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trance happens

Weird ways that trance happens

A client phoned me yesterday. She told me she got alarmed while she was getting a head massage last week. She said that she had experienced exactly the same feelings and images during the head massage, as she had in her recent hypnosis session with me. She wanted know if this meant that the hypnosis effects were somehow spilling over into her daily life. I had to explain to her that sometimes trance happens when you don't expect it.

Trance happens all the time

Massage therapists report that up to a third of their clients actually go to sleep during the massage. The client usually thinks they have gone to sleep, but they are actually going into trance. What was happening in this case was that the massage was putting her into trance. The difference is that now she can recognize the effects for what they are.

Trance can be induced by anything that distracts your attention from the normal inputs to your mind. In the case of massage, the situation is perfect for trance induction: the room is warm, there is usually soft music playing, you are lying down, you are told to relax. Then your body is rhythmically rubbed in gentle strokes. This puts attention on something that does not normally get any notice: your skin. Focusing on the feelings from your skin means that you are not focusing on normal thoughts, and so your mind is free to drift off into trance.

Weird ways of going into trance

You don't have to have your eyes closed and be sitting down to go into trance. You can go into trance while doing any repetitive task. Soldiers report that when they are doing the route marches, the numbing repetitive activity causes their minds to go into trance. They can go on marching for hours without noticing it.

Many daily tasks induce trance. Watching an engrossing story on TV suspends your normal critical mind. You drift into your unconscious mind. That is why advertisers love it. You are in a uncritical receptive state when you see the ads. This makes the ads much more effective. 

For many people, playing computer games has exactly the same effect. They are so focused on the game that they lose all track of time.

Driving on a familiar commute becomes boring. Your actions become automatic, unthinking. It is very easy to allow your conscious mind to drift away somewhere and leave the driving to your unconscious reflexes. When that happens you go into "highway hypnosis". It is exactly the same as a hypnotic trance.

In traditional societies, drumming is a way of going into trance. The constant repetitive noise affects your brain. Your conscious mind gets "bored" with the unvarying stimulus. Your unconscious mind then takes over and you start experiencing the world through your unconscious mind. In that state, you have visions, hallucinations, messages from "beyond". This is basically what shamans do throughout the world.

The weirdest one that I have come across is in BDSM. A client told me that when she is getting spanked on the bottom it hurts. But after a while the pain becomes so great that her mind cannot take it any longer, and "escapes". This then leaves her in her unconscious mind where she can ignore the pain. When in her unconscious mind she has no problems, no worries, all the everyday things just disappear. And that's why she keeps going back to it.

What is the strangest way to go into trance? Leave your comment below.

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tarot hypnosis

Tarot Hypnosis and your unconscious mind

Yesterday, I met with a friend who has done an extensive study of meditation, psychology, and matters of the mind. He and I discussed what meditation is. His opinion is that it has some connection to a universal consciousness. He believes that there is a reason why everything happens. For example, at every critical point in your life, you meet the right person. I politely but forcibly disagreed. I believe that meditation, like hypnosis, is simply a way into accessing our own unconscious minds.

Tarot Hypnosis

We were in my office where I see my hypnotherapy clients and he noticed that I have some tarot cards on my bookshelf. He expressed interest in the tarot cards. Apparently he had heard of Tarot cards, but had never examined a pack closely. I let him handle the cards, and I showed him several other sets I have which have different themes. I often use the Tarot to open up the unconscious thoughts of my clients. He said he thought I was the last person on earth who would have used tarot cards, given my strictly logical view of the world. I started to explain to him how I used them and why. He was trying to reconcile his view of tarot cards as some sort of mystical gateway, with my view of tarot cards as logical tools to understanding the unconscious mind. We got into a heated discussion. In order to give him a specific example, I offered to do a tarot reading for him.

The tarot spread

I told him to select five cards and lay them out face down.  I then offered him the chance to rearrange the order if he wanted. In this reading, the first card was his current situation. The second card represented the near future, and the third card represented the longer term future. His fourth card represented a surprise, something unexpected. And the fifth card was something that influenced all the others, that gave a particular interpretation to them. My friend was looking for a career change. The new job he is in is now is not working out. He is likely to be offered another job but isn't sure about it. He is completely undecided about even what industry he wants to work in, or whether to move to a different place.

The Tarot Reading

To do the reading I began to explain the cards one by one. The first card, the immediate part, was the Four of Cups. This shows a man with 3 cups in front of him turning his back on a castle and the offer of the fourth cup. I explained that this was him refusing to look at the things he was being offered, by focusing on what he had. I suggested the card meant that he was focusing on only part of his assets. The second card was the High Priestess. I explained that this was about mysteries revealed and that he could expect to find things happening for which there was no explanation. I also pointed out that the crescent moon is on top of the columns. These suggested that things come and go, wax and wane, and that he can expect variations in his progress. The third card, the long-term future, was the Moon. I explained again that this was about things changing, not being one thing or the other, constantly moving. On the card, the crab symbol is partly in the water and partly on the land. The whole card is about things being in flux, that nothing is ever fixed, or right, or final. Its message is: there is no certainty.

Influencing cards

The surprise card was the King of Pentacles. I explained that this meant success in physical pleasures, luxury, abundance. He then started talking about what abundance meant. saying that was different for everyone. The card started him pretty much thinking aloud,  and  allowed him to firm up his ideas of what 'abundance' might mean for him personally. The fifth card, the card that underlies or influences all the rest of the cards in the set, was the Two of Pentacles. the Two of Pentacles represents the beginning of a journey. Its meaning in this case is that he has started on a journey and that there will be no straightforward progression. No one knows where the journey will go, but he has made a start on it, whether he realizes it or not.

Interpreting the Tarot cards

We then started to talk about this and he agreed that this was a very good description of his life at the moment. I told him that I found that more times than not the cards actually did match people's current situation. He thought that was deeply significant and had something to do with a universal consciousness of that kind of thing. As he talked about the cards in front of him, it seemed to me that he had clarified his thoughts. He seemed more sure of what to do, more focused.

Why does Tarot work?

Thinking about it later, I wondered "why do the Tarot cards seem to match so well, so often?" I think I have come to an understanding. I watched this man trying to make sense of the cards he choose and then listened to him rationalize the connections. I think that most people do not actually understand their own life, and cannot put into context. I think people unconsciously think about their life as a series of random, unplanned events. This gives them a large number of different, possibly conflicting, views of where they are, and who they are, and what they should be doing. This leaves them looking for confirmation and guidance.

Tarot creates a life story

My theory is that the normal way that people understand themselves is incomplete, biased, uninformed, and in constant change. I think what the tarot cards do is to offer a symbolic representation that they can then create sense from. I get my client to look at a tarot spread and I explain the symbolism and what it means. They then can sort through the partly formed, incomplete ideas and possibilities in their mind. And from that random jumble they can find some combination that makes a sensible pattern that connects the tarot cards. I think that what the tarot card reading does is to give them a template around which they can arrange incomplete thoughts and ideas. They then link those incomplete thoughts and ideas to other incomplete thoughts and ideas until they make some kind of sense of their life.

Find the pattern

This is why it works with almost any cards. The symbolism is like the crystal seed that allows everything else to form a regular and understandable pattern around it. Having created that pattern, the client's mind then goes through all the other currently unconnected bits and reinforces the pattern that crystallized around the tarot card symbol. The client's mind is much happier with the idea that the tarot somehow pulled out symbols with a meaning  special to them. It works because they can create a complete "story" around that symbolism.  The "story" helps them to make sense of their own life and their current problems. It gives them a sense of certainty, that this is the correct interpretation. It makes sense out of the mass of uninformed, incomplete, and contradictory half-understood feelings and beliefs. The fact that it comes from an external influence helps to validate one particular interpretation of all those partial feelings and beliefs. Do you use Tarot? Share your thoughts below.
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My client today was well aware that she has depression. She is on prescription drugs for it. We had a long talk about how it is affecting her life and what she is able to do about it.

We talked about how she has All or Nothing thinking and how this affects her moods and her behaviours. She is aware that she sets unrealistic standards and get annoyed with herself when she does not reach them. She also told me that she also gets annoyed when other people at work do things that she doesn't like.


She described how it affects her when people do things that are not the way she thinks they should be done. So people eating in the workplace annoy her. People whistling or humming as they work annoy her. They annoy her intensely. She in fact has disphonia, an excessive almost rage-like reaction to ordinary harmless noises.

I had heard of this but never come across it before. I had thought about it, but could not imagine any mechanism that would explain it.

Disphonia is a symptom of depression

However this client may offer the key to the mystery. It seems in her case that it is an extreme case of Black and White thinking. People are doing things not the way they should be and that is what gets her annoyed. Eating, humming, whistling annoy her. It seems to me that disphonia is in fact a rather odd but understandable outcome of having internalized standards that you expect other people to live up to, and you get justifiably angry when they don't.

I imagine that at some point my client was told not to make a noise when she ate, and that became an internal rule for her. In her world, rules have to be obeyed. If they are not then anger arises. I can also see how she might have been told not to hum or whistle etc., and they too became must-obey rules.

Do you know someone with disphonia? Leave your comment below.

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start smoking again

Why start smoking again after many years?

It has always intrigued me as to why people start smoking again after many years of not smoking. I think I might have some sort of answer from a client I had in for smoking this week. She says she has stopped and started smoking in the past, for example when she was pregnant, but always something made her start again. I asked why. She said that she does it when she feels she is losing control. The last time was when her son was sick in hospital and she thought she might lose him, so started smoking after seven years stopped. Original Incident She said she started smoking when she was 14. She came home from school to find her mother and father arguing and both had blood on them. They shouted to her to go to her room. She felt terrified. The next day they both had left the house and she and her sister were alone. Her mother vanished for two weeks. There was nothing to eat. She was alone and abandoned. She felt she couldn't tell anyone. She was terrified. Her mother worked for a cigarette company and there were cigarettes in the cupboard so she broke into them and started smoking to give her something to do. Her mother returned but she never felt safe again. She later learned her mother had attempted suicide in that two weeks she was gone. No need to look any further for why she starts smoking again when things go out of control. Have you heard of similar cases? Leave a comment below.
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laptop in hypnotherapy

Using your laptop in hypnotherapy

Today I learned how to use my laptop in hypnotherapy. I had a client come to see me today who wanted a quite specific treatment. She wanted me to make cigarettes taste horrible. This is called aversion therapy. I don't usually do aversion therapy, but this smoker insisted on that approach, so I agreed. Because I seldom use that approach I decided to use one of my own scripts, the Smoking Aversion script. I haven't used it for some time, so I thought it would be best if I read it over first. It is a long script, and employs lots of precise repetition, so I decided to actually use the script in therapy. Now in the past when I used a script to guide me I referred to a printed copy. There are several problems with this, but the main one is the noise that the paper makes when you move from one page to another. Not to mention the irritating habit it has of sliding off your knee onto the floor.

Using your laptop in hypnotherapy

So I decided to try displaying it on my laptop instead. This worked remarkably well. I was able to flip from page to page soundlessly, to skip over bits, and to pick and mix from other scripts. Another problem I didn't have was losing my place. With a printed sheet you have a lot of lines in front of you on the page. After I deviate from the script or I have been watching the client's reaction it is sometimes difficult to find exactly where you were on the page. Because the laptop has a smallish screen, I was only looking at four or five sections at a time, so it was easy to get back on track. I was surprised at how easy it was, and how nice it was to not have to think about what to say next, and just follow the stages of the script. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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Ideomotor Signal Finger Lift

I was asked what I meant by 'finger lift', and whether this was the same thing as 'ideomotor signalling'. To me they are different. I think the finger lift gives an honest and reliable test for trance that is very difficult to fake. 'Ideomotor' has acquired a unique meaning in hypnotherapy. 

A 'finger lift' is a form of ideomotor response, but a very simple one, without setting it up in advance.

For example... from one of my scripts... this script shows how I typically use the finger lift...

and as you drift deeper and deeper... become aware that one of your fingers or perhaps a thumb will feel a need, a desire, a compulsion... to move... without thought... just allow that to happen ... don't assist in any way... a finger or a thumb will want to move... or maybe the whole hand... It may begin as just a tiny tremor... and you may be surprised at what you experience... that's right...

Testing for trance with finger lift

This is meant to be a test of trance. The client doesn't know how they are supposed to react, so the reaction you get is genuine. If the finger lifts straight up immediately then they are faking it. If it takes a long time to get any movement, if the finger trembles a little, and moves a tiny bit, or if several fingers move like closing a fist, or the whole hand jerks, then the client is in trance, and genuinely experiencing involuntary movement.

Talking to the unconscious mind with ideomotor signals

Ideomotor signalling is actually something else. 'Ideo' means unique to the person, and Ideomotor should mean the movements uniquely made by each individual. But the way that ideomotor signalling is used actually means that it is not unique. The person is told specifically how to signal a 'yes' or 'no' answer and what counts as a valid movement. This means everyone signals the same way for that hypnotist. This is the exact opposite of the original meaning of 'ideomotor'. Some hypnotists use one finger, most two, and few try to get the person to use all ten.  

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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brain habits

How to change Habits

It is hard to change habits. Why do people start smoking again? Why is it so easy to start, and then hard to stop?

Changing habits has to do with how the human brain works. Research suggests that behavior is controlled by two different parts of the brain. There are goal directed actions, and there are automatic actions.

Goal directed actions are behaviours we consciously try to control. Automatic actions are things we do unconsciously without thinking about them.

Goal directed actions are controlled by the pre-frontal cortex. Goal directed actions focus your attention on getting something done. You will put a lot of effort in thinking about how to get what you want.  Automatic actions are controlled deep inside the brain, in the basal ganglia, part of the reptilian brain. Automatic actions react automatically, without thinking about it at all.

Put simply, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for new behaviours, the basal ganglia controls old behaviours.

Triggering automatic habits

When someone decides to give up smoking, their pre-frontal cortex is what they use to try to change their behavior. The basal ganglia ignores the pre-frontal cortex. The basal ganglia doesn't think. It doesn't know what is going on in the pre-frontal cortex. And doesn't care. It just waits patiently for a stimulus and acts on it, starting the automatic pre-programmed behavior, over and over.

The basal ganglia knows that there is a stored behavior routine to deal with whatever the stimulus is. All it has to do is to find it and start it. Once the routine is started, the basal ganglia can go back into its crocodile dream state. Until the next stimulus wakes it up. Then it searches for the right bundle of behaviors, starts it going, and goes back to sleep again. It never considers whether the behavior routine is good or bad for you, it just starts it running and forgets all about it.

Origin of habits

The automatic behavior got programmed into the basal ganglia in the first place by the prefrontal cortex. A stimulus happened, the prefrontal cortex thought about it and told you to react in some way.  If the result successfully deals with the stimulus (the problem) then the basal ganglia notes this. If the next time you meet that problem, you do the same behavior and it solves the problem, then you reinforce the basal ganglia memory. After the same thing happens again and again, the response becomes automatic. You never think of a different response because you have an automatic one that works just fine. 

The job of the basal ganglia is to identify the stimulus and find the matching response. It learns that when that particular stimulus appears, some particular response is the thing to do. Once the basal ganglia learns the routine, the prefrontal cortex leaves the basal ganglia to get on with it. In simple terms, your conscious mind passes it to your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind then triggers an automatic behavior routine.

Life is difficult enough without having to consider afresh what to do every time you come to a door, or if someone smiles at you. Why waste energy thinking when you can just delegate it to another part of the brain, and let it react for you? And that is how a habit is born.

How to change habits

However, we are not condemned to repeat the same behaviour for life. People can and do change their habits. The prefrontal cortex can over ride the basal ganglia. And if it does it often enough, and in exactly the same way, the basal ganglia will learn a new habit for the old stimulus. You can retrain it. But the prefrontal cortex can only over ride the basal ganglia when it is paying attention and acting deliberately in the new way. The instant the prefrontal cortex gets distracted, it forgets. So the basal ganglia automatically takes over and produces the old behavior again.

Origin of Cravings

When one part of your mind is distracted, and the other part is trying to perform its automatic behaviour but can't, that is when the cravings start. The automatic part of the brain, the basal ganglia, knows what it is supposed to do when it gets that particular stimulus. It knows that to end that problem it has to go through a predefined routine. The problem will not end until it does that routine. It believes that until the routine is done your body is in danger. And that cannot be allowed. So the basal ganglia runs a program that it knows will make the body uncomfortable until the behavior routine is performed. That way it is keeping you safe. The more distracted you are the more automatic the process is, and the harder the basal ganglia will try to make the behavior happen.

And what stops the prefrontal cortex from paying attention? Other things happening. Or stress. Stress is just another name for a situation where you need to focus on something to the exclusion of all else, and just let the body run on automatic pilot. And that is why people start smoking again. Stress makes them forget their good intentions. Before they are even aware of it, they are lighting up, just going through the old routine that always worked in the past, that doesn't even need thinking about.

Retraining habits

The basal ganglia can relearn, but it only responds to rewards and repetition. So the prefrontal cortex has be vigilant long enough, and repeat the new behaviour often enough, for the basal ganglia to give up its old behaviour and learn the new behaviour.

The problem of course, is that basal ganglia will learn anything. And if the repeated behaviour is to keep starting again at every bit of stress, then that is what it will learn. You can train yourself into being unable to give up!

What do you think?

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impossible to hypnotize

Everyone can be hypnotized

Everyone can be hypnotized. But it might take a while. Last week I had one of those nightmare clients. No matter what you do, they will not go into trance. I had no reason to think that there would be any problem with this client. She seemed ready to go into trance and really wanted to give up smoking. I had treated her husband the day before and she wanted to help him give up as well as herself.

However, when I started with my usual induction it was clear that she was not responding they way I expected. She kept opening her eyes. When I asked her what she was experiencing she said "I can't visualize going down a corridor as you are asking me to". She also was not able to relax either.

So I used a different progressive muscle relaxation induction, and she seemed to be relaxing a bit. I then tried an Elman induction but she couldn't make the numbers disappear. I tried induction after induction and every time I tried for eye catalepsy her eyes opened.

She was not responding to the inductions at all. In fact she could not do anything that would lead to trance. I tested her for visualization ability. I found that she could not visualize at all. She did have a little kinesthetic orientation, but nothing else that I could find.

Stair Case induction

The Going down the Stairs induction is supposed to be ideal for kinesthetic people, but it didn't work either. In this case I had to admit defeat. But I was determined not to give up. So I asked her to let me think about it, and for her come back the following day. I spend the night thinking about what to do, and really worrying about "what if I just can't get her into trance?". I like to think that I know what I am doing, but this was a real challenge.

Feel the colors induction

The following day I had decided on a strategy. She came in I set up an instant induction and fired it. Nothing. She didn't even flinch. Then I did a color induction. You invited to think of feelings associated with a color. This is supposed to be a full proof induction for kinesthetics. By the third color she told me she didn't feel any associations with colors.

Cloud Induction

I tried her on an induction where the client imagines a cloud around them, and by increasing their depth of relaxation they can make the cloud dissipate. Several rounds of this did produce a noticeable level of relaxation.

Confusion Induction

I then threw in a long confusion induction, about the unconscious being conscious of the subconsciouis while the conscious was unconscious of the unconscious, and so on. She finally showed clear signs of trance. I then flowed straight into an elevator deeper where she pushed buttons to go down and down... and finally I got eye catalepsy.

So the lesson I take from this is that yes, everyone can be hypnotised, but sometimes it a real battle of wills. She went on to enjoy the feeling of being hypnotized and to give up smoking.

What do you do?

How do you deal with hard to hypnotize clients?

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procrastination perfectionism

Procrastination Perfectionism

Every day brings an interesting client. My client today had procrastination. He is finishing university this year. He has one more course to finish and his degree will be complete. He failed the course last year and now he cannot get down to studying what he has to do for this year. If he fails this time he will fail the whole degree. Typically a therapist would suspect that this client either is afraid of failing or is afraid of succeeding. And indeed when he gets his degree he will be taking up a job overseas. He will have to give up the comfortable life of a student, so there is the fear of the unknown.

Procrastination Perfectionism

However, when I questioned him further it was obvious that he was actually suffering from undiagnosed depression. He had all the symptoms, and in particular, black and white thinking. In his case this was in the form of perfectionism. Procrastination Perfectionism is very common.  He felt that if he was not going to do well in the exam and pass with outstanding marks then he was a complete failure. He had failed before so he wasn't sure that he would pass this time. That little voice in his head was saying  'You might as well not bother'. And so he was demotivating himself over and over. As the deadline crept nearer it got more and more likely that he would indeed fail. So it became an ever diminishing circle of anxiety and recrimination, and negative thinking. And the more pressure he put on himself the less work he did. Once the situation was explained to him he could see what was happening and that the key to preventing his procrastination was dealing with the negative thoughts first. We will have to wait and see how this turns out, but it is interesting to me that in all the books I have read on procrastination none has ever suggested the link with depression, expectations and perfectionism. I think it might be worth researching further. What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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placebo effect of hypnosis

Placebo effect of hypnosis therapy

I got this email from a hypnotherapist in the UK:

Some time back I ordered the whole collection of your scripts. I find myself coming back to them over and over again because they are just so excellent. Clients have commented very favorably, which is so rewarding for me.

I wondered if I can ask you for your suggestions regarding a new client who I will see next week? He talks of having a 'low mood' most of his life. He has seen many counselors over the years and said 'counselling didn't work at all' (said he hated CBT and filling in forms). He is adamant he wants hypnotherapy this time which he hasn't tried before.

In our brief phone conversation, he mentioned the following things: general low mood as the most pressing problem, mentioned 'depression' but not diagnosed, no sleep issues, is able to function well enough in the workplace, is anxious at times as well, part of him is always thinking and analyzing everything, often has a sense of hopelessness. He felt quite depressed about a year ago when a relationship ended. However he is now in a new relationship which is going well. He wants to rid himself of the low mood once and for all. He does not want to consider taking medication. He has always been very physically active because he knows that exercise helps him.

Perhaps this is a dysthymic disorder!

Anyway I really wanted to do the best I could for this chap and am asking for advice about which of the scripts in your opinion would be most likely to benefit him to get us started.



I replied:  This guy definitely has depression. All the classic symptoms are there.

What he needs is a lifestyle change, more exercise, better diet and training in how to deal with his negative thought processes. However, he either does these already or has ruled them out so your options are limited.

The leaves the only thing you can do for him is to teach him self-hypnosis. During that teaching you can plant suggestions as to how he should deal with his negative thinking patterns.

Explain the benefits of self-hypnosis - quieting the inner voice, instilling calm into his mind, resetting his feelings etc. Then show him how to put himself into trance. Teach him a fixed routine, e.g. muscle relaxation, breathing, stairs etc.

Placebo effect of hypnosis

The idea is to make his first experience of hypnosis real and immediate. By doing that you will be able to exploit the placebo effect of hypnosis. Hypnosis is a strange experience for most people. It is so strange, so unknown, so powerful that it can fix anything, For example, many smokers stop because hypnosis felt so weird that it must have done something to them. The hypnotist just suggests that they right: now they can stop smoking. So, now that they believe they can stop, they do stop.

Take him through all the standard exercises of eye catalepsy, finger lifts, dissociation and so on. Use the whole range of hypnotic convincers. Then get him to open his eyes while in trance and leave all the rest of his body frozen. This will convince him of the power of the mind and he will follow whatever you say.

Put in some suggestions about challenging his thinking, getting out and about, recognizing his triggers, etc. Then bring him out of trance. Tell him to go back into the state all by himself. Coach him some more if necessary.

Then leave it up to him. Tell him you have provided the tools. He now knows how to hypnotize himself so he can control his anxiety. It is up to him to apply them and he can come back to see you anytime he feels he should.

That should improve the client's outlook, and do a lot of good therapeutically.


What would you recommend to help this type of client?

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