The hypnotic definitions of ‘trance’ and ‘hypnosis’

The question – “what’s the difference between trance and hypnosis?” – is sure to distract any group of hypnotists.

In my experience, one of them will give a definitive answer to it.

Then another will disagree with that definition.

Then another will say they’re both wrong, or both right…

So let me spare you from all that and summarise what that group might say.

The simplest definition is hypnosis is a process, while trance is the outcome. If this is true, you can hypnotise someone but you can’t ‘trance’ them. And you can enter a trance, but you can’t ‘enter hypnosis’.

Some folks are strict with these. I aim to be strict with my writing… and flexible while hypnotising people.


Because of the other way you can use these terms:

For some hypnotists, trance and hypnosis are synonymous.

They will tell you to enter a state of hypnosis, just how they tell you to enter a state of trance.

And they talk about trance inductions when referring to hypnotic inductions.

I do this occasionally. Partly because it’s fun to play with language, partly because it’s accurate…

… but also because it’s slightly hypnotic.

For the language geeks out there, you know that ‘nominalisations’ are when you take a verb (an action word) and turn it into a noun (a thing). People do this all the time.


Love is a verb. It’s something you do. You can love a person, a place, a flavour, an ideal, a movie…

It’s not a noun. You can’t touch love, it has no physical dimensions and it can’t exist by itself. It’s an emotion, a state of mind, something you do towards something else.

And yet…

People talking about ‘finding love’ and ‘falling in love’. You can find things – whether it’s buried treasure, a hidden key or cat vomit on the back seat of your car – but you can’t ‘find’ an emotion.

Same with falling into things.

Sure, sure, you can find someone who makes you feel love, but that’s not what we say. We say we found love as a subtle metaphor for saying we found someone who loves us.

Many hypnotists like to lean heavily into nominalisations. It’s not unusual for me to say something like:

“… you might find relaxation in the experience of bringing all these learnings to your awareness…”

Relax, experience and learn are all verbs. In that sentence, I used them all as nouns.

This can take an abstract experience – and everything in a trance is pretty darn abstract – and make it feel more real.

And something that can prevent you from going deeper into trance is when the hypnotist says something you disagree with. If they say “you feel so relaxed now” and you don’t, it works against the trance. But it’s hard to find anything in that sentence to disagree with, no matter what’s going on. It seems to apply to just about anything.

The simplest reason hypnotists talk like that, though?

It’s a little confusing.

If you spend a moment, you can unravel the exact meaning of that snippet… but in that time, I’ve said another three just like it. After a while, your conscious mind stops trying to pan for meaning here, so you begin to accept it.

Confusion alone doesn’t make you a hypnotist – if it did, we’d all just babble gibberish – but it’s an important part of most hypnotic processes.

So that’s why there’s this mess around what ‘hypnosis’ and ‘trance’ mean… and why sometimes they mean the same thing. The more tightly people define these terms, the more we’ll twist them to keep your mind from grasping the precise meaning.

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