How Deep is Deep?
Like so many aspects of the art of hypnosis, the whole concept of depth is an abstraction. We tend to think of going into trance as going “down,” so it is logical to measure degrees of how far down and to call those degrees “depth.” In reality, though, hypnosis isn't a vertical thing; it is merely an altered state of consciousness, one of focused concentration. So when we say someone is going deeper, what we really mean is they are becoming more focused on the trance state and less inclined to respond to external stimuli or distractions.
In the mid 20th century two major scales for measuring hypnotic depth were commonly used: the Friedlander-Sarbin scale and the later Stanford Scales, developed by Andre Weitzenhoffer and Ernest Hilgard. These sought to measure hypnotic depth by applying a series of test suggestions of increasing difficulty – that is, requiring an increasing ability to distort, ignore, or invent sensory information to comply with hypnotic suggestions. The problem with these measurements is that they assume everyone is identical in that everyone, if they are “deep enough,” can perform every suggestion on the scale. In reality people's minds are different; some people find it far easier than the scale's inventors thought to do some things and all but impossible to do others regardless of trance depth. The scales also fail to take into account that people get better at manifesting trance phenomena with practice. Today most of the professional hypnotists I know don't bother with these formal scales unless they are conducting research and need to cater to academia.
- Not Hypnotized Yet.
- Deep Enough.
- Too Deep.
When you start, your partner is Not Hypnotized Yet. Once you've completed your induction and your partner is following suggestions, they are Deep Enough. If your trancee is so zoned out that they aren't responding to you anymore, then they are Too Deep. Isn't that simple?
There is a tendency among hypnotists, especially those who do only recreational hypnosis and not therapy, to put too much emphasis on this abstract concept of depth. In many people's minds, the deeper someone goes into trance the more control the hypnotist has over them. In the hypnokink community that's half the thrill for some people – they want to feel like they're being taken over, compelled, controlled. And if the “deeper equals more controlled” chestnut is part of their fantasy, there's nothing wrong with indulging it. But as a hypnotist, understand that it's a myth.
In my experience, when a partner does not respond as expected to a suggestion, their level of hypnotic depth has little or nothing to do with it – unless, that is, they have reached Too Deep and are blissfully ignoring me. Many times it is a matter of trust and rapport; they don't feel comfortable doing what I've suggested in the current environment, or doing it for me. Equally often there is just something wrong with the suggestion.
Shortly after we first met, my now-wife Dani had an experience that perfectly illustrates what I mean by “something wrong with the suggestion.” She was trancing online with someone who was somewhat known in the online community and considered safe and competent. They were using text chat as the medium, which is a frequent thing online. The hypnotist, whose photo was displayed by the chat client, took Dani into trance and told her to look at his photo and see the hat on his head. Dani looked at the photo and saw no hat because there wasn't one – he was trying for a visual hallucination. So she told him, “There is no hat.”
His response? “Deeper … deeper … now, look up and see the hat.”
“No, still no hat. Maybe we should try something else.”
After a few more tries he gave up on the hat and moved on to something else. He told Dani that there is no number between 3 and 5, absolutely no number. Then he told her to type from 1 to 10 for him. Dani obediently put her finger on the keyboard and typed the numbers, including the number 4 that she was supposed to forget.
You'll be shocked, I'm sure, to read that no matter how many times he told her to go deeper, Dani kept seeing the number 4 right there on the keyboard and typing it.
So, why didn't taking Dani deeper make those suggestions work?
Think back to the beginning of this chapter, when we discussed modalities. Not everyone is equally good at either imagining or ignoring a given sense's input. “See the hat” was an attempt at a visual hallucination, but Dani is a kinesthetic – her mind is not very good at inventing images because it doesn't do it often. Until she gets a lot more practice at concocting visual things, no amount of deepening is going to get her to see the hat. If he had suggested that she touch the top of her own head and feel a hat there, that would have been very successful.
Forgetting the number 4 is a common stage show ploy. It works so well that stage hypnotists tend to use it to weed out people who aren't focused and ready to play. I'm sure the guy who played with Dani thinks it didn't work because she's not a “good subject” but that would be seriously wrong. Dani is very talented at going into trance and can do some very impressive things given a well-worded suggestion. But when you tell her something doesn't exist, like the number 4, and then put it right in front of her eyes, she's going to remember it immediately. Since this was a text chat and he knew she would be seeing it right there on the keyboard, he should have prepared for that. Something as simple as, “As you type, you may notice a key with an odd-looking symbol on the keyboard between the 3 key and the 5 key, but you can just ignore that key and skip past it” would probably have been enough.
Finally, remember that going into trance and learning to focus enough that you can readily fabricate, ignore, or alter memories, sensations, and physical responses is a skill. Some people are naturally good at it; most of us need practice to become proficient. So if a suggestion fails, and you've made certain it's not worded poorly and your partner has no reservations about the suggestion, it may be something that your partner just isn't able to do yet. Come back to it when they've had more experience, or start with something less ambitious in a similar vein and work your way up. For instance, if your partner is having trouble with hypnotic amnesia and is remembering a trance session when you've asked them to forget it happened, try asking them to forget only one specific thing that happened during the trance first. Then try a longer bit, and a longer bit, until they are able to temporarily forget an entire trance session.
So, having now told you why depth of trance is not important to successful suggestions and that the whole concept of hypnotic depth is overrated, I'm still going to teach you some deepeners. Deepeners can be instrumental in helping an inexperienced hypnotee get focused and accustomed to the trance state. Also, sometimes your partner will just want to be taken super deep simply for the pleasure of it; as a service dom, I want you to know how to do that.