National Hypnotherapy Society | The Power of Suggestion

There is a little mantra within the hypnotherapy world that says all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, and it’s always good to remember this. Formally, self-hypnosis is something which everyone can learn, and many hypnotherapists will teach you self-hypnosis as part of your treatment plan so you can carry on the good work you have been doing with your hypnotherapist between sessions and after your course of sessions.

The foundation of hypnotherapy is two-fold, first, the hypnosis itself, that lovely relaxing, absorbing, focused experience that your therapist helps you to enter; and second, responding to suggestions. It's this second aspect that I want to talk about here.

Suggestions in hypnotherapy are carefully crafted to be personal to you and your needs and goals. When you have your initial session of hypnotherapy, your therapist will be paying close attention to what you want from therapy, and they are trained in how to form suggestions which help you achieve your goals. These suggestions can be direct, or less obvious using storytelling or asking you to imagine yourself in a certain way. Suggestions are created to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. An example might be to concentrate on you feeling more confident or calm.

Psychologists have identified that we respond to suggestions not only in therapy sessions but actually on a continuous basis through our own self-chatter. If you have tried mindfulness meditation you will know how busy our minds can be. This self-chatter acts like self-suggestions and when these are unhelpful, these are called automatic negative thoughts. Automatic negative thoughts tend to happen more when we are stressed or anxious and then they can be very loud and repetitive so that we pay too much attention to them. We automatically tell ourselves I can’t do that; this is going wrong; I’ll never be able to.. and then these thoughts can spiral out of control. Sound familiar?

Looking at this from a hypnotherapy viewpoint, these automatic negative thoughts act as negative self-suggestions. We are then responding to our own negative suggestions so it is no surprise that when we have a problem or difficulty we can feel as if things will never improve.

It’s good to sometimes sit quietly and reflect on those suggestions we are giving to ourselves. How is your self-chatter?

Back in 1985, Daniel Araoz authored a book called The New Hypnosis which pulled together the various theories of hypnosis and presented the idea that hypnotherapy facilitates the process by which we learn to activate our own potential, by turning our unhelpful self-suggestions into constructive and positive ones. It helps you to have the space and support to think about difficulties, reach different conclusions, and then to give yourself different more constructive messages.

In hypnotherapy sessions, the skilled therapist gives you the opportunity to identify what you have been telling yourself, and then they help you to reframe these messages to be something more constructive and rewarding. These constructive and rewarding messages will then be woven into formal hypnotic suggestions. You then take these suggestions on board so that the previous negative messages are quieted. See how the picture above illustrates this? The bottom steps are those messages which block progress – we’ve told ourselves I won’t or I can’t and then that is where we stay. Softening those messages to be more curious and open, also quiets those previous negative one. Now the messages are how would it look if I could? What if I were to give it a go? How about if I could make at least some progress or change in the right direction? How does it feel now I am lightening up on myself and know it’s OK to not be perfect first time?

So back to our mantra, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis, can you see how we are all continually responding to suggestions we give to ourselves? When our self-talk is discouraging and negative, things tend not to go well, thus forming a negative self-reinforcing loop. But when our self-talk is positive and affirmative we create an environment where things do go well.

In hypnotherapy sessions, the work of your therapist gives you suggestions which are positive and affirmative with the aim of replacing your discouraging and negative self-talk which has been making you doubt your ability to change and blocking your paths towards change. Part of this work will help you to realise the role you play in this and the power you have to achieve what you want.