One of the most classic hypnosis inductions is the Arm Levitation Induction. This class of induction has been used by most hypnotherapists over time and the idea is that as the client’s arm raises into the air (seemingly by itself) the client goes deeper into hypnosis. American psychiatrist Milton Erickson refined the technique by applying his “indirect” hypnotic skills and developed it into a utilisation approach, and it is Erickson’s approach that I have been teaching for the past 25 years.

Previously, the therapist would suggest levitation in a direct and authoritarian manner. Unfortunately this gave the impression that the arm levitation was caused by the “power” of the hypnotist. Erickson’s approach allowed the client to experience the arm levitation happening from inside him/her self as if the response were the result of unconscious processes causes by the association of ideas.
Erickson would often “seed” ideas and suggestions for hypnotic phenomena long before he asked for it to happen formally. By offering casual anecdotes, analogies and metaphors about lifting, lightness and levitation he would seed the idea of arm levitation so that the client’s unconscious mind picked up on the indirect suggestion for arm levitation to occur.

Anticipation and Expectancy compound the success of arm levitation. You should expect the arm to lift whilst leaving a little room for escape in case it doesn’t because the client will usually pick up on apprehension and doubt communicated by a therapist who lacks confidence. When you attempt an arm levitation you should pace yourself so as to be one step ahead of the client. You can do this by paying attention to the experience and physiology of the client. If an arm is going to lift the client will tell you in their own way either verbally or non-verbally.

So, now to the actual arm levitation itself – first you should draw the client’s attention to any differences between their right arm and left arm. You should do this in an enquiring way and with an anticipation that there will be a difference. Your anticipation of a difference will be picked up by the client at an unconscious level and this will create expectation on behalf of the client, and this is where your indirect language skills will prove useful.

Further requests to pay attention to the difference will compound the sensations in either arm. You can uses almost any difference in sensation as a starting point – warmth, cold, lightness, heaviness, numbness, pins and needles etc. As soon as the client recognises one sensation in one arm you can imply that they will experience the opposite sensation in the other arm, you can do this with enquiring questions such as “and how does that compare to the feelings in your other arm?”. You can further suggest that the more one arm feels one sensation the more the other arm will feel the opposite sensation. So you work one sensation against the other. Warmth and coolness, heaviness and lightness, sensitivity and numbness etc. This is called the law of reversed effect. Obviously if one hand feels heavier than the other, then the other will feel lighter. You are only capitalising on naturally occurring phenomena.

The next step is to lead the client into expecting the arm to lift. You can do this by overlapping your suggestions of sensations to suggestions of lifting in one arm more the other, you might even suggest that one arm can get lighter and the other gets heavier. Visualisation often compounds the success of arm levitation so sometimes you might want to ask the client to imagine their arm lifting while their eyes are closed. This is a kind of rehearsal technique. However, while this often works very well, sometimes the client believes that the imagined arm levitation is real and does not actually lift the arm as part of the hypnotic phenomena. As long as the client “believes” that the arm has levitated it does not matter.

The hypnotic trance can be deepened with a real or imaginary arm levitation, in the same way that if you think of a juicy lemon being sliced, you may start to salivate. The arm levitation is a hypnotic induction, a trance deepener, and a trance ratifier combined. It can also be used as a physical metaphor for muscle control for therapy. Further deepening of the hypnotic trance can be achieved by slowing lowering the client’s arm back to their lap.

As you can see the details or each step are quite complex, especially as they overlap each other. So the technique needs to be learned directly from observing a demonstration and being guided in practice by a good teacher.

Stephen Brooks