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Ericksonian language patterns and indirect hypnotic suggestions

Ericksonian language patterns and indirect hypnotic suggestions

‘Suggestions’ are widely used throughout the entire hypnotherapy process, whether during ‘change-work’, within the ‘hypnotising’ process or even in the consultation phase or on your marketing material / website. The purpose of suggestion is to convey ideas and to inspire action (whether behaviours or thoughts) in the person that you’re interacting with. Suggestions are fundamental to hypnotherapy and hypnosis, and are the bedrock of all hypnotherapeutic approaches. All techniques involve suggestion. All scripts are made up of suggestions. So it is a good idea that any hypnotherapist should know how to craft suggestions of their very own.

In an older blog, we already spoke about ‘direct suggestions’ and how they work. We also spoke about the importance of variety of suggestions and repetition in that very same blog. So, this time, the topic of focus is ‘indirect’ (or Ericksonian / conversational / covert) suggestion. These suggestions are often referred to as ‘Ericksonian language patterns’ or as ‘conversational hypnosis’ and sometimes even as ‘covert hypnotic suggestions’, but fundamentally they all fall into the ‘indirect’ category (most of the time).

The term ‘Ericksonian language patterns’ came about due to the renowned hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson, who, due to his physical impairments could not present hypnotherapy in the standard (direct / authoritarian) mode of the time. Erickson made full use of his soft voice and almost whimsical tones by delivering his suggestions more indirectly, engaging with clients in a much less domineering way, allowing them to ‘connect the dots’ without his having to overtly tell them how to do so… as demonstrated in this very short clip of how he dealt with clients crying in his office:

…a pretty interesting and indirect approach, I’m sure you’ll agree!

There are various different types of indirect suggestions that you can utilise, whether in your day-to-day language, or within hypnotherapy sessions, but the purpose of indirect suggestions is to be exactly that: indirect. The idea is that you do not appear to be directly telling someone what to do / think, yet you are still conveying the same (or a similar) message to them. Indirect suggestions are a wonderful way of ‘softening’ the delivery of your intended suggestions, or giving the ‘illusion of choice’, or having clients create their own suggestions as you allow them to ‘fill in the blanks’ (putting their own individual ‘spin’ on what you tell them).


Taking your ‘direct suggestions’ and making them ‘permissive’ is one of the easiest ways to start developing your indirect suggestion skills. This can be achieved by softening your direct suggestions with words like ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘can’, ‘perhaps’, etc. For example, a direct suggestion of “You will stop eating when you are full” could be made permissive in various different ways, such as:

“You might find yourself noticing you are full sooner, and so can decide to stop eating”

“Maybe you already know that you can stop eating before you’re full”

“Perhaps you’ll notice that when you’re full, you can easily stop eating”


Bringing in suggestions of awareness is also an excellent indirect method, and one that was already mentioned in some of the permissive examples above. Did you notice that the suggestion brought awareness to noticing the intended response, rather than suggesting it directly? …and perhaps you can get a sense of how you could apply that in your own day-to-day language… (do you see what’s happening here? Hehe)


Soon, when you’ve incorporated indirect language into your overall hypnotherapy approach, you will be surprised at just how effective it is… means I am ‘presupposing’ that you WILL do as I’ve just said. Just the same as the next time you see your client out in the street, you look forward to seeing how healthy and happy they will be as a non-smoker…


Embedded commands
Now, you don’t have to try to…just relax… as you read this, because it’s interesting how your mind can…just relax…as you focus your attention on reading these words. Adding a direct suggestion to ‘do something’ (like ‘just relax’) into a seemingly unrelated overall message is an often used simple pattern that can lead to surprisingly good results, as you can see in this Derren Brown clip:

…pretty amazing stuff right? Arm sure you’ll get uplifted by continuing to read on… (sorry, I couldn’t resist…)


It’s easy to learn to use indirect language because you’re already reading this blog, and as you continue to read, you’re more likely to go ahead and incorporate the language patterns into your life, because it will improve your life when you do so. And because I say ‘because’, it bypasses the critical ‘reason-seeking’ that may ordinarily occur without a ‘because’ / reason. Next time you want to test the ‘because’ theory, you can have a go at cutting into a queue, and giving a reason… Any reason…

“Can I just cut in front of you, because I need to pay for my shopping…”

(…you may be surprised how often it works)


Don’t relax too quickly now… I don’t want you to think about how good your life will be when you are free from anxiety just yet… You’re telling someone to do something by not doing it. Similar to the old phrase: “don’t think of a pink elephant”.

To ‘not do it’, first you have to do it… how indirect is that!


Imagination. Probably one of the most important types of indirect suggestion, having a client use their imagination to connect to an idea or outcome is highly effective. An example of this (that hopefully every hypnotherapist already uses) is ‘future pacing’. Having the client see themselves in the future, succeeding (and also overcoming potential challenges successfully). Salesmen are great at engaging our imaginations. Think about your ideal car, what colour is it? Imagine it with your ideal alloy wheels on it… Would you have music playing the first time you take her out for a spin, or would you prefer to listen to the sound of the car as you accelerate along, feeling comfortable as the new suspension absorbs any unevenness from the road below… I’m not saying ‘buy the car’, I’m saying imagine what it will be like when you’ve bought it!

(*cough* presupposition *cough*)


Stories and metaphors also engage the imagination, and are a great way to bypass any critical thinking, because you’re just listening to a story, not being told what to do / think. You can tell totally fictional stories and fairy tales or you can tell stories about people you know (or purport to know), who were in similar situations to your client. Metaphors work great with children too, and are widely used by child therapists. Our book, Sam the Sleepy Sheep is one long metaphor (interspersed with masses of indirect suggestions) about a sheep who goes to sleep.

Sam the Sleepy Sheep

Obviously, we’re not in the business of hypnotising sheep… but a story about a small child going to sleep would have been ‘too obvious’, and so would more likely be rejected by children listening to the story… but obviously the child is NOT a sheep, so it’s just a story that they can listen to whilst not being ‘on guard’, from which they will draw their own meaning (whilst actually drawing OUR meaning from it, which is ‘go to sleep ASAP’). Sneaky right?


So, start using indirect language!

Perhaps you’d like to further develop your indirect suggestions / Ericksonian language patterns and learn to incorporate them into your day-to-day vocabulary. Our hypnotic language cards are a great way to ‘get the ball rolling’. When you buy the language cards and begin to use them, you may notice how easy it is to improve and learn, because your methods of communication will change. You don’t need to think about how you’ll start to use these language patterns, but I’d like you to just imagine yourself with this wonderful new tool in your linguistic tool box… I know a guy who wanted to improve his suggestion skills, and just by actively using one language pattern each day, incorporating it wherever he could, he quickly became highly competent at using indirect suggestions…

…and if you didn’t already notice, go back over the last paragraph and count all of the indirect language patterns that were included there!

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We hope this blog has been super helpful, but if you do have any more questions on indirect suggestions, Ericksonian language patterns, hypnotherapy (or anything else for that matter) do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!


– written by the HypnoTC team

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