Many systems have been devised to measure the level of hypnosis attained by a subject. At Hypnotechs, we use the “Arons Depth Scale”, named after its creator Harry Arons. Some refer to this as the “6 stages of hypnosis” or “6 levels of hypnosis”, but whatever you call it, it’s easy to remember and based upon the observed effects of the level, rather than more ambiguous criteria and shows repeatable and comparable stages of hypnosis. Other scales use more levels, the Stanford Scale is a good example and some people use less, right down to “There are no “hypnotic stages”, a trance is a trance.” Regardless of your position on the matter, sometimes it’s useful to be able to judge what type of phenomenon your subject might be able to experience, so this scale is as good as any. Besides, I don’t always have a bottle of peppermint oil handy to conduct the Stanford test…
Arons Depth Scale
Stage 1: Hypnoidal
Hypnosis in this stage is very light. Many clients don’t feel or believe they are even hypnotized and feel completely awake and aware. There are two types of hypnoidal states, hypnopompic and hypnogogic.
- Hypnopompic is similar to the state you are just before waking up in the morning, that sort of half-aware, “twilight” state.
- Hypnagogic is like the state just before you fall asleep. A slow transition between wakefulness and sleep, where the conscious mind takes a back seat to the subconscious. Many argue that this is the same state as hypnopompic, except for the timing
A transition between hypnoidal hypnosis and sleep or sleep and hypnoidal hypnosis is easily accomplished by a trained hypnotist.
Fortunately, despite the light level of this stage, much can be accomplished.
Observed Phenomenon: Lethargy, relaxation, eye catalepsy. Notice the little muscle twitches around the body, like the subject is falling asleep. Look for fluttery little eye movements, they are a sure sign that hypnosis has begun.
Things to test: Notice classic signs of hypnosis like eye movement, blushing and so on. Simple muscle control such as eyelid catalepsy is possible. Eye catalepsy is a sure sign of this level.
In this state, the mind and body come more under the control of the subconscious. Larger muscle groups can be controlled and manipulated with phenomenon such as Arm Catalepsy becoming possible. In this state, your ability to discern reality from fiction becomes impaired. Hypno-logic or trance-logic come into play.
Observed Phenomenon: Arm catalepsy, catalepsy of isolated muscle groups, heavy or floating feeling. Eyes move side to side, as if reading.
Things to test: Look for catalepsy of larger muscle groups. In most cases, relaxation and trance is obvious to an observer at this level.
Stage 3 is characterized by “Aphasia”, a loss of ability to understand or express speech. Subjects will be able to remember a word, letter or number, but can be instructed to not be able to say it. Subjects experience this as “tip of the tongue” phenomenon.
Observed Phenomenon: Aphasia
Things to test: Instruct the subject that the “number ‘3’ has ‘disappeared”, then count their fingers along with them. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6… From the stage, both the “you speak only a foreign language” (that the participant doesn’t normally speak), and the “you are able to translate the show into ‘Martian’ for us” bits.
In this stage, subjects start to exhibit greater phenomena including the beginning of true amnesic stages. A subject at this stage will “forget” very personal and deeply embedded information such as their name, phone number, and address. Even the names of loved ones can be blocked out. Subjects can experience light Glove Analgesia in this stage and will feel touch or pressure, but can be told not to feel discomfort.
Observed Phenomenon: Strong post-hypnotic suggestions, beginning glove anesthesia, amnesia through strong direct suggestion, pseudo-age regression, analgesia, automatic movements, automatic writing, positive olfactory and gustatory hallucinations, name or address block.
Things to test: Look for complete loss of name, address, etc upon suggestion or replacement of the same. Profound taste and smell positive hallucination. Non-reactive to pinch or other light discomforts, when suggested.
Stage 5: Somnambulism
This is where true somnambulism begins. Somnambulism literally means “sleep walking”, but in this context it refers to an easily identifieable disconnect of the mind from both the body and the outside world.
I find that most of my clients settle in at this level for a typical hypnotherapy session.
Clients can experience complete anesthesia and can lose the ability to feel discomfort or touch completely. Most pain control is possible at this stage. Positive Hallucinations become possible. Subjects can see and hear things which do not actually exist when they are suggested. Genuine Age Regression becomes possible in this state where a subject actually experiences past events, not just remembers them.
Observed Phenomenon: Post-hypnotic amnesia without suggestion, anesthesia, positive hallucinations of all sensory modality, age regression, bizarre post-hypnotic suggestions. Eyes may roll up/back and may open partially or complete.
Things to test: Profound catalepsy. Strong positive hallucinations. Vivid recollection and description of past events. Anesthesia.
Stage 6: Profound Somnambulism
Subjects can experience Negative Hallucinations where they don’t see or hear things that actually do exist.
Observed Phenomenon: Negative hallucinations. Profound anesthesia.
Things to test: The “invisible hypnotist” bit. Complete anesthesia.
Beyond Arons Scale
Beyond the levels described by Arons scale, some hypnotists recognize additional levels of depth. Below are some descriptions, though in most cases these extreme levels are not encountered without significant, deliberate, effort by a trained hypnotist
Hypnotic coma (the Esdaile state):
Characterized by the subject not responding to any suggestions, due to the state being so comfortable and pleasant that the subject basically ignores the hypnotist. Automatic anesthesia of the whole body. (Automatic as in, it doesn’t have to be suggested.) The body shows a pre-catatonic response – automatic catalepsy of skeletal muscles follows when you move the subject’s limbs around. That gives them a ‘waxy’ quality. Catalepsy can be induced in a limb by decisively pulling on (“setting”) joints, which results in the muscles locking, and the limbs “springing” back to the way they were set should we try to move them. The Esdaile state is most commonly used for anesthesia during surgery.
Ultra-depth state (the Sichort state) – achieved via the hypnotic coma:
Characterized by absolute relaxation, including deep abdomen muscles, and skeletal muscles. Anesthesia continues. Indirectly, via the subconscious, the hypnotist can affect:
- Physical body regeneration, quickening healing processes
- Fortifying the immune system
- The balance of the hormonal system
The Sichort state is used as anesthesia in surgery – especially those surgeries dealing with the abdominal cavity.