Among Erickson’s best-known innovations is the hypnotic handshake induction, which is a type of confusion technique. The induction is done by the hypnotist going to shake hands with the subject, then interrupting the flow of the handshake in some way, such as by grabbing the subject’s wrist instead. If the handshake continues to develop in a way which is out-of-keeping with expectations, a simple, non-verbal trance is created, which may then be reinforced or utilized by the hypnotist. All these responses happen naturally and automatically without telling the subject to consciously focus on an idea.
This induction works because shaking hands is one of the actions learned and operated as a single “chunk” of behavior; tying shoelaces is another classic example. If the behavior is diverted or frozen midway, the person literally has no mental space for this - he is stopped in the middle of unconsciously executing a behavior that hasn’t got a “middle”. The mind responds by suspending itself in trance until either something happens to give a new direction, or it “snaps out”. A skilled hypnotist can often use that momentary confusion and suspension of normal processes to induce trance quickly and easily.
Any habitual pattern which is interrupted unexpectedly will cause sudden and light trance. The handshake is a particularly good pattern to interrupt because the formality of a handshake is a widely understood set of social rules. Since everyone knows that it would be impolite to comment on the quality of a handshake, regardless of how strange it may be, the subject is obliged to embark on an inner search (known as a transderivational search, a universal and compelling type of trance) to identify the meaning or purpose of the subverted pattern.
ABSTRACT: “Limen” is Latin for “threshold,” and, during indigenous rituals, “tricksters” and their counterparts cross many of them. This paper makes the case that hypnotic phenomena are liminal in nature and that hypnotic practitioners (such as Milton Erickson) share many traits with traditional societies’ “tricksters.” The ambiguous nature of hypnosis has been apparent since the days of “animal magnetism” and “mesmerism.” Hypnotized people often report hallucinations that confound their ordinary distinctions between reality and illusion, external and internal processes, and many other binary oppositions including time and space, as well as mind and body. In addition, hypnosis can obscure the distinction between fact and fiction in one’s memory, as is evident in the “recovered memories” controversy. The role played by imagination is central to both indigenous rituals and hypnosis. This has been acknowledged by APA Division 30’s recent description of hypnosis as a procedure in which someone “is told that suggestions for imaginative experiences will be presented.” Hypnosis is a multifaceted phenomenon requiring explanation at multiple levels. Some investigators and practitioners have missed the importance of the social context in which hypnosis occurs, while others have come close to destroying the most interesting and useful hypnotic phenomena under the guise of objectivity. The liminal nature of hypnosis insures that its investigators face a valiant struggle, but the scientific and clinical value of hypnosis makes the quest worthwhile.