This weekend just gone, as I do several times each year, I attended a hypnosis training. All the people I respect and admire in the field of hypnosis regularly attend a variety of different trainings, and I choose to do the same.

I also like to do things which challenge my existing thoughts and beliefs on the subjects I am involved with. You regular readers will know how important I believe it to be, to see the other side of any debate, philosophy and argument, and I think it healthy to be challenged from time to time.

This weekend actually involved stage hypnosis training and was a big shift in philosophy. I do not wish to become a stage hypnotist, but am fascinated by the processes involved, plus the code of conduct and ethics that I adhere to of the professional organisations I belong to, does not want therapists to be practicing as stage hypnotists, there is some disparity (often) between the thought process of the two sides of the hypnosis world.

Nonetheless, I was excited and enjoyed the training and learnt a great deal. To be honest, much of it challenged me, and I struggled with the application of a number of things, such is the manner of a hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer, eh?

The thing I found the most challenging is the style of suggestion delivery. When I talk about the style of suggestion delivery, I am really referring to the demeanour and/ posture of the person delivering them.

At one end of the spectrum, we find authoritarian suggestions which is very much a domineering style whereby the hypnotist commands the individual to respond in a particular way. In as much of a nutshell as is possible, the authoritarian hypnosis user says “do this” or “you will do this.”

There is a real sense of authority and power within this way of delivering suggestion and overall approach to hypnosis use. If a client/hypnotee complies, then they are a good hypnotic subject. Simple.

You see, with stage hypnosis, you need this. Stage hypnotists really need to be authoritarian in style because they require obedience from their subjects. They are less interested in the requirements and thoughts of the person being hypnotised, because they are concerned with entertaining an audience. A paying audience at that!

Though can this authoritarian style be used in a therapeutic setting?

Of course it can be used.

With an authoritarian approach though, any lack of compliance tends to be considered resistance by the client, and very much their issue. It is not very client-centred.

I have been studying the literature advocating the use of authoritarian approaches to hypnotherapy, and they all tend to recommend that if someone does not respond to the suggestions (orders!) then the client be confronted about it, the source identified and eliminated with some sort of resolution. Though this sort of thing can turn into a power struggle instead of a harmonious relationship with rapport.

So in therapy, rather than in a stage hypnosis show, suggestions delivered in an authoritarian style would be done so by saying things like “when i click my fingers, close your eyes” and “your arm will not bend” and “you stop smoking.”

Directing someone to respond in a specific prescribed way that minimises someone’s personal choice is not at all client centred, is it? It does not really show much respect for that person’s needs or wants.

Now initially, the thought of us more gentle creatures (as opposed to those baby-eating, devil worshipping stage hypnotists) tends to be one that defies the authoritarian approach.

I would guess that the official line of many official hypnotherapists and hypnotherapy training schools is one recommending that authoritarian approaches not be engaged in. Though perhaps at times there may be some use for it sparingly?….

At times, a client may well be confused or even vulnerable and considered to be in need of a therapist who is in charge, who is decisive and can lead forward with confidence. If a good level of mutual respect and rapport is developed, then what you say could become more important than simply how you say it, no?

Some of the main advocates of permissive approaches in hypnotherapy (the other end of the spectrum) would often be direct in their work with clients. I mean, even some transcripts of Milton Erickson show him to be direct and even authoritative from time to time.

I think being direct is different to being authoritative though. Direct suggestions tend to provide specific directions as to how to respond, rather than the indirect methods of letting the client choose for themselves. Schools that promote the use of scripts tend to be more direct. They give instructions and spell things out a great deal more.

I would say this, the beauty of direct suggestion is that it is relevant to matters at hand and could well ease the mind of the client, assuring them that you are dealing directly with the presenting issue.

Direct approaches tend to keep the goal in sight and keep the issue and plan well defined. The client is directly and actively involved in the process of resolution and do tend to have a real problem solving feel to them. More practical, less abstract, in general terms.

However, some might think a direct approach needs an over-reliance on someone being willing to follow suggestions, therefore, hypnosis is communicating with the ‘subconscious’ mind to help them make the changes – tends to be a model not all of us embrace. There is also a likelihood of getting resistance if you are being so direct, or even blunt about personal issues – some may end up defying the direct approach, or just disagreeing, and therefore hindering the effectiveness of the therapy.

Finally though, a direct approach can sometimes be viewed as defining the clients role in the therapeutic process as one of complying with the hypnotherapist rather than being an active participant in a collaborative process, and I think weighing up pros and cons for any approach is wise when choosing how you go about working with any individual.

As hypnotherapists, I think it is useful to be able to have the flexibility to know when one thing is more pertinent and useful for the client’s needs.

And as a stage hypnotist, I have also seen how you need to be direct and authoritarian in order to make a performance go smoothly… The stage and a therapy consulting room are very, very different places to incorporate hypnosis…

I hasten to add, if you want to train in stage hypnosis, your first and last stop should be with Jonathan Chase.