One of the stories I told my group of students last week was about the first time I experienced hypnosis in a formal setting. The hypnotherapist told me to imagine lying on a beach with the sun shining down on me. My thoughts in response to this?

Aaaaggghhhh… I’m burning! Have you not seen my complexion? I can’t stand lying in the sun. Aaaagghhh.”

I was a tad sensitive to the fact that he wanted me to imagine lying on a beach which is clearly something he considered to be relaxing. I don’t find it relaxing however. I am a red head, pale skinned individual who objects to lots of sun exposure… With a tendency towards amateur dramatics at times too!

So rather than feeding the hypnotherapy client with details of what you presuppose to be enjoyable or beneficial, we offer up a process for them to experience which sounds specific but is actually very generalized and which the client can interpret for themselves instead.

Instead of being told to imagine lying on a beach, I could have simply been asked to imagine being in a favourite or a relaxing place so that I am able to choose rather than burn!

Process suggestions tend to lack specific details in order that the client can then project their own meaning on to them without the therapist making incorrect assumptions, which serves as a much better way to enhance the clients experience rather than prescribing things they could reject or disagree with.

I am not suggesting that we all need to become cold-readers who offer up seeming mind-reading miracles with every sentence “you seem like the kind of person who enjoys spending time with people who make you happy” which anyone and everyone can respond positively to, but use process suggestions to be client-centered and enhance their experience as much as possible.

Perhaps you’ll be aware of an enjoyable sensation now or at some stage later as you notice how you are feeling” can help them to notice such an occurrence and develop some awareness about how they are feeling.  If you said “notice a heaviness in your right arm right now” they get the chance to disagree with it or question it. If the person is highly responsive and you have worked with them before, then there may well be a time and place for you to suggest directly what someone’s experience is within a therapy session, but at other times, you might well be better off refraining from spelling it out to the client.

The process suggestions that I am really referring to today, work really well with qualifying words like ‘certain,’ ‘specific,’ and ‘particular’ because they sound as if you are referring to something certain, particular or specific when actually you are giving the client the space to choose; “perhaps you’ll notice a particular sound in this room as you go deeper” for example.

What these qualifying words do beautifully is to get the mind focused on one particular thing, you establish the focus and absorption which is typical of hypnosis, but the client chooses for themselves what that focus is.

As well as being used well in therapy, this kind of suggestion is just what is needed when working in groups – I run a number of self-hypnosis seminars and other trainings where I hypnotise a group of people. Using these kinds of process suggestions with qualifying words punctuating them means that each individual can choose the experience that is right for them, yet it retains the appearance of being quite specific and prescribed by the facilitator (hypnotist).

Within presenting issues themselves in the therapy room, there is always going to be a call for focusing on specific content instead of the process as I am recommending here. .. Though if you have a volatile redhead in his early twenties you may not want to tell him he is on a beach.

Have a great day.