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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit

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Meditations For Life

Three Views of Self-Hypnosis

Self-Hypnosis: More than a Suggestion

Compiled by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
with Elizabeth Erickson and Eleanor S. Field, Ph.D.

© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The roots of hypnosis go back to antiquity in all likelihood. From the middle of the 1700's hypnosis was a standard medical treatment used with a variety of medical conditions. However, many doctors stopped using hypnosis in the 1920's given new developments in medicine as well as the increasing popularization of psychoanalysis. Some speculate that hypnosis fell into disfavor when Sigmund Freud stopped regularly using hypnosis in his practice of psychoanalysis given his not being very effective at it.

Many credit the seminal figure of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. for resuscitating hypnosis as a treatment modality as well as innovatively expanding the narrative ways it can be used.

Hypnosis can be considered a state of alert relaxation during which the critical mind is more at bay and our deep mind is more available to suggestion. Hypnosis is a state in which there is a narrowing of one's level of attention, focus and concentration and, at the same time, a relaxing or suppressing of conscious criticism. In other words, hypnosis can be understood as an alternative state of consciousness in which imagination is primary and critical judgment is temporarily suspended, although there is always an "observing ego" that ensures our well-being, protection and survival. Hypnosis is a means of using suggestions in a relaxed state to alter perception and sensory information. Importantly, given that you have a part of you that is ever observing in watching out for you, you can rest assured that you keep full control during a hypnosis session. Hypnosis can actually help you feel safer given that you are more cognitively aware and present.

Hypnosis is not the same as sleep, sleep states or sleep cycles as clearly demonstrated with the brain-wave patterns of people in hypnosis matching alert wakefulness. Also hypnosis cannot make you do anything that you do not want to do or that violate core beliefs and values. Similarly, hypnosis will not make you reveal any secret that you would not ordinarily reveal. People who are selected to engage in stage hypnosis are typically chosen given they are willing to act in carefree and uninhibited ways characteristic of exhibitionists.

Clinical hypnosis for therapeutic benefit is far different than stage hypnosis used for entertainment that people are familiar with. Using hypnosis for entertainment, such as with "stage hypnosis," is a practice to avoid given so many unknowns that set-up an inappropriate situation. Without knowing the subject, their background, their developmental age, worldly experience and so on, stage hypnosis can inadvertently put the subject at risk for untoward outcomes as well as be embarrassed, ridiculed and demeaned in front of others. Once again, entertainment or state hypnosis is not something any competent, well-trained professional would ever support, recommend or engage in.

George Demont Otis        Ross Valley

All hypnosis is actually self-hypnosis, even when a hypnotist helps someone through an induction to be in the state of hypnosis. The really intriguing fact of hypnosis is that every one of us is very familiar with being in a hypnotic state since we are already in this state a great deal of the time, yet almost all of us are unaware of this fact. When you first wake up in the morning and just before you go to sleep at night qualify. When you are engaged in doing anything mindlessly, like watching television, a video and the way most people drive their automobiles, are all alternative states of consciousness or hypnogogic states. When you experience any shock, even a minor shock like cutting a finger or being surprised by some life situation that arises or someone's words, all can trigger brief hypnotic-like trances. When you do some activity you have over-learned, do repeatedly or could seemingly "do in my sleep," such as sewing, sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, copying, driving, eating, walking, exercising and staring, this too can qualify as hypnotic trances. These are but a few illustrations showing that we all are in hypnotic-like trances a fair amount of the time, even though we may be quite unaware of this. Hypnosis, as practiced by competently trained professionals as well as when carefully used by lay people through self-hypnosis, induces an alert relaxed state in which the critical mind is largely off-line while one is more open to the power of suggestion. One common method used to slow down your mind by both lay people and professionals is to raise your eyes as much as you can inside your head and hold it for a little while.

An individual's receptivity to hypnosis, or how hypnotizable one is, varies across a broad range. Some people out of a strong need for control may be highly resistant to hypnosis, while others openly enjoy and look forward to being in a hypnotic state and find this quite easy to do. The level of being open and receptive as well as closed and resistant is a key dimension to observe while engaging in self-hypnosis. Every one is hypnotizable given that every one already has been hypnotized. Further being hypnotized is a learned skill and ability, so that you can develop this inner muscle to become better and better with continued practice. It is not really possible to gauge your own depth of hypnosis, and that is okay. It is enough to know that hypnosis is a naturally occurring, alternate state of consciousness and fairly easy to be in for most everyone. Hypnosis is not a cure-all or a panacea for all that ails you, and may not be sufficient to address many issues.

A few cautions and safeguards are in order when using self-hypnosis or engaging in hypnosis. Self-hypnosis is not to be used "instead of" or as "an alternative" to your medical doctor's advice or the recommendations of practitioners of alternative medicine, health and healing approaches. If you have any condition that requires medical attention, it is wise to first speak to your medical and/or alternative health practitioner before starting anything new. Only engage in hypnosis with a licensed professional you have trust in that brings solid professional training in hypnosis. Using self-hypnosis to recover old memories is to be avoided, unless warranted in working with a trained and licensed professional hypnotherapist. Using self-hypnosis to make commands that remove pain or other bodily feedback is to be strictly avoided given that pain and bodily feedback is present for some reason(s) and this needs to be respected and appropriately addressed.

When you come out of self-hypnosis, give yourself several minutes to come to full waking consciousness with all of you wide-awake, aware and present. Take several deep breaths and attune yourself once again to your body and immediate environment. Make sure you are fully conscious before doing anything, especially anything that requires good judgment and clear-minded attention such as driving. Some people find value in broadly stretching, drinking some water, lightly pinching themselves, and rubbing their hands together to help bring their body back to a full awakened and alert state.


Elizabeth Erickson's Self-Hypnosis Technique

Note: The technique described in this article is attributed to Elizabeth (Mrs. Milton) Erickson.

Some Basic Premises

This self-hypnosis method is based on the following premises. While there are a number of counter-examples to these notions, they will be of value in understanding and utilizing this process.

  • An "altered state" of consciousness occurs when you process information outside of your primary representational system.
  • Hypnosis is a state of concentrated, focused attention.
  • Going into hypnosis involves turning your attention away from external experience and directing it internally.
  • You can trust your unconscious mind.
  • Understanding by the conscious mind is not necessary for change.

Let's consider these ideas one at a time. Representational Systems and Altered States

We process information (that is, we think) in pictures, sounds and feelings. In Neuro-linguistic Programming, these sensory modalities are referred to as representational systems.

  • V—The Visual System—The external things we see and the internal images that we create. This includes remembered images ("What does the White House look like?"), constructed images ("What would it look like if it were painted with red and yellow stripes?"), as well as "live" things we see about us.
  • A—The Auditory System—The external things we hear, the internal sounds that we create. This includes remembered words or sounds ("Think of the Star Spangled Banner"), imagined words or sounds ("Imagine the Star Spangled Banner played on accordions"), "Self Talk", etc. as well as all of the "live" sounds around us.
  • K—The Kinesthetic System—The things we feel. These can be actual physical sensations or imagined ones. Can you imagine being on a beach and feeling sand between you toes?

Most of us have developed greater proficiency with one or the other of our representational systems though we each use all three of them. Since this is the case, an individual who "thinks" in images wouldn't experience an altered state of consciousness simply by visualizing. However, if that same individual were to experience a preponderance of feelings or sensations, this would be unusual—an alteration of their state of consciousness. When we talk about altered states, what we're really referring to is processing information in a different manner than usual.
Focused Attention.

Stereotypical images of hypnotists holding watches or other fixation devices for clients to stare at are the result of this understanding about hypnosis. If you've ever had the experience of becoming so involved in television or a piece of music or a book, you've experienced this "naturally occurring hypnotic state".


"Going Inside"

The experience of hypnosis is typically an inwardly focused one in which we move away from the environment around us and turn our attention inward.


You can Trust your Unconscious Mind

You unconscious mind is "chock full" of resources. In your lifetime of experience, it has learned a great deal and can apply that learning for you in hypnosis. Your conscious mind can only process so much information at one time. Your unconscious mind is not so limited. It can think holographically and is capable of finding better solutions for you than your conscious mind. This process is designed to take full advantage of the power and resourcefulness of your unconscious mind.


Understanding by the Conscious Mind is not necessary for Change

In many self-hypnosis procedures, the participants enter a trance and then give themselves suggestions. It seems to me that if my conscious mind knew what to do about the issues that I'm using self-hypnosis for, then there wouldn't be a need for hypnosis in the first place. In fact, it's often the case that our conscious mind gets in the way. It is the conscious mind that says "I can't. . . " or "I don't know how to. . . " or "I'm not smart enough. . . ". Some people are surprised to hear this, but consider that if you hear your "self talk" then it isn't unconscious. The process described below is designed to keep the conscious mind occupied so that it won't interfere while your unconscious mind is doing the work.

George Demont Otis        Spring in Marin


The Self Hypnosis Technique

  1. Find a Comfortable Position—Get a position that you will be able to maintain easily for the time you are going to be doing this process. It can be sitting or lying down, though sitting is recommended to prevent you from falling asleep. Get yourself centered, just looking in front of you and breathing slowly and easily. Let yourself relax.
  2. Time—Determine the length of time that you intend to spend and make a statement to yourself about it such as "I am going into self hypnosis for 20 minutes. . . " (or however long you want) You will be delighted to discover how well you "internal clock" can keep track of the time for you.
  3. Purpose—Make a second statement to yourself about your purpose in going into self-hypnosis. In this process, we allow the unconscious mind to work on the issue rather than giving suggestions throughout, so our purpose statement should reflect that fact. Here's how I say it: ". . . for the purpose of allowing my unconscious mind to make the adjustments that are appropriate to assist me in _____________ ." Filling in the blank with what you want to achieve such as "developing more confidence in social situations." I know that the text is "wordy" but that's how I got it from John Grinder. The actual words aren't nearly as important as the fact your statement acknowledges that you are turning this process over to your unconscious mind.
  4. Exit State—Make a final statement to yourself about the state that you want to be in when you complete the process. Typically in hypnosis, we have heard the idea that you should come back feeling "wide awake, alert and refreshed", but in the real world that may not be what you want. For example, if you are doing your self-hypnosis before bedtime, you may prefer to come out of it "relaxed and ready for sleep". If you're doing it before some project you may want to come out "motivated and full of energy". Simply say to yourself, ". . . and when I'm finished, I'm going to feel __________".
  5. The Process—Looking in front of you, notice three things (one at a time) that you see. Go slowly, pausing for a moment on each. It is preferable that they be small things, such as a spot on the wall, a doorknob, the corner of a picture frame, etc. Some people like to name the items as they look at them—"I see the hinge on the door frame". (If you don't know the name for the thing, try "I see that thing over there.").

Now turn your attention to your auditory channel and notice, one by one, three things that you hear. (You will notice that this allows you to incorporate sounds that occur in the environment rather than being distracted by them.

Next, attend to your feeling and notice three things sensations that you can feel. Again, go slowly from one to the next. It's useful to use sensations that normally are outside of your awareness, such as the weight of your eyeglasses, the feeling of your wristwatch, the texture of your shirt, etc.

Continue the process using two Visuals, then two auditory and then two kinesthetic.

In the same manner, continue (slowly) with one of each.

You have now completed the "external" portion of the process.

Now it's time to begin the "internal" part.

Close your eyes.

Bring an image into your mind. Don't work too hard at this. You can construct an
image or simply take what comes. It may be a point of light, it may be a beautiful beach, or it could be a pizza pie. If something comes to you just use it. If nothing comes, feel free to "put something there". Name it as you did above. This is the first V on the "internal" side of the diagram. (I tend to see King Ludwig's castle in Bavaria. . . don't ask me why.)

Pause and let a sound come into your awareness or generate one and name it. Although this is technically the internal part, if you should hear a sound outside or in the room with you, it's OK to use that. Remember that the idea is to incorporate things that you experience rather than being distracted by them. Typically, in the absence of environmental sounds, this is where I hear the sound of a Mariachi band. (Again, don't ask.)

Next, become aware of a feeling and name it. It's preferable to do this internally—use your imagination. (I feel the warmth of the summer sun on my arms) However, as with the auditory, if you actually have a physical sensation that gets your attention, use that.

Repeat the process with two images, then two sounds, then two feelings.

Repeat the cycle once again using three images, three sounds, and three feelings.

6. Completing the Process—It is not unusual to "space out" or lose consciousness during the process. At first some people think that they've fallen asleep. But generally you will find yourself coming back automatically at the end of the allotted time. This is an indication that you weren't sleeping and that your unconscious mind was doing what you asked of it.

Note: Most people don't get all the way through the process. That's perfectly all right. If you should complete the process before the time has ended, just continue with 4 images, sounds, feelings, then 5 and so on. As for your goals, trust that your unconscious mind is working for you "in the background" while you're doing the process. Regular practice yields ever better results.

George Demont Otis        Rocky Coast

A Summary of Self-Hypnosis Guidelines:
Taught by Eleanor S. Field, Ph.D. Tarzana, California www.doctorelly.com

© 1987 by Eleanor S. Field, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
Author of A Smarty's Guide to Self-Hypnosis, 2008.

  1. Select a place to work. Unless you are using self-hypnosis at bedtime, a sitting position may be preferable.
  2. Decide how long you wish to stay in trance. Look at the time. Picture it being ______ minutes/hours later. Tell yourself that you will spontaneously awaken at the visualized time. (All self-instructions can be mentally given.)
  3. Make yourself comfortable. Loosen any tight clothing; remove any gum or candy from your mouth; [suggestion]: remove glasses or contact lens; take off your shoes; 9important!) kick back and relax. [Optional]: Turn on some soft background music-very low.
  4. Incorporate any sensory stimulus into your relaxation exercise. For example, you might want to think to yourself, "All outside noises help me to relax…deeper and deeper."
  5. Induction wording. Think of a key word or phrase(s) that you can repeat several times to yourself. It could be a personal mantra, or other phraseology. For example: "I LOVE you body. . . you can relax; I LOVE you mind. . . you can relax; I LOVE you feelings/emotions. . . you can relax; I LOVE you spirit/soul. . . you can relax. Just letting go and moving down into a deeper, and a sounder, and a more relaxed state."
  6. A symbolic action can serve as a reinforcement and/or triggering signal. As you repeat your chosen word or phrase(s), you will begin to go into a very relaxed state. You might want to accompany this with a symbolic action. One suggestion for an action might be to rest your hands on your thighs, palms up, and with each hand, make a circle by connecting your thumb and middle finger. Later, as a post-hypnotic suggestion you may wish to condition yourself to enter into an instant trance state, simply by assuming your symbolic action.
  7. Take several deep breaths. Visualize filling up your entire body with pure, healthy, live-giving oxygen. . . then when you exhale, visualize all tension draining out through the bottom of your feet. You might want to elaborate on this theme by visualizing progressive relaxation. Starting with either your head or feet, mentally name each body part. . . and give each body part unconditional love, acceptance, then permission to let go, and relax completely. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to where you left of as soon as you realize that your mind has wandered.
  8. Now you are ready to let your relaxation deepen. One way to do this is by visualizing a staircase with twenty steps. As you descend, counting backward, and taking one step down with each number called of, you will go deeper and deeper into relaxation. When you reach the bottom, you might want to find yourself in a peaceful place in nature. Experience it with ALL of your senses.
  9. Compounding relaxation. Another deepening technique might be to mentally tell yourself that at the count of three, "I will become three times as relaxed as I am now (take a deep breath). . . 1, 2, 3." (Relax on the exhale.) "Again, at the count of three, I will now become twice more as relaxed as I am now (take another deep breath). . . 1, 2, 3." (Relax totally, completely, and deeply on the exhale.)
  10. Visualize yourself and your lifestyle in detail as having ALREADY achieved your objective. Do this when you feel very relaxed, and in a deep and comfortable space. Very important, think about what you DO want, not what you do not want.
  11. Mentally include verbal suggestions that support your imagery. Prepare your wording ahead of time. Keep it SIMPLE and concise; no more than one or two sentences. Concentrate on the desired end results. Wording should apply to the immediate future rather than the present. For example: "In a moment. . . ," "When I wake up. . . ," "From now on, every time I. . . ," "Every day, I am becoming more. . . ," etc. Repeat all suggestions several times.
  12. Attaching one or more emotions to your goal to your goal will increase effectiveness. For example, during visualization, tune-in to the emotional feelings you desire to experience while achieving your goal such as pride, acceptance by self and others, success, self-empowerment, peace of mind, being in control, etc.
  13. How to come out of trance. Before you enter into a trance, it is important for you to know that you are fully capable of coming out of a trance, instantly, whenever you want to, or need to, or if there feels like a threat in the environment. Alternatively, when you feel complete with the process, gradually bring yourself out of trance with suggestions of: "At the count of three, I will feel refreshed, alert, fully awake, relaxed, and in control, and with a sense of accomplishment, completeness, and well-being."
  14. Repetition makes a big difference. Repeating this process daily-more often, if possible, will insure positive results and much success! After awakening in the morning, and before going to sleep at night, can be excellent times for practice. Any other time when you can create five minutes, or so, during the daytime for additional practice, will add reinforcement to the power of your self-work.
  15. All hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. With regular practice, a strong desire for improvement, commitment, and dedication, you will probably be able to accomplish a significantly great percentage of your own individual insight and personal growth work. Sometimes, however, obstacles or personal "blind spots" may arise which will require the counseling and support of a clinical hypnotherapist. Using self-hypnosis as a reinforcement to these professional sessions, will usually yield very rapid and impressive results.
 © 1987 by Eleanor S. Field, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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