Ericksons Hypnotic Patterns of Indirect Suggestion

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Erickson left us with a rich variety of hypnotic patterns to use in Trance Work. While you are developing your personal style, you can use this section as a reference to review these patterns.

1. Indirect suggestions. The first major difference between Ericksonian hypnosis and other forms of hypnosis is that Ericksonian hypnosis is generally indirect rather than direct. A direct suggestion appeals to the Conscious Mind and invites evaluation. When you say, "Please close the window," the listener's conscious reaction is to choose between agreeing and disagreeing to do what you have asked.

An indirect suggestion resonates with the Unconscious Mind and is less likely to trigger evaluation. When you say,"I'm wondering if you can close the window." the listener's unconscious reaction is to hear your 'embedded' suggestion and follow it. Of course, a teenager might say,

"Yes," and walk away. Typically, however, "I'm wondering if you can close the window," will get the desired response.

2. Embedded commands. Erickson often used embedded commands, or commands 'hidden' within longer sentences. If he said, "You don't need to go into trance right now." the client's conscious mind would be distracted by the surface sentence about not needing to go into trance, while their Unconscious Mind would hear and respond to the embedded command, "Go into trance right now."

Sometimes Erickson would combine an embedded command with punctuation ambiguity (as described earlier in the Milton Model) and say, "I want you to tell me only the things you want to tell me everything." The embedded command, "You want to tell me everything," would tend to bypass the Conscious Mind.

3. Embedded descriptions. These are ways of thinking that work like embedded commands. If you are talking to a client about trance, you might say, "You may think that it's not easy to go into a trance. You may not find that trance is delightfully relaxing. Because you've never been in trance before, you don't know what to expect. In fact, you may not expect to feel that calming, relaxing sensation that you are about to feel." As the client is conscious of hearing things that they may not do, their Unconscious Mind will be hearing and responding to your embedded commands and descriptions.

There is no standard way to 'voice' embedded commands. In class, I often pause and change to a gravelly tone of voice to emphasize embedded commands, so that students can notice them easily. You may find it effective to pause and shift to a slightly deeper tonality, which might be very attractive to the client's Unconscious Mind. Try embedded commands with and without pauses just before them, with and without a change in tonality. Develop your own style of speaking embedded commands in any way that produces results.

4. Yes Sets. Erickson used Yes Sets extensively to get the agreement of the client's Unconscious Mind. A Yes Set is a series of statements or questions that has the client saying or thinking, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," so that when the Hypnotist adds a crucial instruction or question, the client again responds, "Yes."

Try this:

You are breathing. You are sitting here reading this book, and while you are doing that, you are probably thinking about certain things. Because you are interested in many things that have led you to study this subject, aren't you? That means that you will be able to learn hypnosis easily.

Notice how reading that paragraph felt in your body. I drew four automatic, effortless Yeses from your Unconscious Mind, so that my embedded command to learn hypnosis easily would glide smoothly into your Unconscious and get still another yes.

5. Truisms about sensations. You can use a Yes Set of truisms about sensations to lead to a statement of what the client is feeling, and the client is likely to feel just what you have suggested. Here are some Ericksonian truisms: "Most people enjoy the refreshing coolness of a light breeze." "Many people find the sound of water very relaxing." "Some people blush easily when they recognize certain feelings about themselves." These truisms could be part of a Yes Set leading up to, "I wonder if you will feel absolutely comfortable and at peace recognizing your feelings about "

As preparation for the next paragraph, I want you to notice something about your hands. Just for fun, put your hands on your lap. I want you to really feel your hands, and notice that one of your hands feels different from the other, doesn't it? Really notice this, one of your hands definitely feels different from the other It does. Do you know why one of your hands feels different from the other? Because it is a different hand. It is true. Look at your right hand, and look at your left hand.

Now if I say to the client, "In a moment, one of your hands is going to feel different from the other," the client is going to think in astonishment, "That's right... it does!" (I am not going to point out to the client that it is a different hand.) Once this convincer has entered the client's Unconscious Mind, I can add, "Most people can experience one hand as being lighter than the other," and my truism about sensation is a powerful suggestion paving the way to arm levitation and arm catalepsy.

6. Truisms utilizing time. Saying that something is about to happen (leaving the timing up to the client) is suggestive in itself and acts as a convincer when the thing happens. Everyone blinks fairly often. You can say to the client, "In a moment you're going to blink." When the client blinks, say, "That's right." The client's Unconscious Mind will think, "Interesting, they said I was going to blink, and I blinked. So I really did accept the suggestion." This makes the Unconscious Mind more amenable to future suggestions.

Truisms utilizing time fit smoothly into double binds (described earlier in Chapter Four on the Milton Model), as in "Sooner or later, your eyes are going to close," or "Your headache can leave now... or as soon as your system is ready for it to leave."

7. Not knowing, not doing. Erickson often talked about not knowing or not doing: "You don't have to talk or move or make any sort of an effort. You don't even have to hold your eyes open. People can sleep and not know they are sleeping. They can dream and not remember the dream. You just do not know when the eyelids will close all by themselves. And you may not know just which hand will lift first." This paradoxical type of suggestion can be intriguing to the Unconscious Mind. You can suggest that it is fine for the client not to know or do something, and at the same time expand the Unconscious Mind's awareness of that something.

Whenever a client said, "I don't know," Erickson would say, "That's right, you don't know." He would validate the client's not knowing and not doing. In a sense, this is very Shamanistic.

8. Open-ended suggestions. Erickson used open-ended suggestions to invite the client's Unconscious Mind to supply all the details from the client's own experience. He might say: "We all have potential we are unaware of, and we usually don't know how it will be expressed." Or "You may not be aware of how much you are learning, and you are learning a lot. And it isn't right for me to tell you, 'Learn this/ or 'Learn that,' so you can learn whatever you want, in whatever order you wish."

9. Covering all possible responses. Erickson liked to describe a whole range of possibilities, so that no matter what happened, the client's attention would be focused on a sensation or movement in the range he described. He might say, "Soon you will find a finger or a thumb moving a bit, perhaps by itself. It can move up or down or to the side. It can be slow or quick, or it may not move at all." The client would eventually find a thumb or finger doing something, and this would act as a convincer. And no matter what the client did, they were right, for purposes of developing trance.

This is one of my favorites: "Tonight when you sleep you may dream. You may have wild dreams... you may have exciting dreams... you may have mild dreams... you may have boring dreams. Your dreams may be memorable or they may not. In any case, let that be a sign... that you are integrating everything at the Unconscious level. So that by this time tomorrow, you will know everything you need to know in order to have the problem disappear."

10. Questions to facilitate new response possibilities.

Erickson was also fond of using questions to focus attention or facilitate internal change. With a client who had been hypnotized before, he would ask, "Did you experience the hypnotic state as basically similar to the waking state or different from the waking state?" In response, the client would go back into trance to compare the two possibilities. Similarly, we can induce trance just by asking, "Have you ever been in a trance before... right now?"

Ericksonian questions can facilitate internal change with a very suggestive double bind, giving the illusion of choice: "What will be the more effective way for you to lose weight? Will it be because you simply forget to eat? Or because you have little patience with heavy meals, since they prevent you from doing more interesting things?"

Compound suggestions. Erickson used compound suggestions, in which one element was readily assumable or already happening, and the second element would gain in suggestive power by being connected with the first. There are several types of compound suggestions.

The simplest compound suggestion is the Yes Set with only one preparatory Yes: "It's such a beautiful day, let's go swimming."

Association creates almost instant trance simply by the fact that it is natural and nearly inevitable: "With every breath you take, you can become more aware of the natural rhythm in your body and feelings of comfort that develop."

Opposites form a compound suggestion, especially when one of the elements is already in progress: "As one hand lifts, the other can press down."

Tag questions and Why nots work well for regaining deep rapport with your client's Conscious and Unconscious Mind. They help dissolve any resistance which may be in the way of deeper levels of trance. In addition, they are perfect for Mismatchers. "And you are, aren't you?" "You can try, can't you?" "You can't stop it, can you?" "Why not let it happen?"

Negative + until suggestions release the client from feeling any pressure to 'perform.' "You don't have to go into a trance until you're ready. And you won't, until your Unconscious is ready." Released from worries about whether they are 'doing it right,' the client can go into a trance much more quickly.

Implications or If..., then... statements are also highly suggestive: "If you sit down, then you can go into a trance." "Now, if you uncross your legs and place your hands comfortably on your lap, you'll be ready to enter into a trance." Sometimes the ifs and thens are just implied: "As that comfort deepens, your Unconscious Mind can relax, while your Conscious reviews the nature of the problem; and when a relevant and interesting thought reaches your Conscious Mind, your eyes can open as you carefully consider it."

12. Double binds. Erickson set up compelling double binds for his clients: "Would you like to enter into a trance now or later?" His attitude about double binds seemed to be, "I think my client should have the freedom to do exactly what I'm telling them, in any way that they like." The double bind appears to give a choice to the client.

The Conscious/Unconscious double bind is intriguingly truthful because, in fact, we have no way of knowing how much the Unconscious knows. You can say, "I think your Unconscious knows more about that than your Conscious Mind does. And if your Unconscious Mind knows more about that than your conscious Mind does, then you probably know more about it than you think you do."

A special instance of the double bind is double disassocia-tion: "You can, as a person, awaken; but you do not need to awaken as a body. (Pause) You can awaken when your body awakens, but without recognition of your body. (Pause) Just awaken from the neck up."

These hypnotic patterns defined Erickson's indirect, permissive approach. In the next chapter, we will see many of them in the context of two examples of classic Ericksonian inductions.

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