Getting stuck in a hypnotic trance and acting like a zombie is very appealing to movie makers and myth makers, with the “victim” suspended in cognitive limbo, imprisoned for all time by the power of a ruthless Svengali.
However, the simple answer to whether someone can get stuck in a
hypnotic trance indefinitely is no. Trance happens naturally daily, and we do
not get stuck in our daydream states, nor do we hear about or fear the idea of
being stuck in a daydream state.
Hypnosis is just a process of deliberately getting people to enter the daydream-like mindset and it is in this mindset that hypnotherapists are able to work with the mind to have the most positive effects to support people with issues like phobias, anxiety and reaching peak performance.
When people enter trance they report that they feel rested, calm and focussed and so it is not surprising to hear about people who are reluctant to leave their trance states when they are encouraged to do so.
So how hard is it to get people to leave a trance state once they are in it? Relatively straight forward. The therapist invites the client to “Re-orientate yourself to the room when you are ready” or "At the count of ten you will be back in the room,” both of which are very effective approaches.
Despite this, there are reports that some people who have used hypnosis techniques to guide people into trance were unable to restore them back to the room.
In my own practise I have worked with people who are reluctant to return to the room straight away and have had to be much more direct to bring people back into the room. A more direct approach would be one where you repeat the invite to return to the room and if that is nor effective you may count them back into the room using a slightly more enhanced voice and failing that you can say when I snap my fingers you will open your eyes, alert and ready for the rest of your day. this final technique is not extensively used due to the potential for "hypnosis hangover".
Clinical hypnotherapist like me need to be highly skilled at managing ending trance because it is often the case that we have other patients booked in and so need to be confident that we are able to stick to times. I have never struggels to manage this nor am I aware of any professional struggling to do this.
Stage entertainers also have to be able to end trance at will either during or at the end of a session, otherwise their acts would come to a sudden and boring stop. Despite this there are stories of unskilled hypnotists leaving people stuck in trance.
So do people get stuck in a hypnotic trance? A recent report from Canada cites an inexperienced practitioner, Maxime Nadeau, who used hypnosis at the College Du Sacre Coeur in 2012 with a group of students where his work resulted in a very successful trance. However the hypnotist appeared to be unable to end the trance experience and there were reports that the students were stuck in trance for up to 5 hours. Find out more here.
Does that mean that they would remain stuck forever? No. People
exit trance naturally in their own time. As trance is a relaxed state many
people want the experience to continue and so actively maintain their trance
for as long as possible.
The hypnotist in this story appears to have had only a tiny amount of training, just 14 hours. The students would have returned back from trance naturally, although on this occasion, not before he had support from his tutor.
Trance is a natural state and hypnosis is only the process to deliberately get you into this state. You will always be able to leave it, freely when you wish.