How do Hypnotic Suggestions Work?

“Look into my eyes. Your fear of spiders is fading away, fading away. You now like spiders.”

That’s what we in the hypnosis biz call direct suggestion. It’s what most people think of when they think of hypnosis. Direct suggestion can be very weak or very powerful, depending on context.

On the whole, telling people to change doesn’t work very well unless you also show them how to change. If you tell someone who has never used a manual transmission, “Just get into this 5-speed car and drive to Miami,” they’re likely to refuse. If you give them a lesson, it’s a lot different. Even if you ask them, hypothetically, how they’d go about learning to drive a stick shift so they can drive to Miami, it might turn out well. As soon as someone has serious thought to overcoming an obstacle, it’s hard to fall back into the previous state of, “I just can’t.” The more vividly you image the process of achieving success, the more energized you are to take the plunge and see it through.

This means that effective hypnosis needs to involve a process that gives you an experience that lets you see the path you want to take as better, more satisfying, less scary, more natural, and more “you” than what you were doing before. This can be difficult in the conscious state, because in the conscious state our habits of thought make us pretty rigid, especially when our “stuff” gets in the way. In the conscious state, we tend to reject ideas out of hand, even when they’re true. In hypnosis, we don’t reject things automatically; we consider them first, and this allows us to find a new way forward.

In addition, hypnosis connects with the more intuitive, imaginative, and emotional part of the mind, which is often at odds with the more rational part of the mind. Someone with a fear of elevators knows on a rational level that elevators are the safest form of transportation in existence, but knowing this hasn’t affected the fear at all. This demonstrates that the conscious mind is not the problem, and a method that works with the unconscious mind directly is going to be the shortest path to success. Hypnosis does this, allowing the unconscious mind to be heard, which lets the objections to be mediated and resolved so you can make progress with a whole heart and a whole mind.

Direct suggestion helps you get into the state of hypnosis. It guides you through the process where you resolve your  own objections to progress and discover the way forward, and it reinforces the lessons you learn on the way. For example, towards the end of a session, I often ask my client to finish two sentences for me, “I’ve changed because now I know …” and “I’ve changed because now I feel …” and then I repeat their answers to them a number of times to reinforce what they’ve just learned and felt. Putting these things into words and repeating those words helps make the learnings more tangible and long-lasting, and using the client’s actual words and learnings is vastly more powerful than if I were to say what I imagine they should have learned, for obvious reasons.

Not every hypnotist approaches things this way, but they should.

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Robert Plamondon
Robert Plamondon has written three books, received over 30 U.S. patents, founded several businesses, and is an expert on free-range chickens. Robert's publishing company, Norton Creek Press, is a treasure trove of reprinted classics, including Hypnotherapy of War Neuroses, which covers treating PTSD in veterans. Robert and his wife Karen sell free-range chicken and eggs at the Corvallis farmers' markets. Robert's hypnotherapy office is in downtown Corvallis.

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