Open post
unconscious mind

Can you define the unconscious mind?

Hypnosis deals with the unconscious mind. Talk to any hypnotist and they will go on at great length about how they work with the unconscious mind. And yet not one of us can actually give a coherent, defensible definition of "unconscious mind".

How do you know you have an unconscious mind?

The only thing that you and I can say with certainty about the world is that we are conscious of our own thinking. Everything else is supposition. If you have seen the movie "The Matrix" you will know that there is no way of proving that you are not actually living inside a computer simulation. Everything in the world around you comes from your own personal interpretation of external stimuli.

But you have no way of knowing whether the same stimuli are being experienced in other people's brains. It is clear that dogs and cats can think and respond to stimuli. So can computers. But are they "conscious"?

How can you measure your unconscious mind?

It is extraordinarily difficult to define precisely what consciousness is. People have thought about this for centuries. Many philosophers believe that the question is unanswerable. So is the only thing we know for sure, that we personally are conscious, the biggest mystery in the world?

One of the main problems is measuring consciousness. Every year a few people in surgery, who appear totally unconscious under a general anaesthetic, report having felt the scalpels and can recall every word that was said. Is a newborn baby conscious? Can we create consciousness in machines? If we can, does that mean that the same machines might develop an unconscious mind?

Latest research into consciousness

Recently, researchers have attempted to measure consciousness by applying magnetic fields to the brain, and then analysing the subsequent responses. They have found a fairly reliable way of being able to tell if your brain is conscious or not. The test was applied to long-term patients who are totally unresponsive to any outside stimulus. Most showed no response. But 20% of them produced a reading that suggested that they are in fact conscious of what is going on. It is possible that they are completely unable to respond, but actually at some level of consciousness.

However, the test works by measuring how integrated information processing is. The more integration there is, the more confident you can be that consciousness is present. One problem with this approach, is that it means that nonliving things can be conscious. You could argue, as many do, that the universe processes information, and therefore has a "consciousness".

Another objection is that information processing may not be the same as "intelligence". A computer processes information at great speed, but is not by any normal definition intelligent.

But all of this leaves open the question of "what is the unconscious mind?" It appears that that question is no nearer to being answered.

How would you define the unconscious mind? Share your ideas below.



Open post
bulimia hypnotherapy

Bulimia Hypnotherapy

This client asked me for bulimia hypnotherapy. I really wasn't sure what to do. Bulimia is known for being extraordinarily difficult to treat. I asked her about her history. She was very open and happy to talk about her condition. She said that at its height she would vomit three times a day. Pretty much after every meal. She ended up dangerously thin.

Her life has been dominated by bulimia. It started in her teenage years. She managed to stop on her own when she left university and had to get a new job. She felt that she would now be in control. And it worked.  When she got her first job she realized that she couldn't keep doing this and keep a job. Then she changed jobs. She had a week in between. This allowed her mind to begin to ask "what if?" And she just fell apart. She left the new job after two days and had three months off.

Bulimia Hypnotherapy

Right now she is worried that she is going back into it and vomits twice a week. I couldn't really find any one thing that triggered it or that she was worried about. Her parents had always been helpful and supportive. She could not think of anything in her childhood that might have set it off. She said in it was all about anxiety.

This gave me the idea that I might be able to deal with the anxiety directly through metaphor replacement. I asked her to think about the anxiety and what it was like just before she feels she has to vomit. She said is a mixture of anxiety and fear. I told her to focus on the fear. I got her to concentrate on the fear to allow it to come out to be aware of it. Fortunately for me it was right at the surface and she was able to latch onto the fear immediately.

I asked her where the fear was in her body. She said it was in her chest and in her head. Previous experience has shown that I cannot do anything when the client says the feeling is in the head. So I focused on the feeling in her chest. I asked her what it was like. After a while she said, "it's like a square". I said, "is it a square or a cube?" "It's a cube."

I then got her to describe the cube in increasing levels of detail. She said it had sharp edges. When I asked "how big is it?", She said "it's about the size" and gestured with her hands indicating was about the same width as her body. It was hard, cold, solid, heavy, and grey. When I asked, "and what else to know about this cube?" She said, "I have to carry it about with me."

Metaphor Replacement for Bulimia

Having established the fear as an object, it was just the case then of getting her to change it. I asked "can you imagine making it a little bit bigger?" She immediately said "yes". I asked, "and can you make a little bit bigger still?" "Yes." "And even bigger?" "Yes." "And can you make it a little smaller?" "Yes." And she proceeded to demonstrate that she could make it a little smaller.

I encouraged her to make it smaller and smaller until at some point she said "it's in my hand I can hold it". I asked her, "and what is it look like now? How has that thing changed?" She said, "has rounded edges, like a die". I then asked her what she would like to have happen to this thing. She said, "I would like to throw it away". I asked, "And where would you throw it?". "Into the ocean." I needed to make sure that she got rid of the thing completely. So I asked, "and where would you throw it into the ocean?" She said "from a clifftop".

I then said "now imagine yourself on that hilltop. Imagine you have that die in your hand, and you are throwing it off the cliff". To my surprise, she picked up a hand and made a throwing motion. I said to her, "describe what is happening as that thing goes into the ocean." She said "it's gone into the water with a splash". I wanted to be sure that the object was totally destroyed. So I said to her "what happens to things that went to the ocean?". She said "they settle on the bottom".

I could not get her to give any more detail, so I prompted her to begin thinking of how to destroy the object. I suggested that saltwater might have an effect on it. She said "is beginning to rust the surface is now mottled". I then went on to suggest that the rust would continue, it would flake off, that thing would break up into small parts. I then got her to agree that the thing would get rolled around in the waves and broken up into tiny pieces like sand. They would just be dispersed out and gone forever.

Then  I asked her to take three deep breaths and relax even more.

In that state, I asked her to become aware of her own body. I told her, "now check on around your body. Check your knees and your knuckles in your nose and everywhere. See if there's anything left of that old fear that needs to be dealt with. Or has it all gone?"

After a moment she said "it's all gone".

Her Experience of bulimia therapies

We then spent some time talking about bulimia and how it affected her life. It really is a devastating disease. She was a lovely young woman, and yet had never had a boyfriend. We talked about the various therapies that she had been involved with.

I asked her "what did you find most useful to you in those therapies?" She said "I found a form of group therapy very helpful. I met a lot of people, very ordinary looking people, who also had the same illness. That allowed me to believe that I actually was normal. There wasn't something weird about me. That I wasn't the only person in the world to do this. I also found some of the CBT exercises that I was given were useful in turning off the thoughts".

Then I asked her to check again about the fear that she had been talking about. I wanted to be sure that I had actually made a difference to her. She said, "no, it's really gone. I can feel it. I know that is just not there now."

How would you approach this case? Share your ideas below.

Open post
attract luck

Can you learn to attract luck?

Can you learn to attract luck? Or is luck actually the outcome of hard work and natural talent? Suppose you are one of the 'unlucky' ones. Does that mean that you don't work hard, and have no talent? Clearly not.

And yet, some people just seem to be in the right place at the right time. Lucky people just seem to have some sort of magic attraction. What is it that lucky people have that others don't?

Can you learn to attract luck?

This question has actually been researched. It turns out that lucky people actually have a set of specific skills that make 'luck' happen to them. They have learned to maximize life's opportunities.

Obviously, there is more to success than luck. People living in extremely poor countries are not simply unlucky. But even within poor communities there are people who somehow get ahead.

Are you lucky?

Psychologists have run simple experiments to see if they can tell "lucky people" from "unlucky people". In one experiment, the researchers left a $20 note in the street. They discovered that those people who define themselves as lucky noticed it. People who said they were unlucky didn't notice it.

Similar results were found in other experiments. Another study asked volunteers to count the number of photographs in a newspaper. On the second page there was a large plain advertisement saying "stop counting now – there are 58 photographs". The advertisement did not have a photograph in it. Just the words. The "lucky" people noticed it and stop counting. The "unlucky" people scanned right past it, and kept counting.

The differences seems to be that lucky people are always open to opportunities. Unlucky people worried about the task and didn't even notice.

Principles of attracting luck

From these and other experiments four basic principles of "luck" are:

  1. Maximize your chance of opportunities
  2. Listen to your intuition
  3. Expect good things to happen
  4. Find ways to turn your bad luck into good luck

The strategies for learning how to attract luck will be familiar to every hypnotherapist. They include: meditation and self-hypnosis to increase intuition. Relaxation to reduce anxiety. Visualization of success and luck. And Socialisation, making a point of making one new friend or acquaintance every week.

It seems that being lucky is closely associated with good social skills. Other researchers have taught people how to be open to new experiences, relaxation techniques, conversational skills, and interpersonal skills. The key seems to be making yourself open to what is going on around you, and how you feel about yourself.

Bad luck linked to anxiety

What these skills are really doing is reducing anxiety. If you are totally wound up inside, if you're afraid of meeting new people then you are less likely to notice opportunities around you. It is not that lucky people attract more opportunities. Lucky people are just open to seeing opportunities when they arise. Anxious, introverted people are not.

If you are searching for a new job, and you are so anxious that there won't be one there, then you actually will not see what is right in front of you. When you're anxious you lose your peripheral vision. Your body goes into fight or flight mode and creates tunnel vision. You literally do not see the opportunity.

People who are anxious are caught in a circular trap. Because you're anxious, your unconscious mind focuses on threats, and excludes everything else. Anxious people are less likely to talk to strangers, and less likely to develop new friendships. The more people you know, the more supported you feel, and the more likely it is that you will hear about opportunities.

Teaching clients to attract luck

Being lucky is something that can be learned. Once you realize that there opportunities everywhere, you begin to see them.

This means that hypnotherapists really can help their clients achieve and become "lucky". A lot of what we do is called reframing. Reframing is simply seeing the good in bad situations. Once you enable your client to reinterpret their circumstances you are opening the door to them becoming "lucky".

Do you personally attract luck? Leave your comment below.

Open post
smoking again

Why do people start smoking again?

I have had some interesting clients this week. One of them was a woman who came to see me to stop smoking six months ago. It was a success but then suddenly she just felt that she had to start smoking again.

She stopped smoking completely for about five months. She told me that she felt a wonderful sense of freedom. What worked for her was my hypnotic suggestions that she would feel as if she had never smoked. She had no cravings, no weight gain, no desire at all. The result was that she could mingle with smokers and be completely unaffected.

Start smoking again

But then someone close to her died. She went to the ceremony and felt totally devastated, understandably. On the way home she felt the emotional wrench so bad that she stopped and bought a packet of cigarettes, and smoked one, and then a second. She didn't think the cigarettes helped. But she just felt compelled to go on. It was the only thing she could do. So without wanting to, she had started smoking again.

I have never understood how this happens. How can a sensible person who hates smoking and has stopped for months allow themselves to start again?

Why do people start smoking again?

I have interviewed many people who have done this. Sometimes they have not smoked for years, in one case for seven years. Yet given a big enough emotional jolt, their instinct is to reach for a cigarette. I have never seen any explanation of this phenomenon that makes any sense to me.

I think the hypnotist who cracks that problem will become world famous. I'm still trying.


Why do you think people start again after a long time? Leave your comment below.

Open post
background music

Background music in hypnotherapy

The question is often asked about whether a hypnotist should play background music. There are three ways music can be used: with clients in the office, as background on hypnosis recordings and for self hypnosis.

Music certainly isn't necessary for hypnosis.

Background music in your office

When you use music in the office you may find some problems. Many people who have music training find themselves analyzing the music. That prevents them from going into trance. Many people cannot stop themselves from mentally singing along with any bit of music they know.

Or thinking about the words of an instrumental version of a song they know.  You don't want to have the client thinking about the song lyrics while you are trying to put other words into their mind. Having music in the background might give analytical clients another stimulus to analyze. It is just one more thing to distract them from listening to your hypnotherapy.

Music is a very personal thing. Everyone has associations with music, either with particular tunes or particular genres. When you introduce music you have no idea what some people will dislike, or more importantly, what memories or associations people have with the music you are playing. I personally dislike the Glenn Miller Big Band style of music. I have no idea why, but the dislike is very strong. Anyone who played that while hypnotizing me wouldn't get very far.

Then there is the unlikely but possible chance that you will anchor the client's hypnotic state to a particular part of the music. They might get anchored on one part going into trance, and another part as you bring them out. The result is that they will go in and out of trance unexpectedly the next time they hear the music.

Background music on hypnosis recordings

The same sort of logic applies to recorded hypnosis tracks. Music is used in recordings of all kinds.  A continuous background music track helps to hide background noise or to give continuity over breaks in the recording.

The problem here is that a client may play a hypnosis recording dozens of times. The music can become repetitive and irritating, and detract from the smooth induction of trance. Some hypno recordings use nature sounds of waves and waterfalls. That just makes the client want to go to the toilet. Some use forest sounds, but a sudden bird call in the middle of quiet passage can jerk the listener right out of trance again. Some clients get anxious and listen intently for dangers in the noises of the forest.

Background music for self hypnosis

Music can help with self hypnosis. In that case you have complete control of the music. But then you also run into the same problems outlined above.

What I prefer personally when I am putting myself into trance, is some kind of white noise that has a cycle to it. The noise of an oscillating cooling fan is ideal for me. I find it just merges into the background and masks any sudden noises from inside like a fridge starting up, or outside traffic noise, police cars, aircraft etc. 

Do you prefer music while you trance? Leave a comment below.

Open post
money happy

How much money would make you happy?

How happy are you? Would having more money make you more happy? Does doubling someone's income double their happiness? There has been a great deal of research into the link between money and happiness. The results are not at all clear.

Money Happy 

In general, people with more money are happier than people with less money. However, it seems that there is a point after which having more money does not make you more happy. Research suggests that in any given society, people above this "satiation point", no matter how much they earn, do not get any happier.

The satiation point varies from country to country. Australia and New Zealand at the highest satiation points in the world. Latin America and the Caribbean have the lowest. The US and Europe are in the middle. The satiation point in general reflects the overall income in any given economy. The wealthier the economy, the higher the satiation point. It also varies by gender. Women report that they need more money to be happy than men do.

What is happiness?

The problem with this type of research is: how do you define happiness? In the hypnotherapy business our job is principally to make people feel happier with their life. And yet, we don't ever try to measure how happy people are. It is quite possible that people change their feelings about personal happiness over time. It is also possible that what makes you happy, or at least what your passion is, has nothing to do with income. 

Many people who live on  next to nothing appeared to be the happiest people around. Many wealthy people are definitely not happy. Is it possible that people with lower incomes are aware that they are unhappy, and seek out hypnotherapy more readily than wealthy people? Or do wealthy peopleseek out hypnotherapy for things that poorer people would just ignore, and put up with?

It is not a simple matter.

Does money determine happiness? Leave your comment below.

Open post
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.

Open post
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.
Open post


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.

Open post
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.

Posts navigation

1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 25 26 27
Scroll to top