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Intersubjectivity in hypnotic interaction

Conference contribution
Authors Erling Fjeldstad
Oskar Lindwall
Jonas Ivarsson
Published in Intersubjectivity in Action. 11th – 13th May 2017, University of Helsinki, Finland
Publication year 2017
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Language en
Subject categories General Language Studies and Linguistics, Communication Studies, Educational Sciences


Despite the dubious reputation of hypnosis, there is now a large body of research that investigates how hypnosis can be used to reduce patients’ experience of pain. By closely analysing three video recorded quasi-naturalistic cases of hypnosis for pain relief, this study takes an interest in how hypnosis is interactionally organized and practically accomplished. A central question is how intersubjectivity is established and maintained in the different phases of the hypnosis. The hypnotic interaction predominately consists of the hypnotist formulating various instructions (by telling, proposing, suggesting, or asking) directed to the persons being hypnotized. In line with this, the sequence organization could be described as a series of adjacency pairs, consisting of a verbal instruction, followed by an attempt to follow the instruction and with occasional expansions. In the beginning of the session, the instructions are mostly directed to actions in the external world where the hypnotist instructs the persons being hypnotized to move their body in certain ways. As the session progresses, the instructions turn from physical actions towards the ability to imagine certain situations, activities, or states. As a result, the visual access to responding actions are highly restricted. Given this lack of visual access, how is the hypnotist finding interactional evidence of the hypnotized person being able to follow the instructions? It is possible for the hypnotist to observe minute changes in body posture, breathing, and the relaxation of limbs, but what does this say about the hypnotic state of the other person? Questions pertaining to intersubjectivity, are not only relevant as analytic concerns, but remain central tasks for the participants. How to establish and share the hypnotic experience then, is here cast as a setting’s problem and its resolution, by way of its local interactional organization, could be telling vis-a-vis a more general interest in intersubjectivity-in-action.

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