How does a hypnotherapy session work? Many people have no idea what a hypnotherapist actually does in the therapy room, and it can all seem a bit of a mystery. Hypnotherapy sessions are made up of a number of different steps, and this blog will give you an overview of each stage, and explanation of why it’s so integral to an effective hypnotherapy session.
The initial consultation
The initial consultation (sometimes known as ‘client intake’) is where the hypnotherapy process begins, and is in fact one of the most essential parts of the process. The consultation gives the hypnotherapist the opportunity to get relevant information from their client about the problem/issue/goal. By gaining specific information about each individual client, a hypnotherapist is able to create a bespoke session for each client, which will significantly improve the results of the hypnotherapy process. As well as getting a client’s basic information, such as name, address, medical history, relationships, job, hobbies, lifestyle, etc., the detailed ‘case history’ covers information about the client’s problem, such as what it is, when it happens, are there symptoms, what makes it better/worse… Also, a solution-focused hypnotherapist will be working with the client to create an effective therapy goal. This goal gives a direction for therapy and something for the client to actively work towards (as opposed to just ‘moving away from the problem’). The hypnotherapist will help a client to ensure that their therapeutic goals are realistic and actually achievable. For example, a client may wish to lose some weight for a future event, such as a wedding. If said client had 6 months to lose 14lbs, that would be realistic and likely achievable. However, if the client had the same amount of time and wanted to lose 100lbs, it’d be much less realistic and it’s likely to be unachievable. So, as well as creating a direction for clients, setting goals also helps to manage client expectations, ensuring they’re focusing their efforts appropriately for more success!
Finally, it is common during the initial consultation process to educate the client about hypnosis and hypnotherapy (this is often known as the ‘pre-talk’), to test a client’s hypnotic suggestibility, and potentially even educate the client about their issue (such as what smoking can do to the body, symptoms of anxiety/panic attacks, or how much weight a client can reasonably expect to lose per week). Overall, the consultation process is designed to ensure that the client gets their needs met as closely as possible, in order to benefit fully from the rest of the hypnotherapy session. It helps the hypnotherapist choose the appropriate techniques, suggestions and approaches that the client needs in order for them to succeed.
Next comes the hypnosis part. It kind of goes without saying that a hypnotherapy session will usually include some hypnosis…
In a hypnotherapy session, the hypnotherapist will ‘induce’ the client into a state of hypnosis before they start using therapy techniques and approaches. There are many different types of methods that can be used in order to hypnotise a client, these are known as ‘hypnotic inductions’. Inductions can vary in style and duration, some are quick, some take a little longer. Some require a very direct and authoritarian delivery style (such as ‘rapid inductions’) whereas others are more indirect and permissive in delivery style. Some inductions utilise relaxation, others involve movement, there are even inductions that involve confusion and ‘overloading’ a client with too much to do. We have a whole blog on hypnotic inductions, so if you’d like to learn more about them, check it out here. Anyway, after a client has been hypnotised using an induction, a ‘state deepener’ is then employed in order to intensify the hypnotic experience for the client, getting them to a ‘depth of trance’ that is sufficient to engage in the therapy process.
After the client is in hypnosis, the hypnotherapist will then apply various therapy techniques. It’s common that a therapist will work to a ‘three phase’ treatment plan throughout the entire therapy process. Initially, a client may need to be ‘stabilised‘ in order that they’re ready to undertake the therapy process. A therapist will help a client to build their own internal resources and ego strength, as well as helping them become engaged in the therapy process and ready to accept changes. Once that has been done, it’s the ‘treatment‘ phase, which is where the bulk of the therapeutic work is undertaken, and finally, the ‘maintenance‘ stage, where the professional hypnotherapist gives the client the tools to maintain the positive changes into their future, as well as developing new ways of responding and helping them prepare for challenges in order to prevent any relapses.
A common first approach in the stabilisation or treatment portion of the session is to create a deep state of relaxation in the client. The reason for this is that relaxation reduces stress and can combat anxiety (two of the most common components of many client issues). Teaching a client to be able to relax is a highly useful skill, and it is also a very simple starting point for therapy that almost all clients can easily achieve. This relaxation is achieved by giving direct suggestions for relaxation (see ‘hypnotic suggestions’ below). Though relaxation is not necessarily essential for hypnotherapy, it is very complementary and gives the client positive feelings and a sense of well-being. So, relaxation definitely provides a fantastic starting point, enabling the client to go on to participate more effectively with the rest of the hypnotherapy process.
During all parts of the hypnotherapy process, and especially during the stabilisation/treatment/maintenance phases, a hypnotherapist will use ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ suggestions in order to create therapeutic changes. Direct suggestions involve directly telling a client what to do/think/imagine, and are stated explicitly. For example, ‘relax every muscle in your body, now’ or, ‘you are now a non-smoker and feel really good’. This type of suggestion is good for clients who do not object to being told what to do. Conversely, for clients that don’t respond well to directly ‘being told’, indirect suggestions are less directive and give clients the ‘illusion of choice’, where you’re not directly telling them to do something, but you’re still conveying the same message in a ‘softer’ way. For example, using the 2 direct suggestions from above, their indirect counterparts may be, ‘perhaps you can allow every muscle in your body to relax a little more now’ or ‘maybe you can imagine just how good you’re going to feel as you’re a non-smoker’. Generally, it’s common practice to use both direct and indirect suggestions with most clients, so that they are less likely to resist the suggestions. Want to learn more about how to develop your own hypnotic suggestions? We have a fantastic blog on the topic here.
Something that a hypnotherapist will do with most clients is ‘ego-strengthening’, sometimes known as ‘ego-boosting’. This ego-strengthening process can enhance the client’s ability to respond to the therapy process overall, as such, it is often used in an earlier part of the hypnotherapy session/treatment plan. Ego-strengthening works to build a client’s self-confidence, self-esteem, and general ‘sense of self’. A hypnotherapist will work to empower the client and help them to develop internal resources, resilience and coping strategies. As well as enhancing the therapy process overall, ego-strengthening is also used to help clients understand that they have the ability, resources and confidence to go away from the hypnotherapy session and continue to achieve success on their own, perhaps even going beyond what they’ve already achieved in the session. The ego-strengthening process results in faster, more effective and longer-lasting change, and the techniques used in this process can either be direct, or, popularly, metaphorical. Fundamentally, the therapist empowers the client to understand that they are able to support themselves moving forwards…
Hypnotic metaphors, therapeutic stories and teaching tales are widely used within the hypnotherapy process. Metaphors are a great way of working with hypnotherapy clients that may resist ‘being told what to do’. By using stories and metaphors, a client doesn’t feel like you’re making them do something or demanding it, instead they are able to draw their own conclusions from what you are indirectly implying within your metaphor. Hypnotherapy metaphors draw parallels to the client’s issue/goal and offer a potential solution (or more than one), that the client can then ‘try on for size’ in their mind. However, rather than making the metaphor directly about the client’s problem, which is too obvious, it’s common practice to make metaphors relatable, yet with a different topic of focus. As an example, let’s say you’re working with a client who wants to stop smoking and who has tried 1 session of hypnotherapy before with someone else (and it didn’t work), you might tell your client a metaphor such as this:
‘I was working with another client recently who was eating way too much junk food… [problem] She tried so many different things to stop, before she came to see me… She did a bunch of diets, and they didn’t work… She cut the junk food out completely, went cold turkey, and got so stressed out that she then went back to eating even more! [past attempt to resolve] Then, a week after her session with me, she phoned me and told me that she had gradually reduced her junk food intake each day, and when she would have normally eaten, which was generally when she was stressed, she found something else to do instead… A full glass of water and 3 deep breaths, in fact… [possible solution] By doing this, she said that she was much more able to stick to her new habit of not eating when stressed, and as a result, she felt more confident about her own willpower and ability to make positive changes in her life… [benefits]‘
Hypnotic metaphors can be used within the hypnosis portion of the hypnotherapy session, but can also be used during the intake process or even after you’ve woken your client up from hypnosis. The great thing about metaphors is that your clients will draw their own conclusions from them, and can interpret them differently. Some clients, when listening to the above metaphor, may take it literally, and decide that they need to drink water and take 3 deep breaths instead of having a cigarette. Others may use it to consider their own position from a different perspective, such as that quitting smoking may not happen instantly, or that they may have to put a bit more effort into it rather than expecting to be ‘made’ to stop smoking. If you’d like to learn more about how to create hypnotic metaphors, check out our 1-hour Hypnotherapy Metaphors 101 online course – it’s a fantastic place to start!
Other therapy approaches
As well as giving hypnotic suggestions and using metaphors, there are a lot more therapy approaches that the professional hypnotherapist has in their toolbox. These additional techniques and methods are drawn and adapted from various other schools of therapy and psychotherapy. Behavioural hypnotherapy approaches are used to help clients identify and change unhelpful behaviours and habits, as well as developing new, more helpful behaviours. Behavioural hypnotherapy techniques work on ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ the client is doing what they’re doing (the problem). Sometimes clients are consciously aware of the behaviours that they’re engaging in whilst they’re doing them (such as smoking, eating too much, etc.), other times they are less aware (such as when biting their nails, getting angry in traffic jams, etc.). Behavioural therapy is usually a hypnotherapists first approach (along with ego boosting and general hypnotic suggestions) to help change a client’s habitual or conditioned responses (where a client has learned to do something in a certain way or for a certain reason).
Next, it’s cognitive hypnotherapy approaches, which focus on the thoughts and beliefs that a client holds. Many problems are accompanied by faulty thoughts or unhelpful (and often untrue) beliefs. For example, a client may be stressed due to work, an unhelpful belief with such a client might be that ‘they must do everything their boss asks them’, yet when probing further, it turns out that the boss is overloading them with work. This unhelpful belief might cause a client to overwork themselves to the point where they cannot cope, trying to achieve the unachievable. Working with beliefs is a core skill of the hypnotherapist, and can be a real game-changer for clients who’ve only tried behavioural hypnotherapy in the past. We have a great ‘working with beliefs’ online training course, which teaches you the fundamentals of how to recognise unhealthy beliefs, as well as how to dispute them and create a more helpful way for clients to move forwards.
After behavioural and cognitive approaches, the next commonly used category of hypnotherapy approach is analytical hypnotherapy. Analytical hypnotherapy focuses on ‘why’ someone is doing what they’re doing, and can also be used to help clients gain insight and create changes on a subconscious level. Sometimes clients have no idea why they do what they do, but that doesn’t stop them from doing it anyway. For example, a client may always ‘tense up’ when they’re travelling on the train, without consciously knowing why. An analytical hypnotherapy approach may help the client find a reason, perhaps a ‘scary’ journey on a train as a child, which created a ‘protective response’ of being tense on any train. Gaining this insight can help a client understand that there was a ‘positive intention’ behind this behaviour, and that they are now able to move forwards in a different way, and a way that is more helpful for them now.
The final type of approach that a hypnotherapist might use, after working with behaviours, beliefs and subconscious insight, is regression hypnotherapy. Regression means taking someone back, in their mind, to an earlier point in their life, so helping a client find out ‘when’ an event/response happened initially. Regression can be used to revisit any kind of event, whether positive or negative. Regression is commonly used with phobia clients, as phobias tend to be formed in early childhood. Sometimes these life-long, severe phobias are caused by relatively simple, harmless events, such as being a young child and seeing someone on a TV show screaming at a spider. Simply by revisiting such a memory, the phobia itself can be collapsed. Other times, the hypnotherapist will work with the regressed client in other ways in order to help modify their experience of the memory, or to help support them through re-experiencing it. As mentioned above, regression can also be used with positive memories, and is great for resource building and ego strengthening.
As hypnotherapy generally lasts for a short duration (we think of it as a ‘strategic, solution-focused therapy’), the use of homework is highly important for many professional hypnotherapists. The reason being, homework helps a client engage with their goal, and become an integral part of their own changework process. Hypnotherapy isn’t ‘done to’ a client, it’s ‘done with’ a client. It’s a collaborative process. So, setting homework makes a client realise that they’re going to have to put some effort into moving towards their goal. Homework also helps the client bridge the gap from ‘knowing what to do’ to actually ‘doing it’. In a session, you prepare the client for success, you tell them what they need to do, you may even get them to imagine doing it. However, getting them to then go out and take physical steps towards their goal is a great way to supercharge your effectiveness as a hypnotherapist, and your success with clients.
There are many different types of homework that a hypnotherapist might set. You can give clients real-world activities, such as going and getting some exercise, keeping a diary of when they are stressed or angry, breathing exercises, and much more. You might have a client engage in imaginal activities, such as going over a speech in their mind to memorise it, imagine being on a plane and coping well. Also, many hypnotherapists like to teach their clients self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is a fantastic tool that will help clients sky-rocket their success, and keep them highly focused and engaged as an active part of the therapy process. If you haven’t already, you can learn self hypnosis too!
Ending the hypnotherapy session
After the therapy work is done, the hypnotherapist will bring the client out of hypnosis. This is a standard part of any hypnosis process, and is done using direct suggestions. Once the client is ‘awakened’, the hypnotherapist will then usually get feedback from the client about how they’re feeling now, remind them about their homework tasks and potentially book them in for another session, if required. Sometimes, the therapist may just schedule a time to ‘catch up’ later on the phone/by email, just to check in and make sure the client is on track, and moving towards their goal effectively.
People respond to hypnotherapy differently. Some people will respond quickly, maybe even after one session. Others may require more sessions. This depends on various factors, not only the issue/goal that’s being worked on. This is why the majority of really effective hypnotherapists tailor their sessions to the client, creating a bespoke hypnotherapy process, rather than relying on a specific script or protocol for every client that presents with a certain issue/condition/goal. Hypnotherapists will often check with the client before any subsequent sessions ‘where they’re at’, so they can re-focus goals where required, to ensure that the client gets the most benefit from each subsequent session.
As you can see, quite a lot goes into a hypnotherapy session. It’s not quite as simple as learning to do an induction and reading a hypnosis script at someone. The journey to becoming a great hypnotherapist takes time and effort, passion and dedication, but every hypnotherapist has to start somewhere. All hypnotherapists start by getting a good foundation of knowledge, and learning the basics. There are so many different resources out there that can get you started. Blogs like this are a fantastic place to begin your journey, after that, check out some good hypnotherapy books. My book ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Hypnotherapy’ gives you a solid grounding in the fundamentals of how to do hypnotherapy safely, and covers a number of therapy tools that you can start to get practice with. Then, step it up a notch, such as with a good online hypnotherapy course. By watching online training videos and seeing hypnotherapy demonstrated, you’ll better learn how to deliver hypnotherapy effectively and confidently!
Once you’ve learned the basics, had a bit of practice, and gotten a feel for hypnotherapy (and decided if you like it, and can seriously see your self doing it), the next step is to join a practitioner-level hypnotherapy diploma course. Good hypnotherapy practitioner training will give you everything you’ll need to get started as a professional hypnotherapist, and will go way beyond the basics. It will also teach you how to run a hypnotherapy business too.
All of the best hypnotherapists I know are continuously learning, even years (and decades) after their practitioner training! So, once you’re practising as a hypnotherapist, seeing real clients, we highly recommended that you keep learning and developing your skills. You can do this by taking short courses, reading books on other hypnosis/therapy related topics, and even getting some direct 1-to-1 mentoring and supervision from a more experienced hypnotherapist. Every step of this process, from being an absolute beginner, all the way through to continued professional development as a working hypnotherapist is vitally important, because every piece of knowledge and experience that hypnotherapist has will come together in the therapy room to ensure that their clients get the very best hypnotherapy possible… and that changes lives!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on the hypnotherapy process. If you have any more questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Rory Z Fulcher