So the blog had a day off yesterday as I had an incredibly busy client day, much more so than usual and started early and oh I know you don’t really want to hear about that… Today I am getting into hypnosis subject matter and writing about suggestion.

For many hypnotists and hypnotherapists I have encountered over the years, hypnosis is all about suggestion. Much research has been conducted to show that many people are suggestible and responsive to suggestion without any formalised hypnosis – there are a bunch of references to such work over at the wikipedia page on suggestion. In particular note the work of Spanos and Kirsch.

Suggestion is considered as a central concept of the field of hypnosis and it has been defined by some as:  ‘A communication, conveyed verbally by the hypnotist, that directs the subject’s imagination in such a way as to elicit intended alterations in sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts and behaviour.’

Really, today I wanted to write about some of the classic ways that suggestions used in hypnosis and hypnotherapy can be made as effective as possible and I am coming on to that… However, you can’t really discuss hypnotic suggestion without clarifying and classifying them first.

Any good, well-qualified hypnotherapist or student of this subject knows that suggestions get categorised according to the modality in which the suggestion is expressed, though as you’d expect, some suggestions involve more than one modality.. Let me explain that in a bit more depth.

Behavioural suggestions, for example include ideosensory suggestions which relate to changes in somatosensory experience brought about by responding to ideas that have been communicated by the hypnotherapist. These types of suggestion appears to the subject to have an automatic quality. Ok, so that can sound a bit too clinically academic for my blog, so here is an example…

The therapist repeats suggestions to the subject that their body is feeling heavy, warm and relaxed (as many hypnotherapists do tend to suggest) and the subject begins to experience these sensations. Basically, responding to direct suggestion.

To illustrate this is a slightly negative sense, many hypnotherapists and hypnotists use this example for generating analgesia (i.e. To start off a glove anaesthesia technique) and may suggest that the subject imagines that one of their hands has been immersed in a bucket of ice-cold water. When the hypnotist then continues to suggest that the hand is becoming more numb and colder as they imagine it more vividly, they respond accordingly.

Placed under much scrutiny and featuring in much of the work of Pavlov (the guy more famous for making dogs dribble) ideomotor suggestions (IMR’s) convey the meaning that a movement occurs in response to the idea of that movement; this is whereby the subject does not actually purposely move their arm (for example) but contraction, relaxation or inhibition of both voluntary and involuntary muscles occur in response to the suggestion. So they imagine something happening to them and without choosing to do it, it starts to happen. The Chevreuls pendulum exercise is a great example of this.

Antagonistic or ‘verbal challenges’ fall into this category of suggestions.  These include suggestions where the subject is told to try and “resist” the response.  This fits in nicely with one of Coués laws of reversed effect – the harder one tries to do something, the harder it becomes to achieve, was his rationale.

There are also more cognitive kinds of suggestions that include and are known by many as ‘hallucination’ and ‘delusions’ as they affect cognitive functions and convey the idea that the suggested experiences have a very real quality and the subject is able to interact with the images accordingly.  They may also include suggestions which can be considered to be forms of “role enactment” behaviour as in age regression or age progression.

Milton Erickson used a variety of suggestions in his hypnotherapy work to great effect.  These included indirect suggestions, embedded commands, truisms about sensations, open ended suggestions and double binds among others. Rather than give a direct suggestion, which appeals to the Conscious Mind according to Erickson theorists, which invites evaluation, Erickson used indirect suggestion, which resonates with the Unconscious Mind and is less likely to trigger evaluation.

It has been found that individuals who expect to be responsive to suggestion usually are.  On the other hand, people who have anxieties about ‘losing control’ and who find it difficult to ‘go with the flow’ tend to be less responsive to hypnotic suggestions.

Though there are exceptions to most rules in hypnotherapy and life, some typical rules of suggestion, and making suggestions more powerful in hypnosis are:

– Keep them simple. Ericksonian, indirect hypnotists would also say be specific on the ‘what’ and vague on the ‘how’, trusting the unconscious mind to work it out.

– Expectation re-enforces suggestion. Make suggestions with the expectation that they will be followed. it has been proven time and time again (especially by Kirsch) that we truly expect something to happen, it enhances the likelihood of it happening massively.

– Ensure the suggestions are ‘ecological’ and suit the subject’s values and beliefs. Anything too radical, or too far removed from the reality of the individuals map of the world, is unlikely to be effective.

– Make positive suggestions – suggest what you want and not what you do not want. If you mention things you do not want, the thinking goes that you are suggesting that thing anyway, the classic “don’t think of a pink elephant” syndrome.

– Use appropriate emotive language. Using language that elicits helpful emotions supports any suggestion. Ideally, a hypnotherapist or hypnotist will have spotted the kind of language used by the individual and can use that same kind of language back to them.

– Engage and use the power of imagination. Use the imagination to ‘practice’ new behaviours. As referred to in my describing of the kinds of suggestions, when you engage the imagination, it has a real-life effect on the physiology and life of the individual.

– Phrase suggestions to be in the present tense. Suggestions should be happening now – as in ‘tomorrow never comes’ – the change and desired outcome is required now and in this moment.

– Repetition is hypnotic, repetition is hypnotic, repetition is hypnotic… Many schools of thought believe that repeating a suggestion, either word for word, or in slightly different formats enhances the likelihood of it being effective.

–  Want it to work and expect it to work. The congruence of the delivery of the suggestion is incredibly important. If you do not deliver it like you believe in it, then neither will the individual receiving the suggestion. Say it like you mean it… Mean what you say!

–  Give a reward. That is, tell them what happens as a result of accepting this suggestion… How does it make life better? When they have a rationale and reward as a result of the suggestion, then they are likely to accept it more readily.

So there you have it… I could go on and on even further about suggestion, but this is an overview and some basic thoughts on the subject… I’ll be back tomorrow… Unless the day is equally as hot as it was yesterday and I literally shrivel away in my office…