December 1, 2009

What Style of Hypnotherapy is Right for You?

There are several styles of hypnotherapy that are commonly adopted by practitioners and not all styles work well for all clients. One way to access what style might work best for you is to respond to this question: How do you normally respond to people telling you what to do? If you are the type of person who feels secure when you have instructions and direct requests, the directive approach will most likely work for you. If you find you are rebellious when people tell you what to do, a more permissive approach will suit you better. When you interview a prospective hypnotherapist you might want to question her about her training and style to discover if you will feel comfortable and be responsive to her approach. The following is a basic overview of the different styles of hypnotherapy to help you understand your options.

Directive Approach

In the directive approach, the hypnotherapist guides the client into a state of hypnosis and the hypnotherapist gives the client suggestions. People are most familiar with this approach to hypnotherapy because it is the technique that is most similar to what we witness with stage hypnosis and see in the movies. And, clients expect that if they go for a hypnotherapy session that the hypnotherapist will give direct suggestions.

All styles of hypnotherapy will adopt aspects of this style. Simply, telling the client to sit comfortably and to take a deep breath is a direct suggestion. If the client is suggestible, open and receptive to the process, and if the client is without inner conflicts about the focus of the session, direct suggestion can work. These “ifs” are the big issues with the direct suggestion approach. New clients may not yet trust the hyypnotherapist or trust their own abilities to respond to hypnosis. Clients may also have misunderstandings about what hypnosis is and how it works that contributes to anxiety about being hypnotized.

Misperceptions about what to expect from hypnosis can make it difficult for the client to relax and flow with the process. For instance, many people falsely believe that the hypnotherapist can control them or make them do things they would not normally allow themselves to do.

But, most importantly, clients often cannot respond to direct suggestions because they come in for hypnotherapy living with many inner conflicts about the issues they want to work on. The subconscious’ limiting beliefs, negative attitudes, misperceptions, and encoded traumatic past experiences will usually override any positive suggestions.

Most experiments in directive hypnosis are controlled with the use of one specific induction or script using direct suggestions. The results in these studies typically show that not everyone responds to direct suggestion. And, if a person responds to direct suggestion, it is probable that the suggestions will wear off over time when a client has subconscious beliefs or perceptions that are contrary to the suggestions. If the directive approach doesn’t work for everyone and the effect of the suggestions can wear off, what are some alternative approaches to hypnosis?

Non-directive, Open-ended Style

The open-ended and more permissive style of hypnosis came into vogue in the 1970’s and 1980’s, with the work of a famous hypnotherapist and physician named Milton Erickson. In the field of hypnotherapy, Erickson is renown for both teaching medical students hypnosis and working individually with patients. He taught hypnosis by hypnotizing his students through story telling, using teaching metaphors and by using hypnotic language patterns that speak directly to the unconscious. His hypnotic techniques are effective because they are a back door approach to the unconscious. Instead of telling a client to close her eyes (a direct suggestion), a hypnotherapist using a permissive style of hypnosis might use an embedded or permissive suggestion like, “You notice that your eyes are open and you may find you will be more comfortable when you close your eyes.” In this embedded suggestion the language mirrors what the client is already experiencing and that she has freedom to respond to the suggestion, or not. The client’s unconscious, however “hears” the suggestion, “ Close your eyes”. A permissive approach builds into the session that the client has choice. The hypnotherapist’s utilizing what is already true and happening in the process of hypnotizing the client takes the stress out of whether the client can be hypnotized and relieves the client’s conscious mind of the task of wondering or scrutinizing if she is “doing it right”. Commonly, with an open-ended style, the hypnotherapist will use the language of metaphor to teach the client new inner responses to situations or to expand the client’s perceptions and resources about an issue or problem. The client of this non-directive style typically experiences hypnosis as being more organic, fluid and effortless than the directive approach which requires the client’s willingness and receptivity to respond to direct suggestions. The client simply listens and goes with her natural responses to the process. She may close her eyes or experience the hypnotic state with her eyes open. This style is excellent for the client who fears being controlled, is unable to stop the mind chatter, or has self-consciousness that can create resistance to experiencing hypnosis.

Transpersonal Approach

Somewhat new to the field of hypnotherapy, but as old as the traditions of most indigenous cultures, is the transpersonal approach to hypnotherapy. In traditional hypnotherapy and psychology, there is an understanding that we have both a conscious and an unconscious aspect of mind. In the transpersonal paradigm, there is also a superconscious aspect of mind that goes beyond the personal self. This superconscious aspect is called by many names, such as: Higher Power, Atman, Christ within, higher Self, or intuition, In the transpersonal approach, this greater mind or higher Self is an active co-therapist in the hypnotherapy process. Of all the styles of hypnotherapy the transpersonal approach is the most client-focused and non-directive. The client and hypnotherapist co-create the session through a verbal and energetic interplay as the session unfolds. The transpersonal approach is more about “being”, rather than “doing.” Often the hypnotherapist will directly invoke the client’s inner wisdom and ask it for support in guiding the session. The client accesses this wisdom and works directly with it in trance through voice dialogue, symbolic communication and inner knowing that has direct access to healing, wisdom, insight and creativity. This style supports the cultivation of the client’s ongoing relationship with this inner wisdom. A transpersonal approach may likely include directive and non-directive languaging as needed, depending on the inner guidance of the client’s higher Self.

Which style is right for you?

Knowing about these different hypnotherapeutic approaches will help you interview a hypnotherapist so you can learn about his or her training and hypnotic style. If you are a new client to hypnotherapy, you may not yet know what style works best for you. So perhaps, it will be wise to work with someone who has training in all the styles who can be flexible in his or her approach as you learn about your own responsiveness. A transpersonal hypnotherapist can be directive if necessary, but a traditional, directive hypnotherapist may not know about the more contemporary non-directive or transpersonal approach.

Whatever approach you choose, accessing the state of hypnotic consciousness will give you access to your inner resources and the power to transform yourself.

Preparing for Hypnotherapy

You can prepare yourself to have a successful experience before you engage in the work of hypnotherapy. The preparation involves taking a good look at your beliefs and expectations about hypnosis, understanding the hypnotic state, and learning that your ‘inner hypnotist” is in control of your experience. Hypnotherapy is not what most people have been "hypnotized" into believing. The way hypnosis is represented in movies and portrayed on stage is far from the reality of hypnosis when used in a therapeutic way.

A well-trained and ethical hypnotherapist will always take time with a new client in the interview process to discuss the client’s expectations, beliefs about, and previous experiences of hypnosis. But sometimes, with the brief education that happens in session, a client may still unconsciously block her hypnosis experience because of unaddressed fears and a lack of understanding of hypnosis.

You Experience Hypnosis Daily

You normally experience the hypnotic state many times during the day. Do you loose time when you are sitting at your computer playing games? Are you unresponsive to someone asking you a question when you are absorbed in a good book? Have you driven your car on auto pilot while daydreaming and missed your turn off? If so, you have spontaneously experienced the non-ordinary state of consciousness called hypnosis.

Hypnosis is Natural

Hypnosis is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping. You may have had the experience of drifting off to sleep and having someone come into the room to ask you a question. Since you are not asleep yet, you can still respond coherently from a relaxed, inwardly-focused state. So, if you can go to sleep, you are already going into hypnosis. The question is: do you want to allow yourself to be hypnotized by another person guiding you through the process?

Hypnosis is a Skill

Just as some of us were naturals when we first learned to hit a baseball, some of us are naturals when being hypnotized at allowing ourselves to access the hypnotic state. And just like with hitting baseballs, we can all be coached and taught to go into a hypnotic state. Your hypnotherapist has the job of being your teacher and coach.

All Hypnosis is Self-hypnosis

Contrary to what most people believe, hypnosis involves the use of your free will. You choose to respond to the suggestions given in hypnosis. The "inner hypnotist" is the part of you that says to yourself, " I can and will allow myself to let go and relax." Because your own free will is engaged, you will only respond when you want to respond. Being able to be hypnotized is not the same as being gullible. As a matter of fact, being able to be hypnotized points to a higher than normal ability to be creative and be the "captain of your own ship" of your body, mind and emotions. When you are in hypnosis you are in control behind the wheel navigating your own life in directions of healing and transformation that you choose. The control, however, comes from a more expanded and integrated state of awareness.

You Remember What You Experience

In hypnosis you perceive through all of your inner senses by seeing with your inner eyes, hearing with your

inner ears, and feeling emotions and body sensations. In most hypnotic states you are very relaxed and you

return to wakeful consciousness feeling refreshed and renewed. After a hypnotic session you are very likely

to continue to think about what you experienced or feel the positive effects of the work you have done as

you integrate your new levels of insight and self-discoveries into your conscious self. The positive effects

will most often become a part of your conscious awareness and your daily life. It is likely that more you

access the hypnotic state, the more positive effects you will have.

How is it that Hypnotherapy Helps?

In a hypnotic state you are more resourceful and creative because you have access to more dimensions and levels of consciousness. You experience yourself as more that your normal waking thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and feelings. You are expanded to include access to your subconscious and your super-conscious Self. In hypnosis you can access long-forgotten memories, control pain, promote self-healing and become more intuitive; and you are also more highly receptive and suggestible to positive suggestions to promote change.

An important difference between doing talk therapy and doing therapy in the expanded state of hypnosis, is that in hypnosis the client’s unconscious automatically accesses the most emotionally relevant material for healing. Working in an expanded state supports the client in going to the source or essence of the issue more directly and quickly than in talk therapy.

Stanislav Groff, MD, a researcher of non-ordinary states of consciousness, says that the client who works in a non-ordinary state has “ an ‘inner radar’ system [that] scans the psyche and the body for the most important issues and makes them available to our conscious minds. ” [1] In hypnosis you have direct access to the source of your difficulties, as well as the source of your healing.

When you first meet with your hypnotherapist, take time to discuss your expectations and any concerns you have about hypnotherapy. Expressing your thoughts, experiences and concerns will give your hypnotherapist a better opportunity to address any misconceptions you may have about hypnosis, to discuss your concerns, and to support you in having a positive and healing hypnotherapy experience.

[1] Groff, Stanislav, MD, The Holotropic Mind, Harper, San Francisco, 1993, p. 23