Sometimes beginning hypnotists get so wrapped up in the process of hypnosis – which is fun, exciting, and totally captivating – that they forget that hypnosis is a means to an end. In hypnotherapy, the end is improving the client’s satisfaction with life, making them more comfortable – whether physically, mentally, or both. The good thing is, though, that the client’s subconscious will help us find that goal if we just let it.
This is different from stage hypnotism, which is somewhere between a game, a contest, and a conspiracy. In that case, there can be a bit more of an authoritarian, directed approach. While that can be very useful with some hypnotherapy clients, a more cooperative method is usually the first and best approach to try. This approach isn’t just about the suggestions – it can extend even into the induction itself. Let me tell you about a very simple example that illustrates the principle beautifully.
I once worked with a hypnotee who was fascinated by the idea of hypnosis and wanted to learn more, but there was a problem. They had a back injury that would cause them significant pain if they let certain muscles relax too much. Until I worked with them, every time they’d tried to experience hypnosis, the hypnotist would tell them to relax, and they would… until the muscles in their back went into painful spasms. They were at their wit’s end: to be hypnotized you have to relax and if they relaxed they experienced a surge of pain which brought them out of hypnosis!
The solution was both simple and obvious… but totally counterintuitive. I just gave them permission to not relax! Specifically, I used this language in the induction:
“As you begin to go into trance, I want you to be aware of how good your body is at making you comfortable. Take a few deep breaths and think about how easy it is for your body to keep itself aligned, strong and comfortable. The muscles that keep you comfortable know what to do… and they can keep doing it even as the rest of your body relaxes. Another deep breath, and you feel relaxation spreading through your body, even as your back stays strong, aligned and comfortable. It’s amazing how easy it is when you think about it, isn’t it? No matter how deep you go, your back will keep itself comfortable, the muscles holding it in the way that lets the rest of you be comfortable and relaxed… and you’re very relaxed now, and your back is still comfortable, you’re doing great…”
And so on. It was a pretty standard progressive induction… except for that special suggestion to let their back stay as tensed as it needed to be. I didn’t even tell it to stay tense… I just told it to stay comfortable. Their subconscious did the rest, and they had a lovely, deep trance for the first time ever! When they came back to consciousness, they said that not only had their back not hurt, it was more comfortable than it had been in weeks. I hadn’t even meant to do that – they had indicated that their back was not painful so long as they didn’t relax, and I just focused on giving them a new experience with hypnosis. After that, they found entering trance quite easy, and even found their back problem easier to manage.
And all by letting their subconscious decide what to do… offering guidance, and an option, and letting it do the rest! That will so often be the best approach in using hypnosis for change: the client wants change, or they wouldn’t be seeking hypnotherapy. They just need that direction, that encouragement. If they need a more authoritarian approach, there’s always time for that. But first, try just giving them permission to be more comfortable, and see what happens!