Don E. Gibbons, Ph.D., NJ Licensed Psychologist #03513
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Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Cure the "I Don't Think I can be Hypnotized" Syndrome

There's more to hypnosis than this.

Hypnosis is fundamentally a set of enabling beliefs which make it more credible to respond to suggestions which are given later in the session. Hypnosis has also been referred to as compounded conviction, or as the actualization of the suggestion that one is hypnotized. Thus, many people who do not respond well enough to suggestion to star in a YouTube video, or to be selected as a performer from among the volunteers in a demonstration of stage hypnosis, can still benefit from hypnosis if they are convinced that they have been hypnotized, even though they may not feel any differently at the conclusion of an induction procedure than they did before.

Most of the time, when using traditional hypnosis, I employ a progressive relaxation induction, based on suggestions of gradually increasing relaxation, taking care to make it multimodal by including as many dimensions of experience as possible. If this should prove difficult because the client does not respond well to suggestion, an initially “resistant” client may experience success if a so-called “challenge” item, such as arm catalepsy, is used. For example, One client, at the conclusion of an induction procedure, remained seated with her eyes closed and spontaneously remarked, “Oh, it isn’t going to work.” Understanding the client’s motivational style the therapist responded in a confident tone: “Oh yes it is,” and I’ll show you. I’m just going to stretch your right arm out straight in front of you, and you hold it out there by yourself after I have done so.” Once the client’s arm had been extended, the therapist continued, speaking rapidly and in an authoritative tone:


I’m going to count from one to three, and at the count of three your arm will be just as rigid as an iron bar. . . One. You can feel the muscles in your right arm becoming tighter and tighter now. Your right arm is becoming stiff and rigid. And by the time I get to the count of three, your right arm will be as rigid as an iron bar, and you won’t be able to bend it at the elbow no matter how hard you try. . . Two. It’s becoming as rigid as an iron bar now, and by the time I get to the count of three you won’t be able to bend it at the elbow until I touch it, no matter how hard you try. . . Three. Try, but you cannot do so – and the harder you try to bend your arm, the harder it becomes.

A broad smile crossed the client’s face as she remained motionless, her arm outstretched. After waiting for only a second or two, the therapist concluded, “Now, and only now as I touch it, can your arm return to normal and sink down, becoming completely normal again. Now your arm is completely normal once more.” Then, with the client convinced of the reality of her hypnotic experience, the therapeutic suggestions could proceed (Gibbons & Lynn, 2010, pp. 390-391).

A second method of dealing with doubtful or low-responding clients is to use a "fail-safe induction, such as the one proposed by Lynn, Kirsch, and Rhue (1996) that uses a combination of arm levitation and arm heaviness suggestions as convincers. The suggestions can be given before a more formal induction of hypnosis, in the context of relaxation or “creative imagination, “ or incorporated into an induction.


Therapist: "You may notice that one of your arms is just a bit lighter than the other, and your other arm is heavier. As we talk, your light arm may become even lighter or your heavy arm may become even heavier. And I wonder just how light your lighter arm will feel, and how heavy the other arm will feel. Will your light arm become so light that it lifts up into the air all by itself, or will your heavy arm become so heavy that it stays rooted to the arm of your chair? And I wonder which arm feels lighter. Is it your right arm or your left arm? And where do you feel the lightness most? In your wrist or in your fingers? In all of your fingers or especially in one of them?"

Overt signs of upward movement in one hand or arm provides a signal to focus on suggestions for arm levitation. Otherwise, these are abandoned and suggestions for arm heaviness and immobility are stressed. This method can prevent perceptions of failure, maintain therapeutic rapport, and provide some indication of the patient's level of responsiveness. If the patient is not able to generate responses of either arm lightness of heaviness, it may indicate the presence of recalcitrant negative beliefs and attitudes, which may preclude using hypnosis as a treatment modality (Lynn et al., p. 15). But you are probably not likely to encounter this latter type of client in your practice, because, until they have acquired a deeper understanding of what to expect, they would be unlikely to consult a hypnotist in the first place.

My friend Roy Hunter has suggested an additional refinement to the foregoing procedure which makes it even more effective. Here is what he says:

The reason I like the idea of one arm light and the other arm heavy is that it is both permissive AND utilizes an Ericksonian double bind. Although my wording is somewhat different, I ask the client immediately after the session: "What was easier to imagine: the lightness or the heaviness?"

Regardless of whether the client states light, heavy, or both, my next question is: "Was the difference between your two arms slight, moderate, or VERY noticeable?"

In over 25 years, virtually everyone has chosen one of those three responses...to which I say:

"In a light state of hypnosis, there is little or no difference between your two arms. In a medium level, the difference is moderate. In a deep state of hypnosis, there is a very noticeable difference between the two arms that sometimes results in the light arm feeling as though it is lifting up by itself. However, since your conscious mind knows that your arms weigh the same, ANY sensation of difference is proof that you experienced hypnosis."

This convincer, followed by the above talk immediately after the session, has persuaded many analytical resisters that they have indeed experienced hypnosis.
 See also: How to Hypnotize the Un-Hypnotizable
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In no prticular order, here are just a few the other practical applications of hyperempiria, or suggestion-enhanced experience, contained on this Blog,  You can learn how to:
See also the following print sources:

Gibbons, D. E. (2001). Experience as an art form. .New York, NY: Authors Choice Press.


Gibbons, D. E. (2000). Applied hypnosis and hyperempiria. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press (originally published 1979 by Plenum Press).

Gibbons, D. E., & Cavallaro, L (2013).. Exploring alternate universes: And learning what they can teach us. Amazon Kindle E-Books. (Note: It is not necessary to own a Kindle reader to download this e-book, as the Kindle app may be downloaded free of charge to a standard desktop or laptop computer and to most cell phones.)

Gibbons, D. E., & Lynn, S. J. (2010). Hypnotic inductions: A primer. in S. J. Lynn, J. W. Rhue, & I. Kirsch (Eds.) Handbook of clinical hypnosis, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 267-291.

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