Many people find the notion of conversational hypnosis to be a bit odd. They associate hypnosis with the dramatic techniques seen in stage shows. Or, they may believe that hypnosis requires visualization, or some other specialized method to “put the person in trance”. Hypnotherapists use all of those techniques, of course. However, is possible to hypnotize someone using a conversational style. And, and conversational hypnosis offers a number of benefits to both the client and the hypnotherapist.
We all go in and out of hypnotic states, or trance many times during the day. For example, the brain waves of someone who’s halfway between being awake and being asleep are identical with those of hypnosis. Daydreaming, or just being deep in thought, are both examples of every day hypnotic states.
If you give someone who is daydreaming a suggestion, in all likelihood they will ignore it. It is only when someone goes into hypnosis while in a state of trust with another person that they are likely to follow suggestions. That’s one reason why hypnotherapists have formal techniques for hypnotizing their clients. A formal technique involves a ritual of some sort. We have the client close their eyes, imagine being on a beach relaxing, and once they exhibit signs of hypnosis they are given suggestions.
Conversational hypnosis does not involve officially hypnotizing the person. By using hypnotic language, and directing the conversation with questions, stories, and images the client very naturally goes into hypnosis. Usually, these hypnotic states are rather shallow. That is fine, because, contrary to common belief, deeper trances are not necessarily more effective for having someone accept and act on a suggestion.
One of the advantages of conversational hypnosis is that since the client’s conscious mind is involved in the process, he or she always feels in control of his or her mind. Another advantage is that conscious involvement helps integrate the changes that are developing at the unconscious levels.
An advantage for the hypnotherapist is that he or she can observe the client’s unconscious, nonverbal, responses to ideas and suggestions. With that feedback, it is much easier to determine if the suggestions are being well-received, or not. It is also possible to ask the client’s conscious mind for information about any reservations or resistance that may be coming up.
For example, Jerry said that there was a wall right in front of him that prevented him from going after his goals. He said the wall was too thick to go through, too tall to go over, and possible to go around because it went on indefinitely, and we can appreciate how stuck he felt with the wall like that in front of him.
I asked him to put his hand on the wall and turn to his right (his chair swivels). Jerry then said that turning opened up a large vista that included many possibilities that he felt were previously out of his reach. Simply by taking Jerry’s metaphor of a wall literally, it was possible for him to free up a great deal of energy, and start taking action in situations in which she had previously felt stuck.
Had Jerry been in a deep trance, it would’ve been difficult to get the description of his wall from him. That is because someone in a deep trance is usually too relaxed to speak. Using a conversational approach allowed me to use Jerry’s own metaphor as the basis for a successful session.
In another example, my client Mary said to me, “Make me stop eating!” Mary’s goal was to drop down two dress sizes.
With a twinkle in my eye I asked Mary, “Won’t you die?”
Mary laughed and let me know that she didn’t intend to stop eating altogether. Mary’s clarification opened the door for a discussion that led to her choosing a more specific outcome. She wanted to eat more healthy foods and greater moderation. Mary also wanted to dramatically reduce the amount of sweets and fried foods that she had been eating.
When Mary updated her goal, she went into hypnosis for a moment. Because the unconscious mind is so literal, she might literally have stopped eating… for a while. However, had Mary accepted the suggestion that she stop eating, we can be certain that the effects would be temporary, because the prime directive of her unconscious mind is to keep her alive. Also, since she used food as a reward, to reduce stress, and to blunt unpleasant feelings, she had other incentives to continue eating.
If we think of hypnotherapy as a set of techniques for communicating with another person’s unconscious mind, it makes sense to consider that conversational hypnosis is simply another tool in the hypnotherapist’s toolkit. The most important consideration is at the hypnotherapist works with clients in a style and manner that can most effectively bring about the changes that the client desires. And, of course, hypnotherapists can and do use a broad range of formal trance techniques as well.