How Hypnotherapy Works: The Process in Four Steps
by Marc Gravelle, CHt
The typical client who comes to a hypnotherapist is a well functioning person who wants to change or improve something in their life, but hasn’t been able to affect that change on their own. There are hundreds (and counting) of applications of the process of hypnotherapy.
Let’s use procrastination (of doing paperwork) as an example of a common hypnotherapy client. The process is basically four steps:
1. The hypnotherapist explains their behavior to them.
What this really means is that the hypnotherapist exposes the subconscious motivators of the client’s behavior. In the case of procrastination (of paperwork), the subconscious explanation would be to recognize that we all (as humans) operate on what’s known as the Pain/Pleasure Principle. Freud was the first to recognize this. This principal is that we all (as humans) seek things that are pleasurable and we avoid things we find painful (or fearful). Especially if the perception of the activity is painful. So a behavioral, or subconscious, definition of procrastination is that it is AVOIDANCE, due to some perceived pain or fear. It’s human nature to procrastinate.
2. The hypnotherapist then creates or describes a strategy for change.
This means a real plan in which the client is an active participant. In observation of Einstein’s definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results) this plan is to do something differently.
In the case of procrastination, a new strategy would be to alter or change the perception of the pain (or drudgery of paperwork). We could do this by agreeing to limit the amount of time the client actually does the paperwork. For instance, if the client used a simple kitchen timer, sets it, (say for 20 minutes), and then takes a break, their perception of the drudgery would change and they would more likely to actually do some paperwork. The strategy becomes “chip away at it, you don’t have to do it all at once.”
3. The third step involves the hypnotherapist helping the client become suggestible, or receptive to the new strategy.
Hypnosis is something that is little understood by the general public. That it is misrepresented in film, media and by stage hypnotists further distorts the general public’s understanding of what it really is. An accurate way to think of what hypnosis is, is that it is a state of mind of increased suggestibility, or receptivity to the verbal suggestion given by the hypnotherapist. The client remains consciously aware. Hypnosis is also a very natural state of mind. For instance, anyone who falls asleep has to enter a light state of hypnosis in order to attain unconscious sleep (we drift into sleep).
The hypnotherapist guides the client into this state of mind by suggesting that the client experience a series of body changes (such as the breathing growing deeper, a little dryness forming in the mouth and throat, and a little fluttering of the closed eyelids). Once the client experiences those body changes, the hypnotherapist will then help the client relax the muscle groups of their body (still very conscious). When the client is relaxed in their body yet still alert in their mind they enter that state of mind of increased suggestibility. At this point the hypnotherapist will verbally repeat the important parts of the new strategy, such as “we want you to make short periods of paperwork a priority in you’re life. Knowing that you will limit these periods to just 20 minutes, makes it easier and more doable than in the past.”
Visualization is another suggestive technique. The hypnotherapist may have the client visualize doing the paperwork while feeling relaxed, hearing the timer ding, and feeling a little grin or smile beginning to form on their face. That type of suggestion is called an inference. It implies (or infers) that the client will follow through and get some paperwork done.
In a subsequent session, the client and hypnotherapist evaluate what change has occurred. Was the client successful by doing some paperwork? If so, the strategy becomes reinforcing the change (or new behavior), and making it stronger and stronger. The ultimate goal (in this case) is to create a new automatic habit of doing paperwork. This modality, or process, has hundreds of applications. Just a few are better study habits, test anxiety, fears and phobias, sales techniques, assertive communication, preparation for childbirth, preparation for surgery, relationship enhancement, happiness, anger management, the list goes on and on, including procrastination.