Yes, it's true. I have learned in my vast experience of about a year practicing hypnosis that there is indeed an "off switch" that can leave even the most responsive subject unresponsive, their trance states ineffective, and make your suggestions for their subconscious about as successful as trying to pass a cotton ball through a brick wall. It goes like this:
I've found that certain things will yank people right out of trance, regardless how relaxed and responsive they appear to be. I am already preparing another blog post about how cell phones can be the bane of a hypnotist's existence. But rather than think of outside cues and influences, consider here those of an internal variety.
A perfect example is my friend Cody, or rather his recent visit. He had a few hours to kill last week, and asked if he could stop by for a while and, as he put it, "do some hypnosis stuff". I never turn down the opportunity to practice hypnosis, to say nothing of spending time with a friend, so I said sure.
Once here, Cody plopped himself down on the soft couch and pretty much put himself in my hands. I mentioned that there were some hypnotic phenomena that I had never used with Cody, to which he said, "Whatever you want to do is fine." It was better than fine. Cody responded to everything I offered him, including things to which he had previously been unresponsive. He enjoyed negative hallucinations, and as I moved invisibly around the room, Cody had an entertaining conversation with a stuffed toy that seemed to move and speak entirely on its own. Cody next believed that he was a very happy puppydog. He so surrendered to that identity that when I patted his belly, he whined happily and thumped his leg upon the floor.
Toward the end of his visit, he accepted that he was a puppet named Pinocchio and jumped into a bright white & yellow costume I offered him—with face paint!—in which he felt right at home. He even talked happily about his life as a puppet ("You just have to get used to people controlling you, but it's fun.") and shared a family history conjured from his own imagination without any prompting from me ("Oh, I'm not the Pinocchio in the stories, that's my great-great grandfather. I come from a long line of puppets."). He gave his contemporary take on the classic Disney song and rapped "Buh-boom-thoom-boom, I got no strings, yo!" while striking 'gangsta' poses. Then forgetting the theme of his own song, he next danced about whenever I played music, carried and maneuvered by invisible strings he believed were attached to him. He hopped, skipped, spun in circles, and jerked about while laughing and smiling. We both had a great time.
Then he checked his phone (thankfully he'd turned it to 'silent' before having me put him under). He had messages from his girlfriend and had to meet her at a certain place at a certain time. I asked if he'd care to continue our session, and although he agreed, his response was half-hearted. He went back under as quickly as ever when I gave him the "Sleep" command, but from that moment on, no suggestions or triggers stuck. He barely noticed going under, mostly not remembering it at all, and even those commands to which he responded beautifully only minutes before proved unsuccessful.
It occurred to me that Cody's mind was done with the session. He had come in willingly enough, responded accordingly, but no sooner did he get the summons from his demanding girlfriend than his reception shut down. Aware of his actions or not (I suspect that latter), he had tripped his own hypnotic off-switch and ceased being able to respond.
It's no wonder that even the most gifted stage hypnotists call for volunteers rather than randomly selecting people from the audience. A subject needs to be invested in the program/process, and fully willing to not only give in to it, but to enjoy the experience. We may very well each have our own hypnotic off-switch which cuts us off from enjoying any given experience, be it going into trance or otherwise. I know that mine tends to kick in whenever dinner table conversation turns to the topics of sports.
So the lesson I learned here is not that some people cannot be hypnotized, but that some people cannot be hypnotized unless they are fully tuned to the experience—unless they are "switched on". It's up to us as hypnotists to be able to not only spot those subjects who are switched off to begin with, but those who get switched off during their session. Yet that's only part of it. The real challenge with the switched-off subject lies in being able to turn them back on.
[Photos: Top image, Cody enjoys his life as a puppet. Center image, Cody deeply in trance while my dog Misty looks on. Image at right, a fun time being had by hypnotist and subject.]