Hypnotherapy approaches – contrasting styles

by Lorraine McReight

Hypnotherapy is therapy which involves hypnosis, and a session may also involve other therapeutic skills and techniques, such as coaching, counselling and psychotherapy. Hypnosis can be induced in many different ways and a therapist will usually select a method of hypnosis induction to suit their client. Once in hypnosis the therapist will choose how to deliver the content of the session – the part of the process designed to bring about change. There are a wide range of styles and techniques that can be employed for this, but they fall into two main approaches; direct and indirect hypnosis.

The direct approach is sometimes referred to as an ‘authoritarian’ approach and the indirect as permissive. In the former approach the hypnotherapist ‘directs’ the client into hypnosis and during the content part of the session, will ’tell’ them what to do or not do. They may use a specific script or structure for clients who consult them for a certain type of issue eg smoking or nail biting, but it is still possible to customise the content for individual clients. With the permissive approach the therapist will ‘invite’, rather than ‘instruct’ the client to go into hypnosis, ‘suggesting’ relaxation / hypnosis as an option, rather than telling their client what to do. It is believed by many therapists that the permissive style is likely to result in less resistance from a client.

Indirect or permissive hypnotherapy is often referred to as Ericksonian Hypnosis because it is conducted in a style similar to, or inspired by, the late Milton Erickson. Dr Erickson was an American psychiatrist with an interest in applying hypnosis in medical as well as psychotherapeutic cases. Erickson was known for his permissive approach, which he considered a more effective way to help his patients experience important changes in their lives.

Each approach has its fans and some therapists will favour one approach over the other. Many therapists however will use both styles in their work with different clients and in different situations. It is therefore useful as a student or new therapist to experiment with a variety of styles and techniques.

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