There are many schools of thought that believe in teaching hypnotherapy clients a set of hypnotic skills and self-hypnosis processes in order to enhance their levels of suggestibility and responsiveness to hypnosis in general and the therapeutic process they are undergoing. I belong to that school of thought and find it to beggar belief that many hypnotherapists do not do so.

Self-hypnosis and the techniques of it are things I have written an entire book on and recorded a massive audio masterclass about and I shall not attempt to repeat that stuff or give instruction here today… I just want to suggest that more hypnotherapists ought to be teaching their clients self-hypnosis techniques.

‘Three techniques of autohypnosis’, was published by the hypnotherapist and early behaviour therapist Andrew Salter in 1941 and is thought to be one of the first major academic journal articles on self-hypnosis, it makes for some enjoyable reading to the hypnosis nerd like me.

Despite receiving very little interest in his article, he eventually sent a copy to Professor Clark Leonard Hull, of Yale’s Psychology Department. Hull is the author of a work entitled Hypnosis & Suggestibility, and is not only one of the chief influential members of American psychology, but perhaps the one of the world’s more influential individuals on matters pertaining to hypnotism. Hull read Salter’s article (though he had never heard of Salter) and was sufficiently impressed to send it along to the Journal of General Psychology.

His technique was developed over the space of two years during which he tested the methods with just over 200 subjects. Salter described methods of teaching self-hypnosis by:

1. Autohypnosis by post-hypnotic suggestion.

2. Autohypnosis by memorised trance instructions. (Scripted suggestions.)

3. Fractional autohypnosis. (Part learning.)

Salter’s behavioural approach, influenced by Clark L. Hull, was a primitive precursor of modern hypnotic skills training programmes such as the Carleton Skills Training Programme developed by Nicholas Spanos.

As a major contributor to nonstate theory, Spanos hypothesized that the behaviours and experiences associated with hypnosis are acted out in accordance with the social context and expectations of the hypnotist and the setting by the person undergoing hypnosis even though they may be sometimes experienced as involuntary. This did underpin much of his work.

He argued persistently and demonstrated in over 250 experimental studies that hypnotic acts are strongly influenced by the definition of the contexts in which they occur as well as by the cognitive interpretation of the person hypnotised.

He argued that many of the actions performed under hypnosis can be simply explained by reference to social psychological and cognitive hypotheses (Spanos, 1996).

The reason I mention all this in relation to todays topic, is that much of his research has shown a positive training effect and has employed a qualitative technique of inquiry (the Experiential Analysis Technique: Sheehan & McConkey, 1978) in order to examine the effects of hypnotic skills training upon the strategies and cognitive processes that are employed by hypnotic subjects. In simple terms, the more people practice, the better they got and netter results they achieved with hypnosis.

Spanos went on to create the Carleton (he worked for Carleton UniversIty) Skills Training programme whereby the skills were taught to individuals and as they developed those skills, they became better hypnotic subjects in terms of measured responsiveness.

There has been much further study in more recent times in relation to this. For example, in their paper “How to be a good hypnotic subject,” Victoria West and Brian Fellows from the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, reviewed the major debate within the field of hypnosis: the stability of hypnotic susceptibility.

They proposed that state theorists, tend to maintain that hypnosis is a special and unique process, believe that hypnotic responding is a stable and enduring trait (Hilgard, 1965). Non-state theorists, who maintain that hypnosis involves psychological processes such as imaginative skills, motivation and expectancies, believe that hypnotic responding is a skill which can be acquired. Such theorists have shown that with cognitive skills training hypnotic susceptibility can be significantly enhanced (Gorassini & Spanos, 1986). However, attempts to replicate such findings in other laboratories have not always been successful (Bates, Miller, Cross & Brigham, 1988) and there has been much controversy concerning whether the training promotes genuine changes in hypnotic responsiveness or whether it simply promotes behavioural compliance (Bates, 1990).

Regardless of the philosophical debate, from my own experience and from training sessions, my own ways of facilitating my clients’ responsiveness to hypnotic suggestion include practicing imagination skills and developing the ideo-motor responses (IMR); this can start in a simple format such as teaching progressive relaxation whereby the client imagines the muscles relaxing and starts to note the effect of their imagination upon their physiology.

There are several hypnotic susceptibility tests (as discussed in a previous question) that can also be used to reinforce the notion that the individual is susceptible and thus enhancing their abilities with hypnosis. The simple ideas born out of certain susceptibility and suggestibility tests demonstrate the IMR wonderfully well (Chevreuls pendulum, finger vice, dictionary balloon etc) and can lead to a better level of suggestibility and responsiveness.

Also, educating thoroughly and properly about the hypnosis states begins to enable the client to model and create the correct expectation for themselves.

Expectation is incredibly important and as such, I believe creating the appropriate level of expectation in a variety of ways is very important. This can vary from making assumptions about them responding well to discussing the number of previous, similar individuals you have worked with who responded well and so on.

Also, developing continued motivation for hypnotic responsiveness. Sometimes a client might not be inclined to practice the hypnotic skills that you have demonstrated. I have several recordings that I give them to practice going in and out of hypnosis so that they feel more responsiveness, get used to my voice and the process of hypnosis and as such we require much less time to be spent on hypnotic procedure when we are in hypnotherapy sessions.

That said, I encourage all clients to learn and develop their skills without the need for ‘spoonfeeding’ by means of the audio recording and teach a range of self-hypnosis techniques as well as imagination skills and other skills to develop their responsiveness.

As hypnotherapists, it just seems to make sense to teach our clients self-hypnosis and have them learn to develop even moe when they are away from you (as the hypnotherapist) and the therapeutic environment.