So there you are, focused on the sound of the hypnotherapists voice, feeling physically relaxed, feeling optimistic that you are making some powerful changes in your life, changes that have dogged you, you are absorbed in something that is exciting yet physically calming and soothing, and have a heightened awareness of your own internal experience and sensations, all is going well…

… Then out of nowhere, you suddenly feel a strange hand upon you?!!

One of the learning outcomes for the NCH’s Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma refers to when it is ok and when it is not ok to touch a client in the hypnotherapy room, and it is amazing how different people respond and react in different ways to being touched. I wonder how you reacted to the sentence above, imagining being touched with no warning?

Some are fine with it, yet many are not.

Some hypnotists and hypnotherapists sometimes assume that it is ok to touch clients as a result of the great rapport that they have developed. When I was in my early twenties, I had a very ‘touchy-feely’ therapist of my own (agreed, they were not a hypnotherapist) who seemed to touch with a great deal of familiarity. The touching of my arm by this therapist was entirely innocent and well-intentioned, in fact at times, it was sometimes a way of giving some support, but I found it intrusive and it made me feel edgy.

This type of experience is incredibly common, even if the therapist is well-intentioned and being supportive, people may not appreciate being touched at all.

Many hypnotherapists I have encountered in my time do not even ask to lift an arm for an induction or susceptibility test, they just start doing it. I am talking about a therapeutic environment here, good job really, because I tend to cringe when I watch some of the YouTube clips by wannabe street hypnotists having people bent over forward in chairs, rolling heads around and so on!

First and foremost, as hypnotherapists, if we ever think we need or want to touch the client, we ask. We get permission. However subtle, deft or innocuous, we must ask for permission. I recommend explaining why you want to touch as well.

You see, for many people, touch is a very intimate thing that occurs at close quarters, well within our personal space. Although some may well consider it fine, others can feel violated and hate the touch of another. As well as potentially ruining rapport, the very nature of the therapeutic issue they cite may involve physical issues of some kind.

When hypnotised though, that client is focused. When in hypnosis, the client has their attention inwardly pointed, often engaged deeply in their own ongoing experience. Being touched can redirect that focus altogether, have them connecting again with the outside world which many hypnotherapists consider to be the opposite of deepening hypnosis – they are being brought upwards, so to speak. If someone touches numerous times, this may well ruin an entire session of hypnosis.

Furthermore, if someone is relaxed, as the nature of many hypnosis sessions tends to be, being touched could be result in the client being startled for a moment; jumping or having a very slight physical shock. Even if they are a person who is fine being touched, they may still be startled if touched when relaxed. It can be scary to be touched when relaxed by anyone at any time, let alone when you are in the middle of a hypnosis session with your eyes closed and without any anticipatory cues at all.

Although I am loathed to say it, hypnosis does still carry a number of  misconceptions and myths. In particular the media has often generated a notion that the client is under the control of the hypnotist. There have even been suggestions of hypnotists using hypnosis to seduce and manipulate the vulnerable. The implications that accompany being touched in a session can cause problems of a very different kind for a hypnotherapist, especially if they have not educated their client thoroughly enough.

If you really feel it is important to touch someone who is in hypnosis, not only do you ask for permission, but you tell them where and how it is going to occur and prepare them for it. At the very least, you show respect and consideration by doing this.

You would be well advised to ask about touching before any hypnosis begins, and prepare and explain how it will happen and the reasons for it. You’ll also then want to warn them prior to it actually happening when the client is in hypnosis. If it looks as if they are concerned at all about this and just being polite, then it is best avoided altogether.

So get permission, be professional and have the right intention, otherwise – don’t touch!