• Posted in May 2009
  • Article written by Michael Carroll

The Structure of Permissive Hypnotherapy

Part One

This article is the first of two I will write on the ‘Structure of Permissive Hypnotherapy’. The second article will appear with next month’s (June 09) newsletter. In this first article you will read about the fundamental style differences between the permissive and authoritarian approaches to hypnosis. You will also read that rapport through mirroring, utilisation, state of hypnotherapist and use of indirect suggestion marked out with a special tone are key skills for the hypnotherapist to be effective in creating a context where trance will occur. In part two, I will cover how the different types of hypnotic language and the formats of creating change in hypnotherapy.

Hypnotherapy is a means of helping people utilise a hypnotic state to access their inner resources. A hypnotic state, also known as trance is where one has a heightened sensory awareness but the breadth of sensory experience is reduced. For example the subject might be highly aware of their inner sensations of relaxation and nothing else.  Or the client may only be highly aware of the qualities of the hypnotherapist’s voice. There are broadly two different styles of hypnosis, i/ the authoritarian direct approach and ii/ the permissive indirect approach.  The authoritarian approach is where the hypnotist ‘directs’ the client into the trance often using a scripted set of words. The hypnotist using this approach generally would have a standard format for everyone. With the permissive approach the hypnotherapist utilises everything that is present e.g.  the clients issue, the client’s sensory experience and the immediate environment to facilitate a process where a trance state is naturally accessed. Each session is designed to suit the client’s personal way of changing state. Using the permissive approach, the hypnotherapist leads the client into trance elegantly using a range of different formats. With the permissive style there is generally less resistance from a client.

Permissive hypnotherapy is often referred to as Ericksonian Hypnotherapy because it has its roots in the style of the late Milton Erickson. Erickson was a psychiatrist with a private practice in Phoenix and the father of permissive hypnotherapy.  As a young doctor Erickson was interested in applying hypnosis in the medical context.  Later in his career he was responsible for the American Medical Association recognising hypnotherapy as a legitimate medical treatment. Erickson originally learned the traditional authoritarian style and gradually changed his style because he considered a permissive approach more effective for helping his patients experience change in their lives.

Rapport is an important aspect of permissive hypnotherapy because the hypnotherapist is going to lead the client to trance rather than just direct the client’s experience. To lead the client to trance the hypnotherapist mirrors the clients non verbal behaviour and then the hypnotherapist access the physiology and state associated with trance, so when the client unconsciously follows the hypnotherapist’s lead he/she will be accessing a trance like state. This makes it even easier to accept the hypnotherapists suggestions in the induction. The most effective form of body mirroring is micro muscle mirroring. Rather than mirroring explicit movements the hypnotherapist just moves the muscles associated with the major movements. So if the client lifts his arm the hypnotherapist engages the muscles associated with lifting the arm so only minor movement occurs. Also the hypnotherapist mirrors the subtleties of behaviour such as breathing and blinking. Mirroring creates a rapport and therefore a context where the relationship between hypnotherapist and client is conducive for hypnotherapy.

Utilisation is a key skill in permissive hypnotherapy and features on many levels.  For example to create the trance the hypnotherapist might utilise the immediate environment.  The hypnotherapist could say ‘as you focus on a spot over there, seeing the colour of the wall, noticing the picture on the wall, noticing you now can be aware of the light shimmering around the picture, hearing the slow hum of traffic, and other sounds in the room come to your attention, even the sound of your breath, now can you be aware of yourself experiencing the feeling your back against the chair, your feet touching floor and hands in your lap and now being aware of the sensations in your eyelids and your breathing pattern beginning to slow down’. The hypnotherapist would continue using language that manoeuvres different aspects of the client’s sensory experience (what they are seeing hearing and feeling) and eventually to internal sensory experience. As you read the sentence in italics you probably became aware of different aspects of your own sensory experience and experienced a slight shift in your own state. This is because the induction directs attention in a permissive way to what is currently present in your world but out of conscious awareness. Bringing sensory based information to conscious attention creates an overload which in turn opens a door way to trance. Ultimately the hypnotherapist brings the client’s attention to body sensations and internal feelings so the client develops a high level of internal focus deleting external stimuli. This type of attention is a feature of trance. Using a sensory awareness style of induction I rarely have to ask a person to close their eyes. By directing the client’s attention to the sensations in his/her eyelids combined with everything else I am doing, usually creates a context where the eyes close naturally.  This is in direct contrast to the authoritarian approach where the client is told their eyes are getting heavy and will shut which works only with people who are either highly compliant or suggestible.

If I did ask someone to close their eyes, I would use indirect suggestion. For example I could say “as you feel all the sensations in your eyes (pace) noticing as you do that the eyes also blink (pace) and with each blink notice they just want to stay closed that little bit longer (lead) until they just want to stay closed because it feels right.”  The bold words are the hypnotic suggestions. The approach is elegant because the client has not been told or even asked to close his eyes. The language is artful suggesting the eyes might ‘want’ to close. A pacing statement is a statement that ratifies what is currently happening. In the example in italics above the hypnotherapist would make a statement about blinking at the moment the client blinks. This often leads initially to faster rate of blinking and then to the eyes remaining closed that bit longer after each blink. Because the hypnotherapist is using a hypnotic style of voice when making the suggestions the client’s eyes will want to stay closed and low behold will stay closed as trance develops.

Another form of utilisation is for the hypnotherapist to ask a series of questions about a personal experience the client has had of being in deep relaxation, being in the zone or some other altered state that is similar to a trance. The client will mentally access visual and auditory elements of the representation of the experience when the hypnotherapist asks the client questions about when the state the state occurred, where they were, who was there etc. As the client accesses the representation of their personal experience of being in an altered state they will begin to associate to the experience and feel an internal shift as they start to experience some of the kinaesthetic qualities of this state. The hypnotherapist then asks questions about what the client was feeling in the altered state which will open more of the circuits associated with the state. When hypnotherapist observes that state change in the client he/she then changes tense to present and present perfect tense using conjunctions to make the shift. For example the hypnotherapist might feedback the clients previous statements saying ‘you were experiencing your breathing slowing down, noticing a special internal silence and those sensations of relaxation in your solar plexus and as you experience all of that now what else are you noticing ……..”  This process is called revivification; it’s simple and effective and is met with minimum resistance because the client is accessing a state from their own personal experience. Once the state is accessed the hypnotherapist may chose to deepen the state so trance phenomena is accessed.

Brilliant hypnotherapists are very good at being in trance themselves when working with clients.  For optimal results its essential the hypnotherapist has deep personal experiences of trance and when conducting hypnosis sessions operate from the state of trance. If the hypnotherapist is in a trance the client will find it easier to go into a trance. Ericksonian style hypnotherapists are very good at varying tone when conducting sessions. A special tone of voice, usually slower and deeper will be used for addressing the unconscious mind and giving suggestions. The client’s unconscious soon learns when the hypnotherapist is communicating to it (out of conscious awareness). This style of hypnotic communication increases the effectives of suggestions for change.

To summarise a key difference in the authoritarian approach and permissive approach is utilisation. In the permissive style each induction is unique utilising aspects of the client’s personal experience. The permissive hypnotherapist artfully gives indirect suggestions to the client which has been preceded by a series of pacing statements. For indirect suggestions to be really effective the hypnotherapist changes tone of voice slightly. Rapport and pacing are key elements and when present make it very easy to lead a client into trance. You can read more about the structure of permissive hypnotherapy in next month’s newsletter.
You can also watch Michael Carroll doing a trance induction online right now. Click Here to watch

About The Author

Michael Carroll is the founder and course director of the NLP Academy and co-founder with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair of the International Trainers Academy of NLP.

He is the only NLP Master Trainer in the world certified by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair and he works closely with them in developing and delivering high quality NLP training.



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