Ericsonian Hypnotic suggestion techniques
Hypnotic Techniques

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Clinical Hypnosis Techniques

Ericksonian Hypnosis Techniques

There are unlimited ways to write hypnotic words and phrases but only a few basic hypnotic techniques. The hypnotist needs to decide what belief needs to be altered, what behaviour needs to be changed, and finally, which method to use. It has been established that the human mind is influenced by only a limited number of different types of hypnotic experience. By matching each suggestion to one of the basic hypnosis techniques the client is more likely to be hypnotized and act on the suggestion.




Visualisation is probably the most common technique used in hypnotherapy. Visualisation is also a form of self hypnosis. Visualisation is mostly used as a form of rehearsal, getting the client to imagine themselves in the future as having whatever it is they want to have now. It is also used to manipulate symbolic objects in Metaphor Modeling and to access memories in Regression. Visualisation is also an essential element of Metaphor where the client visualises the action and interacts with the environment.


Control And if you look very closely at that indicator..... you will find that it is also varying just a little.... up and down a little..... fluctuating around some point...not quite steady.... isn't it?
Parts And you can imagine going through that door and finding yourself.... in amongst all those good parts of your self ... and there's all the parts that make you feel good about yourself... and you can imagine them... pressing around you ... meeting you... and you feel so good because every part of you ... is valuable...
Induction And I wonder if you can imagine a big old house somewhere....
Action I want you to do that now, [clientname]... use that control and go through your day as fast as you like... and at every scene.... every time you smoke.... reach out and just cut that cord... and you will see it falls off both wrists... and you are free... and you can fast forward through that scene... and cut every cord....


Visualisation is used in one or more of the techniques of:




Association is a way of getting the client to access their own resources. The client is invited to think of themself in the future, when whatever it is that they want has happened to them. The client is led through a process of imagining how they would look, how they would stand, dress, behave and so on. This is similar to the technique of Retrospective Preview but in the technique of Association, the client is invited to 'associate into' that future self. In other words, they are to enter the body and mind of that future person. The client is instructed to enter their future to body, to see the world through the future body's eyes, to hear what it hears and to experience the mental state that goes with successfully having whatever it is they want to have in the future.

There are many variants of this technique. It can be suggested that the client identifies other people, either real or fictional, who have the strengths or abilities that the client wants. The client is then invited to associate into their bodies to experience what it is like to have those strengths or abilities, and to bring back those abilities when they leave the other person's body and return to their own. A similar technique consists of identifying people with the right abilities and then imagining putting on their head, so as to be able to understand the world the way they do.


Sensory Imagine yourself dressed exactly right, saying the right thing, using the right gestures.... fitting in with what others say, what others expect.... showing you are in command of yourself, getting respect. See yourself looking good. Hear your own voice, confident,  sure, convincing.  Feel how you stand, how you move, how you smile... Experience that feeling that comes with total confidence
Sensory and now... in your own way... enter that other you... that successful artful resourceful you... see what the world is like through successful eyes... hear what the world sounds like through successful ears...
Sensory And this means you can easily feel yourself become a different more confident person.




If Association is about going into someone else's body, Dissociation is about going out of yourself and then experiencing your own body as if it was someone else's. The ability to look at yourself as if you were a different person is the basis of many therapies. It is fundamental to the fast phobia process and is the basis of most visualisation therapies.

Dissociation can also happen spontaneously in hypnosis. In the most dramatic version this is experienced as an out of body experience. The client will report having left their body and seeing themselves lying in the chair as if from a great height, often as if they were floating up at the ceiling.

Most people have no trouble experiencing some level of dissociation. It appears to be a normal human response to stress that can be called up when requested. During dissociation the mind is more easily able to examine its own beliefs and expectations objectively and 'getting distance' on your troubles appears to leave the mind open to change processes.


Rehearsal And I wonder how easily you could imagine what it would be like to 'Fake it till you make it.'? Take a moment now and imagine yourself doing that..., next week or next month maybe,
Sensory Now take another deep breath and hold it... and this time really relax, just think about all those muscles that have to relax...
Capability And I'd like you to take a few moments now to experience yourself a little differently.... to think about possibilities.... think about change.
Retrospect And you find yourself walking along by the side of a river somewhere... or a lake maybe.... it's a lovely warm day... the sun is shining... and there is fresh air blowing along... and there are flowers... and insects... and it's the best day you ever had... and as you walk along... you can somehow see yourself walking along... as if from a distance... you can see how you are dressed... how you walk.... and you can read the thoughts of that person walking along... clear in your mind...




Rehearsal, also known as Future Pacing, involves the client testing their reaction to a particular situation that is causing them a problem by imagining themselves in that situation, and demonstrating the behaviour needed to put them in charge of the situation. The therapist talks the client through the problem situation suggesting the outline of the behaviour, letting the client fill in the details from their own resources.

The client can be asked to visualise it directly, or can be lead into a cave where they see their future self reflected in a pool of water, or they can be taken into a room where they see themself in a giant video projected onto a wall, or they might meet a ghost or guru who leads them to some place where their future is shown on a cloud or actually witness themself from a distance.


Sensory visualise yourself pushing open the door to the boardroom... seeing the people there... identifying all the key players... watching them smile in welcome... see yourself stepping up to begin your talk, confident, totally in control... remembering other times you were totally in control.... visualise each stage of the presentation, what you say, how you say it, what you show... see your jokes rippling round the room, your points registering home.... see yourself dominating the room, owning it... giving the best presentation they ever saw... you are confident, composed, creative... And then hear the applause, the rising tide of approval... they stand and clap, they gather round, congratulating you, approving, promising.....
Sensory and now visualise that boardroom another time.... they are firing questions at... querying your figures... questioning your assumptions.... you respond... coolly... with assurance... as you did in other situations when you were in charge.... you cite numbers... examples... cases... you deal with each point with poise... calm... assurance... you use humour to make your point... disarm them.... charm them.... you master the room...



Retrospective Preview

This is sometimes called 'pseudo orientation in time'. In this technique the client is asked to visualise themself at some time in the future. The client is asked imagine how they would look, how they would sound, dress, act, etc., at a time when they have successfully solved their problem. The client is then asked to associate into that future person, to fully become that person, and to see through their eyes, hear through their ears and think the way they think. The client is then asked to observe their current self from that future vantage point and to 'remember' all the steps they took to get to to that future success.

This process has the advantage of changing the perceptual position, allowing the client to 'step out of' their current way of doing things, and to distance themselves from their present problems. By 'remembering' the steps needed the client is actually identifying the resources needed to complete the change successfully, in their own way and in their own words.


Rehearsal See yourself sitting in the boss's chair.... see yourself enjoying all the benefits you get from your achievement... imagine yourself behind the big desk... and allowing your mind now to think back to how you got the key promotion... go through each step, each stage, each milestone on the way to getting there... your mind can to show you what it was you did to achieve each stage.... how you went about it... what the key to success was... allow yourself to remember each stage... each step...and how you succeeded in getting that step... holding on to it... and moving on to the next.... visualise each intensely.... for every stage. Turn your visualisation into a kind of movie.... with you as the star.... growing, changing, succeeding.... and looking back... showing everything you did to progress to that final achievement.




Amnesia has two distinct meanings in hypnotherapy. One refers to the common experience of clients coming out of trance and saying that they remember little or nothing about the session.

The other meaning refers to the deliberate suggestion that the client can choose to forget something or alternatively to be selective in remembering. Amnesia is really about applied discrimination, choosing which things to pay attention to. If you don't notice something then you never memorise it, which is the same as forgetting it. The same logic applies to triggers. If the client can be persuaded not to notice a trigger then the associated memories are never brought out, which is equivalent to forgetting.

Memory ... and those things will remind you of the way that you can go through your day.... and never even think about it.... .
Memory When you believe in yourself, the more you meet new people the more you enjoy the sensation you always get and you forget about how you used to doubt yourself....
Memory And when you get people talking about themselves,this means you can forget about yourself. You can forget to be nervous.



Reframing acknowledges the client's actions and feelings, but changes the meaning ascribed to them. The meaning you give to a situation depends on your world view, the assumptions you have about it. Few things are absolutely good or bad in life, and most things are subject to interpretation. Seeing failure to get the job you want as necessary feedback allows you to think about how to present your case better the next time, rather than wasting time in bitterness and blame. Taking a rainy day as an opportunity to spend more quality time indoors with the kids allows you to turn a disappointment into a benefit. Ideally, reframing takes a problem behaviour and utilizes it as a positive behaviour.

Memory And when you think about it, [clientname] your life has been full of successes, in fact it has been one success after another.... Oh, I know there have been setbacks.... but you have been successful at so many things...
Bind When you think about this exam you realise that it is the opportunity you have been waiting for.... to show everyone what you know.
Sensory ...that feeling, those signals you get from your body...the fluttering, the anticipation, is your body's way of letting you know you are ready for the exam...


Post Hypnotic Suggestion

To a certain extent, all effects of hypnosis are due to post hypnotic suggestion, but the term is reserved for suggested actions that will take place at a specific trigger some time after the hypnotic session is over. Post hypnotic suggestion can be used for fun, such as by suggesting that the number four will disappear for ten minutes after the session, but are usually used to trigger a different behaviour in normally stressful situations.

sensory And any time.... maybe you feel a little anxious.... maybe there is a bit of stress... And that hand begins to move up towards your mouth...the hand will suddenly seem gigantic... it will look like a bunch of bananas..... that hand will grow in size and you will become aware of that hand....and as you become aware of the hand you will feel an irresistible force ... straightening your arm out... pushing it down... pushing it away from your mouth..
memory And any time you go into a situation where you might have chewed your nails in the past ... something inside you, some little thing happens ... that will just bubble up... like bubbles at the bottom of a lake, this little laugh will come up and you will laugh at yourself ... and that will remind you that this is a situation where you used to chew your nails and now you don't
capability because from now on anytime you find a cigarette in your fingers you just snap it in two....

Regression is a normal process that everyone does. Whenever a stimulus causes you to call up a memory or to re-experience an old feeling you have experienced regression. Everyone is familiar with hearing an old song and being transported back in memory to when the song was first heard and recalling all the feelings, sights and sounds of that time.

Regression is experienced at different levels. Sometimes only an image of the memory is recalled, sometimes you can hear the actual words, sometimes the recall is so vivid that you feel yourself being there in the past, and totally forget about the present. Spontaneous regression can be unwanted and distressing, or may be nothing more than a daydream.

memory go back in your mind... to a time when this first happened,.... when you first had this feeling of anxiety,... allow your mind to find a memory... allow yourself to bring up that feeling... and the memory that comes with it... feel what you felt then, hear what you heard, see what you saw... just allow your mind to find that memory ..... and when you have it... say 'yes'.
memory And I wonder if you can imagine a big old house somewhere.... the kind of house that generations have grown up in... easter eggs, candles burning, shiny stars, dressing up..... and it's a happy house....
Memory And the princess found her way blocked by a high wall with no way out.... I wonder if you have ever experienced something like that?


Time distortion

The perception of time is largely subjective. A happy day can fly by, in the dentist's waiting room time can stop. Panic happens because we feel we do not have enough time, anxiety happens when we feel there is too much time for things to go wrong. During therapy, suggestions can stretch time or condense it.

  Sensory And you know, a minute of inner time can feel like an hour of clock time....
Dissociation And once you start on the first question... as soon as you begin to write... you lose all notion of time... words flow... smoothly.... swiftly... effortlessly....and the answers flow out and are all finished before you know it.


Sensory distortion

Sensory distortion occurs when a suggestion is made that the client will see, hear or feel something different from their normal experience.

  Sensory And the smoke from that cigarette tears at your throat like the claws of a raven, your mouth is filled with the revolting taste of tar, and the smoke is burning your tongue and all you want to do is to throw down that cigarette and stamp the vile thing into the ground....
Sensory the hand will suddenly seem gigantic... it will look like a bunch of bananas..... that hand will grow in size and you will become intensely aware of that hand...
Dissociation ... and those fingers are stuck together as if they are glued. And you are totally unable to get those fingers apart... you can try moving those fingers but the harder you try the more they stick together... >


Ericksonian Techniques

Hypnotic words and phrases create compelling suggestions and hypnotic binds when they follow special patterns. The exact words for hypnotic suggestions can have a major effect on how the listener responds to the suggestion. Milton Erickson developed a technique known as the Milton Model for presenting ideas in hypnosis using ambiguous hypnotic words and phrases to put people into trance easily and quickly.
The mind needs to make sense of uncertainty and pays special attention to ambiguous words in order to find a definite meaning.
The process of thinking about what the words actually mean deflects the mind away from the speaker, and causes the listener to 'go inside' briefly. The use of 'artfully vague' language causes the listener to search their mind for memories and matching experiences. This is what trance is - dissociating out of the present moment by dropping 'inside'. While in that state the listener is more receptive to the next words, and if those words do nothing to end that state then the client will quickly go into trance.

Once in trance, the unconscious mind does not analyse the words and phrases that it hears. Any consistent form of words that are presented will not be examined closely, and any suggestion is likely to be accepted and acted upon, even though an alert listener would reject the suggestion as illogical. The hypnotist can use these hypnotic words and phrases to bypass the critical faculty of the conscious mind.



In The Answer Within: a clinical framework of Ericksonian hypnotherapy Lankton and Lankton (1983) describe eleven types of indirect hypnotic suggestions that can be used in hypnosis. These are:


1. Open ended suggestions

These are vague and open to the widest range of interpretation. They are often used to prepare the client for a more specific suggestion. For example when the goal is to achieve eye closure, the open ended suggestion 'There are certain actions people do to make themselves ready' can be given. The natural response of the client is to try to make sense of the suggestion and so turn their attention inward to begin wondering what actions the hypnotist is talking about. Having induced the client to briefly enter an unconscious state, the hypnotist then has available a more receptive mind to follow up with a suggestion about eye closure.


2. Implication

These suggestions involve the deliberate use of presupposition, especially using time and number. 'The first thing people do when they go into trance is....' presupposes that the client will be going into trance as does 'Before you go into your trance...' does the same. 'I wonder which lesson will be the first into your conscious awareness?' To a certain extent, all indirect suggestion is based on suppositions.


3. Questions or statements that focus or reinforce awareness.

These questions operate on two different levels. Take the sentence 'I wonder whether you can feel your muscles begin to relax as you listen to my words'. On one level this can be read as a simple question, even a rhetorical question. On another level it invites the client to focus awareness on the process of relaxation. If it is followed by a statement such as 'You know, there are many ways to relax', this will reinforce the process already begun, without any direct instruction at all.


4. Truisms

'You can take the good with the bad and learn from your mistakes'. Truisms are statements of the obvious. The are used to get the client to evaluate the truism, and to find that they agree with it. The next suggestion is then made while the agreement with the truism is still in mind, so it too will be accepted as true, even if its truth is not so obvious. Examples of truisms include 'People are happiest when they feel loved and needed'; 'There are times when everyone underestimates their own talent'.


5. Suggestions which cover all possible alternatives.

These are designed to make a suggestion with a 'fail-safe' for both client and therapist. They are a form of words where every alternative response, and even a non response, leads to an impression that the client is cooperating with the therapist. 'You can allow your mind to drift back to the age of five or six or later, or you may not be aware what age you have selected'. 'You may find your left hand starts to lift, or it may be your right hand, or your unconscious mind may decide to wait or to signal some other way'.


6. Appositions of opposites

This involves associating two actions which are changing in the opposite direction. It is normal to link one of the actions to the body and the other to the some psychological change. For example, 'As the heaviness in your body increases, the weight of your arm decreases'. 'The more tense you feel at the beginning, the deeper your level of trance will be by the end'.


7. Binds of comparable alternatives

A bind offers the client a choice between two or more essentially similar alternatives. Whatever choice the client makes leads to a therapeutic outcome. Simple binds are easily formed by posing questions that apparently give the client a free choice. 'Would you prefer to go into a trance with your eyes open or closed?'. 'I wonder if it will be your left hand that rises up towards your face, or the right hand?'. The question presupposes the action and gives the illusion of choice.


8. Conscious/Unconscious double binds

By definition, the conscious mind cannot control the unconscious mind. However, the client can be educated into believing that there are two parts to the mind, and that doing something consciously implies doing something else unconsciously. The therapist presupposes that the client has an unconscious mind and imputes powers and abilities to it. The key is for the therapist to use words which suggest that the unconscious is split from the conscious mind and thus causes the client to dissociate from the conscious mind. Erickson used the example 'If your unconscious mind wants you to enter trance, your right hand will lift. Otherwise, your left hand will lift'. In developing trance the double bind 'Your conscious mind may wonder about the right level of trance while your unconscious mind develops the depth of trance you need' allows the client to dissociate themselves into trance.


9. Double dissociative conscious/unconscious double binds

This type of bind is just a more complex version of the single bind but is easy to create since it follows a standard pattern. It uses the same conscious/unconscious distinction in the format of 'your conscious mind can X, while your unconscious mind can Y; or your unconscious mind can X while your conscious mind does Y. Converting the example above gives: 'Your conscious mind may wonder about the right level of trance while your unconscious mind develops the depth of trance you need; or you unconscious mind can decide on the level while your conscious mind thinks about how to develop the trance'. The more complex wording causes the client's mind to become confused and to more readily accept the therapeutic alternatives.


10. Reverse conscious/unconscious double binds

This category is mostly used where the client is offering resistance or presenting behaviour that is counter to the induction and requires a degree of skill to utilize in therapy. The process starts by challenging the client on their behaviour and thus defining the relationship on which the client should concentrate. This binds the client's conscious mind at one level while opening up the possibility of a response at the psychological level. Suppose a client refuses to close their eyes. The therapist could use a series of instructions such as 'I know you cannot allow you eyes to close while someone is around you. I expect you are not able to close your eyes now. You can't listen to my voice with your eyes open and you can't allow your mind to learn something useful...'. This is the basis of Erickson's famous 'use the resistance' approach to therapy.


11. Non sequitur double bind

In this bind there is a similarity in the content of the alternatives, but no logical connection. One part of the suggestion seems to imply the desired response while the other part requests the response more directly. Erickson offered the example of the type of double bind used by parents: 'Do you wish to take a bath before going to bed, or would you rather put your pajamas on in the bathroom?'


Indirect suggestions are themselves trance inducing because they force the listener to go inside to evaluate the ambiguity, so can be used as part of a formal trance or out of trance. Using these approaches helps to fixate attention, concentrate the client inward and initiate unconscious and autonomous processes. Indirect suggestion using hypnotic words and phrases is the real art or 'secret' of Ericksonian hypnosis.