Thanks to Hollywood and pulp fiction, hypnosis tends to bring to mind a villain with a pencil-thin mustache and possibly an opera cape. That’s really a stage hypnosis thing. So far, I’ve never met a hypnotherapist who greets clients in evening dress and a silk hat or a turban with a jewel in the center. That’d be weird!
Some clinicians are put off by the Hollywood thing, so the first thing they do is stop using the word “hypnosis” when they do hypnosis. The second thing they do is to drop most of the hypnotic techniques from their repertoire, focusing on just one or two. Eventually, these subsets of hypnosis get accepted by mainstream practitioners as stand-alone interventions, or even as stand-alone modalities. I call these hypnosis-like techniques.
So there are a lot of doctors and therapists out there who are using hypnotic techniques without admitting it, and sometimes without knowing it!
In addition, there are techniques that evolved before hypnosis or in parallel with it. Instead of being slimmed-down versions of hypnosis, they are their own thing, and happen to include their own hypnosis-like techniques.
One of the standard ways of getting people into hypnosis is progressive relaxation. A hypnotic induction involves focusing your attention in an unusual way, and asking someone to relax their body, typically starting at the eyes or the top of the head and working downward, is one of the great standbys. Done right, it leaves you in a reasonably deep trance, and also feeling relaxed and peaceful, and ready to begin the actual session, whether it’s hypnosis or self-hypnosis.
Because progressive relaxation puts you into hypnosis, it’s a hypnotic technique, pure and simple.
Some people teach progressive relaxation as a stand-alone modality. To a hypnotist, the concept is frustrating. “The client enters a state where they’ll accept suggestions for beneficial change, and then no one makes any? What a waste!”
There’s nothing wrong with progressive relaxation, and it’s especially good when you have a need to achieve a relaxed, calm state — and who doesn’t? And you can turn it into a standard self-hypnosis session by repeating some suggestions to yourself once you’re nice and relaxed. When in doubt, you can always use Émile Coué’s classic, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
(Word of warning: suggestions tend to sound lame at first. Feel free to rework them to taste, as long as they’re simple and positive, but it’s a good idea to give the old standards a try, too.”)
Guided Imagery is a classic hypnotic technique, used for a variety of purposes. Asking people to imagine peaceful scenes tends to evoke the peaceful state of mind while deepening hypnosis. Thus, guided imagery is used as a “deepener” near the beginning of a session. But it’s also used to create a therapeutic hypnotic processes. Humans use symbolic and metaphorical thinking readily.
This can be as simple(?) as “age progression,” where you become your future self (that just means you pretend to be your future self). The new, improved you, just a short time in the future, with your problem completely solved. Then just notice what you see, what you feel, and how people treat you, now that your problem is solved. Perhaps you experience a whole day, or several days this way, with the problem completely gone, and notice what new and better things are happening. Once you’ve done that, allow your younger self to step forward and merge with your future self.
That’s just one example of a hypnotic process using guided imagery. This works best at deeper levels of hypnosis, since it leaves behind the conscious mind’s whiny, “but I caaaaaan’t” attitude, letting you get on with the work. But it can be effective even if you claim that it’s Not Hypnosis At All and skip the formal hypnotic induction.
Similarly, people respond powerfully to stories, so an appropriate story told in hypnosis can encourage change, whether it’s one that’s told about someone else or is one where the client is the main character. It can be like a regular story, with no interactivity, or it can be a build-your-own-adventure story, with choices here and there.
Non-hypnotherapists often consider guided imagery to be a stand-alone modality, with no goal beyond relaxation and the evoking of pleasant feelings. Guided imagery is very effective for this. More ambitious goals call for a deeper state of hypnosis. This is not hard to achieve with guided imagery, but it makes the process more overtly hypnotic, and people who use overt hypnosis usually call it “hypnosis.”
By using the imagination, fantasy, and magical thinking, guided imagery lets you go anywhere and do anything, with any ground rules. Coupled with a deep level of hypnosis, this allows guided imagery to be used with emotional safety to deal with the hard stuff, achieving closure in areas that otherwise have a big sign saying, “Don’t Go There.”
More than 200 years ago, Dr. Mesmer, I’m told, noticed a priest, who was a famous faith healer, gently tap sufferers on the forehead with an iron cross. Mesmer thought it was the iron that was the important part. (It was probably more about the tapping.)
Mesmerism and hypnosis developed for over 100 years before anyone knew that verbal “hypnotic suggestions” were important. Before that, most effects were obtained by nonverbal means, especially tapping and “mesmeric passes,” running the hands over the subject’s body, usually without touching. Blowing gently onto the subject’s face is another Mesmeric technique. So is the “hypnotic gaze.” Over the last 200 years, such techniques have been forgotten, rediscovered, and repackaged many times. My suspicion is that they work, but are harder to teach than hypnosis.
These techniques can be powerful. Surgeon James Esdaile used them to get patients into a very deep state of hypnosis, so deep that major surgery could be performed comfortably without anesthesia.
EFT. The most common mesmeric technique that I know of is the Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. Now, the EFT folks don’t think of it as a mesmeric or hypnotic technique — that’s an opinion mostly held by hypnotists. But whatever category you put it in, EFT is simple, and something you can try for yourself. The EFT Web site has everything you need. EFT uses tapping on specific points on the body.