Written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
If you have just started on your hypnotherapy journey or recently qualified, and have a basic working understanding of how to use hypnosis to help someone make positive changes, do you use the same approach each time you work with a client? Or do you do something completely different each time? There are a number of different ways hypnotherapists are taught to work with clients across multiple sessions (or until the client reaches their goal). However, some work better (for the client) than others.
A ‘one size fits all’ approach to hypnotherapy
Perhaps you were taught to use one a single technique, protocol or model during all of your hypnotherapy sessions. Whilst this can give you a tool to work with during a hypnotherapy session, if you have to get the client to adjust to suit your ‘one size fits all’ technique or script, it can significantly limit your therapy outcome and reduce your overall effectiveness as a hypnotherapist.
It is interesting that in some hypnosis applications, there is a focus on a standardised approach for every client/subject. For example, using the ‘Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale’ script when assessing suggestibility during a research activity. However, a counter-argument could be that this script would be more effective at truly assessing individual suggestibility if it was adapted to assess individual aspects of performance, rather than giving a standardised benchmark, comparing one person against another using a fixed measure.
Learning a more extensive range of hypnotherapy approaches gives you a choice, meaning you can tailor your approach to suit each individual client and their specific needs.
Repeating the approach for subsequent sessions
Maybe you have been taught to use the same approach on each session, giving the same client a ‘repeat’ of their first session, perhaps thinking it will reinforce the message each time. Whilst it is true that the more a behaviour is repeated the more that behaviour is likely to continue (the Law of Repetition), it doesn’t take into account the change that your work in the first session will have likely started. After the first session, the client’s problem will have already been addressed and they will (hopefully) be closer to their goal. This means they have different requirements than when they started. To repeat exactly the same session over and over again can actually have unhelpful effects. It can seem to the client that you haven’t considered their progress. This may either give them the impression that they haven’t actually changed (so deleting any progress) or that you haven’t noticed the change (demoralising at the very least). By seemingly ‘ignoring’ any progress, and by simply repeating what you’ve already done over and over, it’s likely to break rapport and trust, causing any subsequent sessions to become less and less effective. However, there may be some aspects of the therapy process that you do wish to repeat. For example, if a client is stressed or tense and responded very well to a relaxation-based induction, then doing the same or similar again can be helpful and reassuringly familiar.
Again, having a practical understanding of a range of hypnotherapy approaches means that you won’t need to always repeat the same stuff, regardless of whether it’s working or not. It’s always best to tailor every session (initial and subsequent) to suit your client and their specific needs at that stage of the therapy process.
Totally scripted hypnotherapy sessions
Scripts are commonly used in hypnotherapy training, particularly early on in the process where it can help a student connect to appropriate use of hypnotic language. Some training schools even give scripts for ‘full therapy sessions’ to give students an idea of session structure, timing, and so forth. However, as with any training, there then needs to be an evolution. After becoming familiar with scripts and the overall process, a good course of training will begin to move students away from scripts and towards using ‘script summaries’ and outlines as students continue to learn and develop their knowledge, understanding and skills.
Whilst as an initial training tool, scripts can be a great starting point, there are some big disadvantages to relying solely on scripts as a hypnotherapist. Firstly, simply ‘reading a script’ over and over doesn’t mean the student understands the contents of the script, and why they’re saying what they’re saying during a hypnotherapy session – obviously, knowing how and why a script works as a hypnotherapist is vitally important. Secondly, there is an additional skill required of the student; that of being able to read a script fluidly, whilst at the same time observing the client. Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, a script is written for a ‘generic person’, yet the client isn’t likely going to be that exact ‘generic person’, so the script may not be an ideal fit for the client (even if it’s a really good script).
If a hypnotist/hypnotherapist doesn’t have the skill to adapt a script ‘on the fly’, it may jar with the client, reducing the effectiveness of the session. Also, there can become a reliance upon scripts. There are two issues with this. Firstly, to rely on scripts can reduce confidence over time and secondly, there can be a development of perception that all that is needed to solve ANY issue is the right script. Thus, if a client wants to dance like a graceful unicorn, whilst changing their eye colour and growing back an amputated limb, it would be definitely be possible…if only they had the right script.
The take-home point here is, scripts are a great tool for learning hypnotherapy. This learning will develop practical and theoretical knowledge. This inherent knowledge is the best tool you will ever have as a hypnotherapist, as it can be used and adapted instantly and easily, regardless of the client or issue, and without having to rely on any external factors (such as availability of scripts).
Freestyle suggestion work
Some hypnotists and hypnotherapists work in an entirely ‘freestyle’ manner, where they use a range of direct and indirect suggestions and language patterns to directly relate to the client’s issues and goals. This is certainly a good way of directly reflecting to the client that you are addressing their needs. However, suggestions like this are generally of a behavioural/habit change nature, or relating to cognitive psychology, addressing limiting beliefs and thoughts about their issue/goal. At times, a client may benefit from other therapy approaches, including analytical hypnotherapy, in order to gain insight and create subconscious change, as well as regression approaches to revisit past events.
By learning to use various therapy modalities, such as behavioural, cognitive, analytical and regression, you gain a level of flexibility as a therapist that will set you apart from many other hypnotherapists in your local area, as well as making your therapy sessions much more effective for your clients.
Blending suggestions and techniques
Following the concepts of ‘solution focused hypnotherapy’ and ‘integrative therapy’, by blending suggestions and techniques together that you judge will benefit the client, a hypnotherapist is best able to focus on the client’s changing needs, and creating a bespoke session for every client. This process is often informed by the initial ‘client intake process’. By taking a thorough intake, you gain important client information such as their relevant history, use of personal metaphors, beliefs, coping strategies and cognitive distortions, which allows you to formulate a treatment plan to exactly meet a client’s goals. You can also check in with the client at the start of any subsequent sessions, monitoring any changes and evaluating their progress, resulting in the ability to tailor the remainder of the change process to their specific needs and requirements.
There is often a transition period in a hypnotherapist’s training and development, where there may have been initial reliance on scripts, then notes, then prompts, through to an inner knowledge and understanding of not only ‘what’ to do, but also ‘why’ they are going to do it. Beyond focusing simply on the ‘script’, ‘method’ or ‘approach’ of choice, there are deeper considerations of professional practice and competence. Is someone who reads a script at a client truly a therapist, or are they more like a narrator or perhaps even a ‘story teller’? Yes, there may be some necessary knowledge and skill in selecting a relevant script (and there are thousands available on the internet and in books, for free or fee). However, to assign the title of ‘professional’ is perhaps best reserved for those who are able to employ critical assessment of the needs of the client and provide the most appropriate treatment for them, thus working from a client-centred perspective as opposed to a protocol-focused approach.
Whether you’re only now starting out, or if you’re looking to build upon your existing training and ‘fill in the gaps’, if you would like to become a true professional hypnotherapist, check out our Hypnotherapy Diploma Course (London) and our online Hypnotherapy Certification Course. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks