Hypnosis in Education

Hypnosis is the phenomenon of deep relaxation which has vital but currently under-tapped potential as a tool for more effective teaching and learning. The subject is, however, somewhat unfairly shrouded in controversy.

Knowledge bank

Hypnosis has many taboos and much folklore associated with it, and this is in part due to the use of deep trance hypnosis for stage shows and its misrepresentation in fiction writing as a tool for gaining power over others. In fact, it provides a very positive state of mind whereby problems can be resolved and learning can take place with ease. All hypnosis is in fact self-induced as a person must be willing to go into this relaxed state.

Historically hypnosis has been practised for thousands of years in healing rituals in India and ancient Egypt. In subsequent centuries it has been used by some doctors to treat a wide range of conditions, but has remained on the fringes of medical practice. The big names in hypnosis such as Erickson, Estabrooks and Elts and their followers have continued to use the process to support mental, emotional and physical healing, with great success. Light trance states can have potentially useful spin-offs for learners in helping create relaxed alertness, improving memory and in building self-esteem.

There is little doubt that hypnosis in an educational setting could be seen as controversial. Yet teachers might be surprised to find that trance is a state of mind which is naturally occurring in their learners (and themselves) every day. When a learner stares unmoving into space for a few moments they have entered a light state of trance. When we drive to work and don't remember consciously how we made it through certain parts of the journey because we were 'in a world of our own', we were in trance.

There is a school of thought that says that anything that presupposes trance, causes trance, so it is possible that just sitting here, feeling the seat beneath you, and reading down ... the page ... is allowing you to go into a light state of trance. Indeed, reading itself takes us into light states of trance too.

In classrooms, trance can be useful to help learners put aside their concerns and fears about the 'risks' of learning and focus on learning more fully. It can also be useful to enable children to be more receptive to positive affirmations about their work and about themselves. In this sense it can support self-esteem building processes.

Natural and simple ways to help learners relax into light trance (i.e. where learners are in a relaxed state of alertness) are through telling stories, and through providing them with guided visualizations, or through providing quiet reflection time to consider an issue or challenge. Finger tapping (where the thumb on each hand is sequentially touched by each finger from forefinger, to middle finger to ring to little and back) occupies the conscious mind and can be a useful process in releasing creative thoughts in problem-solving, as can counting backwards from 100 out loud, whilst a learner draws a solution to the challenge on paper.

Isn't hypnosis dangerous? The kinds of light states of relaxation created by stories and visualizations are perfectly safe if the language used is positive and resourceful. All trance is self-induced, a person who does not want to relax into trance will not do so. You would need specialist training to facilitate deeper levels of trance and this would be inappropriate in a classroom setting anyway.

Ask yourself

  1. When are your naturally occurring trance times in the day?
  2. How often do you use stories, metaphors and visualizations in your teaching? Consider the positive messages and subject content you can pass across built into the stories and visualizations.
  3. What experiences do you have of your subconscious mind offering solutions, ideas and questions?

To do list

  • Find out more about hypnosis through reading or attending courses.
  • Consider ways in which you are already providing periods of relaxed reflection for learners. Think about ways in which you can offer positive suggestions to them about their ability to solve their own problems and be resourceful.
  • Talk to colleagues about ways in which they support learning through enabling children to block out the self-conscious part of their mind (the conscious part).