Metaphors in Hypnosis

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners.


by Roger Dent

When I talk with other hypnotherapists about using metaphors in their practice, the conversation often leads to the plethora of prepared scripts available in print and on the internet.  Many of these scripts are good, some even very good.  Their primary value is that they provide suggestions to the hypnotherapist for development of original ideas tailored to each client.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that each session is based on completely new ideas, only that there must be a clear and personal connection to each client.

My most successful sessions, whether metaphors or a more direct format, are fluid and smooth.   I like each transition to be seamless in order to maintain the clearest mental image possible for my client.  It is important to keep the client focused on the story in a way that it is meaningful to them to provide the very best results.

A great advantage in using metaphors in my hypnotherapy practice is in time efficiency.   While a more formal induction, even with significant deepening, can be done very quickly with excellent results, there are times when a simple story will both induce the necessary level of hypnosis in a short time, and provide an impactful suggestion concurrently.

When Jan, a long-term client, arrived at my office a few minutes early for her appointment, she quickly confirmed that the stress that I clearly could see in her face.  She said that a business emergency had come up and she would need to postpone our session.  She had only about thirty minutes, and told me that she wasn’t in the “right frame of mind” to relax anyway.  She said that she didn’t even think she could sit down.

I know Jan well, and am aware of her long list of business and family concerns.  I wasn’t comfortable seeing her leave my office to start her day in such a stressed state.  I asked her if she had time to tell me about the situation and how she was feeling.   Tears formed in her eyes, and she told me that she hadn’t made as much progress as she had hoped on resolving an ongoing problem with a family business, and that her brother, a business partner, wouldn’t return her calls to provide concurrence that she needed to move forward.  “I feel as if I have no more hope,” she said.  “Everything was moving forward, and now it’s falling apart.”  Jan then gestured to a window in my office and the stormy conditions outside, and said, “AND, it’s raining.  I feel even worse when the sky is so dark.”

I asked Jan to take a deep breath, let it out slowly and before taking her next breath, let her eyes fall comfortably closed.  Without taking time for her to even take a seat, I then asked Jan to imagine a seed:   “Any kind of seed that comes to mind, even one like the poppy seed, tiny…just the size of a pin point.”  I could have suggested that Jan select a seed, but I liked that poppy seeds are easy to picture (even on a bagel), and because they are so tiny and seemingly insignificant.

I continued with a story with a very high level of detail about how despite the elements, possibly because of them, the seed is able to sprout, then grow and develop into a beautiful plant with gorgeous flowers.  My story emphasized transition from something insignificant and seemingly without potential, to a very positive result.  Because Jan had told me that the weather exacerbated her feelings of hopelessness, I was careful to include images of light coming through the clouds or the sun behind the clouds, even when it couldn’t be seen:  a reminder that the darkness of the storm is temporary and the sun is there, even when we can’t see it.

In my session with Jan, I emphasized that every seed has potential.  I also was sure to give her the image of a seed with a shell that is resilient, yet also is able to yield to growth and improvement under the right conditions.  By detailing the struggle for growth of the roots and stem of the plant, I left Jan with a clear sense that her journey wasn’t necessarily easy, though the reward for perseverance was significant.

Within less than fifteen minutes, I ended my story.   I told Jan that in a moment I would ask her to open her eyes.  I said that when she was asked to open her eyes, she would feel amazingly confident; that she might be a bit surprised to find that the sky seemed a little brighter, and that she would find great comfort in each positive step that she took, no matter how incremental it might seem.  I concluded with a follow-up suggestion that if at any time she felt her confidence slipping, she would remember the tiny seed growing into a beautiful flower.

When Jan opened her eyes, she told me that she was a little skeptical, but really hoped that our brief session had helped.  Her eyes were dry and she was smiling.  We talked briefly about the things she hoped to accomplish during the day, and she went off to work.

Later that day, I had two text messages from Jan.  The first text, about an hour after our meeting, “Trying hard to get that seed to sprout.”  The second text, late in the afternoon, “Garden.  Think garden!”

Even now, several weeks later, Jan refers to her “garden” at sessions.  She’s told me many times that when she feels the first signs of hopelessness, she pictures a tiny seed, then as if her imagination is a movie camera zooming to a wider and wider view, she sees the seed begin to join all of the other flowers in her garden.

Roger Cooper Dent is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a successful practice in Santa Rosa, California.

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