls the ‘entering wedge’ of hypnosis, the ‘selective thinking’ it allows to take place is a great basis from which successful hypnotic transactions can take place.

All this substantiates Braid’s psycho-physiological theory of mind-body interaction, a reciprocal cognitive and behavioural theory of suggestion which holds that dominant ideas, i.e. autosuggestions, influence the body via the ideo-dynamic reflex, and that muscular suggestions cause subjective states through alterations in posture and facial expression. The rationale for his original hypnotic eye-fixation method thus becomes apparent: subjects are asked to use behavioural strategies (like voluntarily acting as if falling asleep by relaxing their breathing and not moving) as well as cognitive ones (like focusing conscious attention on the idea of heavy eyelids and sleep).

Another advantage is that, unlike with most inductions, clients can easily learn in the consulting room how to replicate it on their own at home as part of their self-hypnosis skills training. It works almost as well as a self-hypnosis induction as it does when therapist-induced, and it therefore helps foster client autonomy, empowering clients as they take charge of their own conditioning. An abbreviated, adapted version can easily be integrated into self-help relapse prevention exercises aimed at tension control (i.e. cue-controlled relaxation; self-desensitisation) for stressful situations or states of mind.

The rationale behind the eye-fixation induction is completely different from that of instantaneous inductions of suggested sleep (spoken meaningfully and with authority) as used by stage hypnotists and some therapists with a more theatrical penchant. They can work well –especially if expectation is high and the imagination excited and if they’re combined with confusion tactics such as an unsettling arm movement during a handshake– but the almost instant suggestibility and dissociation resulting from this are no match for the therapeutic merits of the cooperation, relaxation and inward focus provided by the eye-fixation method.

Author's Bio: 

I am a cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapist practising in Bangkok, Thailand. (