Belief change and the power of hypnotherapy
Using hypnotherapy for belief change is just one of the ways in which positive changes can happen. Our thinking about situations creates feelings and actions… Where that thinking is unhelpful, negative or ‘irrational’ then it can lead to unwanted emotional, physiological or behavioural consequences. Focusing on those beliefs and effecting change to more helpful, positive or ‘rational’ beliefs can lead to positive emotional, physiological and behavioural outcomes.
Thoughts, Situations and Responses
Our responses to situations come from our beliefs. It is not your client shouting at you that ‘makes’ you anxious, it is your belief about being shouted at, by your client, that generates a response of getting upset. Thus you respond to that situation with anxiety.
Your thought (belief): What you think about the situation can be unhelpful or helpful. Consider the strength (0-100%) of those thoughts. Example: “My clients should always be nice to me, it is unbearable if they shout at me”
The situation: The situation (past, present, future). Example: Your client shouting at you
Your response: As a result of your thoughts about a situation, you may notice, either a negative or positive response with an emotion (e.g. anxiety or happiness), a sensation (e.g. tension or relaxation) or a behaviour (e.g. avoid situation or want to do it more). In addition to considering how you feel and act, also consider the intensity of these responses (0-100%). Example: “I feel sad and I get anxious”
Unhelpful and helpful beliefs
We develop our beliefs from our experience of life. Sometimes these beliefs are helpful and support us, other times they can work against our overall wellbeing.
Unhelpful beliefs are the results of irrational thoughts, they lead to unhealthy feelings and behaviours. Unhelpful beliefs come from demands we place upon ourselves. These ‘absolutes’ leave no room for the demand not to be met at 100%. When it isn’t met (e.g. at 50%) then it leads to disturbance. Unhelpful beliefs tend to take the form of ‘absolute demands’, such as ‘Must, Should, Have to, Need, Ought’, for example: “My clients must always think I am wonderful”
Helpful beliefs are reasonable, objective, constructive and flexible, they lead to survival, happiness, healthy feelings and behaviours. These preferences allow for less than 100% and for alternative outcomes. Helpful beliefs take the form of ‘preferences’. A preference is not an absolute, it leaves room for alternatives, for example: “I would like my clients to always think I am wonderful but accept that at times they may not. They may have other views of me and I accept that. “
Over time, the response (consequences) to the belief becomes a form of hypnosis, creating an automatic response or automatic thought. Where this is a helpful belief and positive outcome, this is a positive form of response programming. However, where the response is not beneficial, as in the case of unhelpful beliefs about situations leading to disturbance, then it can be good to work on belief change to create more beneficial responses.
Three simple questions to dispute unhelpful (irrational) beliefs
Change is created by exploring the unhelpful (irrational) belief and adopting a helpful (rational) belief, by asking three questions. These consider the evidence that is currently used to support the belief, together with the logical of maintaining that view and what benefit it serves.
Evidence: Where is the evidence…? Where is the universal law that says your clients must always think you are wonderful?
Logic: How logical is it…? Just because you want your clients to always think you are wonderful, does it follow that they always will?
Help: How does it help to believe…? How does it help you to believe that your clients must always think you are wonderful?
New belief formulation
When the unhelpful belief has been explored there can be discussion of alternative explanations for the event, or alternative ways of seeing the situation. The same three questions (evidence, logic, help) can be applied to check the new helpful belief.
Two methods for rational belief integration
So far, you will have identified the situation, unhelpful belief and response. Then you will have explored the unhelpful belief and formulated a new helpful belief. This belief change then leads to the final stage, action, of which there are two parts.
Commitment for change and contract for action: The client will understand that it is their responsibility to monitor their beliefs about situations and to challenge unhelpful beliefs. Practice, over time, will lead to a new automatic way of responding.
Future pacing / mental rehearsal: To help the client connect to their new beliefs, the client sees themselves responding in a new way to the given situation.
Worked example of a belief change process: Excessive drinking at a party
This approach helps an addict resist urges and regain control. Over time, applying the process will become automatic and urges will weaken.
Situation: I am at a party
Unhelpful belief(s): A party must be fun or I am disappointed…I feel anxious so must have a drink to relax and have fun… (absolute demand).
This is Awful and I can’t stand being here… (awfulising and low frustration tolerance).
I am a bad person because I need a drink… (Self-damning, a global view from one aspect)
Response to situation as a result of unhelpful belief: Drink alcohol at party
Dispute: Question irrational belief and remain abstinent
Create new helpful belief: This may be difficult but I can have fun without drinking…
This may be uncomfortable, but I can handle being here…
It is in my long-term interest to abstain from drinking; I prefer being a sober person…
While it may be upsetting, it is not life-threatening…
I may desire a drink, but I can survive without one…
Action: Identify, mentally rehearse and use new beliefs and resultant more resourceful ways of responding
New response to situation as a result of the belief change: More resourceful ways of addressing anxiety or concern e.g. Stay at party and have fun; sober. Remain abstinent, become a sober person, and have a clear mind
Hypnotherapy can be used at each stage of the belief change process
By focusing on the unwanted responses, we can identify and take the client back to the ‘triggering situation’, and by focusing on the triggering situation, the unhelpful beliefs or unwanted responses can also be identified.
Hypnosis during the questioning process can gain easier access to insight about the unhelpful belief, also hypnosis can aid in the creation of the helpful belief.
In the final ‘action’ stage, the use of future pacing / mental rehearsal / pseudo orientation in time, whilst under hypnosis can also be very helpful.
A helpful video on using belief change in hypnotherapy…
To expand upon this topic further, take a look at this video about rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), which uses the principles covered within this blog to help clients overcome and challenge unhelpful beliefs whilst working to create new, healthy, helpful ones:
Thanks for reading, and do feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks