The Secrets of Hypnotherapy

by Susan Barber, C.Ht.


  1. Cognitive therapy teaches people how to work with the content of the mind from a metaposition. In other words, instead of free-associating and ''becoming'' the train of thought, we notice the thoughts, and make necessary corrections. As we change the thoughts, our experiences also change. In a 1977 study, cognitive therapists chose a set of typical results that are normally associated only with hypnotic trance (anesthesia, for example). Then they randomly divided 66 subjects into three groups, with the goal of finding out whether there was some magic in the hypnotic trance that overshadowed the simple processes of wide-awake, cognitive repatterning. In the first group, they taught the subjects various cognitive techniques. Then, they gave these wide-awake subjects the chosen set of suggestions. A second group underwent classic hypnotic trance induction, and were then given the same suggestions. Finally, the third, control group received neither teaching nor induction: just the suggestions alone. Results? The group who received trance induction plus suggestions performed the same as the group who received suggestions alone. And the cognitive trainees outperformed both groups by a wide margin. (See Barber TX, and Wilson SC, "Hypnosis, suggestions, and altered states of consciousness: experimental evaluation of the new cognitive-behavioral theory and the traditional trance-state theory of 'hypnosis' [sic quote marks]" (Ann NY Acad Sci 1977 Oct 7;296:34-47). This study's abstract states that, "traditional Trance State Theory predicted that a trance induction would be more effective than Think-With Instructions [cognitive training] in enhancing responses to such suggestions. ... [but] scores of subjects who received the trance-induction procedure were not significantly different from those of the subjects who received the control treatment. ... The results thus supported the new Cognitive-Behavioral Theory and contradicted the traditional Trance State Theory of hypnosis. Also, Spanos NP, Stenstrom RJ, and Johnston JC, "Hypnosis, placebo, and suggestion in the treatment of warts" (Psychosom Med 1988 May-Jun;50(3):245-60), proves that "hypnotic and nonhypnotic subjects given the same suggestions were equally likely to exhibit wart regression." And Ibid. Abstract: "Two recent experiments, by De Stefano and by Katz, confirmed the above experimental results and offered further support for the Cognitive-Behavioral Theory. In both recent experiments, subjects randomly assigned to a 'Think-With Instructions' treatment were more responsive to test-suggestions than those randomly assigned to a traditional trance-induction treatment."

  2. Kirsch I, "Suggestibility or hypnosis: what do our scales really measure?. [Review] [36 refs]" (Int J Clin Exp Hypn 1997 Jul;45(3):212-25)." "discordance between conceptual and operational definitions of hypnotizability can be resolved ... by reinterpreting hypnotizability scores as indexes of nonhypnotic, imaginative suggestibility. [References: 36]" Also refer to "The Promise of Bioenergy Fields" elsewhere in this magazine for information about how suggestibility relates to energy fields.

  3. Kirsch I, and Lynn SJ, in "Dissociating the wheat from the chaff in theories of hypnosis: Reply to Kihlstrom (1998) and Woody and Sadler (1998) [comment]." (Psychological Bulletin 1998 Mar;123(2):198-202) conclude that "the hypnotic state hypothesis should be abandoned." In its place, the authors propose theoretical formulations based on such concepts as ... hierarchical control systems..." And Chaves JF, "The state of the 'state' debate in hypnosis: a view from the cognitive-behavioral perspective. [Review] [70 refs]" (Int J Clin Exp Hypn 1997 Jul;45(3):251-65), states: "The nature of the posited hypnotic state and its assumed consequences have changed during this period, reflecting the abandonment of untenable versions of hypnotic state theory."

  4. Neurolinguistic programming uncovered the whole subject of reference systems. When semanticist John Grinder and programmer Richard Bandler got together to model Milton Erickson, a ''miracle therapist'' and the grandfather of hypnotherapy, it didn't take them long to realize that trance induction was not in the equation of what worked and what did not work. From the insights they gained, a new model for changing mental patterns was developed, far superior to classic hypnosis. They called it neurolinguistic programming, or NLP. See Grinder, John; DeLozier, Judith; and Bandler, Richard. Patterns of the Hypnotic Technique of Milton H. Erickson, M.D., Vol. II. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications, 1977.

  5. What matters, they found, is ''rapport.'' And rapport, in turn, happens when the therapist enters into the ''reference system'' of his client. No matter what therapeutic modality was being used, the developers of NLP found that results were direct with respect to the therapist's ability to enter into the client's reference system, and random with respect to literally everything else! See Bandler, Richard, and Grinder, John. Frogs into Princes: Neurolinguistic Programming (Moab, UT, Real People Press, 1979).
    And in "The Promise of Bioenergy Fields" elsewhere in this magazine you will see how the concept of "rapport" translates into Dr. Valerie Hunt's scientific findings about what she refers to as "transactions."

  6. John Kappas, PhD, founder of the Hypnosis Motivation Institute (HMI) and one of the great therapists of our time, taught his students (I was one of them) that the way to the unconscious mind was a matter of suggestibility, not trance. He learned this partly from his own experience and partly through his training with Dr. Milton Erikson (more about Erikson later). Some people, we learned at HMI, will accept only direct suggestions. Example: ''When you talk to your boss in his office, you will remain totally calm. You won't be able to get upset, not even if you try!'' These are the literal people who often don't get jokes (the same ones who go into trance easily, and are happy in the armed services). Some people require indirect suggestions. Example: ''See yourself walking out of your boss's office. Notice how you are smiling so peacefully. Notice how relaxed you are.'' These are the people who tend not to hear what you say -- only what they think you mean. And some people (the difficult ones) require scientific, intellectual reasons for change along with a bit of so-called child psychology. You might give these people alpha-wave biofeedback training, and tell them, ''Now, don't do this training if you still want to get mad at your boss, because you won't be able to. I'm just warning you.'' These people tend to be scientifically oriented and sometimes argumentative. A full discussion of suggestibility and how to apply it in achieving congruence of the conscious and subconscious mind can be found in Dr. John G. Kappas's Professional Hypnotism Manual: Introducing Physical and Emotional Suggestibility and Sexuality, available through the Hypnosis Motivation Institute. Of course, most of us are mixtures of these different modes of receiving thoughts and ideas. And so giving effective suggestions is a fine art. HMI, the only nationally accredited school of hypnotherapy in the country, has been teaching its students for over thirty years how to test for physical, emotional, and intellectual suggestibility, and customize all suggestions to fit the client. In HMI's mission statement, the word ''hypnosis'' is not even mentioned. See HMI mission statement.

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