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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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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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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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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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three positive things

Three positive things every day for wellness

Therapists often get too involved in theory. We make things more complicated than they need to be. We tend to overthink things. It is easy to come to the conclusion that the world is full of difficult problems.

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. It is said that the mind pays twice as much attention to negative things as it does to positive things. This is the mechanism behind gloomy thinking, pessimism and depression. It means that we all need to focus twice as much on the positive events in our life. We need to try to see the good as well as the bad.

Three positive things to make you feel better

One of the great things we can do for clients is to give them simple rules that they can use to improve their lives. There is one simple habit that really works. It is to encourage the client to write down at the end of every day three things that happened to them that were good. These do not have to be super wonderful things, anything will do. For example, seeing a lovely flower display, getting to the bus stop just as the bus arrives, a kind act by someone at work - anything. Looking out for the three things makes you more aware of all the good things that actually happen in your life.

The simple act of writing  down three positive things seems to impress them on the brain. It has been shown that people who do write down the three positive things become more resilient. You get a more cheerful attitude after only a few days. And doing it for longer makes it automatic. You will learn to focus on the positive. 

What do you think?

Have you tried this? What ways do you use to cheer up your clients?

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PTSD and Depression

Explanation for PTSD and depression

I am reading a book that I think might contribute the theory of how hypnosis works in therapy. The book is In an Unspoken Voice: how the body releases trauma and restores goodness by Peter Levine. It might be an explanation for PTSD and depression.

Everyone will have seen an instant induction, where the hypnotist startles the client by shouting or pulling them off balance. It has long been known that this is the result of the parasympathetic nervous system putting the client into tonic immobility. The person goes limp, their eyes roll up into their head, their breathing changes, they are impervious to pain.

Origin of PTSD and Depression

The Levine book explains this as being one of the five bodily reponds to danger. When danger appears our body first goes tense and alert, then tries to run away, or if it can't run away gets ready to fight, if that isn't possible then the body freezes motionless, and when danger is imminent the final stage is tonic immobility, the body flops and becomes helpless.

So instead the Flight or Fight responses, we should be talking about Flight, Fight or Flop. The book's argument is that when a person is frightened they go through the five stages. What is interesting is that the book claims that when the body is so frightened that we freeze, unless we are able to find a way to unfreeze the fear, the result is PTSD. According to his theory PTSD is result of not coming out of the freeze state. The therapy is therefore to help the client release the old fear.

How therapies work

This makes sense to me, and explains why relaxation, reiki, grounding, and yoga work to relieve mental stress by relaxing the body. It also offers a basis for understanding how metaphor therapy works.

Perhaps the five stage theory also gives a basis for understanding the cause of depression. Depression is triggered by learned helplessness. If the response to relentless pressure and fear is tonic immobility, then this explains where the depression comes from. I am only part way through the book and this link has not been mentioned yet, so I am reading on with anticipation.

What do you think?

How do you deal with PTSD? What do you think causes these things?

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year left to live

If you had one year left to live…

The most important question 

There are many questions in therapy designed to make you examine your own life, your own values, and even your own place in the universe. There is the Dare question: "what would you do if you knew you could not fail?" Then there is the Funeral question: "imagine that you are lying in your coffin, and friends and family are gathered round to farewell you. What would they say about you, to sum up your life?" And then there is the Focus question: "what would you do if you knew that you had only one year left to live?"

Life coaches and therapists use these questions to focus your mind what is really important in life. The question is a measure of where you are, as opposed to where you want to be. These questions can be very powerful in concentrating your mind. Do you really want the people at your funeral to be saying "she was really good at watching television"? Sadly, for too many people that is the reality.

The man had only one year left to live

I mention these because recently I had a client come to me who is interested in Past Life Regression. He told me that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had approximately eight months left to live. His visit was because he wanted to find out if there was anything to this past life business. After all, he would be finding out the actual answer quite soon.

I was totally taken aback by his matter-of-fact approach to his own impending death. He didn't look unwell. He seemed quite calm about the whole business. "I have come to terms with it", he said. I thought it was an amazingly healthy attitude to the worst thing that could happen to you.

He said that he gets quite mixed reactions when he tells people that he has less than a year left to live. The most common reaction apparently, is "So why don't you go travelling around the world? Go and dine in all the world's finest restaurants? Do all the things you always wanted to do?"

He surprised me with his answer. He said "If I had wanted to do any of those things, I would have done them by now. Just because you know that you are going to die doesn't make you into a different person. You like what you always liked. And your instinct is to keep doing what you've always done." 

So I guess I now have a better insight into the answer to the question "what would you do if you knew you had just a year left to live?"

Makes you think, doesn't it?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

What would your reaction be on learning you had only a short time to live? Have you ever met anyone in the situation? How did they behave?

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Words Memory Trance

Words Memory Trance Cure for Boredom

Words Memory Trance

Words Memory Trance are all connected. If you focus on a word for long enough it will lead you into the depths of your unconscious mind. Try it.

I am learning Spanish and I am therefore getting to know lots of strange words. Words are funny things. They have no meaning except what people give them. There is no particular reason why thunder should be the series of sounds we have all agreed to say to represent the sound that clouds sometimes make.

And yet I am in a business that depends on using the right words, and listening intently for particular words.

Words have no meaning

You can prove that words have no meaning quite easily. All you have to do is to repeat a word, any word, over and over. Quite quickly it will cease to have any meaning at all. It will seem totally strange to you. Technically, this is called 'semanic satiation". This is the basis of mantra meditation. By repeating a word or phrase you eventually dissociate from it, the word and its meaning separate, and your mind then drifts off into trance.

Another interesting experiment to do is to try to find out what a word means to you personally, your own personal sense of it. Take an abstract word, not something definite like the word kangaroo, but something you cannot picture directly. A word such as 'towards' or 'together'' or 'apply' or something else abstract. Even the word 'abstract' itself. Meditate on that word. A word like abstract might immediately bring up an image of some crazy modern painting. But you can continue to meditate on the word, and eventually you will find that you get other images and feelings that have to do with that word. It is quite an interesting process, watching your own mind at work.

A cure for boredom

There will be some words that do not produce an immediate image, such as 'towards', or 'close'. In that case meditate on your word, keep focusing on the word. At some point you will get an image, and it will probably be something associated with your early childhood. This is because these are words that could not be shown to you in a picture. They had to be demonstrated indirectly in some way. It probably took many attempts before you understood what that word meant. And most likely, what you get from your mind will be a memory of someone or something acting out your word.

So you never need to be bored again when you are waiting in the departure lounge.

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state dependent memory

State dependent memory

How to use state dependent memory in therapy

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there? Newly published research has shown that moving through a door affects your memory of what you did in the room before you moved out through the door. This is an example of state dependent memory. The things you did or thought in one place are anchored to things in  that place.  When you move away from that place, you leave the anchors behind. So you cannot recall what you thought and felt when the anchors were present. This has been known for a long time. It has been proved with school children. If  you teach them in a classroom and test them on the material, they will have better recall if the exam is held in the room they were taught in, rather than an exam room.

I used to be a diver. It is common among commercial divers for them to realize that they need a certain part to get the job done. But when they come out of the water they just cannot remember what it was they needed. The moment they plunge back in, the memory is there, fresh and clear.

Clients can be fixed in state dependent memory

State dependent memory affects much of what we do, and how we feel. Many of our clients are dominated by state dependent thinking. It is quite common that when you go home and visit your mother say, you change how you talk, how you behave and even how you think. These behaviors are anchored on the place or the person. The associations can be so strong that you will agree to do things that you would never have agreed to normally. But once you get outside you start kicking yourself.

Quite a lot of therapy depends on breaking state dependent memories. Going on holiday for a few weeks is a very good way of forcing the associations to go into extinction. When the triggers are not there, the behavior fades. Doing something completely different, like mountain climbing, or spending a few days on a tall ship does the same thing. This is why delinquent teenagers are sent away on brat camps. Being in completely different environment with different rules, breaks the associations that were triggering their bad behavior.

So sometimes the best thing we can do for a client is to encourage them to get out of the environment they are in. Maybe it applies to you too?

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false memories

False Memories Sexual abuse

False memories 

 You can go through your whole life blaming your own behavior on something that is not true. But if you act on false memories, they might as well be true.

I had a client today who reminded me of how pernicious and dangerous false memories are. This client was grossly obese. She told me that she used to be an alcoholic, she had eating problems all her life, she was unhappy and didn't know why.

When I asked her what she thought the reason was, she told me that she supposed it was all because she had been sexually abused. I asked when this had happened and she told me it happened at age two. I asked her how she knew that, since no one has any memory of being age two.

She said 'Well my mother told me'. I asked her what memories she had of the incident, and she said she didn't have any. I asked her 'So how do you know you were abused?' and she thought for a minute and then said 'Well, I suppose that I don't know'.

This woman has gone through her whole life being told that she had been sexually abused. It has affected everything she has done, every thought, every action. Now, I don't know if she really was abused or not, but it doesn't matter. If you don't remember being abused then effectively you weren't abused.

False memories are just as bad as real abuse

But what has happened is that every time she felt bad, every time she felt unable to cope with something, the same old reason was trotted out - 'Oh, it's because you were abused'. This belief, put there by other people, has prevented her from ever examining her own life objectively, from seeing things as they really are. The result is that she has had a belief that her life was ruined from the beginning, that there is no point in trying to improve. She blames the 'abuse' for whatever she feels, for every reaction. That has prevented her from ever getting to grips with the real source of her unhappiness.

I personally believe that child abusers should be strangled in the town square because of the damage they cause.  But the well meaning people who convince women that they were abused when they were not, are equally guilty. They  ruin just as many lives.

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