• Posted in July 2009
  • Article written by Michael Carroll

The Structure of Permissive Hypnotherapy

Part Two: Utilising Hypnotic Phenomena

In part one of this series of articles, I wrote about the differences in ‘permissive style hypnotherapy pioneered by Milton Erickson and ‘authoritarian style’ made famous by Mesmer that most traditional clinical hypnotists tend to use in their work. The fundamental process that flows through permissive hypnotherapy is ‘utilisation’. In part one, I wrote about two utilisation methods to induce trance with clients. In this article, I will write about the different hypnotic phenomena that a permissive hypnotherapist would use once he/she has induced trance in the client.

Hypnotic phenomena (also known as trance phenomena) are slightly out of the ordinary mind/body processes that occur in an altered state of consciousness. When the client is in a trance, the permissive hypnotherapist seeks to facilitate a process to utilise trance phenomena the client is experiencing to help the client create change in their lives. Age regression, revivification (covered in part one), time distortion, catalepsy and arm levitation are examples of trance phenomena. It’s important to recognise that the trance phenomena mentioned above and all other forms of trance phenomena occur on a daily basis in our lives. Every ninety minutes or so, human beings orientate their attention internally and go into ‘down time’. These shifts of attention are linked to natural body rhythms and the state we enter is biologically similar to trance. During these shifts of attention we will naturally experience trance phenomena. For example have you ever been on a motorway and while still driving safely your mind went somewhere else, the result being you drove right past your exit? In this example you are experiencing ‘amnesia’. Have you ever been staring intently at the television but not seeing or hearing anything? This is an example of ‘negative hallucination’. Negative hallucination is not seeing something that is there. Another common example of negative hallucination is where you search hard for your keys and continue looking and when you return to the place you where you were looking, you find your keys were there all along. Have you ever had a very strong sensory based flash back, where you see, hear and smell the stimuli present in a long past experience? This is an example of revivification (a sensory rich re-experience of a state). Have you ever held your hand up or out and forgotten what you were doing, and your hand became rigid and waxy looking? This is arm catalepsy, the balanced tonicity between agonistic and antagonistic muscles. Milton Erickson regularly used arm catalepsy in his inductions for a variety of reasons.

A key presupposition of permissive hypnotherapy is that ‘hypnosis’ is a process of utilising naturally occurring mind/body processes and that hypnosis is not something you have done to you, it occurs through the mutually responsive relationship between the hypnotherapist and client. The hypnotherapist will use hypnotic language to provide the client with every day examples of hypnotic phenomena, thus assisting the client access the circuitry and behaviour associated with the relevant hypnotic phenomenon. The hypnotherapist will then utilise the client’s behavioural responses to deepen the association to hypnotic phenomena.

As I said earlier in this article, Erickson liked to utilise arm catalepsy in his hypnosis work. Arm catalepsy is a physical shift and therefore an excellent convincer for the client’s conscious mind that something different is happening, i.e. they are in a trance. Physically what is occurring is the agonistic and antagonistic muscles in the arm start to balance. These muscles usually act like a pulley, pushing and pulling against each other to enable the arm to lift smoothly. When they balance the arm goes into catalepsy and becomes waxy looking, rigid and the arm fixed. Any minor movements are jerky. Catalepsy is a good indication that the client is in a medium trance, good for eliciting ideomotor signals on fingers, and good to deepen trance or to reinforce change.

A utilisation format for quickly inducing catalepsy or trance is the ‘handshake induction’. This can be done either when the client is in a trance or as a means of rapid trance induction. The basis of the handshake induction is to interrupt what is a deeply ingrained but simple behaviour (a hand shake). The hypnotherapist goes to shake hands in the usual way with the client, and as the client responds by moving his hand towards the hypnotherapist’s right hand, the hypnotherapist pulls his right hand away and quickly takes the clients hand with his left turning it over and squeezing it lightly. The client’s neuro linguistic programme is interrupted and at that moment enters a trance and is highly suggestible. The catalepsy created can be deepened through kinaesthetic ambiguity that is the random light squeeze of different fingers as well as the wrist.

If used when first meeting a client, the handshake may seem a bit abrupt with the effect of causing disorientation, and the client wondering what happened after he/she comes out of the trance. This might be useful in contexts where the hypnotherapist in the pre-interview establishes that the client is highly analytical. A softer approach and arguably more effective approach would be to induce a trance using one of the utilisation processes mentioned in the first article of this series and then ask the client to open their eyes whilst remaining in a trance. The hypnotherapist would the say “if we were meeting for the first time, I would walk up to you and say “pleased to meet you” and at the moment of saying “pleased to meet you” the hypnotherapist would hold out their hand as if he/she were meeting the client for the first time. A variation would be to, in trance, revivify the first meeting. The hypnotherapist would say “do you remember when we first met?” and then elaborate on the context of the first meeting prior to the first handshake. As the hypnotherapist calibrates the client accessing the first meeting, the hypnotherapist would say whilst holding his hand out “pleased to meet you”, or whatever words were said at the original meeting. In both cases mentioned above, the client will respond by reaching out to shake the hypnotherapist’s hand. The hypnotherapist, in turn will interrupt the pattern with the handshake induction. Click this link for a video demonstration of me doing a handshake induction with a client.

There are many uses of catalepsy, ranging from creating a dissociation, analgesia (absence of pain), acting as convincer for the conscious mind, as a means of deepening the trance or a means to reinforce change work. An excellent way to utilise catalepsy is to set up yes/no signals on the fingers. These are known as ideomotor responses in the field of hypnosis. Once the hypnotist has induced catalepsy and the hand is rigid, the hypnotist asks the client’s unconscious mind to provide a signal for yes by moving one of the fingers on the hand. The hypnotherapist uses calibration skills to verify that the yes signal is involuntary. An unconscious signal on the finger is distinct from a conscious voluntary response in the sense that the unconscious response is a jerky micro muscle movement that occurs when the fingers are in the cataleptic state. The client has no control over the unconscious response. A conscious response is usually a smooth movement that the client can manipulate. Once the hypnotherapist is satisfied that the yes signal is unconscious, a signal for ‘no’ is then established. With ‘yes and ‘no’ signals cleanly set up, the hypnotherapist can then begin to communicate directly with the client’s unconscious to utilise resources for change.

To summarise, after trance is induced the hypnotherapist utilises various hypnotic phenomena to deepen the trance and help the client access the resources of the unconscious mind. All hypnotic phenomena occur in our everyday lives when we enter states similar to hypnosis. The permissive hypnotherapist uses natural examples of hypnotic phenomena to help the client access the relevant circuitry and behaviour in the induction. Erickson used arm catalepsy frequently in his inductions. Arm catalepsy as a physical shift is a good convincer for the conscious mind that their state has changed. Catalepsy also provides the hypnotherapist with an excellent means of communicating with the unconscious. In the next edition in this series, I will zone in on how other hypnotherapists use the phenomena of dissociation when working with their clients.

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.



  • Michael’s enthusiasm for the subject is all absorbing and consuming. It is clear that he can’t give enough, sometimes too much!

    Edith Maskell
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