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Medical Hypnosis – Engaged Presentness, Managing Expectations and Utilising Sensory Distractions

Medical hypnosis blog - expectations, presentness, and utilising distractions

Medical Hypnosis: Engaged Presentness, Managing Expectations and Utilising Sensory Distractions

I regularly teach NHS staff how to use hypnotherapy, both conversationally and with formal hypnosis. Each time I am on site teaching, I find myself impressed with how thoroughly the medical staff (nurses, doctors, surgeons) engage with what I am teaching them. Recently I was on site to observe and support some of my recent medical hypnosis students and I am taking this opportunity to share those observations with you in this brief blog. A quick point to note, is that during this blog I will generally use the term ‘client’ in relation to regular hypnotherapy and ‘patient’ when in the context of working in hospital.

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‘Engaged Presentness’ – as a learning tool in medical hypnosis

Something I have noticed with medical hypnosis training, that seems to be a trait amongst all the clinical and surgical staff I teach, is that they are truly present in the moment and engaged when I am directly teaching them.

This is more than just paying attention, it is the quality of engagement as well. They seem to be able to dial in or zone in their focus and ignore both internal (e.g. thoughts) and external distractions (e.g. surroundings).

Have you ever noticed how people can be listening, and seem like they are working on what to say next; waiting for a point to then start talking themselves?

‘Engaged presentness’ means that someone is totally focused on what is being said and absorbing the information being conveyed. This gives the recipient a greater level of detail than they might otherwise notice (if distracted by their thoughts).

How does this work in practice? Yesterday I outlined a possible treatment approach, including induction and a range of suggestions for during a procedure. The member of staff had ‘engaged presentness’ throughout and asked a couple of relevant questions. I then observed an excellent reproduction of what had been discussed. That ‘zoned-in’ focus enabled them to rapidly grasp the key concepts and then recall them in an accurate way.

How does this help hypnotherapists? The next time you are learning something, whether an online seminar, a conference, or even simply watching a YouTube video (hyperlink), then ‘engaged presentness’ helps you get more!

By the way, as a side note, if you would like to meet me at a conference or other event, have a look at my Dr Kate In Action page. If you are more about YouTube, then do visit the HypnoTC YouTube channel. We update new content regularly. If you have a special request, do let us know.


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Medical hypnosis: Managing expectations -Briefing patients/ clients and those with them

Any hypnotist or hypnotherapist is likely to recognise the value of a great pre-talk, including dispelling myths and managing expectations, so the clients know what hypnosis is, and isn’t!

Where hypnosis is not the key approach, such as being used to assist with the patient’s comfort during a medical or surgical procedure, there will be a lot going on. A briefing about what to expect gives the patient an opportunity to ask any questions and have a client idea of what their role will be as well as what staff will do. By briefing in advance, that information can be absorbed in a calm state.

However, whilst briefing the patient about what they can expect helps them prepare themselves, in the moment, procedural anxiety can interfere with rational thought. Some patients may already know that they experience this and would benefit from additional support, such as a friend or family member, whose only role in the process is to support the patient.

If a patient is bringing a support person, it helps to brief that support person in advance as well. This helps them understand the environment that they will be in, the staff members they are likely to meet, and their roles, as well as what the procedure will be. There can be a discussion about what form that support can take, and even times when they might be asked to increase support, or be quiet.

That additional person can be a superb advocate for the patient. They can discuss in advance with the patient what their wishes, needs and fears are, so that they can communicate these for the patient if needed.

During the briefing, the briefer, whether medic, practitioner or support staff, can also use this time to assess the supporter, and get an idea of the optimal communication strategy for them.

How does this relate to hypnotherapy? Where you have clients who are accompanied, you might consider briefing the supporter as well as the client. This is particularly helpful when working with children and briefing parents about their role.


Utilising sensory distractions – Distracting anxiety with multiple sensory inputs

When an anxious patient is experiencing a medical or surgical procedure, they may experience heightened awareness of body sensations. So, for example, with a dental procedure, every tiny movement, sensation or taste can be magnified.

By giving the patient different sensory experiences, at a distance from the part of the body having the treatment (e.g. hands and feet for oral treatment), the patient has multiple ‘feeds’ of information and that can reduce the perception of the sensory information of the area being worked on.

One example, from a recent observation and training event, was to create two different stress balls, one for each hand (see pic). Why different? The first one (penguin example) has more sensory information due to its shape than a simple round ball would have.

The other stress ball was transformed from a round ball into an unusual oblong with different textures (due to the creative use of a dressing). With time to prepare, there could be a range of stress ball shapes and textures (e.g. spiky ball, firm squishy, super soft) for the patient to choose from.

Medical hypnosis blog two styles of stress ball


In addition to using the stress balls, the patient can also scrunch and release their toes on the opposite foot to the squeezing hand. So alternating hand squeezes and having the opposite foot toes scrunching. This takes up cognitive power as well as providing multiple sensory inputs and can help reduce a patient’s over-focus on the procedure. This can reduce any negative thinking or catastrophising, as well as distract from any pain or discomfort.

How does this relate to hypnotherapy? You can encourage a client with procedural anxiety to get their own stress balls and then anchor a desired emotion to the action of holding or using the stress balls and foot movements.



Medical hypnosis or hypnotherapy in a medical or surgical setting is very different to that of a hypnotherapy consulting room (or online Zoom presence). Rather than being the star of the show (in a hypnotherapy session) it is a supporting actor, yet one of significant influence. It can make a huge difference to both the patient’s experience and that of the staff. Much of what is taught to hypnotherapists can be either directly applied in a medical or surgical setting, or applied with an informed adaption.


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– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks
(HypnoTC Director)

Dr Kate Beaven-Marks HypnoTC the Hypnotherapy Training Company



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