Daily Archives: 10th March 2015

Self-hypnosis: Beyond the Chicago Paradigm, By Ronald Shone

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The study of self-hypnosis by Fromm and Khan gives some interesting insight into self- hypnosis and how it differs from heterohypnosis. Although the first study of its kind, it does indicate that we need to know much more. Self-hypnosis is a learned skill that can be improved over time. However, being taught self-hypnosis in therapy is not enough. The individual also needs guidance in utilising the trance state, self-therapy and utilising imagery.

Self-hypnosis: Beyond the Chicago Paradigm

Ronald Shone

I recently read with great interest Self-hypnosis: the Chicago Paradigm by Erika Fromm and Stephen Kahn (Fromm & Kahn, 1990) – which contains a number of chapters reprinting articles published elsewhere, plus some new material. It was more remarkable from my point of view because it was the first in-depth study of the subject I had come across. There is virtually nothing on self-hypnosis in the more learned journals, and as the authors point out, many consider the topic more or less the same as heterohypnosis. But as their book testifies, this is not so. In presenting their studies they draw on the diaries of the subjects they used – although much of their formal analysis is derived from the analysis of questionnaires.

What I present here is a comment on, a critique of, and a condensed longitudinal study of the topic based on my own experience. The longitudinal studies used in their analysis were based on a mere four weeks of using self-hypnosis. My own experience comes from utilising self-hypnosis intensively over a 25-year period. It is also based on my study of hypnosis and my training as a hypnotherapist. I am aware that one can always dispense with a single study on the grounds that it is not possible to generalise from the particular. My reply to that is that a longitudinal study over a 25-year period can, and does, give additional insight into the subject that adds to our understanding of self-hypnosis in particular, and the phenomenon of hypnosis in general. It has the added advantage that it not only draws on the experience of the person engaging in self-hypnosis, but draws on a knowledge of the subject matter which most subjects would not possess.

Heterohypnosis versus Self-hypnosis

Prior to 1970 the general belief was that self-hypnosis and heterohypnosis were basically the same, the only difference was who was inducing the trance state. Based on this belief, teaching self-hypnosis is to teach the individual trance induction and deepening. Fromm and her team came to question this.

The first consideration was the degree to which consciousness was split in the two types of trance. In heterohypnosis there is, besides the hypnotist, the experiencer and the part that is the observer. In other words, the individual’s consciousness splits into two. In the case of self-hypnosis, however, the individual must be the director (the hypnotist) the one being directed (the experiencer) and the observer. In other words, in self-hypnosis the individual’s consciousness splits into at least three. In their investigations, all subjects reported more splits in consciousness (what Fromm and Khan call “ego splits”) in self-hypnosis than in heterohypnosis. My own experience confirms this too. However, the same ability can be utilised in heterohypnosis, e.g. when utilising double dissociation. It appears to me that the split occurs ‘more naturally’ in self-hypnosis but has to be suggested in heterohypnosis.

My own view is that self-hypnosis is easier to achieve once heterohypnosis has been achieved. The reasons for this are: (a) knowing what to expect; (b) knowing/learning the body responses; (c) becoming comfortable with the experience; (d) taking advantage of post-hypnotic suggestion, and (e) removing doubts and uncertainties. My own experience, however, of teaching self-hypnosis is that individuals can induce and deepen a trance fairly readily, but then get stumped – often asking “what do I do now?” This is important. The next step is no longer self-hypnosis but more correctly self-therapy. The individual moves from being a hypnotist to being a therapist. But not all individuals know how to be a therapist, or even if they do, it does not mean that they will be a good therapist. Therapists go through long periods of training. Why should a clinician assume, then, that an individual they train in self-hypnosis will also be a good therapist? Clearly, guidance is required in the use of suggestions, imagery, metaphors, etc., depending on the problem or the use to which the self-hypnosis is to be put. Take the following example. Suppose self-hypnosis is to be used for improving concentration and examination performance. A knowledge of learning skills is called for – unless one believes simple direct suggestions like: “I am going to perform magnificently” will work! Where self-hypnosis is for a specific purpose, like pain, then the guidance can be specific, short and reasonably comprehensive. But it should not be forgotten that what the clinician is now instructing the client in is not self-hypnosis but self-therapy. These are quite different things.

In carrying out their investigation the authors raise doubt about the technique used in their pilot study: “Also, we wondered whether a single autohypnosis session was sufficient to enable a subject to experience and explore the really significant phenomena of self-hypnosis.” (p.31). I find this astonishing! Would anyone say from one session of golf or one session of tennis that an individual fully appreciated either? No. So why should they expect it of self-hypnosis. If self-hypnosis was innate and fixed, then this makes sense. If it is a skill that must be learnt, then it makes little sense. Hypnosis is a skill that not only can be learned but can be constantly improved. This was indeed found to be the case on a further study of six volunteers.

The authors report that subjects switch back and forth between Ego Activity and Ego Receptivity, i.e., actively deciding to focus on something as against letting things float into their awareness. This terminology, however, I find very value-laden. Furthermore, the study showed that Ego Receptivity was greater in self-hypnosis than in heterohypnosis. The problem here is disentangling what is going on. Ego Receptivity is highly correlated with vivid imagery, and vivid imagery was reported by the subjects to be much more prevalent in self-hypnosis than in heterohypnosis. They go as far as saying that “Ego Receptivity and Imagery are the most important aspects of self-hypnosis.” (p.25). One interpretation of this, however, is the limitation of the study. The subjects had no great purpose or focus for engaging in self-hypnosis. Quite naturally, then, subjects would concentrate on internal states, which utilised imagery and fantasy. In heterohypnosis part of their focus, part of their attention, would be directed at what the hypnotist was suggesting. Even so, it does indicate an important observation that in self-hypnosis imagery is crucial for achieving focused concentration, which is essential for the trance state.

Trance is a skill

Going into trance, deepening the trance, maintaining the trance and utilising the trance state are all skills. In heterohypnosis the hypnotist acts like a coach. They give instruction, encouragement and facilitate the trance process. In self-hypnosis the individual also takes on board the tasks performed by the coach. I can learn tennis by reading instructions and playing with others who know the game. I can join a club and be instructed by a coach on how best to play the game. The second route is more likely to lead me to play better. In either case, I am still the one who learns to play, and the standard I reach depends on a mixture of innate ability, practise and taking advantage of what the coach instructs me to do. Over time my skill improves, usually with many ups-and-downs. Now I could go to a club and play once a day for four weeks. My skill would improve, but I very much doubt that I would be a proficient player of tennis in such a time-period. Why, then, should researches expect so much from individuals engaging in self-hypnosis for an equally short period of time?

My comments should not be construed as saying we learn nothing from the present study, far from it. What it does imply is that we need to go beyond it. The study is an important one because it is the first of its kind. What, then do we learn from it? First, and as to be expected from any learned skill, it became easier over time. Certain aspects of the induction and deepening became automatic (almost like changing a gear). Once they had become automatic, the subjects could concentrate on the utilisation of the trance state itself. Furthermore, as time went on subjects found it easier to concentrate. As in meditation, this is a learned experience. Consciousness varies, and even more when in a relaxed state. In self-hypnosis the individual has to learn to keep focused. As the trance deepens this becomes more difficult. What needs to be emphasised, however, is that if concentration wavers, then don’t worry. Bring the thoughts back to what was being focused on before this happened.

As a corollary to this, the authors make an interesting observation on p.36. When engaging in self-hypnosis you can always give yourself enough time to carry out some suggestion. In heterohypnosis the client has often created an image while the therapist is trying to describe it. Furthermore, the image can often be at variance to what the therapist is describing, especially if it is quite explicit. In self-hypnosis this simply does not happen. The individual knows exactly what is wanted and creates it and knows when he or she has created it. For this reason I have found it necessary in heterohypnosis to utilise ideometer responses – “Nod your head when you have done such-and-such”. On one occasion when utilising a computer re-programming metaphor (basically achieving reframing), the subject took 10 minutes! He was, however, very actively engaged in debugging his programme throughout it all, as he informed me later.

Another feature discovered in the study was the loss of motivation to continue with self-hypnosis. But this is a common feature in all learning experiences. Sustaining motivation requires a high input of energy and a desire to achieve some goal. The only real goals of the volunteers were a curiosity and a desire for self-exploration. The lesson to be learned from this is that the individual must have a good reason for pursuing self-hypnosis. Pain is one of the greatest motivators. What individuals seem to want were new skills and knew areas to explore. Without these, boredom sets in. There needs to be a reason to utilise self-hypnosis, even if it is only for relaxation or the control of tension. The difficulty is that we often do not know the value of a new skill, nor do we know the many uses to which it can be put – neither of which can be achieved in four weeks. Only be acquiring this additional knowledge can a person engaging in self-hypnosis gain fully from it.

Over the many years of engaging in self-hypnosis I have found that my skills have changed and developed as I have become more knowledgeable about the subject. In the early period I tried, like the subjects in this study, simple exercises and simple explorations. Like them, I used it for problem solving and for self-exploration. Like them I became bored. What I discovered very early on was my limited acquaintance with imagery and image formation. Correcting this led to my book on Creative Visualization (Shone, 1984). In the study it was reported that individuals had greater and more vivid imagery. But as a hypnotherapist I have found individuals need some guidance on image formation and the utilisation of imagery. As an example see my earlier paper on Hypnosis and ME, (Shone, 1997). I will have more to say on imagery later.

The journal reports of the subjects indicate that they explored the trance phenomena by giving themselves tasks to do and establishing which were easy and which not. But the trance state is a dynamic process. On some occasions a task may be easy while on other occasions the same task may be difficult or simply not done. The longitudinal studies do not indicate sufficiently that even entering trance can vary across states; and that the quality of the trance state can vary. The authors do speculate that the depth of trance fluctuated much more during self-hypnosis than heterohypnosis and that this could be because of changes in arousal levels throughout the day. My experience is just so.

Ultradian rhythms and self-hypnosis

In this study subjects were not instructed to enter self-hypnosis at the same time of the day or to take note of the time. Consequently, nothing could be gleaned from these studies concerning changes in arousal levels and its impact on the trance state. Over many years I have frequently entered self-hypnosis in the morning and again after returning from work. The morning session immediately on awakening was not found to be effective. However, after breakfast and before going to work it was very effective. In fact, this would be around the first ultradium rhythm of the day (see Rossi, 1991; Rossi, Lippincott & Bessette, 1994 and 1995). The one on returning home after work often overlapped another. But interestingly, the two differed in quality and purpose. In terms of the authors’ distinctions, the morning session was Ego Active while the afternoon session was Ego Receptive. Very rarely was it the other way round.

It is now becoming documented that hemispherical dominance switches throughout the day. One manifestation of this is the dominant nostril in breathing! The 90-to 120-minute of the rest-active cycle, the ultradian rhythm, leads to much more vivid imagery during the rest phase of the cycle when self-hypnosis or heterohypnosis is engaged in. It is also possible that during the rest phase individuals are likely to loose consciousness more readily during heterohypnosis. If, as Rossi maintains, it is possible to tune oneself into the rest phase of the ultradium rhythm, then entering self-hypnosis during these periods, even for short periods of time, could be more beneficial than at other times, in which longer periods of self-hypnosis are undertaken. Or it may be that during the rest phase of the cycle Ego Receptivity is more prevalent and during the active phase more Ego Activity is prevalent. Far more research needs to be undertaken on hemispherical dominance and the ultradian rhythm and its relationship to the trance state

Imagery and self-hypnosis

A constantly reported feature of the subjects’ experiences was the greater use of imagery in self-hypnosis – the imagery being idiosyncratic, very rich and very vivid. Quantitatively, about three-quarters of the subjects reported a greater and more vivid imagery in self-hypnosis than in heterohypnosis. It also appeared that geometric shapes were more frequent in self-hypnosis. The report also indicated that levels of imagery production remained virtually the same over the four-week period. With regard to this last point, four weeks is simply not long enough to learn the skill of utilising imagery.

Images can be realistic or they can be unrealistic, they can metaphorical or symbolic, they can be empowering or not. Creative imagery is a skill. There is a basic and natural level of imagery that everyone can utilise. But to go beyond this requires some understanding of imagery formation and imagery utilisation. Hypnotherapists are well acquainted with basic imagery. I can say to a client relax or I can ask them to imagine that they are on a beach, lying in the warm sun just having had a swim… But as the subjects indicated, they can become bored. Images need to be varied, even when wanting to illicit the same response. This is as true in self-hypnosis as it is in heterohypnosis.

Good imagery utilises the subject’s own experiences. In heterohypnosis these experiences must be obtained either by direct questioning or by simply listening to the client. In self-hypnosis the individual knows what interests them, knows the type of fantasies that they like and can relate to. But even here, exploring new images can still be achieved and perfected. However, unless imagery is to be developed simply for its own sake, it needs to be directed at some purpose. There needs to be a goal or reason for the imagery in the first place. Consider the simple example of someone worried about examinations. The hypnotherapist can do a whole variety of procedures to help: direct suggestion, going through the examination in the mind’s eye, being given post-hypnotic suggestions about what they should do when they first go into the examination room and sit down, etc. But suppose you know that they are a great fan of Star Trek. In the case of self-hypnosis you would know this without having to illicit it. The point is, that with this knowledge it is possible to construct a very elaborate image that has the individual on the spaceship Enterprise, heading for a planet on which examinations are undertaken. On board, however, they go through all sorts of procedures to enhance their abilities and allow them to achieve their full potential. Such imagery can be as simple or elaborate as the individual needs. The point is that in self-hypnosis, the images can be as elaborate as the individual wants, and can be pursued for as long as the individual wants. But having said this, images of this type need to be practised. The self-hypnotist has to become proficient at creating images easily and quickly. I do not believe that imagery is a constant innate characteristic. Once this is accepted, then the logic is that imagery can be improved and utilised far more efficiently. One simple way forward is to learn a stock of images, try them and adapt them for your own purpose (see Denning & Phillips, 1993; Epstein, 1989; Fanning, 1988; Page, J.L., 1990, Page, M, 1990; Shone, 1984; Stanton, 1985; Wells, 1990). Like fairy stories, there are good fairy stories and there are ones not so good. Equally, there are good images and there are images that are not so good. But an image that is good for one person may not be for another. The Star Trek image is good for someone who likes Star Trek and is comfortable with science fiction, but for others a different image is called for.

In heterohypnosis it is the therapist who has to become proficient in the use of imagery. In the case of self-hypnosis, it is the individual himself or herself. Once again, then, we return to the point that individuals require guidance in the use of imagery if they are to take full advantage of it.


When teaching self-hypnosis to a client it is important to realise that a number of skills are required:

i) entering, deepening and maintaining the trance state

ii) utilising the trance state

iii) self-therapy

iv) utilising imagery

The first is often all that a client is given guidance in. But this is the easiest and (probably) the least important of the list – so long as the individual can enter self-hypnosis. Once the skill of entering and deepening self-hypnosis is achieved, which is not at all difficult for most people, then the real difficulty is utilising the trance state; knowing exactly how to engage in self-therapy and how to utilise imagery to its full advantage.


Denning, M. and Phillips, O. (1983) The LLewellyn Practical Guide to Creative Visualization, 2 edn. LLewellyn Publications.

Epstein, G. (1989) Healing Visualizations, Bantam Books.

Fanning, P. (1988) Visualization for Change , New harbinger Publications, Inc.

Fromm, E. and Kahn, S. (1990) Self-hypnosis. The Chicago Paradigm, New York: The Guildford Press.

Page, J.L. (1990) Applied Visualisation, Quantum.

Page, M. (1990) Visualization, The Aquarian Press.

Rossi, E.L. (1991) The 20-Minute Break, Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Rossi, E.L., Lippincott, B.M. and Bessette, A. (1994) Ultradian Dynamics in Hypnotherapy – Part One. European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2, No.1, 10-20.

Rossi, E.L., Lippincott, B.M. and Bessette, A. (1995) Ultradian Dynamics in Hypnotherapy (Part 2). European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2, No.2, 6-14.

Shone, R. (1984) Creative Visualization, Wellingborough: Thorsons Publishers Limited.

Shone, R. (1997) Hypnosis and M.E. European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 4, No.1, 35-39.

Stanton, H.E. (1985) The Fantasy Factor, Optima.

Wells, V. (1990) The Joy of Visualization, Chronicle Books.

Author profile:

Ronald Shone

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Professional Abuse By Michael O’Sullivan

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What exactly is professional abuse? Everyone has their own opinions about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. To keep matters simple it is probably best to begin with professional codes of ethics. For example how familiar are you with your own professional organisations code? If you are a member of more than one professional body are the different codes compatible? Does one organisation allow certain behaviour while another might prohibit it? Not important you think? Well, think again!

By voluntarily becoming a member of a professional body, you are also agreeing to abide by its code of ethics. By joining another you are in addition agreeing to abide by this second code as well, and so on. I have personally known several therapists who have been members of different organisations not realising or seeming to care that the different codes that they had agreed to abide by were contradictory. In one case membership of one organisation prohibited certain activities, which their member engaged in on a regular basis as a member of another.

Imagine a worst-case scenario – someone brings a complaint against a multimember therapist which is ultimately found to have no basis. But, because the complaint was filed with several organisations, and they all investigated it, several problems arise because the therapist was found to have been in breach of one organisations code of ethics by engaging in activities promoted by another. Ultimately the multimember therapist might be forced to surrender one membership – only to find that this fact is reportable to other organisations (most organisations make it a condition of membership that any disciplinary action against a member be reported at the earliest opportunity) – in turn triggering further investigations and possible actions. So without actually having acted contrary to the best interests of a client it is still possible to find oneself being sanctioned.

There was a time when certain organisations ‘threw together’ a code of ethics because everyone else had them. Today ethical codes are no longer something which are just ‘thrown together’ (there are still one or two exceptions). A reputable committee might spend months labouring over them in the search for a code that will promote best practice among its members and offer a good measure of protection and redress where necessary to members of the public.

This brings us to the next point that needs to be examined – best practice.

When a client, often made vulnerable through stress, distress or illness, seeks assistance from a therapist, they are in effect placing their trust in them. This then places the entire onus for ensuring that this trust is not abused with the therapist. Client’s have every right to expect that their chosen therapist will act professionally and objectively. Abuse in the real sense of the word happens the very moment that a therapist takes advantage of the trust placed in them. The moment that this happens the therapist is no longer acting in the best interests of the client. The moment that a therapist crosses this line they breach professional boundaries and exceed the normal limits of the professional relationship. Go back to your codes of ethics for a moment – it would be rare, I hope impossible, to find one that did not require a therapist to act in the best interests of a client.

There are six main areas where abuse can occur and statistics show that the majority of offenders are male. These areas are sexual, sexual orientation, racial, emotional, physical and financial.

Sexual abuse is not confined to sexual acts, it can also involve inappropriate questioning that is not relevant to the course of treatment, which the therapist indulges in out of personal curiosity (as opposed to professional necessity) or for personal gratification. I’m not sure that the two can be separated; both are an abuse of trust.

A person’s sexual orientation may be causing them confusion and this may be one reason for them to enter therapy in order to resolve some issues. This is far different from a gay client attending for smoking cessation therapy only to find the therapist becoming more focused on their sexual orientation and making an issue of it.

Racial abuse can be both direct and indirect, and can also be surprisingly discrete. A number of years ago a relationship between a supervisor and the therapist under supervision deteriorated when the supervisor learned that their supervisee was involved in a long term and stable inter-racial relationship. Nothing was ever said but a lot was communicated in other ways. Racism is not always a colour issue either – prejudices are frequently pervasive and often ill defined.

Emotional abuse comes in many guises. Avoidable breaches of confidentiality are an abuse. Sometimes confidentiality must be breached in the best interests of a client. If there is evidence that a client intends to harm themselves or someone else then it is unlikely that you would be acting against their best interests by involving appropriate outside agencies. However there is no excuse for discussing client’s private details outside of the therapeutic relationship unless as part of a supervised session where rules of confidentiality still apply. At a conference years ago, shortly after I had completed my first training course, I discovered the therapist I was undergoing a training analysis with pointing me out to a group of their friends and telling them that I was currently a client. Even inexperienced as I was at the time, the fact that someone, especially a practising therapist, could be so ignorant of the rules of confidentiality quite frankly stunned me. Being dominating or intimidating, critical of clients, manipulating clients into extending a course of treatment or with-holding treatment as ‘punishment’ are also behaviours which should be considered a breach of professional boundaries, and thus abuse.

Obviously striking, pushing or restraining a client are the most obvious forms of physical abuse. Clients are also physically abused when restrictions are placed on their movements, i.e. being prevented from leaving a session. No contact need necessarily take place – simply standing between the client and the door is enough. Shouting, raising your voice and gesticulating as a means of intimidation or coercion also count as physical abuse in that it can make a client fearful of assault and/or for their safety.

Clients can be taken advantage of financially in several ways. Deliberately delaying progress in sessions so that clients will have to attend additional sessions is one of the most blatant. It is also the most difficult to prove. Withdrawing therapy if a client can no longer afford to attend is seen by some as abuse. Equally I have spoken to many therapists who would disagree. Personally I would not withdraw support under these circumstances but others point out that they are professionals and have a right to expect to be paid for their efforts. This is a hard one indeed. At the very least the client should be referred on and an appropriate means of support should be found. The client should definitely not just be ‘dropped.’ On the other hand some therapists have agreed to provide therapy free of charge or at a reduced rate only to see their client driving away in a brand new sports car and show up at the next session wearing a Rolex and a fortune in jewellery. I would suggest though that this is rare – it has only happened to me once.

Lets not forget that organisations themselves can contribute to professional abuse. By failing to enforce their codes of ethics, not responding promptly to complaints and attempting to ignore or delay investigating complaints some organisations have caused as much if not more distress than the original incident or incidents in question. There have also been cases where promises have been given about the time that it will take to bring a complaint to resolution which, without explanation, have not been honoured.

The most damaging aspect of professional abuse of course are the affects on the client and those close to them. One bad experience can prevent clients from seeking further assistance and from benefiting from what could potentially be a life enhancing process. Not surprisingly clients emerging from an abusive professional relationship can do so with more problems than they had before seeking assistance.

As a therapist if you find yourself in any doubt about any aspect of your relationship with a client, consult your code of ethics initially and seek advise from your ethics officer or a member of the committee of your professional association as soon as possible. If in supervision discuss it with your supervisor as soon as possible. Be honest with them and listen to what thy have to say. It is acting in clients’ best interests to refer them on to another therapist if your interest in them becomes less than professional.


Prevention of Professional Abuse Network (POPAN) – 1 Wyvil Court, Wyvil Road, London SW8 2TG – 020 7622 6334 – www.popan.org.uk – info@popan.org.uk

POPAN provides help for people who have been abused by health or social care professionals. They also produce clear and user friendly literature on professional abuse, what to expect when a complaint is made (client), suggested reading lists, a guide to what to look for when going into therapy and a newsletter.

Women’s Support Project – 31Stockwell Street, Glasgow G1 4RZ – 0141 552 2221

Women’s Aid Federation England – PO Box 391, Bristol BS99 7WS – 0117 944 4411 or 0345 023468

Recommended Reading

1. Boundaries – by Anne Katherine. Defines and explains what healthy boundaries are, how to recognise if personal boundaries are being violated and how to protect against this
2. Out of Bounds, Sexual exploitation in Counselling and Therapy – by Janice Russell. Overview of the issue of sexual exploitation in counselling and therapy – includes research
3. At Personal Risk – by Marilyn Peterson. Examines boundary violations in professional/client relationships. Examples from law, medicine, religion, education and psychotherapy
4. Patients as Victims, sexual abuse in Psychotherapy and Counselling – Editor Derek Jehu. A collection of articles and research reports including information on ethics
5. Complaints and Grievances in Psychotherapy – by Fiona Palmer Barnes. Billed as a handbook of professional practice, covers confidentiality, complaints procedures, errors and malpractice, examples of ethical codes and sample letters
6. Sex in the Forbidden Zone, when men in power abuse women’s trust – Peter Rutter. Explains what is meant by the ‘Forbidden Zone’, explores the extent of the problem, why men abuse power and much more – highly recommended
7. Folie a Deux, an experience of one to one therapy – by Rosie Alexander. When things ‘go wrong’ in therapy, from the client’s point of view.

Mike is a highly experienced therapist, having first started using hypnosis in 1987 while in the military to improve sporting performance and endurance. Since returning to civilian life he ran a successful private practice for over 23 years before retiring from client work in 2011 to concentrate on research and education.Mike specialised in stress management with particular interest in traumatic stress syndromes.

Author profile:

MikeMike is a former director and founder of The Emergency Services Trauma Specialists, a charity providing education, training and services to the emergency services and their families following involvement in critical incidents. The charity came to a natural conclusion after many other organisations began offering those same services and a specialist charity was no longer deemed necessary. A resounding success story.

Mike currently holds the following professional memberships/awards among others:

Fellow of The National Council of Psychotherapists (NCP)
Fellow of The National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH)
General Hypnotherapy Register (Registered Hypnotherapist)
NCP accredited supervisor (Professional Services)
And formerly:

Fellow of The International Association of Precision Therapists (IAPT) – Now closed
Co-Author of”The Hypnotherapy Resources & Careers Guide, a breakthrough publication when it first appeared helping potential hypnotherapists find their way into the profession
Former editor of “Fidelity” (Newsletter of The NCP)
Today Mike concentrates his efforts on providing quality distance learning courses at affordable prices as director of studies for The College of Integrated Therapies Ltd. His considerable experience adds value to these courses rarely found in this industry making our training courses unique


What Hypnosis Language Do You Speak? By Marilyn Gordo, BCH, CI

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“So think as if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon the sky. For so, in truth, it is. So speak as if the entire world were but a single ear intent on hearing what you say. And so, in truth, it is.”

Mikhail Naimy*

Language is so instinctual that we often don’t stop to think about it. And yet it is so powerful that it affects our lives to the very core. In hypnosis, this is particularly significant. Every hypnosis word we use has meaning. The words we choose and how we say them reveal our thoughts and our intentions and affect others profoundly. Hypnosis is a verbal art form, and it’s important for us to take a good look at our canvas.

It’s well known that when we describe something to a person in hypnosis, that description can become a deep suggestion: “Your hand is becoming very light, floating in the air like a balloon.” Other suggestions are powerful, “You feel very peaceful.” or “Your body is healing perfectly.” But this kind of well-known verbal skill is just the tip of the iceberg with hypnosis. Let’s dive even deeper. Let’s take a look at authoritarian vs. permissive language; at the use of negativities; at regional language differences; at the use of only visual language, and more.

The “I want you to…” Conundrum

It never ceases to amaze me how many practitioners use the words, “I want you to…” when asking their clients to take the next action. It’s truly an instinctive use of language, and yet it is very significant. It, in fact, tells the client, “I’m not really interested in what you want, but here’s what I want you to do. And I’m your boss, so here’s what I want from you.” The significance of this is that the practitioner and client have a relationship that says, “I know what’s good for you, and therefore, I have one up on you.” But there’s another truth that this point of view misses; it’s that our clients have real wisdom, that they often know what is good for them, and that they are worthy of great respect. Milton Erickson knew this deeply. He rescued the old authoritarian hypnosis from its own language – and from itself. So grew the popularity of such phrases as: “Just let yourself…” or “You may find that you want to…” or “If you would, just go ahead and…” Some clients and hypnotherapists rejoiced at this. Others paid little or no attention and kept on with “I want you to…” language. The upshot of this is that sometimes clients are treated with a paternalistic attitude that implies that the hypnotherapist is a demigod. So, if that is what floats your boat, there are then all kinds of practitioners with many variations of behavior. If you are one who uses authoritarian language and would like to see what a new way might be like, I’d like to suggest just becoming aware and trying on a new hat and a new way of using language – if you like.

Negative Language and Negative States

I was taken by surprise one day when I heard a very skilled and wonderful hypnotherapist use this suggestion: “When you feel your anxiety, just breathe deeply.” That sounds innocuous, but think about it. If we use a word like “anxiety” in our positive suggestions, it may make a client anxious. Not only that, it also implies that the client will keep on feeling the fearful state. So it might have worked better if this hypnotherapist would say, “Whenever you want to or need to, you can always breathe deeply.” This doesn’t bring up the negative states, and it offers a possible action just in case the client needs to do something for healing. And yet, I’ve heard many hypnotherapists who give such suggestions as, “You don’t feel so tired anymore.” Or “Your tumors are not so painful.” Well, in addition to using the word “not” – there’s also the very negative words and concomitant images that are evoked.

It’s a well-known fact that negative language can create negative states. My dear friend Dianne Kathryn Short, a marvelous hypnotherapist, created a list of commonly used phrases that can create unwanted manifestations:

>> “That eats my heart out.”
>> “I need a break.”
>> “That’s driving me crazy.”
>> “That’s to die for.”
>> “It makes me sick.”

So when you listen to what your clients are saying, you may find negative words or phrases that may be contributing to their current issues. Hopefully the words you, yourself, use will contribute to the process of healing instead.

What’s Your Neck of the Woods?

In my neck of the woods, the word “hypnotism” conjures up a vision of someone with a black cloak lined in red satin and a watch fob dangling from his fingers as he intones in an otherworldly voice, “Look into my hypnotic eye!” and implores his subject to go to sleep under his spell. In other geographical areas, the word “hypnotism” is the chosen or legal phrase, while the word “hypnotherapy” is forbidden. In my area, the word “hypnotherapy” is the chosen phrase, the one that distinguishes between Svengali and modern-day practitioners. This is understandably a regional difference. On World Hypnotism Day, one practitioner went on the radio. The interviewer kept calling it “World Hypnotherapy Day.” So we can see that regional differences are significant. There’s also no absolute “right” and “wrong.” There’s “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” There’s “legal” and “illegal” – but there’s no absolute authority that can tell us what is written in the annals of language. We may have our preferences, as I do with my attention on the words, “I want you to…” – but none of these expressions is “wrong.” Language is a changing part of the social fabric, and it shifts according to the times and places in which it’s spoken.

You May Not be Able to See It

It’s also good to remember that not all people are visual. Many hypnotherapists and others who do visualization assume that everyone has the ability to see things inside their minds. But as NLP so aptly taught us, only some people are visual. Others are auditory or kinesthetic or olfactory or whatever other sense is their dominant mode of experiencing.

This may sound rather basic, and yet how often do you hear an induction that starts out saying, “Just picture yourself on the beach on a beautiful day.” Not everyone can see that kind of picture. And not only that, some people don’t like the beach, so you’ve got two strikes against you if you go that route. One way to circumvent all of this is to use non-visual inductions – like counting or letters of the alphabet or progressive relaxation. Or you can ask the client to write the induction and tell you their preferences before you even go into trance. Or you can use visual pictures with non-visual language: “Just imagine yourself on a beach. You may see it or feel it or just know it’s there – any way that is best for you to experience it.”

The great Walter Sichort, master of the ultra-depth trance, once told me that he never used visual inductions because they made people think too much. He said that it was good to take people to more primitive parts of their brains, and so he used numbers and letters and, of course, his voice. It’s good to be sensitive to different peoples’ varying modes of experiencing life and to choose appropriate language.

Language and Linguistics

I used to be an English teacher. We studied the “doctrine of usage.” That meant that language is fluid and changeable because human beings use it and those human beings are always transforming and growing. In school, I also studied linguistics. Linguists often go around the world with their tape recorders asking people what kind of language they use. “Do you call it a ‘bag’ or a ‘sack’? Do you say ‘soda’ or ‘pop'”? We can ask hypnotherapists or hypnotists the same things. We can ask, “Do you say, ‘I want you to?’ Do you call it ‘hypnotism’?” We’re likely to get many varieties of answers. The best thing is to be aware of the many ways that practitioners speak, to listen and do our best to use language that does the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

A great teacher named Aivanhov** said, “Where does the power of a word come from? It doesn’t come from the spoken word itself, but from the energy, the quintessence with which it is impregnated. This quintessence is found in the aura of all beings.” So the more we are filled with energy, power and light, so too our words are worthy of being “etched in fire” across the sky for all to hear.

* Mikhail Naimy, The Book of Mirdad, Penguin Books, 1962
** Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, www.prosveta.com, 2005

©2006 Marilyn Gordon, BCH, CI

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