What Makes A Hypnotic Suggestion Powerful?
Perhaps more importantly, we should be asking: "What makes a hypnotic suggestion powerful for the desired outcome?" After all, you could deliver powerful hypnotic suggestions that deliver unwanted results.
Believe me. I know this from experience, unfortunately.
When I was fresh out of my initial hypnotherapy training, I managed to make a new client vomit on the sidewalk outside his apartment.
He was agoraphobic, and had called me from the sidewalk in front of his apartment in a panic.
He couldn't make himself take another step. I decided to flip right into helping him dissociate - so I suggested he imagine being in a movie theatre, viewing himself on the screen up in front of him. A very cool dissociating technique I had learned in NLP class not too long ago. **sigh**
He promptly vomited and ran back into his apartment.
Turns out, he was more terrified of movie theatres than ANYTHING else.
So, I had delivered a powerful suggestion. A very powerful one. After all, it worked, right? He imagined himself in a movie theatre so successfully and completely, that it was as if he was there - with all of the terror that experience would have invoked in reality.
However, was that really the outcome I was looking for???
Information Gathering and Focus on Desired Outcome
Needless to say, I learned VERY quickly to make sure that when I form any kind of suggestion, whether a client is in a hypnotic trance or not:
I know and speak exactly what I want to have happen.
In order to create the most powerful hypnotic suggestions, we have to know the desired outcome...and we have to know our subject.
We have to gather enough information, and the important information. Nothing more - and nothing less.
On the other hand, if we don't have that option, or don't KNOW we know what we need to know - keeping suggestions less specific (i.e. "safe place" vs. "movie theatre") is the way to go.
I won't spend too much time on this aspect of hypnotic suggestions, suffice it to say that as hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners, we need to have a clear idea of the desired outcome, AND the effect our suggestions could have.
For the first couple of sessions with my agoraphobic client, gathering data was difficult. His brother brought him to his first session and it was a fairly brief and direct session. The second session - the one referred to here, was GOING to be the information gathering. So I didn't have a lot of data yet.
A better way of helping my client with agoraphobia in that instance would have been to suggest he go back inside, and work with me over the phone before going back outside. I could have then asked him to imagine a place where he felt safe. Tell me about that safe place. Put himself in that safe place in his mind, etc.
Just in case you are worried about him: I did work with that client for several more sessions, and he was not only able to leave his apartment, but he moved to a city he loved, was social, had a job (outside of his apartment), and got married. The last I heard, he was happy, doing well, and feeling free to move about in the world. (Although I don't know if he goes to the movies.)
What Are Hypnotic Suggestions And Why Do We Care If They Are Powerful?
First, let’s consider the purpose of suggestions in hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Bottom line, a suggestion is a thing the hypnotist (that’s us) uses to get the subject (that’s the person we’re hypnotizing) to do the thing that we want them to do.
In hypnotherapy, what we want them to do is what THEY want to do - the reason they came through our door in the first place.
In stage hypnosis - that just MIGHT be getting them to have fun clucking like a chicken. I know - I said it. Sometimes, hypnotists really DO “make” people cluck like chickens. (But only if they really want to!)
So a powerful hypnotic suggestion is a suggestion that will work for the individual you’re working with. It’s that simple - and that complex.
Of course, there are different types of hypnotic suggestion, but the type does not necessarily determine the efficacy.
Types of Hypnotic Suggestions
Direct vs Indirect Suggestion
Visit almost any hypnosis blog or chat online, or attend a hypnosis convention, and you’ll almost certainly run across a conversation about direct or indirect suggestion. It still surprises me when I run across a hypnotist that believes one or the other is more effective.
After working in this industry for over 20 years, and making my fair share of mistakes in the beginning, I can tell you that one is not “better than” the other. They are simply more or less useful for a given situation or an individual client.
The Man Who Wouldn't Speak
I once had a client come in for help to quit smoking. He walked in, sat down, and closed his eyes. True story! He had greeted me while standing, but the second he sat down he simply closed his eyes and waited.
I waited a moment. Then another moment. Finally, I asked him what he was doing.
He opened his eyes, said, “I’m ready for you to tell my brain what to do", and then closed his eyes again.
SO that's what I did. I simply told his brain what to do. Very simply, and very directly.
That’s the relatively short version of the story. I did the appropriate information gathering and "forced" him to sit through the introductory talk that I felt was important. Then I let him close his eyes again, took him into trance very quickly and easily, and gave him some very direct and simple suggestions.
He quit smoking after that first session.
He came to see me several more times any way, choosing to work on some other things that had come up. Each time, he came in, sat down, told me what he wanted, and then closed his eyes. He had great results EVERY time - and was one of the easiest clients I have ever worked with.
You see, he WANTED me to just tell him what to do. He believed that it would be the most effective. So direct suggestion was by far the best choice when working with him.
Don't Tell ME What To DO!!
On the other hand, I’ve had clients that really, really DON’T want to be told what to do. They were highly resistant to any kind of authoritative direction, and required a lot more finesse. So indirect suggestion and permissive and choice based language was a lot more useful in that context.
Here’s my advice: Use both. Maybe not for one person - but often, yes, for one person. Give the client/subject what they want, AND give them what will work. One thing we should all know by now is that the subject will be more successful in their goals if they believe that hypnosis will help them. (See the post on “Hypnotic Convincers” if you want to know more about that).
Post Hypnotic Suggestions
Ultimately, all hypnotic suggestions within the context of hypnotherapy have the goals of the client in mind, and have the intent of creating lasting change. Therefore, we want the suggestions to have an effect long after the hypnosis session is complete.
That is what post hypnotic suggestion is all about. Any suggestion given during a hypnosis session that can be "triggered" at a later time or in a specific context, is a post hypnotic suggestion.
"From now and into the future, any time you have to speak in a meeting at work, you feel a surge of confidence and relaxation, knowing and feeling that your input is valuable."
During a session, we can use a mixture of direct and indirect suggestions, and take the client on a wonderful ride in their imaginations. However, if we can’t create lasting changes in whatever habits or motivations drive the client, then we have not been successful.
What is the most important element of powerful hypnotic suggestions?
Whether direct or indirect, overt or covert, pre or post, there is one element that stays true for every suggestion, and that is the power of the hypnotic language utilized.
Elements That Influence the Power of the Hypnotic Suggestion
- Information Gathering: Ensuring that you, as the hypnotist, have all of the necessary information to help the client create the results they want.
- Clear Desired Outcome: Think both micro and macro. The desired outcome of a specific suggestion as well as the desired outcome of the overall hypnosis session, or sessions, as a whole.
- Hypnotic Language: Utilizing language that will help the client create the desired outcome in the subconscious mind.
- Time: Using time appropriate language - placing the old habit in the past, the new habit in the present and future, etc.
- Context Cues: Location, activity, environment, other people, etc.
- Specificity/Ambiguity: Specific elements that matter to the individual subject, such as a color, taste, smell, brand, etc., or generalizations that allow the subject to apply the suggestion where needed.
Considering the Desired Outcome
It’s important to gather the necessary information from a client to help them with their specific issues. Good information is a necessary element to create useful hypnotic suggestions for that individual.
It’s also important to ensure that your subject is in trance, and receptive to your suggestions, particularly if you are going to use direct suggestion.
A receptive mind, and a pathway to the unconscious mind, matters.
But more important than any of that is the language that you use, specifically as it relates to the client's desired outcome.
Make sure everything you say keeps the client's goal in mind. Keep yourself and your client focused on the solution by using hypnotic language that facilitates that focus.
By doing this, you can avoid a lot of unfortunate results ... as you might imagine, based on the story at the beginning of this post!
As the hypnotist/hypnotherapist, you will be using hypnotic language all throughout your interaction with your client, not just during the trance portion. From the moment you start working with a client, you’re establishing your ability to influence them in the direction THEY want to go.
So care should be taken from the very first words you use when interacting with them. However, once you are working with a client in a trance, this becomes even more vital.
Really think about what you want to create in that person’s mind.
Ensure that the thing they no longer want - such as anxiety or a bad habit - is referred to only in their past. They “used to smoke”, or “before, when they craved cake”, or “when they hadn’t solved that problem yet”.
Which leads to, of course, referring to the thing they DO want as their present and future experience. What is their experience now and going forward?
Sometimes you’ll want to make sure that the context of a suggestion is relevant. I.e. if someone is coming to work on feeling more confident and less fearful, are there any times when that feeling would be inappropriate??
So…what is my one prevailing rule for delivering powerful hypnotic suggestions?
Hypnotic Suggestions Should Always State the Desired Outcome in the Positive Present
Suggestions stated in the positive present are much more likely to create the results you and your client are looking for than referring to something negative as if they are DOING that thing.
This is a simple but powerful thing to teach your clients as well. Simply stating a desired outcome as if it is already true, and engaging imagining it as if it were already happening, tells our minds to expect it, get used to it, because it IS already.
HOWEVER - and this is a big however: Ultimately, the most powerful suggestion is going to link the internal experience to a positive result that is happening RIGHT NOW, in contrast with the negative experience of the past.
For instance, don’t say this:
“Don’t eat too much.”
“You will not smoke at work anymore.”
There is something to be said for creating negative anchors (i.e. linking smoking to something disgusting to that individual). But using language that puts “the thing” in the person’s mind and then telling them not to do “the thing” is counterproductive.
So, sure, you could say, “Every time you think about smoking, you feel disgust”.
But more effective (and certainly more pleasant), would be to suggest a desired outcome. Something they DO want, that is better than the undesired outcome they had in the past. For instance:
The Power of Combining Elements
Combine any negative reference to “the undesired thing” as something that “used to” happen, and ALWAYS refer to the undesired behavior in the past tense.
And, use only positive statements in the present and future tense to refer to the desired outcome.
This combination makes for incredibly powerful hypnotic suggestions that can be delivered over and over again, both while the client is in trance, and in casual conversation.
Using habit change as an example:
“You might remember with disgust a time in the past when you used to <<name the old habit like smoking or overeating>>>, but NOW you can celebrate your freedom from that old habit (ambiguous, vague reference), and take a deep breath whenever you want to relax.”
So, one final suggestion to myself, and anyone else it might help:
20 or more years ago, you might have made a hypnosis client vomit on the sidewalk, but NOW, having read this post on creating powerful hypnotic suggestions, you can notice yourself delivering the desired results for your clients in a much more effective and powerful way.