One of the things I get asked about most often when my students start doing their case studies during the hypnotherapy training with my school is about where to start, or what technique to employ, and what order the therapeutic process should take.

Having been working with hypnotherapy clients since the 1990s, and having worked with hundreds of individuals each year, I find a simple, structured questioning process (not too dissimilar to a reflective practice type of process) is the best way to start designing a hypnotherapy treatment plan for a client.

Of course, once you start to make decisions and suggestions, you discuss it with your client and make sure they understand the rationale behind it, but that is a discussion for another day, what I wanted to offer up today is a more formulaic method of choosing how you go about planning and designing your sessions with your hypnotherapy client if you are a hypnotherapist.

I will add that although it is a little off the topic I am focused upon here, sometimes newly qualified hypnotherapists let the client give them too much information that is often irrelevant to the issue they require help with and it can feel like they are overloaded and do not know where to start!

So before you ask yourself questions to formulate your treatment plan, make sure the information you elicit from the client is relevant and pertinent to what you want to achieve, ideally using a good quality systematic approach such as Arnold Lazurus’s BASIC ID model, for example.

There are a wide array of complications that we could throw into this mix today, but I prefer to keep things simple to begin with. With these questions, you can of course find yourself asking others as a result, but these questions will keep you in a good direction for making good decisions about what to do and how to focus the sessions for that client.

Firstly, I want to know what the client’s desired outcome is for the sessions. What goals do they have? If there is more than a single goal, what is the most important to them and which will be addressed first? These two things (which is most important and which will be addressed first) are not necessarily  the same thing by the way.

Often, it is a good time to ask those classic questions of “what do you want?” and “how will you know you have achieved that?” (though often worded differently) to get a real sense of the desired outcome for the sessions. The use of hypnosis therapeutically does tend to presuppose that there is a purpose; an aim that is being worked towards. many therapists might use a problem solving protocol at this stage including setting SMART goals with the client.

Often at this stage, the client may not always know what they are doing now that prevents them achieving the outcome they desire, so heightening awareness of that via means of mindful exposure therapy and the use of thought forms throughout the clients day-to-day existence may get used at this stage within the treatment plan.

Secondly then, I want to know what resources this client needs so that the client can accomplish the desired outcome and/or the goal that they wish to achieve.

Looking at the resources that the client needs in order to achieve their outcome does tend to presuppose that you know what resources would be necessary in order to accomplish that outcome. So it is useful to also find out what the client believes they need (in terms of resources) in order to achieve this outcome too.

The main objective for us as a hypnotherapist here is to know (as best as we can) exactly what the person needs to be able to do – psychologically or physiologically (i.e. in real life) that is going to make achieving this outcome possible. We then start to get some specific steps to follow and a plan starts to be created. This could involve classic problem solving therapy protocol again and can involve a wide range of other therapeutic interventions and strategies.

Thirdly then, I’ll ask what the existing resources of the client are. Has there been a time when these resources shone or helped them overcome another issue?

If not, does the client needs assistance in first working out what they need and then going about the process of building them? This can include using a massive wide range of therapeutic tools from a wide variety of disciplines. The resources may be derived from anchoring types of interventions, or through the use of relaxation skills including desensitisation processes as well as so many other options that I could list for an age here.

I’ll often find myself wanting to know what else the client has done to attempt resolve the problem and to rate how helpful they found each of these.

So here we assess the abilities of the client, if they have deficient abilities to achieve the desired outcome, then we use our hypnotherapy tools and strategies to teach those skills and help them learn them. If they do have the abilities, then we use hypnosis to access them.

Finally, how do we make the resources and skills available at the times they are needed?

Establishing the resources is all well and good, but they need to be available away from the therapeutic context. So we then aim to create a link between the desired response and the situations and circumstances when the desired response is needed.

So this can be done with suggestion, mental rehearsal strategies, age progression techniques, and of course a wide array of homework tasks that enhance these things.

This is the time whereby we want to move from in vitro to in vivo – that is, we want the processes to be useable in real life and not just theoretical in the therapy room.  That which is learned in therapy is now practiced and used in real-life situations and circumstances.

These four steps of questioning are not exhaustive, not by a long shot. Each will probably give a sense of other interventions to naturally use at that stage too. What the four steps do offer up is simple way to start to gather up an initial idea of what you’ll do and then formulate in more depth the hypnotherapy treatment plan before you start agreeing it with the client.

This process of questions does presuppose that your training and depth of knowledge is such that you can choose what you believe would be most relevant and beneficial to the client at each of the questioning stages as you formulate your treatment plan.

Hope that is useful for you student hypnotherapists.