The rules of hypnotic suggestions
When I come to self-hypnosis training, a recurrent question is “How to formulate, or create the hypnotic suggestions?” What’s the typical “rules of suggestion” and other factors contributing to the effective use of suggestions? The truth is that “rules” of suggestions are not different from the rules of mantras, self-talk techniques or other types of suggestions. There is suggestion everywhere all the time: Verbal, non-verbal all of that can be conscious or unconscious.
I say “rules” because it’s a commonly used term when we talk about self-hypnosis but the typical “rules of suggestion,” rely mainly on common-sense principles.
To make our suggestions stand, we need to make them practical and efficient. Therefore, both hetero ( give by the hypnotherapist ) and auto suggestions should be:
- Meaningful and evocative. For a suggestion to be useful, the subject must be able to think and imagine along with it. Therefore, it must be personally relevant to the client. It is sometimes essential to use preliminary techniques as symbols of a suggestion script, or also imaginary recall to be able to gather information.
- In the present tense. A formulation of the suggestion in the present tense will make it easier for the subject to project inward. The therapist aims to create change that can be generalised into the future. That is why, a hypnotherapist ask the clients to project themselves, asking them to imagine their target situation “as if it was happening right now”. It’s to allow the client to incorporate and rehearsed the ideas and suggestions.
- Positive. Suggestions should always be positively phrased. It seems logical; however, a suggestion should be positive not just on the level of its meaning but also on a grammatical level. If you ask someone not to stress or not to tense their body, they will
focus on that. For that reason, in the case of relaxation, the suggestion “you are now
calm” is much more efficient.
- Realistic. Hypnosis is not a magic wand. We do not suggest things that are not possible or not controllable in real life. It also means that it has to be believed without
resistance; in other words, it should be realistic for the subject himself. Sometimes,
preliminary work must be done to address unhelpful thoughts that can counteract positive
- Repeated in different forms. It is a little bit like the principle of the “MILK exercise” or other defusion exercises from the ACT method. In this exercise, people are asking to say a word, for example, MILK. There are asked to focus on what that word evokes to them: what’s their mind it’s telling about it ( image, negative or positive memory… ) Then they are asked to repeat that same word for a minute or so. By the end of the exercise, this word has so much less effect on them. Their mind is not hooked by it anymore. If you repeat the same words too many times, they tend to lose their evocative power. Therefore, different phrasing should be used to evoke a single idea so that all phrasings can reinforce each other.
- Congruent. Last but not least! This rule is not always included among the typical rules of suggestions. However, I consider that it’s an important point. It emphasises our responsibility as therapists. The client should be able to feel that we mean it. That is also why we have been taught to adapt our tone of voice to the kinds of suggestions we deliver.
- Gradual. The step in the door principle. It is another rule of suggestion. Some types of suggestions are more likely to be successful than others. More accessible kinds of suggestions will be used first, and the difficulty will be gradually increased to build the confidence and response expectations of the client. There are multiples forms of suggestions:
- Physical or behavioural suggestions – ideo-sensory suggestions (positive or negative), e.g., muscular contraction; relaxation ideomotor suggestions, e.g., eyelid closure, arm levitation, postural sway.
- Challenge suggestions – suggest a form of inhibition and that some behaviour will be impossible; eyelid catalepsy, finger lock, arm rigidity.
- Cognitive suggestions – imply hallucinations or delusions that includes sensory hallucinations like the lemon taste, a fly buzzing in the ear, or also complex experiences such as age regression and amnesia.
Physical suggestions tend to be easier than challenge suggestions, and cognitive suggestions seem to be the ones less likely to be responded. So I advise to start with those king of suggestions. However, all individuals respond differently and will find some suggestions easier to be answered. Therefore, another rule is too really tailor the suggestions to the client’s needs and styles.
All suggestions can be addressed in different styles, direct, indirect, permissive, authoritarian making endless the form a suggestion can take. So play with it, try and choose what’s best for you.