Understanding Hypnosis Part 3 – Trance States and Hypnotic Phenomena

Welcome to the 3rd part of this Hypnosis overview where I want to talk about the trance state, the levels of hypnotic trance and hypnotic phenomena.


Trance State

The factors that facilitate trance are as wide ranged as one can imagine. They include relaxation, rapport, ambiguity, belief and expectation, shock, surprise, boredom and even religious fervor amongst many others.

The trance state as experienced in the hypnotic context has also been described in many different ways. Here are some of the descriptions:

A state of focused concentration,

A state of relaxed alertness

A state of suspended disbelief

An indefinable altered state of consciousness.

I believe that trance is a subjective experience that varies from person to person and from one trance to the next and from one style of hypnosis to the other.

In the hypnotic context the trance state is furthermore characterized by a high level of trust and responsiveness between the subject and the hypnotist where the subject only hears the voice of the operator and only responds to the directions of the operator.


Levels of Trance and Hypnotic Phenomena

Trance can be experienced on a continuum from light to deep. Most people improve their ‘hypnotizability’ with practice and, therefore, may find it easier to go into deeper levels of trance, following practice and repetition. Each level of trance has its own ‘markers’ that a trained hypnotist can recognize.

The LeCron Bordeaux Depth Scale differentiates three levels of trance, light, medium and deep. The hypnotic phenomena associated to each level here are:

Light Trance

  • Lethargy
  • Relaxation
  • Eye Catalepsy
  • Arm Catalepsy
  • Catalepsy of isolated muscle groups
  • Heavy or floating feeling

Medium Trance

  • Rapport
  • Smell and taste changes
  • Number block
  • Glove Anaesthesia
  • Amnesia (blocked memory)
  • Analgesia (blocked pain sensitivity)
  • Automatic movements
  • Time Distortion
  • Partial Hallucinations

Deep Trance

  • Hallucinations (positive and negative)
  • Bizarre Post-Hypnotic suggestions
  • Anaesthesia (blocked sensation)
  • Comatose
  • Somnambulism


Light Trance

Trance states occur naturally to everyone throughout the day. Daydreaming is light trance. Everyone who drives a car has had the experience of driving a familiar route, getting lost in thought, and then missing an exit, or winding up at the destination, but not remembering the trip. If you get absorbed in a novel or movie and lose track of time, that is light trance.

In light trance, the breathing is steady and even, the muscles are somewhat relaxed, and the attention is fixed. This level of relaxation is ideal for concentrating, meditating, and visualizing. Many therapy procedures can take place at this level. Analogies, metaphors, and guided imagery facilitate suggestions at this level.


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Medium Trance

The ‘Flow’ state as described by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ is as much trance as is the feeling of being in the zone where nothing else matters other than the task at hand. The same is valid for the state of ‘Rapport’, the feeling of trust and responsiveness between people where no outside influence seems to matter. We all have experienced number block when we simply can’t remember our pin codes and the more we try to remember the further away the memory seems to go.  This is medium trance.

In medium trance people use their imaginations more freely. Occasionally, upon reorienting, some do not remember what occurred (this phenomenon is called ‘spontaneous amnesia’), or how much time has passed (losing track of time, this phenomenon is called ‘time distortion’). There is often also complete body catalepsy, greater relaxation, greater lassitude, and control over some organic functions.

This medium level is ideal for working with many problems such as phobias, lack of confidence, fear, depression, anxiety, stress, anger, grief, interpersonal difficulties, and minor pain management. Under medium trance, partial age regression is also possible.

At light and medium levels most people remain completely aware of their surroundings.


Deep Trance

In my opinion a good example of negative hallucinations and therefore naturally occurring deep trance could be what is often referred to as domestic blindness. Who has not heard of a male asking his partner: ‘Honey, where is the sugar? I cannot find it in the fridge!’ while the sugar is straight in front of him.

In deep trance breathing and heartbeat are generally slow and regular. The body is relaxed, although small movements can occur, under command. The person can speak, but the voice may be soft and slow. Some people will not speak at all, because they don’t want to. Direct commands to the unconscious can be used effectively at this level. Sometimes the person will remember what occurred during hypnosis, and sometimes not. Few people can achieve this level of trance in hypnosis, without some practice and conditioning under the guidance of a skilled hypnotist. The deep trance level can also be used for complete age regression (the ability to return to an earlier age with total change of personality and loss of awareness of present identity, also called revivification). Full control of body functions is also present at this level.

Even though not explicitly listed on the LeCron Bordeaux Depth Scale the following phenomena can also occur in medium to deep trance:

Automatic behaviour: Automatic writing or drawing.

Hyperamnesia: Remembering very vividly something they hadn’t realized that they remembered.

Ideomotor behaviour: As someone thinks about a movement or response it actually happens.

Ideosensory behaviour: As someone thinks about a sensory response they experience it.


I’d love it if you share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Posted in Career Tune-up Resources, Understanding Hypnosis.

Beat Wettstein

Hi, my name is Beat Wettstein. I am a certified Trainer and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) as well as a Hypnotist with the Australian Academy of Hypnosis and I have been helping people to be the best they can be for more than 5 years.

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One Comment

  1. Comparisons between hypnotised and non-hypnotised subjects suggest that, if a “hypnotic trance” does exist, it only accounts for a small proportion of the effects attributed to hypnotic suggestion, most of which can be replicated without hypnotic induction.

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