Why effective hypnotists count numbers

Hypnotists seem to love counting! You’ve all heard the hypnotist in Hollywood say, “And as you go deeper into hypnosis, three, two, one, zero,” or you’ve heard a hypnotist, of course, count up when a session is complete, “And on the count of three, open your eyes feeling fantastic and wide awake. One, two, three, open the eyes!” Have you ever wondered why it is that hypnotists count? The reason why hypnotists count is because it’s a cultural universal. Cultural universals don’t occur very frequently, but these are things across culture that are attached to a certain representation, or a certain ritual, or a certain thought and hypnotists who count is a cultural universal. I found movies in Chinese, I found movies in Hindi, I found movies in French, and of course numerous movies in English like my favorite hypnosis movie Office Space or the old classic movies where Count Dracula counted backwards.

Now of course, not all hypnotists count. I was actually at a hypnosis convention last fall and the convention was comprised mainly of psychologists and medical doctors who do hypnotherapy from an Ericksonian tradition. These are the folks who don’t like people doing hypnotherapy that don’t come from the exact same worldview and education that they hold. Two different presenters at that conference mocked hypnotist account. One of them even saying from the stage, “And what does counting have to do with hypnosis?” The reality is counting has everything to do with hypnosis. What happens when we count numbers is that our clients in their conscious mind says, “Holy mackerel, they’re actually counting!” and they’ve attached a meaning to it because in our pop culture what we’ve done is we’ve attached significance to the ritual of counting backwards and so the conscious mind says, “I must be going into trance!” This is when the hypnosis occurs and if a person believes that, then of course they will experience a hypnotic state.

My doctorate is not in psychology. My master’s degrees in counseling psychology, my doctorate is in leadership and cross-cultural engagement. I’m really glad that I come from that vantage point because I don’t have a limited viewpoint that believes all hypnosis should look like Milton Erickson’s hypnosis. The problem with Milton Erickson’s hypnosis and the idea of counting numbers is he largely predated the current media trends that we’ve established over the last 50 years that actually make this a cultural universal. So, in some ways it’s actually an outdated method of hypnotherapy.

The history of counting in hypnosis is pretty fascinating. Bela Lugosi, when he was in the character of Count Dracula trying to figure out how to portray a hypnotist, he actually read the induction of James Braid, a Scottish physician who of course held the lancet eye fixation before their eyes and then described it as induction. Bela Lugosi was an actor.

He wasn’t interested in learning the mechanics of hypnosis. So, he did the eye fixation, “Look deep into my eye,” and he simply counted backwards. Five, four, three, two, one as time filler. Now what’s fascinating is that this got portrayed in the same way in many other movies, and of course we know that Sesame Street is actually a parody of the adult world. An entire generation has now grown up with the Count, who of course did hypnosis on Sesame Street as he hypnotized us to learn our numbers. The Count is a parody of Bella Lugosi! Television shows, movies, stage hypnosis has all created a universal understanding that when people count or when a hypnotist counts backwards, this is the point where a person experiences hypnotic trance. I say that we should continue counting and the reason why we should continue counting as because it’s become an expectation. We should use the cultural tools that are available to us to help us bring about a resource state of hypnosis to our clients. To say only lay hypnotists count numbers is really to discount the value of those who come to hypnosis from a different viewpoint than Ericksonian psychology.

Of course, the word lay hypnotist is an offensive term. It’s used pejoratively by those who are members of the priest class, or in this case the psychological community, specifically to discount the contributions of anyone who comes to the field with a different worldview. This is why I think it’s important that hypnotist come from a wide variety of different backgrounds, whether that’s medicine or psychology, or whether that’s cross-cultural engagement and counseling.

From my vantage point, I want to honor the traditions of people who come to hypnotherapy via any academic discipline or life experience. Whether it’s sales, whether it’s ministry, whether it’s psychology, whether it’s personal development, whether it’s people who come into this because they were personally influenced by hypnosis, or because they were interested in how the mind works and how to passionately help other people achieve success. I believe that when we bring a wide variety of different previous experiences to hypnotherapy education, what we actually have is a better profession and a better world with multiple viewpoints rather than limiting viewpoints.

Each different viewpoint brings a unique contribution to the profession of hypnosis, and each one of these contributions can then be used to help people achieve the resource state of hypnosis. What’s most important to me is not that each hypnotist becomes a mini Milton Erickson. What’s really most important to me and the work that I do is that my clients find an easy to access solution that’s already within them to the various problems, or difficulties, or desires and accomplishments that they have. Hypnotists who count know how to use a cultural universal to create a deeper level of impact and help people benefit from professional hypnosis.