Handshake interrupt


I was reminded of the handshake interrupt today when I visited the doctor’s surgery for a blood test.

That is not to say that the phlebotomist greeted me in that manner, or I her, but her technique had a sufficient element of surprise, or distraction, to send me into an altered state for a brief moment or two.

Hypnosis is not mind control; it is a naturally occurring state of concentration 

David Spiegel

There are differing views about how precisely to do the handshake interrupt, but I think it matters little for the purposes of this page.

Handshaking is very much an accepted part of an introduction in our society.  It is something that we do almost daily.

Unless you deliberately wished to spurn someone (and inflict an insult at the same time) you wouldn’t refuse to shake hands.  It is, therefore, a conditioned response.

The handshake interrupt – a method

This is the way I understand it.  As you greet your visitor you extend your hand (in my case it would be the right hand) as if to shake his hand.

He, anticipating that you will immediately shake his hand, automatically or unconsciously extends his right hand as if to grasp yours. 

Before the hands touch, however, you grasp his extended wrist with the thumb and middle finger, raise his arm and at the same time turn the palm of his hand towards his face.

As he stares at his hand you say, “Look at your hand.”  

At the same time as you do that you move his hand towards his face and say, “Notice the gradually changing focus of your eyes.”

If this is done slickly and swiftly it immediately puts the recipient into an altered state for a few seconds and allows you to slip in your hypnotic message.  

You may reinforce it with the use of an embedded command or an ambiguity.

The unexpected behaviour of the handshake interrupt

The unexpected behaviour creates at least momentary confusion because the usual pattern of behaviour has been interrupted.  

That confusion often compels the subject to accept the first suggestion offered to him.

The hypnotist can, at this stage, become as creative as he likes but you might get the subject to relax as he stares at his hand by saying, “Let your hand come down only at the same rate and speed as you relax completely and go into a deep trance.”

Whether the trance is deep is not really that important; it just needs to be deep enough for them to engage in new or different behaviour.

The phlebotomist’s pattern interrupt

After the phlebotomist had tightened the tourniquet on my left arm and applied an antiseptic fluid to the skin, she said softly “Just a small scratch.  What are you doing for the rest of the day?”

The moment the question was asked I went inside myself to search for the answer and, simultaneously, I was vaguely (but only vaguely) aware that the needle had entered my arm. 

The transderivational search

I don’t recall how long it was for or remembering it being withdrawn.  

My mind was undertaking what we call in NLP a “transderivational search” – in other words, seeking an answer.

And I remember thereafter having a brief conversation about what I expected to be doing during the day.

Once I embarked upon that internal search I was in an altered state.  

The starting point when we are asked a question is the need that we feel to answer the question.

Briefly, I was in an altered state and was therefore almost bound to answer the question, at the same time being completely distracted from the needle that was being inserted into my vein.

I can say quite confidently that I am not a nervous patient.  I am quite happy for qualified medical professionals to stick needles into me.

But not everybody is, and I felt that the phlebotomist demonstrated an excellent distraction technique (which is probably what she and her trainers would call it). 

Whatever you label it, it is the sort of technique that hypnotists readily employ to place the subject’s attention elsewhere and induce trance.

The handshake interrupt and the pattern interrupt

It is a form of pattern interrupt.  Until the phlebotomist asked the question – the point at which she wished to distract or induce trance – my concentration was upon the tourniquet and the soft reference to “little scratch”.

As soon as the question was asked, the pattern was interrupted and my mind was off elsewhere.

The subject will invariably expect the pattern, whatever it is, to be completed and when it is unexpectedly interrupted they are at least momentarily confused and the unconscious mind is exposed to suggestion.

The handshake interrupt bypasses the critical mind

Once you can get to the unconscious mind, you are past the sentry at the gate, so to speak: that is to say, the critical part of your mind, and any suggestion you make is more likely to be obeyed.

Handshake interrupts or pattern interrupts can be used to get the subject to obey a single command – as was the case with my visit to the phlebotomist – or as the initial step to inducing a deeper state of hypnosis.

The interrupt of the handshake comes at the point you take hold of the wrist with your left hand and raise the subject’s arm.  

So there is immediate confusion at that point.

The attention becomes narrower as soon as you ask him to look at his hand and notice the gradually changing focus of his eyes. 

Deepening the trance after the handshake interrupt

He immediately begins to relax and you can concentrate on how you will deepen the trance.

An alternative to allowing the hand to go down “only at the rate and speed at which you enter a deep trance” if you think the subject is suitably relaxed, is to pull the arm down and shake it, instructing the subject to go deeper and deeper still.

If you were to employ the handshake interrupt as part of a stage routine, you might choose instead to lower the hand and complete the handshake in the usual manner and say something like, “Pleased to meet you”.

At that stage the subject won’t really know what just happened.  

When it comes to hypnotising the subject later in the routine, he is sure to go quicker, deeper and faster than before.

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