hand catalepsy in hypnosis

The Hand That Wouldn’t Move

Years ago, I was hypnotizing a client and suggesting his hand get lighter and that his arm would would float up. I got a few twitches, but the hand didn’t float. But I kept trying. “Hand floating up… Lifting, lifting, lifting…”

I thought I was doing everything right. The tone of my voice went upward, to match the idea of lifting. I was visualizing the hand going up. Any time I saw anything I remotely thought might be a sign that hand was ready to lift, I said, “That’s right.” I worked it for several minutes but no go. So I went on to other suggestions.

Had I Failed?

If you’ve hypnotized more than a few people, you may have had that feeling. “Oh no, they didn’t do what I said, I’ve failed!” And you know, it’s important that the client knows what their role is in the session. Your job is to give the suggestions. If you ask them to close their eyes and they don’t, they are choosing not to follow your suggestion. You don’t control their mind.

And that’s one tack you can take. And I have taken it with clients. I’ve stopped and asked them what the problem is. Sometimes you’ll discover there’s a fear or misconception about hypnosis. Sometimes you’ll discover they don’t like to be told what to do. Sometimes they don’t fully understand their role. Sometimes you simply don’t have enough rapport with them yet.

Don’t Try To Make It Happen

Sometimes, people get the idea that they should stop something from happening because if they don’t stop it, it means that hypnosis is not ‘making’ them do it. And it isn’t really hypnosis if it’s not making them do it. They’ll sit there and their hand will start to twitch and they’ll think, “Whoops. I’ve got to keep that hand from moving.” All the while you’re making suggestions that the hand move.

Not productive.

That’s why I love language like “Don’t try to make it happen. Don’t stop it from happening. Wrap your mind around the idea fully and completely and allow it to happen.” It helps people understand that their role is to concentrate on your suggestions with an accepting frame of mind. Or at least it can be their role.

But that’s not what was going on with this particular client.

The Surprise

After I brought the client out, things got interesting.

When I asked him about his arm, he told me it had floated up. It turns out that he was so hypnotized that he thought his arm was floating when it wasn’t! He was cooperating with me. And he was so deeply hypnotized, he was unaware of where his arm was and was able to convincingly hallucinate it lifting up.

Ericksonian Hypnosis

And that’s why I love Ericksonian hypnosis, my friends. It allows for people responding uniquely. And with Ericksonian hypnosis, any response is treated as feedback and not as success or failure. You use it. It’s practical.


PS: I’ve got some Ericksonian hypnosis programs in the works. If you’d like to get notified when they come out, pop your name and email into the box below 🙂

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About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. Hi Keith
    Thanks for this article! I bet that moment of “Uh oh. They aren’t reacting the way they should be!” happens to all of us at some point. I know it happened to me a couple times especially in the beginning of my practice. I also chat with my clients after a session and it is really important on several levels… for me as well as them.

    Thanks again. I enjoy reading your articles and always get a lot from them even if I don’t often comment.

  2. Hi again Keith,

    I definitely have had similar experiences and felt the rush of my heart dropping when I thought I was failing right in that moment. One time early on, I was doing a basic suggestibility test and found my clients arms staying perfectly still, no matter what I suggested. They were shaking though which I found interesting. When I finished the suggestibility test and was trying figure out how work with this guy with SO much resistance he didn’t move his arms at all, he said “Wow, that made my arms TIRED! It was really hard to keep my arms from moving!” Somehow, even though I never said as much, he thought the point was to fight the suggestions to move his arms and was blown away by how difficult it was. 🙂 Take care!

  3. Hi Keith

    Recently I started incorporating the arm rise in my stage induction

    Almost right at the beginning, I say, perhaps you may start to feel that arm rise – as slowly as humanly possible, that is the hypnosis process starting.

    I can tell right away who is with me

    The rest, I have to continue on with

    Great site, and Thank You for all the help

    Billy Tee

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