How does hypnotherapy work?
How does hypnosis work?
This page outlines standard hypnotherapy procedures and hypnosis techniques from the client's point of view. It explains common terms such as direct and indirect suggestion, analogical marking, binds and other techniques, and how to hypnotize someone. Learning about how hypnosis works is the best way to get the most from your hypnotherapy and achieve the results you want.
A basic hypnosis session mostly follows a set pattern.
- Hypnotic Induction
- Changing Beliefs
- Mind Associations
- Direct Suggestion
- Embedded Suggestion and Analogical Marking
- Indirect Suggestions and hypnotic binds
- Post Hypnotic Suggestions
- Hypnotic Logic
- Hypnotherapy Techniques
- Reorientation from trance
The induction is what most people think of as hypnosis. In fact it is the simplest part. It only takes about an hour to learn how to hypnotize someone - putting somebody into trance is the easy bit, the difficult bit is the hypnotherapy, knowing what to do after they have been hypnotized.There are many ways to put somebody in trance: sudden shock, dancing, drumming, repetitive movement, boredom, confusion, focused attention, chanting and relaxation can all be used. Most hypnotists have three or four favorite inductions, but the Relaxation Induction Method is usually the easiest way to put someone into trance. Most hypnotists use some version of this.
In the Relaxation Induction the hypnotist simply tells the client to take three deep breaths, close their eyes and then consciously relax all the muscles in their arms and legs. While they are doing this the hypnotist will talk quietly and suggest that the client is going "deeper and deeper". This is all it takes to hypnotize most people and get them to go into trance.
Another common induction is the Eye Fixation or gaze induction. The client is asked to fix their gaze on some object above their eye level. Holding the eyes up like this quickly tires the eye muscles so when the hypnotist suggests that the eyes are growing heavy, they usually are. The suggestion is then given that as the eyes close the client will drop into trance. Most inductions are as simple as that. It usually takes between one and four minutes to put someone into a trance.
Influencing subconscious self belief
When you are in your normal conscious state, you are interacting with your surroundings and anything that is said to you is analyzed, weighed and compared with previous things that have been said to you. When you are in a trance state everything that is said to you goes straight to your subconscious mind. It does not get evaluated, weighed or compared. The difference is critical.Most people will have come across the situation where someone says to a young woman "That's a lovely dress you have on..." and the woman replies "Oh, this old rag...". What is happening there is that a compliment is given, and then the words get evaluated in the woman's conscious mind by being compared with her subconscious self belief. If her self belief is "I am unattractive" then she cannot accept the compliment. To accept the compliment would mean holding two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time - "This dress makes me attractive" versus "I am unattractive". The mind cannot hold two opposite ideas at the same time so the conflict is resolved by rejecting the compliment. (Incidentally, by rejecting the compliment the young woman upsets the complimentor, who shows their discomfort in their face, which the woman sees and interprets as confirmation that people don't like her and reinforces her core belief that she is unattractive). No matter how many times she is told that she is attractive her conscious mind will intercept the message and twist it to reinforce the belief that she is in fact unattractive.
However, in trance the unconscious mind will accept suggestions much more readily. If that same young woman is hypnotized, and the hypnotist says to her "You have a natural dress sense....you can look stylish in any clothes.... because deep down inside you are an attractive woman" those words have a good chance of being accepted uncritically. If the suggestion is repeated several times in several different ways during the hypnotherapy session then her mind will come to accept that she is attractive and her behavior will change to reinforce that self image. Passing messages to the subconscious mind is what hypnotherapy is about. (This is why Affirmations work)
Belief Based Behavior
How affirmations work
HYPNOTIC WORDS AND PHRASES
The mind records your experiences as clusters of stimuli. When you record a memory of a coach tour, you don't just remember the places you saw or the people you were with. You also record the sound of the bus engine, the motion of the bus, the smell of the air, the music that was played, even the general way you felt about life at the time. Each stimulus is linked with all the others in a cluster. There are also links between different clusters. This is why hearing a song you have not heard for years brings back the whole experience, not just recognition that you have heard the song before. Similarly a smell can suddenly transport you back to childhood complete with sounds and emotions.
Hypnotists take advantage of this by using one stimulus to get to the emotions contained in the cluster that stimulus is in. If a particular word or sound or person can trigger unhappy memories then the same word or sound can be associated with more useful reactions under hypnosis. The next time the client experiences the stimulus, instead of being hijacked by an automatic reaction, the mind has two options; and that tiny hesitation when the mind considers which to choose is enough to prevent the automatic process from starting.
This is the simplest hypnotic suggestion technique. In trance the client is very receptive to suggestions and so every hypnotherapy session will include numerous direct suggestions. The word 'suggestion' is a little misleading. Hypnotic suggestions are more likely to be phrased as questions or statements such as "You are a loving caring person who respects others. You respect for others is a reflection of the respect you show for yourself. You show respect for yourself in the way you dress, in the way you always take care to look your best, in the way you greet everyone with a warm and genuine smile....." etc.
Examples of Direct Suggestions
Indirect Suggestion in hypnosis
Indirect suggestions are less blunt than direct suggestions. For example to implant 'self respect' with an indirect suggestion you could say "I wonder if you are aware of just how much other people respect you?" It presents the same idea to the unconscious mind as a direct suggestion would, but in a more subtle way. The question is about whether you are aware, not about your self respect. In order to understand the suggestion the listener has to consider whether they are aware of it or not, therefore the idea goes into their mind before they can resist it. However, research has repeatedly shown that under controlled conditions the end result is no different when the same ideas are delivered using direct suggestion or indirect suggestion. The difference between using direct suggestions and using indirect suggestions is therefore mainly a matter of personal style. Most hypnotists use a mixture of direct and indirect suggestions.
Examples of Indirect Suggestions
The main use of indirect suggestion in hypnotic language is in the creation of hypnotic binds. Binds are forms of words where the hypnotist defines the outcome while appearing to offer a free choice. Parents have used these for generations: "Would you rather have your bath after dinner or before you put your pajamas on?" offers the child the illusion of choice. The unconscious mind is childlike in many ways, and wordings that would be rejected while awake and aware are accepted in trance. So you might say "You may find yourself going deeper into trance now, or in a few moments" - either way the client goes deeper. Or you might say "Your conscious mind may be wondering how easy it is to stop smoking while your unconscious mind has already found the right way for you to do that or your unconscious mind can decide that you have smoked your last cigarette while your conscious mind is wondering if it really has". There are multiple embedded suggestions in that phrase, but the outcome is that the unconscious mind is instructed to do certain things no matter what the conscious mind is doing.
The sentence illustrating analogical marking "You may be wondering how long it will take to relax and go into trance" also contains hypnotic language. The 'you may be wondering" part is an example mind-reading "you may be... ", and the 'how long' part is a bind. It first of all seeds the idea of wondering by giving permission - 'you may wonder' and then causes the client to actually wonder, to focus inwards to think about 'how long'. By directing the client's attention inwards it directs the attention away from the present, which is the first step into trance. It also forms a bind by slipping in the assumption that the trance must come - it is only a question of when.
Metaphor in hypnosis
The ultimate in indirect suggestion is to give no suggestions at all, but to imply that change can happen by describing how it happened to someone else or in some different situation. This is what metaphor does. Metaphor therapy is a major subject in its own right and understanding the use of metaphor is essential to understanding and applying hypnotherapy.
There is a whole section on this site about the use of metaphor in therapy, and the use of metaphor as therapy.
Embedded Suggestion and Analogical Marking
Sometimes the suggestions are short and direct, fired one after the other like bullets from a gun. Sometimes hypnotic suggestions are woven into a long winding conversation like jewels in a tapestry.Embedded suggestions are usually delivered using analogical marking. If I say "You may be wondering how long it will take to relax and go into trance", I can emphasize or mark some of the words in some way. Your subconscious mind is very good at noticing any slight differences in the way words are delivered but your conscious mind just attends to making sure you understand the meaning.
I might say the words "relax and go into trance" in a slightly different accent, or I might say them while turning my head towards the door, or touch the client on the back of the hand, or I might say them more softly so the client has strain to hear. Whatever method I use, as long as I use it consistently, after a few sentences the unconscious mind will notice the differences and will pay particular attention to those words. So the sentence actually is received as "You may be wondering how long it will take to relax and go into trance". If all the suggestions are delivered as embedded commands this is known as a conversational induction.
Post hypnotic suggestions
In a sense all hypnotic statements are post-hypnotic suggestions but the term has come to mean suggestions made during hypnosis that will trigger some specific behavior after the session. The classic post hypnotic demonstration is to hypnotize someone and in trance tell them that the number 'four' does not exist for them. The hypnotist then brings the person out of trance and asks them to count the number of fingers on the hypnotist's hands. The count usually goes "1, 2, 3, ...eh..um..five, six... and then the person realizes 'that can't be right...' and will go back and try to count again and again, each time being unable to use or even be aware of the number 'four'.A similar effect can be obtained by telling the hypnotized person that after trance every time a word or phrase is used they will instantly stand up and sing 'Happy Birthday'. These suggestions are incompatible with the client's normal values systems so they lose their compulsion after a few minutes. However, suggestions aimed at more beneficial behavior can be incorporated into the client's basic beliefs and will last a lifetime.
Post hypnotic suggestions are used routinely in therapy to suggest that the client will feel happier at work or will learn more easily or will be reminded to feel good every time they see the colour orange. The command is usually given as a direct suggestion and can be linked to anything. A typical post hypnotic suggestion might be "Some time in the next days before the end of the week you will notice a sudden flash of light, or hear an unexpected sound and that will instantly remind you of all you have learned here today and you will be filled with that wonderful feeling of release that tells you will never smoke again". It is inevitable that the client will see or hear some sudden thing so the suggestion will be triggered and will reinforce the belief.
The hypnotized mind is very literal. If you ask a person in trance "Can you tell me your name?" they will reply "Yes" instead of saying their name. This is why direct suggestions are effective, the mind accepts the words at face value.However, experience has shown that hypnotic suggestions are more effective and longer lasting if they are phrased within a logical structure.A statement such as "You can stop smoking" becomes more effective if it is linked to something that is true. For example "You can stop smoking because you have succeeded at so many other things" links something that is possible with something that is definitely true. The hypnotist slips in the B causes A logic without the conscious mind knowing it. Other logical structure are A leads to B, A causes B, and A is the same thing as B. They do not have to be true or even make sense; as long as the structure is there the mind will accept the logic.
Reorientation from trance
After the hypnotherapy procedures are the client has to be returned to the present. This is usually done by counting out. I will say something like "In a moment I will begin counting from five to one and as I count you will find yourself coming back to awareness, feeling good and ....[some post hypnotic instruction]". The post hypnotic instruction is usually about applying the learning and being alert all day, but it could be anything that I want the client to experience later.
Each of the hypnotic methods and techniques can be delivered in many different ways. There are dozens of core ways of structuring hypnotic effects and they can all be blended to deal with however a client responds during a session. It is not unusual to start a session intending to use cognitive methods, but to then have to switch to metaphor and finally deal with a non standard reaction by using parts therapy. A skilled hypnotherapist will be able to call on any of the hypnotic tools and integrate them smoothly into the session as it develops. No one technique is always better.
Last Updated: 29-Jun-14
David Mason www.key-hypnosis.com © 2006
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