Sometimes I get a client who does all sorts of cool and useful things in trance but doesn’t “feel like they’ve been hypnotized.” At which point I ask them, “What does hypnosis feel like?”
In a typical session, I ask the client to relax over and over, and if you’re in hypnosis and I ask you to relax, you’re will! So in that moment hypnosis feels like relaxation. If I take you to a happy childhood memory, hypnosis feels like a happy childhood memory, and likely more — more than just remembering it, less than reliving it.
Sometimes people feel that hypnosis should make them unable to see, hear, move, or remember, but being able to see, hear, move, or remember isn’t called “hypnosis,” it’s called “death”! Not the same thing at all.
Hypnosis can be done without sitting still with your eyes closed, and when it’s done that way you have more indicators. I like doing self-hypnosis while taking walks in the woods. I find that one reliable indication of a good trance is that I get a kind of tunnel vision, where my eyes stay focused straight ahead — no scanning of the surroundings unless something draws my attention. And early in the trance I tend to take an involuntary deep breath, which tells me that I’m getting the ball rolling. If I’m in a good trance I also tend to lose the startle reflex. I’ll notice a loud noise, for example, but it doesn’t make me jump.
The reason it’s hard to tell if you’re in hypnosis by the way your mind feels is that most people just don’t have enough practice noticing when they’re in hypnosis. It’s a natural state that people drift into and out of every day, and so it’s familiar.
One technique for estimating depth is to imagine a meter stick hanging vertically to give you a scale from zero at the top (no trance) to 100 at the bottom (a very deep state of hypnosis indeed). With very little practice, most people can estimate where they are on the scale, and also lighten or deepen their level of hypnosis at will.
Of course, people don’t come to my office just for an entertaining trance experience; they have some important changes they’d like me to help them make, and it’s whether these actually happen that matters.