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!
I concur with Adam’s excellent article above. As a hypnotherapist myself I use inductions that often require touch, but permission is ALWAYS sought well before the induction starts. An explanation as to why the touch is required is also given. An experienced thrapist will, however, be able to tell whether client is likely to not mind this through reading the clients body language. It has often been the case that I have had a new client and just by reading their body language I have deferred to a different “no touch required” induction as it has become clear that touch would neither be welcome or helpful. Personally, I feel that touch can be beneficial, but then I am a very kinaesthetic person.
I agree with Adam and deplore the common misconceptions and myths and one would think that touch just carries the risk of further fuelling these. However, I do feel that touch can be valuable in utilising hypnosis when and where appropriately used. So to echo once again Adam’s and my own advice:
ALWAYS explain why touch may be required.
ALWAYS gain permission
If in doubt, DON’T DO IT, even if prior permission has been obtained.
Thanks for that John, good to hear from you.
I appreciate what you say about judging body language, but regardless of how well I suspected I understood body language, and how sure I felt of the body language of any particular client, I’d still ask first and still explain first. I’d never claim to be able to fully and totally know what is going on within another person, however much I sensed or knew about body language. That’s just me and my opinion though 🙂
Great hearing from you, thanks again, A.
This WAS a tough one for me as I am a “very touchy feel” type of person. (Sounds so wrong). I do it usually in everyday conversation but just a light tap to emphasize my point or sometime to “hold” someone as I sometime need to attend to another matter at hand.
Sometime I do it as a support to let them know, hey you, hope you are well and wanted to let you know I am here for you.
Now, onto hypnosis, during one of my first trance work with someone, the person I was working with started crying during the trance. I “freaked” out (and honestly, was excited to see such emotion coming from a trance), and slowly put my hand under her elbow to “support” her.
During the session, my trainer told me it is best not to touch the person during such a deep trance and I had to let go (had to, because it is hard for me to see someone else cry and feel pain). Afterward however, the partner told me she was thankful I touched her elbow because it really gave her the support she needed for this session.
That was over 12 weeks ago. Now, I don’t touch, give people more time between phrases, and if I will touch, I do tell them before the session that I might touch for support but I rarely do.
Thanks for showing us another way to look at it.
Great example Roy, thanks for sharing that. There is always going to be anecdotal support for the use of a supportive touch, I have had a bunch of emails and responses saying similar things to that which you have stated here. However, as professionals in a therapeutic environment, we are best advised to avoid touching, or at least get permission and explain the touch.
Despite wishing I would/could touch clients more often and more readily, I do not really ever touch any of my clients except for a welcome and farewell handshake. (I have even read lots on how to make the most of that small physical interaction!)
I’m a hypnotherapy student, and I found this very helpful. I’m very right brained and I go into a deep state very easily. Even though I’m definitely a “touchy-feely” type and a hugger, – and a massage therapist, sudden touch in a hypnotic state would e very jarring for me.
I can see that in some types of sessions touch would be beneficial. I researched touch/no touch for my hypnotherapy program, and this gave me good information for my assignment, and, I hope, my future practice.
Hello Celeste, thank you for taking the time to say so.
Good luck with your ongoing studies and enjoy your career in this field, it is a very exciting time to be involved with the hypnotherapy world – with the research improving and public perception being duly affected in particular. As a student, you may want to go and tune into my free podcast ‘Hypnosis Weekly’ – it has so many valuable resources and information in it for students.
Best wishes to you, Adam.
I am a new student to hypnosis am I want to do a great job . Thank you for all the information you share
Thank you for taking the time to write and say so Lisa, best wishes to you, Adam.
Very useful…..thank you
Thank you for your article. As an actress I got a role of psychologist practicing hypnosis to a client with a dissociative amnesia. I’ve been researching how hypnotherapist behaves and your article provided with me better understanding. Since where I live in is hard to find a long experienced hypnotherapist. Thank you:).
There is another scene
where I have to calm down the same clien crying and screaming facing the hurtful past under hypnosis and I don’t have any slightest idea of my behavior whether I should cue her with my voice and finger snap(which seems to be somehow passive in the screen) or gently wake her with touch.
Would you please advice me of this situation?
Thanks for your comment – it seems that your role is perpetuating a great many myths that I seek to re-educate the public about, so I’m probably not the best one to answer this query.
Firstly, hypnosis should not really be used with anyone who has dissociative amnesia and has been proven scientifically to present (potentially at the very least) problems in such cases – hypnosis does not guarantee veracity of memory, it also increases the chances and risks of false memory syndrome. You can go watch this video I recorded on the subject for a low down on the science:
With regards to counting someone out of hypnosis, I’d always recommend that, using a process that has been discussed and is understood by the patient before hypnosis begins. I would not advise touching under those circumstances, and finger clicking offers such an immediacy that could be quite shocking and problematic. Ideally, you’d have measures in place to deal with such an abreaction, whereby the patient could be moved to a pleasant and safe place in their mind before you then brought them out of hypnosis. That doesn’t make good viewing though, and does not permit the same usual misleading media depictions of hypnosis.
Good luck with the role nonetheless, best wishes to you, Adam.
Thanks for writing this. As a current student of hypnotherapy, the article really helped clear and confirm some thoughts I had around physicality in a therapy setting. Although people may have different preferences about physical touch, I think we are all the same in that we value respect and consideration.
Thanks Michael, best wishes to you, Adam.